This is some important wedding photographer advice. Yesterday I spent a fantastic wedding day with a couple, and I am becoming fast friends with them. We had a great time at their engagement session, and their wedding was an amazing celebration. We have even gotten together socially outside of wedding stuff. While I am friendly with all of my wedding couples, occasionally I really hit it off with some of them, and that’s certainly the case with this particular couple. At the end of the night, they even asked if we could be friends after the wedding. I answered “Definitely!” and they both made me promise. I love these ladies, and it broke my heart a little to hear both the DJ and the officiant (twice!) refer to them as “the bride and groom.”
I fully understand that after working at many heterosexual weddings over the years, vendors have ingrained habits with respect to wedding vocabulary. That may be a reason, but it is not an excuse. It is inexcusable to make a couple feel awkward or hurt on their wedding day because you were on auto-pilot. Everyone at the ceremony was sitting there in fear that the officiant would end their service by pronouncing them “husband and wife”. Thankfully he didn’t.
Forming New Habits
The first time the officiant said “bride and groom” people murmured a little. The second time, it became more than just a murmur. When the DJ did it near the end of the night, the girls were understandably upset. I happened to capture that moment. As you can see, the ladies were a little more than just annoyed. They were hurt and angry. They were justified in that anger. I have darkened out the DJ’s face to help him avoid any embarrassment because I have worked with him several times. I know he is a good guy and certainly he was embarrassed, perhaps even mortified. He apologized immediately in front of everyone. However, that does not make the faux pas and the hurt it caused disappear.
If we as wedding vendors sometimes go on auto-pilot, then auto-pilot must be based on habits of inclusiveness. I have worked diligently to eliminate language from my vocabulary which does not apply to every single possible wedding scenario. This way, no matter what my happy couple might be, my language will never be deemed hurtful or insensitive to that couple, their families, or their friends. Every step of your process with the couple must utilize this type of inclusive language.
Your web site, your printed materials, and your social media should use language applicable to any wedding. If you photograph LGBT+ weddings, your marketing should reflect that in order to let couples know you are LGBT+-friendly. This goes beyond simply slapping a rainbow somewhere. Your portfolio should have LGBT+ weddings in it. Your marketing language should be inclusive. If you want to go one step further, there are organizations you can be a part of which market actively to the LGBT+ community. Joining those organizations and showing that in your materials is an added bonus.
As you can see in the image above, a lesbian wedding is featured prominently on my Facebook page. I’ve also replaced the regular M logo with a rainbow logo for Pride Month. These are simple things to do, and they mean the world to an LGBT+ couple looking for friendly vendors in a world that isn’t always friendly. My couple from last night had to base their honeymoon destination choice on places where they would not be in actual physical danger for just loving each other. Can you imagine?
Meeting With Prospective Clients
When clients come to your place of business, or if you meet them somewhere with albums and samples, they should see couples like them. This is not just true with LGBT+ couples. It’s true with couples from various races, inter-racial couples, couples from different cultures, couples with a variety of spiritual beliefs, and more. When meeting with a couple whose wedding format is new to you, let them know you’re excited to get to work with them and experience their type of wedding. Use language with them which shows you have done research before even meeting with them, and that you know the details of their type of wedding. There happens to be a repository where a variety of different wedding types are explained and covered: Balancing the Art and Business of Wedding Photography.
Preparing for the Wedding
In your contract, in your questionnaires, and in your communication with the couple leading up to the wedding, use inclusive language. Make that your norm, not an exception. The two ladies yesterday both had wedding parties made up completely of bridesmaids. This was the very essence of a “bridal party” because they were both brides and all wedding party members were bridesmaids. However, even in this situation, I still used the language “wedding party” and “your posse”. Sometimes you get a “bridesman” or a “groomsgal” in a wedding party. If you have a transgender couple and don’t know what pronoun to use, just ask. Asking will let them know you are sensitive to their needs. When in doubt, there’s also a way around a pronoun. Use their names.
Your contract should not only use “bride” and “groom” as identifiers. I was one of many who helped push my booking system software provider to make it possible for a simple drop down list when putting in contact information. They let you even build custom ones if you like. Now when my couples fill out information, they can select from Bride, Groom, Participant 1, or Participant 2. It’s really simple. My contract refers to “our happy couple” instead of “bride and groom” and it just works. My questionnaires don’t use “bridesmaids” or “groomsmen” it asks them to “tell me about your wedding party members.”
The Wedding Day
Use the names of your couple when in doubt. You can pick up on things which will let you know how they want to be addressed. The ladies last night had “Mrs. & Mrs.” on their sweetheart table. Your couple will likely use cake toppers, signage, and decor which will give you hints. When in doubt, just ask. Again, asking lets them know you care.
There are certain words which you should steer clear of as well. “Traditional” or “normal” are potentially very hurtful. Essentially, any language which indicates an LGBT+ wedding is something other than any other wedding can be hurtful. You also have to balance that with the understanding that this right is not one which has been available until only recently. So, you have to walk something of a tightrope for a little while. While it is definitely special that this couple can finally express their love for each other through the act of marriage, you cannot treat it as not normal or traditional.
If you use habitual language which is inclusive, you won’t accidentally slip up during the wedding and make your couple uncomfortable. They will associate that discomfort with you and your business. As good a job as the officiant and DJ did yesterday, they ended up making a huge dent in how the couple perceived the experience because they didn’t have the habit of inclusive language built in.
What Does LGBTQIAP+ Mean?
Because that acronym is long, simply saying LGBT+ has become acceptable to cover your bases. There are actually 23 different terms referring to sexuality and gender. Sex refers to biological sex people are born with relating to chromosomes, hormones, genitalia, and reproductive system. This generally falls into male, female, or intersex. I have run into members of the LGBT+ community that don’t even know all of these, so don’t feel badly if any of them are new to you. It is good for you to know so that you may be sensitive to all the members of this diverse and growing community.
Lesbian. A woman who is sexually attracted to women.
Gay. A man who is sexually attracted to men.
Bisexual. Bigender. Bisexual can be attracted sexually, romantically, or emotionally to people of two distinct genders. Bigender is someone who identifies with two distinct genders in one body. That can be man/woman, woman/androgyne, man/gender-fluid, etc.
Transgender. One whose gender does not match their assigned sex at birth. A common mistake is to think “transvestite” is part of this community, when in fact that has nothing to do with gender identity or sexuality. Think “vest” being a piece of clothing, or the Latin base word vestimentum which refers to garments or clothing. A transvestite simply likes to dress in clothes outside of their assigned gender.
Queer. Questioning. Queer is an umbrella term for anyone who is not CisHet (Cisgender-Heterosexual. Cisgender means your gender identity matches your sex at birth). It is a broad, vague term, though I have met people who find it offensive. Personally I stay away from it and attempt to be more caring and specific. Questioning is someone who is still unsure of where they might fall in one or more of these categories. This is most often someone younger who is still coming to understand their identity.
Intersex. Someone who does not have a distinct sex and has chromosome patterns of both male and female. The term “hermaphrodite” is sometimes used with Intersex people but this is an outdated and offensive term which should be avoided.
Asexual. Ally. Androgynous. Agender. Asexual refers to someone who is not sexually attracted to anyone. An Ally is a CisHet who supports the rights and actively fights for and defends members of the LGBTQIAP+ community. Androgynous is someone who feels and expresses both masculine and feminine traits at the same time. Agender is someone who does not identify with any specific gender.
Pansexual. Physically, emotionally, or romantically attracted to all kinds of people, regardless of their sex or gender identity.
Gender Conforming. Someone expressing themselves in a consistent way which aligns with societal/cultural norms for that gender. A “strong and masculine” man is gender conforming.
Gender Fluid. Gender fluid means the person can exist anywhere on the gender identity spectrum, rather than confining themselves to a single gender. This can be feminine, masculine, both, or none, but it fluctuates.
Gender Nonconforming. Someone who expresses themselves in a consistent way which does not align with societal/cultural norms for that gender. A woman who does not act in a stereotypically feminine way is gender nonconforming.
Non-Binary. Someone who is non-binary falls somewhere in between the binary term of “man” or “woman”. It can be somewhere in between, or completely different.
It’s Simple. Just Be Kind.
I know this is a lot to take in. I have heard many of my fellow CisHets out there exclaim that it used to be so simple to refer to men and women, or bride and groom. Well, it’s still simple. These are not categories. They’re people. They have names, feelings. They love each other, and they deserve love and respect just like anyone else. Changing an ingrained habit might take work, but it’s worthy work. We have tremendous power to affect those around us in either a positive or a negative way. If you need a reason other than basic righteousness, making the effort to change your habits will also pay off for your business.
The LGBT+ community is a significant segment of our population, one who regularly experiences prejudice and even violence against them. They should be able to plan and facilitate their weddings without having to wade through a bunch of vendors who they might not be sure will be friendly to them. If they see you are LGBT+ friendly, they will be so happy to give you their business. Even better, by being LGBT+ friendly you can make a positive difference in someone’s life during the often stressful task of planning a wedding.
There are simple things you can do. Contracts and marketing should use inclusive language and show LGBT+ weddings. Venues should change “bridal suite” to “wedding suite”. Producers should change “bridal show” to “wedding show” or “wedding vendor expo”. These are all very simple changes which will make a big difference in peoples’ lives. Be aware, and form habits so that even if you do find yourself on auto-pilot, you won’t cause your couple to feel anger, embarrassment, and resentment.