Offbeat partner: Anna
Date and location of wedding: The Bodleian Library Divinity School at Oxford University, reception at the Oxford Union, UK — September 2, 2018
Our offbeat wedding at a glance: I am a rabbi's daughter from New York, while Anna grew up in Mexico City (we met in England in an aerial dance class, as one does). Rather than choosing one cultural tradition, we decided to do everything that was important to us.
We now live in the British countryside, so that became part of the wedding aesthetic as well, with Anna mixing a colourful Mexican colour palette and bouquet of succulents with a tweed jacket and her polo whites. We also took our engagement photos on polo ponies, as polo is our favourite pastime.
One of the highlights was the DIY nature of the wedding. my father, Rabbi Arthur Schwartz, officiated, Anna's mother and sister sang them down the aisle, and mutual friends held up the chuppah (wedding canopy) when we realised very belatedly that it it didn't have a stand to hold it up!
Friends and family designed the order of service cards. At the reception, family members sang and gave speeches. Friends cooked a Mexican feast, with margarita-flavoured cupcakes (each with a mini pipette of tequila) instead of a wedding cake.
I'm a professional belly dancer and one of my dance teachers performed a fantastic belly dance show and got the guests up and dancing. Other belly dance friends had also styled my hair using my grandma's pearls. The evening finished with a rather risk-taking referendum on our future surnames, and we have gone ahead and legally changed the name to honour the voting outcome — fortunately none of the sillier write-in ballots won out.
Tell us about the ceremony:
The Bodleian Library is one of Europe's oldest libraries and the 15th century Divinity School is one of the most stunning rooms. The library also kindly gave us the use of the courtyards outside the Library. Anna is a historian and I'm a doctoral student in history, so a library was very on-brand. We even had our thank-you cards designed like check-out cards for library books.
We had what was in many ways a traditional Jewish ceremony, but as we're the same gender there was an unusual amount of leeway regarding who did what. So I wore both a wedding veil and a tallis (prayer shawl), Anna smashed a glass, and instead of the bride walking a symbolic seven circles around the groom, we each walked 3.5 circles.
We planned to hire professional musicians for the ceremony, but Anna's mother and sister surprised and delighted us by deciding to join the musicians to sing the pieces (by Monteverdi and Handel) themselves.
Tell us about the reception:
Around half our guests had come from overseas, so the reception was a wonderful time to see old friends. We had kept the wedding small (50 people) because guests traveled from across the UK and from foreign countries to attend, and we didn't want to feel there wasn't time to see everyone. To that end, we actually had a trip in punts (boats) the day before the wedding, so that we could spend time with any guests who had arrived early and give them a quintessentially Oxford experience.
We also had a mini-reception in the Bodleian courtyard immediately after the ceremony, and our friend made brightly coloured cookies (the wedding dress is still stained from the blue ones and it was worth it) plus shots of alcoholic limonada (Mexican lemonade) for us all to enjoy.
The wedding was held in the library (we do love libraries…) at the Oxford Union, the debating society of Oxford University. It was already a beautiful room. All these Oxford Uni venues are a bit of a risk, as during the wedding planning Caitlyn had applied to Oxford for her doctoral programme (she'd been there for her masters) and didn't yet know if she would be admitted — fortunately she was!
One of the highlights was the dancing. First we had a show from Lorna of Cairo, a wonderfully belly dancer who had recently moved back to the UK after a decade in Cairo. Then we got everyone involved in a traditional Jewish chair dance with one of us only falling off the chair once…
What was the most important lesson you learned from your wedding?
The most important lesson was that you only need to keep the traditions that hold meaning for you as a couple. In some ways this is so much easier for a lesbian wedding because that in itself blows a lot of preconceived notions out of people's heads and they move from being like, “will your shoulders be modestly covered during the ceremony?” to “are you even wearing a dress?”
After we planned the venue, outfits, and photographer, friends and family made the rest of the party come together, and even without a large budget we were able to have a spectacular day. Asking friends and family to share their skills made the day extra special.
Another important lesson was that we didn't have to run the wedding entirely by ourselves. My best man is a theatre director and worked hard all day behind the scenes to ensure things ran perfectly. People were incredibly generous is sharing their time and creativity to provide everything from music to food to hair styling to calligraphy signs telling guests where to go.
Photographer: Zaki Charles Photography (all watermarked photos) • Customised wedding dress: Dig for Victory • Anna's jacket: Holland Cooper • Belly dancer: Lorna of Cairo • Anna's big ear cuff: Maya Valentino • Custom made Grace Kelly bridal crown: Amazing Satin • Calligraphy invitations: Kershia Williams • Hair flowers and bouquet: Fabulous Flowers • Anna's hair styling: Kiera, formerly at Mahogany Hairdressing Salon • Thank-yous: Boka Print • Bride Caitlyn: Hafla Entertainment + hire-bellydancer.com