The offbeat bride: Juno, PhD candidate
Her offbeat partner: Noah, PhD candidate
Date and location of wedding: Snow Building at Oakland Zoo, Oakland CA — August 1, 2010
What made our wedding offbeat: Everything about our wedding was deeply personal and totally eclectic, from our invitations, to our clothes, to the ceremony, and to the reception. Noah's a Jewish transguy. I'm a Filipina-American lesbian who has just returned to the Bay Area after completing a year and a half of research in Malaysia. Both of us have feminist, animal-loving, anti-racist politics.
As a transguy, Noah did not want to claim being the “son” of his parents. He chose the term “child” instead. I felt like I needed to claim being a “daughter” because my experience of my childhood was deeply gendered.
Our ceremony harkened back to various cultural traditions and we adapted them for our own purposes and desires. We avoided a standard wedding march because I was opposed to being “given away” by anyone. We instead started the ceremony with a procession that was based on an ethnic Iban tradition in which all the wedding guests are individually greeted by the welcoming village.
When guests arrived, they chose to be with “Team Noah” or “Team Juno.” Our many mutual friends spontaneously decided to chose a side. Once we were ready, each of our teams walked forward towards the center-front. Each were guided by “flower kids” laying out rose petals. Our guests stood behind us and in that way, their support and love carried us forward.
Once we got to the center-front, our flower kids found their seats and Noah and I stood there as we individually greeted the other's guests. A friend of ours played Bach on her cello while this happened.
The ritual aspects of our ceremony pulled from multiple traditions. A mutual friend of ours who trained as a Buddhist priest began the ceremony with an incense offering. We each offered burned incense as a way to signify being upright and burning cleanly. Then, my eldest sister gave a “homily” in which she referenced our queer politics about relations and love.
She then made a sex-positive, feminist adaptation of Filipino Catholic traditions of the candle, cord, and coins. Instead of having the coins signify my husband providing for me, for instance, it signified our travels together and our financial commitments with one another. The cords signified the pleasure of being bound to one another.
Then, Noah's eldest sister, who is a Cantor (a Jewish clergy member who leads singing prayers and can legally marry us), performed an adaptation of Jewish rites of marriage in which we proved that we wish to get married. This included pulling away a handkerchief from her, signing a ketubah (a Jewish marriage contract), serving each other wine, which sanctified the marriage, breaking a glass, and finally kissing. In the ceremony, she used our preferred words for “the divine” and avoided the masculine terms for “God.”
Finding the right clothes was an exciting challenge for us. I got my Sue Wong ivory dress off the rack from Macy's in San Francisco for less than $300! I bought and returned a bunch of dresses from Nordstrom, but they looked terrible on me since I am super short at 5'0.”
For the reception, I did the Asian thing of changing into another dress. I borrowed a friend's Nicole Miller cocktail dress. As a nod to my mixed-Chinese ancestry, I wore red to the reception. The inspiration was a Shanghai movie star from the 1930s.
Noah wore a custom-made silk barong tagalog, which is men's formal wear in the Philippines. He also had wool trousers made for him in the Philippines. Together, both were under $100. He found Gucci shoes for $15 at a discount retailer in Southern California.
Tell us about the ceremony: The ceremony was an hour and a half and unusual. After a long conversation with Noah's sister, she truly understood our personal relationship with “the divine” and used more vague, open words like “elohim.”
My sister wrote a wonderful and brilliant reflection, ‘”Everyone is here for you, Juno and Noah.” One of my favorite passages from her sex-positive, feminist, post-Catholic homily:
I am not happy today because you find one person to be with
But because you stay alert to how to be together
in friendship, family and intimacy just like how you imagine.
How great the life you lead to get who, what, and how you want!
To entangle with each other in a way that's intensely attuned
to where you come from, to who you are and aspire to be,
To share how one grows, expectedly and unexpectedly,
in a constantly changing world, is a bottomless source of learning
that I know your love for knowledge keeps you pliable.
Recognizing the vulnerability of forever, you defend each other,
promising an unflagging bond. Clear, steady, and taken.
Our biggest challenge: Delegating was very difficult for us since we felt that we couldn't impose on others. We were actually two and a half hours late to our pre-wedding picnic because we had so many things to do, such as paying the caterer, making signs, and picking up the pizza for the picnic.
In the afternoon and evening before, we still had minor but important things to do, like make the table tents and finish the place settings. It just so happened that my friends who came from the furthest distances (Toronto and Germany) ended up stepping in and helping us with the last finishing banalities. I felt badly for roping them in when they could have been enjoying the Bay Area instead. These friends are truly saints!
In retrospect, I would do a better job delegating. It would have been more thoughtful had we squeezed in a “craft party” during the picnic so that our friends could do little jobs together.
My favorite moment: Coming into the reception to David Bowie's Soul Love, decked out in fabulous clothes to our cheering friends and family who were standing up and applauding us was the most awesome feeling.
Many of our queer friends have ambivalent politics about marriage. But as one said, “I hate marriage, but love weddings.” Any contention or ambivalence slipped away in the merriment of the moment. I loved taking a turn around the room and seeing all our guests from so many different aspects of our lives, all together enjoying each other's company.
Noah and I decided to adopt the Chinese tradition of giving Ang Pao, or red packets with money. Only after one gets married are they expected to give out Ang Pao (at least among Chinese Malaysians). So it felt really meaningful to finally reciprocate and give a gift back to the key people who fostered us in different ways — our older friends and mentors.
It was really meaningful that both of our sisters and an older lesbian friend of ours who is like an older sibling to us officiated the ceremony in their different ways. Noah's sister understood our attitudes about the concept of “God” and she used various Hebrew forms that were less absolute and more open. My sister truly understands my identity and our ethics and politics. She explained it in such a beautiful way to everyone witnessing this event.
My funniest moment: Our wedding and reception were held at the Oakland Zoo, where I had volunteered as an intern zookeeper. Their policies about animal visits to parties are very strict and very animal-friendly, so we could not have an “animal ambassador” visit our wedding.
So we made the animal theme more pronounced with a contest. Our guests sat in a 100-person U-shaped table formation and each wing of the U had a table theme including primates, wildcats, and ungulates (or hoofed animals). Each table had to make their table's animal sounds and the person who they thought made the best sound represented their table in an animal call “face off” at the front of the room.
The primates sounded like a loud cacophony of gorillas, chimps, and howler monkeys. The wild cats at first were too shy, which prompted our witty emcee to urge those “kittens to roar.” The ungulates table consisted of mostly non-profit workers, community organizers, and administrators. When it came time for their animal sound, they all slapped their hands on the table in unison and sounded like a massive herd of charging bison. They secretly sent text messages to each other planning their sound!
Unfortunately, they had to make another sound since it was supposed to be vocal. So, they had a great cacophony of moos, neighs, and oinks. After the contest (which was won by a 65-year-old auntie who shrilled like a chimp at war), we were urged to make our own animal sound. Ours was anticlimactic because our table was foxes and they are a silent species. So, we pretended to lick our paws.
Noah does not like dancing in public because he is shy about people watching him. So after we danced, we apprehended him so that he would dance with me while my sisters danced around us. My youngest sisters choreographed it so that it was easy to learn in a quick amount of time. There is a video too:
Was there anything you were sure was going to be a total disaster that unexpectedly turned out great? The stress leading up to the wedding made me burst into tears at the picnic. Oddly, I was stressed by seeing so many people from the many different aspects of my life together at once. I have lived in so many different cities, never spending more than three years in a given place, so I felt that everyone there knew me from such a different context. I think it was also the fact that I had spent one and a half years away from so many loved ones and then seeing them all at once.
My sisters swooped in and reminded me that I just needed to articulate my needs. At that moment, I needed to not have to worry anymore about any plans and that Noah would do the job of explaining our wedding procession to everyone at the picnic. From then on, I was able to relax and truly enjoy the moment.
We just didn't have the money for a professional photographer from the Bay Area. Noah's uncle served as the main photographer and our different friends with nice cameras took awesome photos. They were great shots, too.
My advice for offbeat brides: Once the flowers began to lose their petals and dry out, once the leftovers from the wedding began to rot, once our friends from far away left, and once we had to clean up the house after the whirlwind pre-wedding schedule, I got depressed! So many months of meticulous planning suddenly ended after just a weekend and it hurled me into sadness.
I would definitely advise people to schedule a honeymoon immediately after the wedding or a day after the wedding. The honeymoon doesn't have to be to Bali or whatever. The idea is just to leave your home and return once you are homesick. And once you return home together, you can deal with the mess together.
What was the most important lesson you learned from your wedding? The most important lesson for us is that rituals mark momentous events in a life. We will always remember the utter joy and happiness we felt in the presence of so many different loved ones.
Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?
- Caterer: Hugh Groman and Greenleaf Platters totally understood our vision. Hugh was the one to come up with the intimate U-shaped table arrangement with us on a sweetheart table in the center. The food was fabulous!
- Cake: Carolyn Wong. Not only was it deeply personal since it was based on tattoos Noah and I have, it tasted unbelievably amazing. Our favorite flavor, key lime and raspberry with vanilla chiffon, tasted even better than the initial cake tasting! We'll be ordering another cake for Noah's PhD graduation.
- Hair and make-up: Vivi. I had crazy amounts of acne before the wedding. I was so relieved to have gotten my make-up and hair professionally done by Vivi. The days right before the wedding were super stressful for me and so I broke out even more. She did a phenomenal job hiding my blemishes and boosting my confidence and happiness that day.
- Wedding registry: Shiki, a Japanese ceramics store in San Francisco's Japantown specializes in gorgeous, amazingly durable, and surprisingly affordable Japanese stoneware. People would just call and say how much they want to spend and the retailers would suggest gifts.
- Veil: I wore a champagne-colored birdcage veil from Ann Leslie designs.
- Dress: Sue Wong from Macy's at Union Square in San Francisco.
- Juno's shoes: Michael Kors “Belinda” sandals in pink python from Nordstrom in San Francisco
- Noah's custom-made kippot (yarmulke): Edna Sandler Judaica
- Ketubah: MP Artworks
- Invitations: Mercurio Brothers
- Flowers: Jean of Fourth Street Flowers in Berkeley did an amazing job with the flowers and worked within our small budget.
Enough talk — show me the wedding porn!