Let's talk about labels and self-identifying

By on Jan. 26th
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.