Guest Blogger

Who Will Be the Bride at our Gay Wedding?

Filed By Guest Blogger | July 12, 2009 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: iowa, loren a. olson, marriage, weddings


ditor's Note: Loren A. Olson MD is a board certified psychiatrist and a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He has received the "Exemplary Psychiatrist Award" from the National Alliance for Mentally Illness, and has received recognition for his writing and editing. Dr. Olson is also a father and a grandfather who came out in mid-life. He lives on a farm in Iowa where he and his partner of 22 years raise cattle. He blogs at That Magnetic Fire.]

As my partner and I began to tell our families and friends about our plans for our September wedding in Iowa - or, "Iowa-of-all-places" as it's now known -- one of our relatives asked, "Who will be the bride?"

Although in LGBT circles this question often comes up, it is meant as a joke, but this relative was dead serious. She has no experiential infrastructure upon which to build some understanding of same sex marriage. She isn't homophobic or bigoted; she is homo-naïve.

In the universe of most people, weddings are about brides, every young woman's time to be princess and center of attention for a day. Mothers share the spotlight, and it is one of the most intimate moments in the lives of fathers and daughters. (I know; I have two married daughters.) In planning weddings, the families often say, "We're only doing this once, so we want to do it up right." Weddings detonate budgets.

As my partner and I began planning our wedding, my first thought was, "We're both mature gay men, and it's a second wedding for me. Wouldn't it be vulgar to have a big wedding?" We want our wedding to be non-political, a celebration and validation of the 22 years we've already been together. Then I began to think about the potential impact in terms of my granddaughters.

We conceptualize what we don't know from what we do know. Kids in early adolescence can't quite mentally visualize how heterosexual people have sex, but as adults, we realize sex just happens, spontaneously and automatically. When heterosexual people think about men who have sex with men, they often think, and sometimes ask, "Which one of you is the woman?"

There was a time in my life when I was homo-naïve, and I tried to imagine how two men could have homosex, at least beyond the limits of the most obvious ways, and I have to admit, I only thought about man on man sex in sexual terms, not as an expression of love and commitment. No movies are shown in middle school to enlighten men who have sex with men.

One of the benefits of being in a same sex relationship is that there are no rigidly defined gender roles. Tasks are divided on the basis of who does (insert any job) best, and I guess our sex happens in much the same way. Everything is based on mutual likes and dislikes, and nothing is assigned by societal definition.

But as a gay friend of mine said, "Our weddings are historical." We are plowing new prairie here in Iowa, and because of that these weddings also become political whether or not we choose them to be. Our wedding will be one grand coming out party for two older gay men.

Because a wedding between two people of the same sex is inherently revolutionary, our wedding will confront all of our guests with their own values about homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Some of our friends are Baptists, Catholics, and yes, even Republicans. Although they all love us and always treat us respectfully, after they leave the reception celebration they will be asking a question they may have censored, "What will they do on their wedding night?"

As members of the LGBT community, where these questions were answered for us during the process of our coming out, we often forget that others are just beginning to examine the nature of our gay relationships. Sometimes we get reactive and are quick to judge others as homophobes and bigots, and some of them are, but many of them, like our relative, are just homo-naïve. Gay marriage can be legislated; tolerance cannot be.

Those of us who are older gay men and women, since our generation is most strongly opposed to gay rights, have a particular obligation to teach others of our generation that our relationships are just like theirs, even though our weddings may not be. We are obliged to teach them that our relationships are simply about loving another person.

So, at our wedding, who will wear the wedding gown? If there were to be a wedding gown, it would depend upon which one of us knows better how to sew.

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I was once asked by a "homo-naive" DJ in a radio interview whether I was the the man or the woman in my relationships.

He was trying to be a shock-jock and I sensed that along with trying to get a laugh at my expense, he wanted to know if I was a top or bottom. Since it was none of his business, I chose to allow him to wallow in his ignorance and said, "It's two men, there is no woman."

Thanks for sharing your experience. It's easy to be gay when you live in the big city. It's refreshing to hear from another rural-gay.

terry lowman | July 12, 2009 10:23 PM

We all have a story to tell. Thanks for telling yours!

Most difficulties for our community can be helped with coming out and educating the homo-naive or homo-ignorant.

Have a wonderful time with your wedding. It's really, really affirming to get married. Our marriage was very much a political event and had to be because our friends are virtually all liberals.

Children today are more flummoxed by why people would be negative about same sex marriage than why two people who love each other would want to be married.

Dave Nelson | July 12, 2009 10:34 PM

There is a useful distinction here between homo-naivete and homophobia. Thanks, Loren!

Erich Riesenberg | July 13, 2009 8:42 AM

Congrats, fellow Iowan.

The distinction between naive and active dislike is important, people can be defensive, though interacting with naive people can become tedious also.

How great to have neighbors able to get legal protection for their relationships!

As to your comment about if one of you decide to wear a wedding gown, the decision will be controlled by who is the better at sewing.

My personal opinion is that the better sewer should be the one "NOT" wearing the gown as you need a person to model the gown to make sure it fits correctly, hence the person doing the sewing should be the one doing the altering and pinning and marking, while the other is wearing the gown.

I also have it on good authority that a wedding dress is simpler to sew than is a men's satin square dance shirt.

Boy, did I get it all wrong. Fortunately, there's still two months for me to work on sequins.

Well, my daughter got married and we knew who traditionally was to pay for what. Now if my son decides to marry another guy we will have to figure it all out.

Gentle persuasion always works better in Iowa than belligerence, and I assume that's true most places. Dr. Olson's thoughtful use of "homo-naive" sums up where many people are. Welcoming those folks into a more profound understanding of LGBT issues and people moves the needle past majority support for marriage equality. Once everyone in every town, small and large have attended several gay weddings, the whole culture shock argument will be put to rest (among most people).

Carolyn Olson | July 13, 2009 7:55 PM

What an informative, well written essay. Since I was one of the main players at your first wedding, I'd love to attend this one. Unfortunately, I have committed to attending a wedding in California on Sept. 25. Many congratulations and good wishes. Lynn

Damn. I was going to ask you to give me away...again.

Damn, and I was going to ask you to give me away...again

Dan Sewell | July 14, 2009 12:03 PM

I want to thank Loren for the thoughtful, balanced, and mature perspectives expressed in his well-written essay. I especially appreciate his effort to help all of us recognize the difference between homophobia and homo-naivete. Although weddings are fundamentally intended to be apolitical celebrations of the love and commitment between two people, for the time being, those of us who hold same sex wedding ceremonies need to recognize that we will very likely be providing certain people with a much closer and factual understanding of same sex relationships. We have a responsibility to future generations of GLBT individuals to provide this exposure and education in a thoughtful and compassionate manner. For the time being, same sex weddings will be both a celebration of love and commitment and an opportuity to educate those among us who are homo-naive.y7p8th

An excellent commentary which provides a positive and productive contribution to the dialogue and encourages further conversation.

David Black | July 15, 2009 4:54 PM

Sensitive, thought provoking essay. I love it.

Dar R Krom | July 17, 2009 4:00 AM

Exactly!! Its exciting to read what you feel but couldn't articulate as well. Thank you! -Darla

David E. Drake | July 19, 2009 12:41 AM

a thoughtful essay by a valuable member of our Iowa community of psychiatrists who happens to be gay - I look forward to hearing about his upcoming book - David Drake