Walking on egg-shells: the challenges of serving many communities

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Illustration from an original photo by Caro Wallis, used by Creative Commons license.

When I wrote my book in 2005, I didn't have a philosophy about weddings. I had planned exactly one wedding (mine!) and avoided most wedding media (including websites, magazines, tv shows, and books) while doing so. Offbeat Bride: the book, was just me sharing my story, corroborating with a hundred or so other brides, and then trying to encourage folks to figure out what they wanted to do.

When I first launched this website, I still didn't have a philosophy. I was just promoting the book, doing my thing. I ranted and bitched a fair amount before realizing that I didn't like the kind of attention that sort of writing attracted, and shifted to a more tolerant, "go you, whatever you may do" philosophy. By mid-2007, Offbeat Bride was dedicated to tolerant support of pretty much everything and everyone.

And now here we are four years later. Despite the site having grown exponentially (250,000 of you read every month!), we still focus on supporting nontraditional niches. These days, we cater to a LOT of different niches, and that's where the editorial challenge comes in: everyone wants us to cater to their niche, and when we don't, sometimes y'all get upset. See, when you're dedicated to niches, you can't make everyone happy all the time… because if we did that, we wouldn't be about the niches any more. We'd be USA Today.

We've received complaints from members of almost every niche community you can imagine (and some you've never heard of), telling us that we're being insensitive because we didn't acknowledge their needs. We suggested having a drink, when some of you don't drink. We've written about honeymooning in regions with political turmoil, where some of you won't go. We've featured pictures of smoking brides, and when some of you think that it's a bad example for younger readers. We referred to a vegan wedding as "cruelty-free," and some of you like meat and don't appreciate the insinuations that you're cruel, thankyouverymuch. We've offended environmentalists by referring to a non-green-enough-for-their-tastes wedding as "eco." Once, an advertiser told us she was uncomfortable with our talk of genital excretions — but that ended up being a misunderstanding about the word "squee."

I've gotten frequent enough complaints about the swearing on Offbeat Bride that I have a form letter response, thanking the writer for the feedback but informing them that swearing has been a part of Offbeat Bride's language since 2006 when I included the phrase "ass-fucking" in the book, and while I totally respect that the profanity isn't going to feel right for everyone, it's just part of how I do things.

Then there's what I call the reverse discrimination fallacy, where brides on the more traditional end of the spectrum complain that they feel excluded or demonized for being "too normal." We've edited wedding profiles to exclude lines like, "I didn't want a stuffy traditional wedding," knowing that somewhere an Offbeat Lite bride was going to think to herself, "Oh, so now my wedding is STUFFY!? Fuck you, offbeater-than-thou bride." (Speaking of Offbeat Lite: not everyone likes that term, nor does everyone like the phrase "Wedding porn.")

The feedback we receive from readers is almost always tremendously educational — even when we don't capitulate to the requests. I've learned a huge amount about gender identity from readers of Offbeat Bride. I had no idea that people who followed the Paleo diet adhered to it as an identity enough that they'd be offended by vegans. I've learned boat-loads about the range of recovery community opinions — some of you are positively mortified when we make even lighthearted suggests to have a drink, others joke about how one glass of wine would turn into the whole vineyard. The "offbeat couples of color" tag issue was one with strong and articulate opinions on both side of the fence. The only thing we could all agree on is that we should let folks self-identify.

The challenge for me editorially with all this feedback is that I simply can't make everyone happy. While we work our tails off to keep Offbeat Bride an inclusive, supportive environment where folks of all backgrounds, genders, niches, and tastes can hopefully feel comfortable, ultimately, this is OFFBEAT bride, and you WILL see things here that you don't like. In serving another niche, sometimes we won't perfectly serve yours — and that's ok!

If every post was written to cater to everybody's tastes, we'd be doing something wrong. We're not USA Today, after all — and that's part of why y'all read the site. For us, "Offbeat" ultimately just means being authentic to your identity, and for Megan that can mean cracking SNL jokes that people don't always get and/or like. For me, it means sometimes using language that strikes some people as crude and gross. For Becca, it sometimes means having strong opinions about websites that some wedding photographers might find insulting. For Coco, it means she's ok with you not wearing underwear to your wedding.

I want to encourage all our readers to be critical thinkers — we're not the arbiters of taste, nor are we going to be able to cater to all readers at all times. We LOVE getting feedback from our readers about how our posts make you feel, even if I can't always promise that we'll be able to make all 250,000 of you feel good about every single post on the site. We're ok with that, and we hope you can be too.