It is to be expected that gay or lesbian couples may encounter stressful events or unseen problems getting ready for their wedding days. Yet, what of our trans* brothers and sisters and their wedding planning?
Weddings are a time of bliss, romance, commitment and, of course, stress. Family comes (or goes) running, the wedding party is complaining, and your mother wants just wants you to know that those colors are not exactly what she would have picked. At the end of the day, however, everything that the world has thrown at you is worth it to walk away with that person by your side. Given the recent sweep of states legalizing gay marriage, there are even more people able to experience the joy that is marrying the person you love. It is to be expected that gay or lesbian couples may encounter stressful events or unseen problems getting ready for their wedding days. Yet, what of our trans* brothers and sisters and their wedding planning? What differences do couples in which at least one partner is trans* experience to the rest of the millions who are hearing wedding bells?
Margaux and Beck, photo: Our Labor of Love
To make things clear for our transitioning brethren, legality states that once someone has undergone sexual reassignment surgery they may marry someone of the opposite sex with no problem. For pre-op couples that biologically are the same gender, or those who transition and fall for a member of the same gender, they must find a state that allows for same-sex marriage and then the wedded bliss may begin.
Sarah, who planned a wedding recently with her husband Max, experienced some worries legally, too. She says, “One of the most stressful moments leading up to the wedding was waiting for the arrival of my fiancé’s birth certificate with his legal name change. It didn’t arrive until the day before the wedding! We all ran out to the mailbox when the USPS truck pulled onto the street. There was cheering and hugging, and then my fiancé and I immediately ran to the car to go file for our marriage license. It was a close call, but we made it!” Sarah and Max married in New York and were able to avoid a lot of the legal issues due to new regulations. “On our marriage license, neither of us indicated our gender [as it is now an optional field in New York State]. For us, the freedom for two people to marry was more important than a label marrying a label.”
Once the legal issues are said and done, there are still complications that arise specifically for the trans* community.
Avoiding establishments that are unwelcoming of same-sex couples, and trying to find someone to perform the ceremony come almost as second nature to some couples. How easy is it to plan your big day with the stares and looks of disapproval from others? For some in the trans* community, the idea of “passing” is not a priority. For those who don’t associate with their biological gender, it often does not matter whether or not they “fit the part” of the gender they ascribe to. Rather the emphasis is on what makes them feel whole or like their true selves. This often results in persons who don’t feel the need to have both top and bottom surgeries, individuals who do not “pass,” and some who go through the entire process.
So how does one handle it when a venue judges your partner or worse, family? Lindsay and Scott had issues when their wedding day neared in losing family support.
“Most of our family was encouraging of the wedding, but there were a few who weren’t supportive, mostly born out of not supporting my MTF fiancé’s transition in the first place. Would they have been OK with her marrying a girl instead? Of course not. It was a lose-lose situation,” Scott recalls. “I know it hurts her to know they weren’t at the wedding or reception or any of the showers. I worry about building a family, and if they will recognize and respect our children as their family. I guess time will tell.”
As the big day grows nearer, there are things both partners may need. Trans* individuals may need their partner to help support and fight for their rights as they move through the process. Others may need their partners to sit back on certain issues. It hurts everyone to see their partners disrespected or being misunderstood, but that does not mean you must always ride in on your white horse. Prepare for tears or anger; either way those are completely expected and just let it roll.
A cisgender partner may need understanding, too. A lot of this may be new. Anger and frustration may flare up and a desire to defend their partners is bound to happen. Embarrassment surrounding people’s ignorance and general upset is going to occur. Remember to care for them because it can be hard for both parties! The main factor is that planning a wedding as a trans* couple is going to be more difficult. Love and support are key to the entire process. Both partners in the relationship are going to endure problems that will make them pull their hair out so try to understand your partner’s frustration and give them that extra love, should they want it. At the end of it all though, things will work out. You will walk down the aisle and be able to call your partner your wife, husband or the lovely gender-neutral spouse, and that can easily be worth all of the stress.
Megan O’Brien is a student of Syracuse University’s Marriage and Family Therapy program, as well as Widener University’s Human Sexuality Med. As a dedicated sexologist, O’Brien specializes in trans* issues, asexuality, sex over 50, and several other sex/sexuality related areas.
*Be a part of the conversation by commenting on this article. Are you trans* or is your partner? What struggles have you faced in your relationship and how have you overcome them?