As you start planning your wedding, you'll quickly realize that there are gendered formulas for doing certain things, like naming your wedding party, choosing your attire, and crafting your ceremony. While traditional ideas work for some, they don't work for all—this is particularly true for same-sex couples. That's why we asked two wedding experts to help us brainstorm alternatives. Below, four commonly-gendered wedding elements, and some gender-neutral workarounds that will help make your celebration more inclusive.
The Wedding Party
If terms like "bridesmaids," "groomsmen," "maid/matron of honor," and "best man" don't apply to your attendants, simply adjust the language accordingly. Wedding planner Jove Meyer suggests referring to mixed-gender groups as the bride's/groom's "people," "crew," or "squad," for example. "Nature also has some wonderful words that refer to groups that you can borrow," adds Hannah Nielsen-Jones, a Life-Cycle Celebrant and the founder of River & Root Ceremonies. (How cool does a "bride's pride" sound?) And if the "bride's/groom's" terminology doesn't work, you can swap in you and your partner's names. "You might just state in the program that 'Standing up for Partner 1 are: x, y, and z. Standing up for Partner 2 are: a, b, and c,'" she explains.
Kids' roles are also flexible. Instead of a "flower girl," you might have a "flower child," recommends Meyer. Nielsen-Jones likes "flower sharer" or "flower bearer" for this position.
Certain fashion traditions, like the wedding dress, are obviously gendered. But as Meyer points out, "your marriage is not guaranteed to be stronger or last longer if there's a white dress involved." Skip white—or a dress or skirt—if it's not what you feel best in. The wedding party can also be outfitted creatively.
According to dated etiquette, most aspects of the ceremony factor in the gender of the participants, including the processional and the seating arrangements. Instead of basing who walks when and who sits wear on identity, choose a different method for organizing yours. "For any ceremony, regardless of gender, couples have to think about who they want to walk down the aisle with," notes Meyer. According to him, you can "walk alone, with a friend, with a family member, or together." How the wedding party walks depends on its structure, but anything from having separate aisles where certain people walk at the same time and meet in the middle, to pulling names from a hat to determine order, is viable. Nielsen-Jones also notes that you can skip the processional altogether, and instead just start the proceedings at a certain time with everyone in a designated place (getting there doesn't have to be a production).
"Since two families are becoming one, why have sides?" asks Meyer, in regard to seating. "There's that cute little rhyme: 'Choose a seat, not a side/ We're all family once the knot is tied,'" Nielsen-Jones reiterates. She suggests reserving the front rows for the couple's VIPs, and then letting everyone else seat themselves. Of course, you can let attendees know ahead of time where each of you plans to stand, in case they want to base their selection accordingly for the best view.
Two gendered reception activities that both Meyer and Nielsen-Jones advise doing away with? The bouquet and garter tosses. "What are the activities that the couple enjoys doing together? Can those things be incorporated into the reception?" If so, do them instead. "I knew one couple that loved the NPR program StoryCorps and they created a StoryCorps booth at their reception for people to record stories about love and partnership," she shares. Alternatively, "save the time to dance harder," says Meyer.
On the topic of dances, reconsider the traditional father-daughter and mother-son dances. You can simply call them "parent" dances, suggests Meyer, or "special" dances, if parents aren't involved.
"Know that you're in good company and that people all over the country and the world are interrogating and investigating the different ways that they can commit to each other authentically and in alignment with their values," reassures Nielsen-Jones. And reworking gendered customs may not only be right for you and your future spouse—it can make your guests feel more comfortable, too. "Being gender-neutral isn't offensive to anyone, so if you can include all, why not do it?" reminds Meyer.