Marrying the One You Love (Same Sex Weddings)
It’s never really occurred to me to talk about same sex weddings on the blog any more than I would announce ‘Helen and John’s beautiful straight wedding in Devon’ as a title. A wedding is a wedding, with two people in love… and that aside, no two are the same, and they’re all beautiful and captivating for their own individual reasons. I find it genuinely odd that within the wedding industry there are people who expect ‘gay weddings’ to be different. I would love to see this change across the board, and particularly so for those couples who might not fit the too-often-expected ‘boy meets girl’ stereotype, and who have to experience suppliers’ well-meant but sometimes cringeworthy comments about what a same sex wedding ‘should’ be.
This is a guest article by Ross Willsher Photography
Ross Willsher is a professional wedding photographer, published author and lover of making couples feel fab in front of the camera. “My relaxed approach to creatively capturing your day allows you to be yourself at all times and enables me to capture images as individual as you are.” Ross is so passionate about helping you celebrate your special day in your own unique way, he’s published a book to guide you through the process. Find out more about Ross’s brilliant book, “How to have a wedding as individual as you are” (available on Amazon).
There are many reasons why I love photographing same sex weddings. Firstly, the absence of pressure to conform to age-old traditions often allows for more creative and personalised approaches to the wedding day. I also love that photographing same sex couples makes it easier to break away from overused and generic wedding poses that you often see time and again in straight wedding images, and allows me to think outside the box a little (which I then apply to all couple shoots, regardless of sexuality). However, more than anything, I love being a photographer in a time when love between two members of the same sex is legally recognised and increasingly accepted as no big deal.
I truly hope that in no time at all, same sex weddings will be known simply as “weddings” and the need to differentiate when talking about a gay wedding will become obsolete. However, I understand that currently there are still some challenges facing gay couples planning a wedding in what is still a very straight- orientated industry.
Regardless of whether you are engaged to someone of the same sex or not, both the challenges and advantages of same sex weddings can apply just as much to any couple who are passionate about having the wedding day that they dream of and not simply adhering to what certain sectors of society expect.
Whilst marriage equality has been a fantastic step forward towards a more inclusive society that embraces diversity and values our freedom to marry whoever we so happen to fall in love with, same sex weddings can often still be seen by some as a novelty event or as not having the gravitas of straight weddings. Indeed, I have had friends ask me when my partner and I are getting married as they would “love to go to a gay wedding”. Similarly, I have chatted with suppliers who would “love to get a gay wedding in their portfolio.” Gay weddings are – like every wedding – about two individuals in love and making a lifelong commitment to each other. To treat a gay wedding as a bucket-list item or a token piece of diversity for your business is – in my opinion – to not see beyond a person’s sexuality or respect them as an individual.
Unfortunately, there are still suppliers who prefer not to cater to same sex couples and others who – although probably viewing themselves as inclusive – have difficulty in catering to same sex couples without making assumptions or jumping to conclusions.
Avoid Assumption Makers
We are all guilty of making assumptions about people from time to time, but as a wedding supplier I feel it is important to take the time to get to know couples and ask lots of questions rather than to presume that particular aspects of their wedding will be dictated by their sexuality (or religion, age or waistline etc.).
When meeting wedding suppliers, listen carefully to the language that they use. Phrases that begin with “I expect you will be…”, “I bet you are having…” or “I photographed a similar couple to you and they had…” are small signs that suppliers are making presumptions based on their preconceived ideas and beliefs. This is particularly true if you hear these phrases when talking to potential suppliers for the first time. I have had all of these phrases said to me in both my personal and professional life, and I know how frustrating it can be to feel that people have jumped to conclusions without taking the time to understand and get to know me first. Yes, some gay couples do want to proudly incorporate the rainbow flag into their wedding theme or have a wedding reception to the sound of camp disco classics, many of us do not. We are not all one and the same and it should not be presumed that we are! I actually viewed a blog recently that was all about gay wedding ideas and it was simply a list of items that incorporated the rainbow theme. It really showed a lack of creativity or effort in understanding same sex weddings.
Also, take note of the language used by suppliers online and in print and have a close look at the images that they have used. Does their marketing constantly only make reference to a bride and groom? For example, many photographer packages include “Bridal prep to first dance” coverage and often, suppliers of light up love letters for the dance floor only have images of “Mr and Mrs” on their website. Whilst these suppliers may indeed be ‘gay-friendly’ (for want of a better term), it does show that they have not actively considered the needs of same sex couples or demonstrated that they value the custom of gay clients.
I was once told that as a gay man I would get lots of same sex clients because I would be able to ‘speak their language’. I politely informed the ignorant individual that we are not an alien race and that simple open-mindedness and an assumption-free consultation process is all that is needed to be a fantastic same sex wedding supplier. It’s surprising how many wedding industry experts still fail in this simple approach. It is my experience of people, products and services often not catering to my sexuality that helps me to understand and meet the needs of gay couples, rather than an innate ability to speak a secret language!
What is a wedding without its traditions? Well…still a perfectly beautiful wedding actually.
Due to same sex weddings being a relatively recent development, there is obviously not the long history of tradition that so often shapes (if not dictates) straight weddings. At first this can seem a challenge – to plan a wedding with very few protocols that guide decisions and help sort timings for the day can seem daunting. However, it can actually be hugely liberating to not have to worry about following traditions that may or may not be relevant to you and your partner and you will soon enjoy putting your own unique stamp on proceedings. As long as the ceremony itself is legally binding, your imagination can run wild.
Buy ‘Celebrated’ by Ross Willsher on Amazon – it’s beautifully written and filled with empathy, empowering and inclusive: highly recommended by English Wedding!
It is good to question each wedding tradition and identify whether you are adhering to it because it is relevant and meaningful to you or simply because it’s “always done like that at weddings”. More and more couples (both gay and straight) are straying from traditions that are not meaningful to them. I have photographed weddings where the bride made a speech, weddings where there was no first dance, weddings where there were 5 best men and weddings where there wasn’t a best man at all. More importantly at each of these weddings, no one batted an eye! Aunt Maud didn’t keel over in horror, university friends didn’t jeer in disapproval and the registrars didn’t refuse to sign the register. So don’t stick to tradition to please others, it’s your day not theirs and chances are they won’t care a jot anyway!
For same sex couples there are three options when it to comes to dealing with wedding traditions that stem from centuries of straight weddings.
1.Stick to the script. If there are particular traditions of a wedding day that you really want to keep, do it! You can still have bridesmaids and best men, have your father give you away and deliver speeches that bore and titillate in equal measure!
2. Put your spin on a time-honoured tradition. You may like the idea of certain traditions but want to make it your own or for obvious reasons need to alter it to suit your same sex wedding. For example, you may wish to walk down the aisle together instead of a with a parent or loved one, or both walk down the aisle but separately one after the other.
3. Ignore the traditions completely. An elopement to Gretna Green with two strangers as witnesses is just as legally binding as a wedding with 10 bridesmaids, 4 best men and a congregation of 500 guests. My point? Your commitment to each other is what makes a wedding – not the traditions. Think outside the box and do it your way if there is no aspect of a traditional wedding that resonates with you.
Dressing to Impress (yourself )
Outfit colours and styles are probably one of the biggest traditions associated with a wedding. Once again, as a same sex couple you can choose to embrace the black and white traditional look or ignore it completely. What you wear is probably the most personal choice you will make with regards to your wedding and only you will know what you will feel comfortable and yourself in. This is the single most important factor when choosing what to wear – do you look and feel yourself in the outfit? I know all too well how couples often struggle to relax and be themselves in photos when they are wearing clothes that don’t really suit them. Personally, I don’t feel 100% myself in a dinner jacket and bow tie and never see any images of me wearing this as truly reflective of who I am. However, for other guys it’s a fantastic look.
Looking online for style inspiration is a great start, but nothing can replicate going into a store and trying on outfits until you find the one that feels just right. Don’t be too set in your ideas either – be willing to try on outfits that you may never have considered before and make suggestions based on what you think your partner looks good in. You may be pleasantly surprised. I’m a stickler for blacks, greys and muted tones but my partner loves me in bright colours which I would never have even considered had it not been for his onslaught of compliments!
Have fun experimenting with styles together and deciding how you want to appear on your special day. Having said that, stay true to yourself; wearing something that looks good on you will look far better than simply choosing what is in vogue this season. Lesbian couples can both wear a dress, both wear a suit or have one in one and one in the other – there is no set rule and it goes without saying that you shouldn’t feel pressure to dress in a way that either fits or actively avoids any stereotypes.
From a photographer’s point of view, I always feel that images of couples are stronger when there is some commonality between the outfits, but rules are there to be broken and if you are happy and relaxed your love will shine through the lens beautifully. This leads me on perfectly to the next topic.
Same sex photographers
One of the problems some straight photographers encounter when photographing gay couples is knowing how to direct and pose them. Most photographers (myself included) were taught using straight couples as models and so when directing shoots, there is a predisposition to instruct couples to stand in gender-specific poses. Photographing same sex couples actually provides more opportunities for photographs as both individuals are not restricted by the traditional male / female configurations.
A photographer who is at ease with photographing same sex couples will make subtle changes to the language they use when posing you. For example, “Now one of you kiss the other on their forehead” rather than“Groomgiveyourbrideakissonherforehead”. Once again, it avoids assumptions – especially with regards to the idea that one of you is the more masculine or feminine in the relationship: a personal irritation of mine! If any supplier – photographer or otherwise – asks you who is the man and who is the woman in your relationship, you have my permission to scream blue murder and run for your sanity!!
However, just because a photographer has not photographed a gay couple before, it does not automatically mean that he or she is not the right photographer for you (especially if you are not looking for many – if any – posed shots). By taking a look at their portfolio you will likely be able to identify whether their approach to photographing couples is varied and personalised to each couple, or whether they use the same generic poses for every shoot. Whilst a consistent look in terms of style and composition is a positive sign of professionalism, placing every couple in the same positions doesn’t show much thought for actively trying to reflect the individuality of the couples they are shooting.
Planning a same sex wedding need not be any more complicated or stressful than planning a straight wedding. Yes, you may have a few suppliers who don’t really wish to offer their services to you but this is less and less of a problem and you will easily get a sense of who is passionate about working alongside you and who is begrudgingly doing it for the money. Having read this chapter, you now know what to look out for when choosing your preferred suppliers and will spot the warning signs straight away when engaging with someone who isn’t demonstrating the respect and genuine interest you deserve to receive.