Marriage equality is for wedding parties too: 5 tips for bridesmen

Guest post by Mark O'Connell, LCSW

This is an excerpt from Mark O'Connell's unpublished book, “How to be a Bridesman.”

Illustration by Dan Parent
Illustration by Dan Parent

Marriage equality has arrived and it's not just for “the gays.” Wedding customs are evolving for all. Marriage ceremonies (even religious ones) are becoming more a proclamation of love and commitment, on equal terms, for gay and straight couples alike.

Wedding parties are progressing, as well, and the tradition of “boys on one side of the aisle, girls on the other” is being adapted so that each spouse-to-be gets to stand with their tightest pals — regardless of gender. Bridesmen and groomsgals are indeed a fact of twenty first century weddings.

But not everybody is ready for this party. Some guests see a bridesman or groomsgal and don't know what to do. Here are a few simple tips for managing OPA (“Other People's Anxiety”) and performing at your very best.

(NOTE: These tips are aimed at bridesmen — 'cause nothing gets you down with OPA like a man in “a woman's role” — but they're helpful for groomsgals and every idealist who believes in wedding-party equality.)

1. You must be asked

There are currently many people trying to deny women the right to choose, but you can't be one of them, so as tempting as it is to insinuate yourself into your dear friend's nuptials, the choice is hers. That being said, if you share a deep bond with a soon-to-be-bride, you're a likely candidate for her party, if she's having one.

Women have been the pioneers of wedding-party equality, brazenly breaking tradition to keep their besties in line on the big day. This coming out, if you will, validates many special and enduring platonic friendships between women and men (very often gay men), proudly reclaiming them and challenging the common perception that they're based on invisibility and shame — the “fag hag” and her “fag.”

So, prepare to be asked and to say, “Yes! I do honor your wish to publicly affirm our binary-shattering mutual affection.” However, if she tries to draft you into the brigade of her betrothed, consider sharing with her how meaningful it would be for you to be deployed on her side instead.

2. Complain about your suit

Not literally, but here you might have to severely depart from bridesmaid rule of thumb. Your bride-to-be means well when she may tell you to suit-up like a groomsman — whether or not that suit works squeezed between two bridesmaids' gowns. This could be an immaterial concern, but you don't want to look like you accidentally wandered to the wrong side of the altar.

Ask her about the bridesmaids gowns, and collaborate on a look that captures the same essence, colors, and style of the bridesmaids' gowns. (For example, if the maids are to wear lavender crepe gowns, and the groomsmen seersucker suits, then you might suggest a lavender summer suit for yourself, or pale gray with lavender tie and socks.) Now the girls and boy(s) of the bridal tribe look coherent, confident, and distinct.

Have your outfit tailored: For some men, putting such effort into looking good may bring up feelings of being emasculated or vulnerable. Reframe this, and think of it as a gain not a loss (even George Clooney allows himself to be eye candy), and picture the bride beaming with joy and appreciation for your cooperation.

Maybe you have more flexibility than the ladies, but with it comes the responsibility to co-create a clear and respectable sartorial role — for yourself and for future bridesmen.

3. Get tight with your fellow “maids”

A surefire entree into the clan is to enthusiastically participate in planning the bachelorette events, with a soft, genuine curiosity. For example: “What happens at a shower?” “Can we use Google Docs to budget for this thing?” “Must we wear penis crowns?”

Sharing what you know always helps, so offer something you're good at. For example: decorate a cake in the bride's likeness, or design a signature cocktail utilizing the wedding theme colors. The gals will appreciate your efforts.

As a warning: If you're the only male in the bridal party, don't let it get to your head and lead you to offer your stripping services. Unless you're a pro and it's as easy as tying your shoelaces, this will just be weird and could defeat your intent to form a secure attachment with the ladies.

4. It's not about you; it's about her and you

Whom and what this day is about is certainly not up for debate, but when you're cast against type in the eyes of your audience (imagine The Rock playing one of the seven dwarves), you're going to be more distracting if you try not to be noticed than you'll be if you make active choices. So to ensure that the group focuses on the lovebirds and their revelry, you'll want to address a few technicalities.

Clarify the bouquet situation: If she wants them, consider how harmonious it is for you to hold one, and if very, then great, but if not-so-much, then offer her a few creative alternatives — perhaps a matching boutonnière.

If she wants a standard recessional (meaning bridesmaids taking groomsmen's arms as they exit), she may not have considered how this affects you or the groomsman who'll be staring at you dumbfounded. I've been in this hot seat before and offered my arm to the confounded gentleman — thinking it better to confidently take the novel image of us walking together a step further than to passively attempt to blend in by taking his arm, or to avoid the issue altogether, likely causing an awkward distraction. The crowd laughed, relieved that an active choice had been made, and seemed to be left with an open mind rather than tense embarrassment. Collaborate with the bride on a flight pattern ahead of time so that your ceremonial moves are chosen and smoothly executed.

Don't let Other People's Anxiety bump you from (literal and mental) photos of the day. Advocate for having yourself placed in plain view, and allow the camera to capture your natural chemistry with the bridal team. When guests pass by and acknowledge only the ladies with comments like “you look so pretty,” rather than colluding with that guests' desire to Photoshop you out of reality, deploy your smile teeth and say “thank you” with an easy charm.

5. Just be

Like a professional performer, you've set all your marks in advance and carved out the canal, so that when the moment arrives, you can simply flow through it. Now you can just radiate how genuinely happy you are that your dear friend has found a relationship that feels like home.

By default you'll be performing, and illuminating a very special kind of love between women and men.

Bridesmen: What are your wedding party tips?

Comments on Marriage equality is for wedding parties too: 5 tips for bridesmen

  1. Did anyone have issue with their family or their partner’s family not being supportive of your mixed gender wedding party?
    I’m having my best friend since kindergarten as my bridesman. My FH’s family is pretty conservative/traditional and I know when it comes down to it they don’t really care, but they are going to be making a lot of inappropriate jokes, especially since his groomsmen are his stepdad and brother so they’re going to be expected to walk with my bridesman (any non-traditional recessional ideas/suggestions would be great). Then on the other hand, my mom and sister automatically assumed my guy would be in the wedding because he’s practically my brother. But my dad, who I’ve always known to be super inclusive, keeps making really inappropriate gay jokes about me having a bridesman.

    Now I’ve fully briefed my guy about my FH’s family and he’s fine with rolling his eyes and looking the other way, I also told him that’s he’s more than welcome to throw a few barbs back at them because they’re the kind of people that love some witty back and forth. And he’s also rolling his eyes and looking the other way with my dad because he knows that my dad’s kind of slipping mentally. But honestly, the remarks that my dad has made have really offended me, and I don’t know how to handle it with him. I tried talking to him about it and he told me I was being ridiculous and just didn’t understand how great his joke was. I’m just super worried that he’s going to say something at the wedding or in his speech and end up making me cry. I’m gonna be crying enough that day, I don’t need bad-crying added on.

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