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Wedding planning!

And why it hasn’t started yet, despite being engaged for 1.5 years.

#TransparentTuesdays

Personal storytime!


My partner Drew and I have been engaged for nearly a year and a half now, but we’re not a single bit closer to having planned our wedding than we did when we got engaged.

A photo collage of Jessi Kneeland and Drew Hughes

And while at first that was because of the pandemic, and then because I got my book deal for BODY NEUTRAL, it’s mostly because of… me.


I almost wrote “because I’m so fucking… difficult” right there, but I decided not to lean into the shame story I’ve developed around this. The truth is that I just have a lot of baggage around marriage, and weddings in particular, that make it very difficult for me to move forward with planning something.


To begin with, I was vehemently anti-marriage, my whole life, before meeting Drew.


It never made sense to me why people would want to commit to each other “for better or worse” instead of “until we decide this is no longer serving us,” and the traditional and patriarchal associations with gender roles (seen both in weddings and in marriages) made me want to stay as far away from the whole thing as possible.


I now understand that while the history of marriage is undoubtedly problematic, and sexist/racist as fuck (ie: a woman becoming a man’s “property”), a lot of my hatred for anything linked gto traditional gender roles comes from the fact that I’m queer and non-binary, and therefore never saw a way for any of it to apply to me that I could tolerate.


The thought of marrying a man— even an amazing, progressive, feminist man— always brought with it certain associations that made my skin crawl.


I knew too much about the statistics around who does more domestic and emotional labor in these kinds of relationships, and it made me want to scream. I knew that having a child under these circumstances would push me into the role of primary caregiver, even if that wasn’t a role I was interested in or suited for. (For the record, I think I would be a kick-ass secondary caregiver, aka “dad,” but I have no interest in the lonely and exhausting experience of “motherhood.”)


I just knew I would constantly be engaged in an uphill battle against people’s expectations and assumptions about my gender identity and relationship dynamic, if I got married:

  • Not a woman, not a wife, not a “bride.”

  • Not a nurturer or caretaker

  • Not willing to take on any of the gender roles I saw playing out in the marriages around me growing up.

  • No, no, no.

On top of all this, the only real-life examples I saw of marriage were pretty repellent to me, rife as they were with resentment, contempt, visibly unmet needs, and an overall lack of fun, joy, or true intimacy. As a result, I thought of getting married as a sort of “giving up” on yourself, your dreams, and your innate vibrancy as a person. It was hard to imagine why I would ever want to sign up for something like that.


Then there’s the whole issue of an actual wedding.


Weddings are so heavily influenced by traditional gender roles (ie: the bride plans everything, and the groom just shows up), that at some point in my childhood I just rejected the whole idea.


I never daydreamed about my “dream wedding,” nor did I feel any positive associations with the whole concept, the way girls and women around me did.


Other women would talk at length about their fantasy wedding, and cry at weddings on TV or in movies, but not me. I felt nothing but anger and disgust at the thought of wearing a white dress, planning a whole ass party by myself, and being surrounded by flowers.


And granted I’ve only been to a handful of weddings in my life, but not a single one of them was a wholly positive experience. Despite being happy for the person getting married, those weddings felt alienating, lonely, and shame-y for me: a big reminder that I don’t make sense, I’m weird and different, and there’s “something wrong with me.”


What would I even wear? As a non-binary person, a dress feels deeply wrong, but a suit doesn’t feel right either! How would a wedding even look, if it was divorced from every single aspect of gender or tradition? Who would even plan it??


It was just too difficult to imagine, and too frustrating to problem-solve. Better to avoid the whole thing entirely, I figured.


To great surprise however, when I met Drew, I started wanting to be married.


What Drew and I are doing in partnership is so unique, so different and so much deeper than anything I’ve done before, that it feels absurd for him to have the same title (ie: “boyfriend”) as other people I’ve dated.


I understand the value of “for better or for worse” for the first time, and I long for there to be an elevated container around us. I always believed marriage was the end of personal growth and expansiveness… but with Drew I believe it’s the beginning. I recognize that our relationship offers far more opportunities for healing, self-development, and vibrancy than I could access on my own at this point, and I love the way it challenges me to become the kind of person (and partner) I’ve always wanted to be: kind, generous, patient, compassionate, curious, whole, and fully alive.


So now I crave the challenge marriage invites—committing to and loving someone no matter what comes— and I wish for new concepts and language that can hold and acknowledge the specialness and uniqueness of what we’re doing.


And to be perfectly frank, in our culture, marriage is kind of the only way to do that.

A photo collage of Jessi Kneeland and Drew Hughes

The weird thing for Drew and I around this is that we don’t want to be married for any of the reasons people normally want to get married. We don’t want to have kids, we’re not religious, we’re not seeking the social status or privilege afforded to married people, and we’re not monogamous.


So when it comes to planning a wedding, it gets a little confusing.


Personally, I’ve wanted to just skip the wedding altogether and be married, but my sweet and wonderful partner is so connection-and-community oriented that it would feel like too big of a loss to not invite in the people who made us who we are.


I’ve even asked if Drew wanted to plan the whole thing and let me just show up, but the combination of my grouchiness about weddings and his ADHD makes that too challenging. We’ve talked about a destination wedding, a courthouse wedding, a big wedding, and a small wedding, but nothing has ever quite felt right.


So a year and a half into our engagement, we’re starting over. We’re coming to the whole idea of getting married with fresh eyes, and considering everything from scratch.


What is this wedding for?

What is the marriage itself for?

What are we promising to each other, and why?

What is the actual container we’re committing to, and how can we express that as we step into it?


When talking about this recently with a friend of mine, she suggested doing a “fuck the patriarchy” themed wedding, in which we took every single gendered or traditional aspect of a normal wedding, and turned it on it’s head. I wear a tuxedo and Drew wears a white dress. He walks down the aisle instead of me, and everyone turns to admire him. We’re surrounded by succulents and invasive vines, instead of flowers.


It’s a delicious thought, and it’s just the beginning.


I’ve been daydreaming about where we could get married so that I could (appropriately) wear my favorite adidas basketball sneakers and hoodie, what to make the wedding more queer, and how a commitment ceremony might look if we were to openly acknowledge our authentic gender identities, our non-monogamy, or the fact that we’re not having kids.


Maybe some of my story resonates with you, and maybe not… but I wanted to invite you into my inner world today, both in the name of #transparency, and because constant evolution and growth are the most universal markers of the human experience, and I am in that with you.


If you have any thoughts or stories you want to share about marriage or weddings, please feel free to hit reply! (No advice please, but I always love to hear from you!)


Big hug,

Jessi


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