"Who's the 'groom' in your lesbian wedding?" Gender stereotypes and assumptions with gay weddings

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Sarah Brewer
Kole and Kel (2)
Photo by Devin Bruce

"So, who's the guy in your relationship?"

This question (or versions of it) is one of the more common questions posed to lesbian couples — and the most frustrating. While most people have posed this question with absolutely no malice or agenda, people in same-sex relationships (including myself) can get kind of huffy about it. That is not always helpful, so let's talk about the issue.

Gender Roles

The real issue here is not same-sex attraction or relationships, but rather gender roles. Gender roles are social and cultural guidelines for what is considered appropriate or "normal" behavior for a particular gender. While I'm sure you can easily think of examples, I'm also guessing there are many more ways that you violate gender roles either as an individual or within a relationship.

Raise your hand, ladies, if your man is a better cook than you (or enjoys cooking more). Gentlemen, raise your hand if your female partner works full-time. Who pursued whom?  Who was the disciplinarian in your family, mom or dad? Who balanced the checkbook? Who cried more easily? See, the truth is that, in all relationships, there really are no universally "male" or "female" roles, there are only things that people do. We are all unique and every relationship has its own unique distribution of roles and duties.

There are plenty of people who argue that this is just stupid — obviously girls and boys are different. But, honestly, as we let go of the presupposition that this is true, we start seeing the evidence that the differences between us all have less to do with our gender than we used to think. Try it and see.

The idea that a relationship must have one "male" role and one "female" role is part of something called heternormativity. Heteronormativity is the, often unspoken, assumption that heterosexual relationships and attractions are "normal" and anything else is an aberration. Now, even if the aberration is acceptable, the simple fact that it is "not normal" is both degrading to gay people, and simply not accurate.

As we already know, the male/female roles are often broken by straight couples, so it is not that much of a stretch to say that gay couples also do not need one "male" type person and one "female" type person. Like every other couple, we are simply two people of complementary personalities who, hopefully, have found a way to share a life together. This includes sharing physical responsibilities and meeting emotional needs.

So let's talk about us

My future wife and I are both girls. This may seem obvious to you, but, quite often, many people believe that someone is only gay because they really feel more like the opposite gender. This is enforced by the stereotype that lesbians are more masculine than straight women (Um, Helena Peabody, anyone?). Your personality and how you outwardly express yourself through clothing, hair, etc., really have nothing to do with your attractions. Or your behavior.

As two women, we complete each other in the complex and nuanced ways that any other couple does. We mesh as two different but complementary people, speaking of it in terms of who has more "male" traits and who has more "female" traits is kind of pointless. We are two people who fit together (pretty perfectly, I might add).

Our gender stereotype scorecards

My future wife proposed to me, she also asked me to be her official girlfriend. She also now works in the industrial field, which is dominated by males (as were almost all professions before 1950). She does not have an extremely feminine gender expression, which is to say, she prefers t-shirts and jeans to dresses and makeup. These are all traditionally more "masculine" behaviors. On the other hand, she is much more emotionally intuitive and socially sensitive than I am. And watch that girl run when she sees a spider!

By comparison, I have a more "femme" gender expression. That is, I often wear skirts or dresses and wear makeup. I also cook and tend to be more domestic. But I tend to be more analytically-minded. We both can be very aggressive and competitive and are both assertive, but usually in different areas. Honestly, we both demonstrate the same characteristics, just to varying degrees, like most people.

One of the most beautiful parts of our relationship is how equitable it is. We are extremely cooperative and neither of us dominates the other. This is, I think, a wonderful side-benefit of being in a same-gender relationship: gender roles are (sometimes!) much less pronounced and, since no one person perfectly fits a gender role anyway, there is not that frustration that comes when you want to break those roles.

Why none of this matters (or all of it does)

Think about the ways that you violate your own gender stereotype. Remember that, not too long ago, it was believed that women were inherently bad drivers, bad at science or reasoning, and ill-suited for leadership. It has also been suggested that men are obtuse, emotionally insensitive, arrogant, sexually uncontrolled, and selfish.

These stereotypes do nothing to help anyone and, as I'm sure you know, are inaccurate more often than they are accurate. I cook because I like to cook. I work because I like to work. I love my future wife's romantic sensitive heart and she loves my analytical and intelligent mind. I love how she validates every part of me, regardless of whether that characteristic is traditionally "masculine" or "feminine."

So regardless of the fact that my future wife will, in all likelihood, be wearing the pants at our wedding, that doesn't mean anything except… she likes wearing pants.

I mean, who doesn't?

  1. Thank you! I feel the same way about my relationship, and people often assume that because she presents masculine, she must be the "man." But neither of us is a man! We are similar to how you've described your relationship. I'm more femme (although I still love my jeans and t-shirts, I wear dresses when we go out on the town and I'm definitely wearing a dress at the wedding!), yet I'm more analytical and logical while she is more emotional and intuitive. That's not to say that we both don't have the other side in ourselves, but these are the areas where the majority of our personalities lie.

    So don't think you're alone 🙂

  2. YES! My family tries really hard to be understanding and supportive of my lesbianism. But bless their hearts, there are a few areas where they could use some education. This is one of them. They believe my wife to be boy-ish because she has short hair and wears t-shirts. They are astounded that I don't actually know where everything in the kitchen goes, because my wife does all the dishes. They get confused when I act as the decision-maker in the relationship. They were mortified that I was the one that proposed. At our wedding, they called me "the bride." I try to just brush it off, because they really don't mean any harm, but sometimes it does get really frustrating.

    Thank you for writing such an informative and non-judgy piece!

  3. Thank you for this!! My future wife and I deal with the same stuff all the time. The number one question I get when it comes to wedding planning, "So, are you BOTH wearing dresses?" Well what does that really matter if we really love each other and there are no "gender roles?" I still like to inform people though, the less ignorance the better. Helpful article!

    • I might ask this question, but only because I think the whole shopping for a dress thing is a bit overwhelming, and the shopping calculus of finding two fancy (read: break-the-bank expensive) dresses that are complementary to the humans within *and* the event *and* each other boggles my mind 🙂 Suits seem so much easier, imo

    • I get that all the time, as if this is the most interesting question a friend or family member can dream up! Out of everything you could potentially ask, that's what you came up with? Lol. I also find it odd coming from people who know us well, since I adore dresses and fashion, and she hasn't worn a single dress in the last twenty years or more. I really want to say "Think about it for more than four seconds, and you should have your answer".

  4. When you're constantly being bombarded by tiny (and not-so-tiny) annoyances, it's easy to get fed up and sick of having the same damn conversation over an over. I forget that, even though I've had this conversation a 100 times, often the people I'm talking to haven't.

    This post was actually inspired by conversations we had with very dear friends at an engagement party. These folks were over the freaking moon about our engagement and have been nothing but loving to us as individuals and as a couple, but there were still a few "Well, she's kind of like the groom, right?" It wasn't meant to be hurtful, it just came from a place where bride + groom = normal. Instead of freaking out, we had a conversation about why weddings/relationships/marriages don't NEED a bride or a groom, they just need people who love and are committed to each other.

    • My fiancée gets offended when people call her the groom, and I don't blame her. First of all, a general lack of visibility is problematic… When we go to see vendors, we answer questions together ("When is your wedding?" I answer "October 4th", she clarifies "of this year", and so on). And many people regardless of this somehow land on… we're best friends having weddings on the same day. Or that we're each others' Maids of Honor. Or what have you. So she has to explain "No, I'm the other bride. We're marrying each other"- usually around clenched teeth. Then some comment will be made about her being the "groom" and I have to inform said vendor that we don't fit into their neat boxes. Honestly, I haven't faced any outright discrimination, but more like a vague discomfort stemming from not having a vocabulary to deal with us without resorting to the heteronormative paradigm. I deal in my own little ways. I cross out "Bride" and "Groom" on all the forms and fill in "Primary Contact" and "Secondary Contact". I don't even like "Bride 1" and "Bride 2", as if it's more a wedding for one of us than the other. I know that same-sex weddings are still a new concept, considering the centuries of what defines marriage, so we'll get there some day…

      • The cool thing is that we're kind of marking new territory here. While it can be discouraging to have to continuously fight to carve out your space in a (generally) non-inclusive industry, you get to be part of creating a richer and more dynamic understanding of marriage and relationships. This is going to sound hella arrogant, but I'm excited that our wedding/marriage is going to be such a cool growing and learning process for so many people (there's not a hugely visible gay presence and certainly not very many weddings of gay couple in my community). We all are kind of learning something new together.

        But there are definitely days I don't want to have to be a trailblazer, I just would like for one second for a stranger/vendor to assume I'm marrying a woman (Which is why the Lovesick Expo was so badass!)

      • I am a wedding coordinator (sometimes and as a side business), and recently had a bride correct my contract to read "bride" on both lines. I am so glad she did, because I used a template when I created the form and it didn't even occur to me to edit that. I hope at least one of your vendors had the wake up call I did and adjusts their contract, as well!

  5. Gender roles are just another way to control people's behavior, as far as I can tell. I'm heterosexual in that I'm a female who is attracted to males, but I identify as non-gendered, and it confuses a lot of people (particularly since I do enjoy certain specific forms of feminine expression- makeup, and fashion, to list them both). As a result, my fiance and I will sometimes get questions like this, or assumptions will be made, and it just generally pisses me off.

    I have disagree about pants though. I loathe pants. I mean, pants look awesome, but they are exceptionally uncomfortable to wear for the most part, at least for me. Give me skirts any day. So much less confining!

    • Haha, see there I go making assumptions about other people. But seriously, how can you not love pants! I mean, I love a nice maxi skirt for comfort and will rock a pencil skirt when I'm feeling sexy but I will take chinos or jeans any day of the week!

  6. Agreed! My husband-to-be works from home and I have a long commute, so he does the cooking and laundry. (He's an amazing cook!)

    Marriage is a partnership. Gender roles shouldn't matter!

  7. *claps* Great article. I am in an environment where there is a lot of conversation and visibility of efforts to empower women in traditionally male-dominated fields, yet I still often see microaggresion towards and gender stereotyping of LGBT folks. As a heterosexual cis woman, I think that many members of my community are being (at best) inconsistent and (at worst) hypocritical when they concurrently oppose and support gender roles with an "us vs them" mentality.

  8. "These stereotypes do nothing to help anyone and, as I'm sure you know, are inaccurate more often than they are accurate." This! 🙂

    I am the female half of a heterosexual cis couple but I live in jeans, I have short hair, I'm most definitely not girly. Some of my traits are what would be usually classified as "male". My fiance is demonstrative, emotional, loves to shop, is far better at housework than me, and has some traits that would be usually classified as "female". But because we are hetero, people can pop us into their neat little "normal" boxes in their heads 🙁

    Wishing you and your wife-to-be a long and happy life together 🙂

    • Thank you, xox!

      See it's easy to see who is the "groom" in a hetero relationship because there's a male-bodied person. No one would think, "Maybe this male-bodied person would be better suited to the 'bride' role within this couple." Gender roles and gender-identity, as it's broadly understood, don't allow for that kind of flexibility. But how cool would that be?

  9. I think you've put this all so very well, and I agree that people who ask questions most likely aren't trying to be rude at all – they just do not understand. I enjoy challenging traditional roles, I suppose because it just comes naturally to my partner and me. We do what we do because it makes sense for us, and because we like it. I am a woman who is the primary breadwinner marrying a man who is a work-from-home freelance artist. He is in charge of cleaning, because, well, he's at home, I'm not, and I hate cleaning and he doesn't. I cook and get groceries because I enjoy it. We each do our own laundry because I like to do mine each week, and he lets his build up until it takes him a solid day to do it all. I am in charge of all the bills and finances because I make the money and I LOVE my budget spreadsheet. He's in charge of fixing things around the house and keeping me from losing my soul to corporate America. He's also in charge of buying concert tickets and such, to make sure we always have fun. Our arrangement took some getting used to for our family and friends. They did not understand that contributions to a relationship are not just financial in nature! We compliment each other, and that's all that matters.

    Wishing you and your fiancee all the best. 🙂

    • Thank you!

      I'm so excited that arrangements like yours are becoming more common. I think it's a testament to the opening of our attitudes toward gender roles as well as the increasing visibility of gender-fluid folks. Bravo to you for finding a dynamic that works and holding on to it!

      Like I mentioned above, one of the cool side benefits of being in a same-gender partnership is the general lack of clearly defined roles. I don't feel compelled to do anything "because I'm the woman." There's a freedom there that you don't experience in a lot of other places. And because gender roles are bullshit for any relationship, we're not wasting our time trying to fit a bogus expectation and instead get to focus on the realities of who we are together.

      (Side note: there's an interesting article about that here on OBB about gender roles in wedding planning from a trans*man's perspective: http://offbeatbride.com/2014/07/male-wedding-privilege).

  10. As a vendor, this is a great article and something that I think a lot of wedding vendors struggle with – and that's what terms can be used in place of "bride" and "groom" that aren't offensive to any group of people AND don't come across as sounding odd to the average hetero couple. We have several gay and lesbian friends and we've asked them all, and they all say that the "bride & groom" monikers wouldn't bother them. I saw online where someone suggested "Participant 1 and Participant 2" but I think that sounds very clinical.

    I'm very interested and open to any thoughts on the subject.

    • One of my favorite things about attending the Lovesick Expo (shameless plug) was that there was NO assumption about the gender identity of the person I was marrying, it was a cool feeling after months of filling out forms that didn't fit us. I suppose I am more sensitive to those things and didn't like having to scratch out "Groom" each time 😉

      I've heard some use "Bride/Groom" which could still be potentially problematic for genderqueer folk or others who do not identify as one or the other.

      Personally, I would just appreciate two "Name" fields on forms.

  11. The only place my fiancee and I really had to deal with this was the mainstream bridal shows we were going to before we had to start postponing our wedding (she had surgery last year during the month we were originally supposed to get married in). Although thankfully those vendors were not at all negative when we're saying, "no, we're both the brides!". Since we have settled down into our offbeat wedding planning, we have been lucky enough that everyone is used to the idea of seeing us both dressed up together and we haven't had any problems with questions. We do however have a problem in that my FW keeps taking the "masculine" gender roles on herself, and I keep having to tell her that it's ok, we don't need one of us to be the man in the partnership. However as a transwoman who was raised to "be a man" by her father, it's so ingrained in her already.

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