Let’s talk about labels and self-identifying

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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 couple. 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.

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Comments on Let’s talk about labels and self-identifying

  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)

    • 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.

  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).

  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 🙂

  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.

    • 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!

      • 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?

  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.

    • 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.

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

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

  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")

  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 🙂

  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.

    • 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 🙂

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

        • 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)

          • 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.

  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. 🙂

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