My partner and I have a unique engagement story. We both identify as queer and my partner, Owen, is transgender. Although we often subscribe to what “men and women” do in relationship, we wanted to be sure that we were being very intentional about how to move forward together and which traditions felt good to us.


As he shopped for my ring I decided to surprise him with a proposal of my own. I spent a few weeks crafting an altered art book detailing our love story—filled with our first emails, photos, cards, mementos, and my own narrative of how our story has unfolded. I made collages representing what I hope will happen in the future as we move forward together as partners, what I am most grateful for and love most about him, etc. In the back I created a shadowbox where I put a pocket watch, engraved with his initials and a special message.


I also got him a leather-bound copy of To Kill A Mockingbird. This has always been my favorite book and we decided to check it out from the library and read it together when we were first dating. This book reminds me of picnics and sunshine and laying in the grass at the park during those first months together. It also holds a lot of very important themes and reflects values that we hold close to our hearts. Once I decided that would be part of the gift I started thinking about meaningful parts of the book that I might be able to reference in the proposal.


I remembered in the movie version of the story, Atticus tells Jem that his pocket watch will be passed on to him when he dies—and that although he doesn’t have a lot of money to offer the most important things he can offer his children is a good example of how to be in the world. When I remembered this, I got tears in my eyes. A pocket watch. I had planned to give it to him on February 22, three years to the date that I saw him across the room and everything changed. The moment came a little sooner and felt very organic, as we had just finished our coffee and breakfast and were snuggling in bed on Sunday afternoon. We were deep in conversation all morning about our future and our families and our plans together. He was asking me questions and I knew everything I wanted to say to him was in the book I had created. Sharing what I had put together felt like the perfect response to what he was saying to me. So, I went with my gut and presented him with the gifts!


I gave Owen To Kill A Mockingbird first and then I showed him the altered book and guided him through the pages, recounting our story. We turned the pages slowly, crying and laughing as we read the pages together. At the last page, I said a few words and asked if he’d marry me and he wrote YES in the book. We decided this would be our “half engagement.”


A few weeks later we were on the beach in Half Moon Bay, Calif., for a picnic with two of our dearest firends. As I walked up the beach toward him, he got down on one knee and gifted me with a beautiful ring. It was a quiet, intimate and sacred moment that felt like a dream. When it came to styling our engagement session, it was important to both of us to include elements of our relationship and of both of our proposal stories. This picnic feels like us: sweets and wine and special touches including flowers, candles, and lots and lots of books. We first fell in love over our love for academics, nerding out on social justice and identity development and art therapy. We also wanted to get some “beach” pictures, although we had to settle for a Wisconsin lake on this particular day.


The books we have laid out on our blanket all hold very special meaning or memories in our relationship. The titles are: Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme, To Kill a Mockingbird, Brave on the Rocks, Heart: A Personal Journey Through its Myths and Meanings, The Soul’s Code, To Bless the Space Between Us, a book of poems from Alixa & Naima of Climbing Poetree, and a handmade journal that was a gift from a friend.


This is us. Outside, playing in the sunshine…happy and in love. We are documenting our love and attempting to find more couples like us on our own blog:

Photographer: Stephanie Claire Photography
Engagement Ring: Kristin Coffin

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