Let's talk about labels and self-identifying

Photo by State Library of Victoria Collections. Used by CC license.
Photo by State Library of Victoria Collections. Used by CC license.

Over the last couple months we've gotten several comments from well-intentioned readers concerned about how we title and label the Real Offbeat Weddings on Offbeat Bride. Here's one example: It's too bad we still feel the need to point out that this was a lesbian wedding (I mean, I can't imagine there are too many people who would say "straight wedding").

While I very much appreciate the concerns about labeling, please understand that on Offbeat Bride we always allow couples to self-identify, and some couples are very clear that they had a very, very gay wedding (and not "just a wedding").

Now, of course we want our titles to be descriptive — that's good journalism! But we also want them to respect the people being profiled, so we pull the Real Offbeat Wedding titles directly from the questionnaire submitted by the bride. In the case of Jill & Kimeee's lesbian barn dance & Mad Libs wedding… with goats, when Jill submitted her story to us, she referred to it as a lesbian wedding, and so we did too. I'm certainly not going to censor someone's identity! I describe my own wedding as a "hippie/raver freakfest" and would be irked if someone described it as "Ariel & Dre's nature-loving electronic music-listening eccentric gathering."

Where this gets more challenging is with tagging posts. I use the lesbian wedding tag because I want to make it easier for y'all to see them all in one place. You'll notice if you page through that tag archive that lots of the weddings aren't titled "lesbian wedding" — they're zoo weddings, garden weddings, and art gallery soirees that happen to feature two brides.

When it comes to tags, I try to think about what clusters of posts people might be interested in — I tag short haired and tattooed brides for the same reason that I tag blue wedding dresses and top hats.

But what about the plus-size tag? We only use that when the bride self-identifies as such, because who the hell am I to label someone's body type? On the flip side, it's sort of frustrating because we've featured a TON of fucking gorgeous fuller-figured brides, and I've gotten emails from readers saying "Where can I see plus-size brides?" and I don't have a nice tidy link to send them that shows them the full range of loveliness. I have to say "If you browse through the hundreds of posts on Offbeat Bride, you'll find dozens of plus size brides!"

I know that labels can be a challenging topic for us non-traditional types. Some of us unabashedly love self-identifying — for me personally, one of my favorite ways to get to know someone is to hear what words they use to describe who they are. Others of us feel comfortable applying labels to ourselves, but bristle when other people apply them to us. I think some of this sensitivity gets projected a bit — even when we allow people to describe themselves, there's concern that somehow Offbeat Bride is prescribing labels onto them.

We do our best to be thoughtful about these issues, but I recognize there's always more to learn when it comes to how people identify and how we label each other. But in the case of the titles on Real Offbeat Weddings, we try to let folks self-identify — which feels to me like the most respectful way to ensure that we get descriptive titles that feel like a good fit for everyone.

  1. I've seen this often on OBB – I'll start reading about a really cool circus/zoo/garden/geek wedding, and am slightly surprised when I see two women getting married. I completely blame the surprise on my own heterocentric thing, but I like that you can see the wedding for its own worth, whether it's two women, a het couple, two men (which, by the way, I'd LOVE to see here!), or one or more transgender people gettin' hitched! B)

    14 agree
    • I used to be the same. I used think as I'd read a profile, 'I can't wait to see how the bride and groom dressed…doh.' Now I don't assume anything. Which I think is a better way of thinking in general.
      I like labels in real life and here. I like things to have an order, a place, a link. I'm a scientist and I struggle always to understand how stuff relates to each other. And with my other half for using the wrong drawers for his pants and his t-shirts.
      Now I know humans don't fit in to nice neat boxes really. But labels are a good start as pointers in the right direction.

      0 agree
  2. Tolerance has two sides – one is letting people self-identify, the other is chilling out over labels that other people give you. ie, you do the first by letting people name their own weddings, and the second by making tags like "lesbian" or "steampunk" for the rest of us to understand. I think you covered both sides nicely! I would describe my own wedding along the lines of "romantic, spiritual sunset ceremony in the forest followed by a lovely dinner and full night of dancing through a thunderstorm." I think the rest of my family would describe it as "extremely PURPLE and weird, but moving, even though they seem to have forgotten all references to god." I can either say "meh, fair enough" and move on with life, or get offended that they didn't perceive it the exact same way. So I'm happy that they tolerated a little offbeatness from me, and they're happy that I'm not perpetually intolerant and offended by their views of me. The world needs both sides of tolerance (obviously tolerance requires that labels be free of blantant hurtfulness as well).

    17 agree
  3. I'll add that a midwesterner might have labeled my wedding as "shockingly unconventional" and a hard-core left-coaster might have described it as "fairly conventional with a knod toward individuality." (And maybe vice-versa, although we all know which scenario would be more common.) Which is right? Both (although I don't care for either and wouldn't label my wedding that way), and everything in between, depending on your views and local culture, and life is too short for me to get fussed over it. Don't dis people and don't get offended over small innocent things, and the world will be a happier place :)

    2 agree
  4. It would be real nice if the entire internet were as thoughtful. *sigh*

    I don't know how the "feature our wedding!" form filling out goes, but is there an option for the spouse who's filling it out to choose from the list of tags/tag their own entry?

    Oh, and also, tagging entries by location would be very cool.

    You know what else would be real cool? Gay weddings. With boys. Two of them (or, you know, whatever). The only place I have ever seen them is in Martha Stewart Weddings, and I thought that was pretty darned amazing for something so mainstream.

    4 agree
    • All wedding posts are tagged by location. All of 'em!

      As for boy/boy weddings, I address this in the Offbeat Bride FAQ: http://offbeatbride.com/about/questions

      We work our tails off to make Offbeat Bride as inclusive as possible, but recognize that most of our LGBT wedding submissions are "L" … here's hoping we can change that!

      2 agree
      • When I get married, I can add another boy-boy wedding. How's that? :-)

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      • Have you considered changing the name from Offbeat Bride to Offbeat Wedding or something like that (the same way you did for Offbeat Mama -> Offbeat Families), I actually hesitated to send a link to OBB to some newly engaged male couples because of the 'Bride' part. I feel like this is something YOU would have already considered, if so why haven't you changed it?

        0 agree
  5. I'd also suggest having a list of suggested labels (plus-size, lesbian, outdoor, steampunk, midwest, pantsuits, etc), so that submitters could, if the chose, check those boxes — with an explainer saying that the site isn't trying to label anyone, but trying to make it easier for others to find inspiration through searches. That way, someone who doesn't want to be labeled can opt not to check the boxes, while those who don't mind being part of specific searches can opt in for the label, even if they don't "label" themselves.

    14 agree
    • I think this is a great idea!

      As someone said earlier, if there was a box to tick "plus size" I would tick it…but if someone asked me if I wanted to be labelled that I would probably feel a little hurt and self consious. Psychology is weird but for some reason I'm okay labelling myself something I wouldnt like others labelling me.

      8 agree
    • BRILLIANT SUGGESTION, and super easy to put into place.

      …Our submission forms are now updated to allow people to do exactly this. Thanks!

      22 agree
  6. This post is yet another reason I always feel so inspired/pleased/generally awesome about this site and the OBT and Ariel in general. As self-proclaimed "queer-spawn" I certainly can understand the challenges of labeling- both one's self and others- and I think Ariel has really deftly handled the issue here. Speaking for myself, I have always found OBB to be a very welcoming, inclusive community and I think it's great that Ariel and the other moderators keep that an active goal, one always to be worked on. I guess overall, I want to say "Thanks" to the staff and all of the my fellow OBBs. (Oh- and agree with other ladies above that a wedding with two grooms would be lovely….perhaps some potential, profileable couples have been shy about posting due to not being "brides")

    2 agree
  7. I really appreciate you tagging posts as "lesbian weddings"! Of course we want to be seen as no different from any other MARRIAGE, but its not about our marriage, its about the wedding, and that can be really different than your average wedding :)

    1 agrees
  8. While I agree that it's awesome to see weddings between two men featured more in general, I think the point of Offbeat Bride is to feature, well, brides. Women are under a lot of pressure to be a certain way for their wedding, and this site is all about teaching them to throw off the weight of that pressure and do exactly what THEY want. I don't think that men experience the same pressure, no matter what their sexual orientation.

    But that's just my opinion. If Ariel decided to start featuring guy-guy weddings I'd be totally happy with that, but it would take the focus off of brides and expand the scope of the site – maybe "Offbeat Weddings" would be a better name for it! (I realize I might be horribly closed-minded in assuming that all self-identified "brides" are female, but I've always thought of OBB as being geared towards women, which I think is its intention.)

    I would love to see more poly ceremonies on the site, but I think the dearth of them (I only found one semi-poly ceremony when I searched the site, and it merely mentioned polyamory but didn't seem to include more than two people in the ceremony) is due to the fact that they're relatively uncommon in real life. I think the unique issues faced by a poly bride would be fascinating to explore in greater depth.

    4 agree
    • I found this post because I was looking for poly weddings here! As part of a poly family considering holding a wedding in the future, I'd love to be able to see how others in a similar position did it, and I thought Off Beat Bride would be the place to go. Maybe I'll submit our wedding once it's happened :)

      4 agree
      • Please please please submit your wedding. I am poly, newly married, and considering a commitment ceremony with my other partner.

        3 agree
        • It won't be until 2013 at the earliest, there's lots of monetary and legal stuff to work out first (combining three people into one legal entity is going to take a lot of work!), but the more I search online for examples of other weddings or commitment ceremonies held by triads and Vs the more I think we'll HAVE to write about our experience somewhere. There's just nothing to be found! A handful of couples marrying with reference to their other partners or to their polyamory in general, which is wonderful, but not many of those and no three-person-marriages that I've been able to find (the other bride and I are not lovers, but we are close, and it's important to us that our family unit be honoured in whatever ceremony we end up with *as well as* our individual relationships with the groom)

          3 agree
          • Hubby and I are married legally (since November 2000; we are in our mid-50s), and we have a spouse, a female I originally met over 35 years ago, loved and lost, then sought out and found again (praise Goddess). She had gone through many changes in the years, and we brought her to live with us. Thankfully, the two of them fell in love, too, and we are a polyfidelitous triad. We three are in it for the long haul, and I'd love to hear your thoughts and provide input if you so desire. (He and I put all our money and property into a legal trust with an attorney, to care for her in the event of our demise, as she is disabled. My adopted daughter and twin grandsons, also disabled, are included in that trust as well.) Although we have made private vows and exchanged rings, we would love to have a celebratory ceremony with some special guests. Namaste.

            1 agrees
  9. Wow – I am in love with this post! It's something I never really thought about, but the effort and sensitivity you put into it is why I love this site! 1000 kudos!

    PS – agree that I'm sure brides wouldn't mind the opportunity to "self label" their own submissions. :)

    0 agree
  10. I think in this context, of this site, people should not be offended by your tags. You, the person who runs this site, has to use the information you are given to best help others who are looking for specific things. I don't think we should be offended by your tags, unless of course you use "big fat fatty". LOL I mean if someone is super offended by your tag, then we all know we can just email you and you would change it! But for such a super awesome site, we all know your intentions are good and should use what you deem best for everyone else. I'm sure a lot of time, when submitting stories, the girls/guys don't think about all the possible tags that someone might find helpful! You have more experience with that! Just my opinion of course!

    0 agree
  11. I think in this context, of this site, people should not be offended by your tags. You, the person who runs this site, has to use the information you are given to best help others who are looking for specific things. I don't think we should be offended by your tags, unless of course you use "big fat fatty". LOL I mean if someone is super offended by your tag, then we all know we can just email you and you would change it! But for such a super awesome site, we all know your intentions are good and should use what you deem best for everyone else. I'm sure a lot of time, when submitting stories, the girls/guys don't think about all the possible tags that someone might find helpful! You have more experience with that! Just my opinion of course!

    1 agrees
  12. Believe me, we'd love to see more of them on the site too! We've actually featured two weddings under the polyamory tag, and hopefully we'll get more of them submitted to us in the future.

    2 agree
  13. Ariel, your features are always an intelligent and inspiring read – whenever I get to read a longer post by you I think "yay!". Thank you for being so inclusive and sensitive to these issues, you are right that there is always more to learn on them.

    0 agree
  14. Wasn't it Audre Lorde who said something about how "definitions should belong to the defined"? (Correct me if I'm wrong; it's been quite a few years since I graduated from my women's studies program!) Well, whoever said it, it's always been a sentiment that feels very true to me, and I want to thank you, Ariel, and the rest of OBB team, for trying to make this site a place where self-identity is encouraged and allowed, even when it's not necessarily convenient. Ticking a set of boxes never seems to cover all the bases in the 'real world', either, does it? ;o)

    P.S. As a more general comment–gotta say that I have been LOVING all of the exploratory, editorial style writing you've been featuring lately! Even though my wedding is over and I don't dig on the wedding porn as much anymore, it's pieces like this that keep me checking in here long after I've erased the rest of the wedding-related bookmarks.

    0 agree
  15. Right. Because if I was half of a gay couple, and a mixed gender couple told me, "Oh, you're not having a gay wedding, you're just having a regular wedding." I'd be a little, "Look buddy. I don't even have legal marraige rights yet, so why don't you back off a little, huh?"

    That said, I think I'd be crazy offended if someone called our wedding a "straight wedding."

    So. Well done, well said. I like the idea of letting people literally check off the tags they would like on their post (ahhh, smart back end forms :)

    1 agrees
  16. This is such an awesome website! I wish people would lighten up and not get so offended so easily. It should be relatively clear just by browsing the site that no one intends to offend anyone else and that all people are identified equally and with respect among the readers and writers of Offbeat Bride.

    1 agrees
  17. Ariel and OB team, you all do an amazing job! Your post is well stated and I think this will help clear the air. Keep on keepin' on!

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  18. man i love this site. it is so comforting to know that you guys care so much about the people you have featured. this is a great community… you can really tell that everyone here is considerate, and has the best of intentions, even the person who responded to the previous post you referenced was kind-hearted about it.

    the tags are defintely a useful part of the site, don't get rid of them!!!

    0 agree
  19. I also noticed that the reader survey did not have "bisexual" as an orientation option. Which I thought was more common that a person identifying as "neither or both" a gender (no offense…just pointing it out).

    1 agrees
    • Ooh — a great point, and a total oversight on my behalf! We're in the final days of the reader survey now, but I'll definitely keep this in mind for the next survey.

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  20. labels are so complicated. there are plenty of people who find a label empowering, and they enjoy being part of a larger community; and there are also plenty that find the same label demeaning and/or limiting to their full identities.

    i think that you hit it right on the mark — allowing people do describe themselves (or their weddings) using the labels they want to (or not) is the best way to handle it. good job navigating these (very choppy) waters!

    0 agree
  21. I really like this post. Thanks, Ariel.

    The issue of sexual orientations and weddings is interesting to me. I'm bisexual and my fiance is heterosexual. We're not really having a "straight" wedding either, even though we're a heterosexual couple.

    0 agree
  22. Maybe, just as you ask posters to title their wedding, you could ask them if they'd like to self-idenitfy as a "plus-sized" bride for example and also ask them if there is any label they'd like to see. Maybe some women just don't use the term but wouldn't object to their post being classified as such. i do, however, think it's useful to have all weddings with two brides be labeled "lesbian-wedding" (or perhaps another term?) because it helps people find those weddings they are interested in.

    0 agree
    • Personally I'd be all for "same-sex wedding", but then again I moderate a community myself and I know how hard changing tags can be! ;)

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    • I understand what you mean, but that can get sticky too.
      If ANYONE EVER asked me if I'd "like to self-identify as plus sized," they'd get followed with an hour of "you think I'm fat??? why would you call me fat??????" and a storm of hysterical crying and angry facebook posts.

      Now… of course, it would be easy to say that that's my own erratic insecurity and over-sensitivity – and you'd be right! – but that fact is this: the label that is "empowering" to one (hey, if someone is proud of being plus sized and beautiful, GO FOR IT), is a burning, painful form of branding to another (see above example, hehe).

      0 agree
  23. 1. I love the idea of allowing members to self-apply the current set of tags to their weddings. While I personally would likely have never mentioned that I am a plus-sized bride, I would recognize that having that tag on my wedding photos might help streamline someone elses' search, and would tag it as such.

    2. I may be one of few who would label my wedding a 'straight wedding" – but, then again, of the 14 adults in the room for the ceremony next week, 7 of them are not straight.

    0 agree
  24. Hey, I wanted to say thank you! It's important to make sure everyone self identifies. :D I would also like to add that it would be cool if you could add more queer couples in general, not just lesbian identified couples. Like, gay male couples. I'm a gay man who wants to be a bride some day (in drag et al)! I don't know if gay men are even bothering to submit to this site, and if they're not, I'll be sure to do that when I get married ;D

    2 agree
  25. I want to jump on the "add tags to the submission form" bandwagon – I think that's a great idea to let ladies decide what tags they fit under for OBB – I'm sure a lot of people who maybe didn't call their wedding a lesbian wedding might not be offended by the label, but it would save you the worry of having to ask someone what they're comfortable with!

    0 agree
  26. Couples should be able to self-identify with the encouragement to use labels to help others. Meaning not a requirement, but with the knowledge that label might help another person in gathering ideas. The plus-sized thing is touchy, and does it have to apply to just the bride? Others mentioned the het weddings being not really straight, can the same be applied to body shape of others in the wedding party? Bridesmaids dresses can be a pain for those in the women's size range, and their have been some great bridesmaids (if you're bothering with that) ideas here, that make a diverse body shaped party a non-issue.
    There is the tag for couples of color. Being Black, and my beloved being the whitest White guy who ever was white, the wedding aspect of it is less of an issue and it doesn't seem clear how just being of color matters, unless there is an actual cultural aspect being incorporated. But that's just me, and I'm not offended.
    For a tag I like and love, brides with glasses. Make the tags available and let the participants choose.

    0 agree
  27. well, i wasn't "well-intentioned"–i was an offended married lesbian. BUT there was no way for me to know that brides on the site self-identify, and i appreciate the explanation a lot.

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  28. Everyone, thanks for the suggestions about adding a "tag yourself" section of the bride questionnaire — I did exactly that last night! :)

    0 agree
  29. Well, I'm a big old queermo, well, I'm not that big, and I'm not THAT old, but I am queer…In any case, when I got engaged I was so, so excited to find your site and spent hours paging through all of the lesbian weddings feeling encouraged. I understand labeling concerns, and I love the add tags to submission form idea.

    I've spent years in activist, feminist, and queer communities and there are always some folks who just get ridiculously bent out of shape…

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  30. Fantastic post Ariel. You are all doing such a wonderful job.

    0 agree
  31. Can I just say that I would actively prefer if this site were "Offbeat Wedding" rather than "Offbeat Bride"? Yes, it's true that bride face special social pressures that grooms typically escape. However, having almost every wedding planning site out there, including this one, describe itself as for brides adds to this pressure rather than subtracting from it. The message is that no matter how "Offbeat" the wedding is, it's still the woman's responsibility to do all the planning. Being suspended by hooks through your chest while having your wedding is apparently less taboo than having the groom picking out the table linens.

    3 agree
  32. and what about inter-racial weddings? i see it's really common for people to identify a marriage diferently if one of the couple is a diferent colour, even if the cultural background is the same people insist on the inter-racial thing, as if it would make any difference in the way the couple feel for each other.

    0 agree
  33. I'm a gay boy who has planned his wedding ever since he was a little girl (all I'm missing is the groom) and I'd love to see it featured one day on the OBB website. The name "Offbeat Brides" doesn't make a difference to me — those of us in the queermo wedding porn orbit know this is the place to go for it already. I've learned so much already from the ladies and gentlemen and other gentlepersons on this site! But if you decide that having Offbeat Bride weddings sans brides would be too much of a stretch, I certainly understand.

    0 agree
    • We're waiting for our first groom/groom wedding to be submitted to us! …maybe it will be yours?! :)

      0 agree
  34. Thank you for this post. I really appreciate your thoughtfulness and sensitivity, as well as the fact that you're not afraid to discuss topics such as these (which are often controversial) on this site. I think it's great that you're open to suggestions and willing to explain where you're coming from. As a queer person, this site has been a really great resource for me and a welcome break from the hyper heternormativity that often accompanies the wedding industry! Thanks again!

    0 agree
  35. I think that this is awesome! During this wedding planning, I've often gotten frustrated by simply calling our ceremony a "wedding" to me that has certain connotations that I do not associate with OUR wedding (ie. religion, exclusion of same-sex partners.) While at the same time, I feel just as awkward calling it a commitment ceremony. I wish that EVERYONE was able to freely label in life like we are on OBB.
    I look forward to labeling my "Quiet, sexy, park partnership commitment ceremony wedding" =)

    0 agree
  36. Educationally, professionally, and personally, I am all about gender and sexuality studies. I can talk for days about identities and such.
    But I, for one, am pleased to be able to click on a link and find a whole list of weddings that, in some way, usually mirror my own little family of two women, a dog, and a cat. While many offbeat bride couples, whatever their gender composition, do inspire my own future wedding plans, I admit there's a special place in my heart for seeing two xx chromosomes unite! (i'm holding back the chromosomally-intersex discussion!)

    0 agree

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