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Gender-specific issues at a gay or lesbian wedding

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for The Brooklyn Paper
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If you are a straight guest attending your first gay or lesbian wedding, you may feel compelled to ask the couple:

“Who is who?”

This seemingly innocent question (or, worse, part of what you may feel is a harmless joke) can really hurt their feelings. Most gay couples don’t necessarily assume “male” and “female” roles — even if you do.

“Don’t expect a groom and a bride role at a gay wedding,” says Melissa Ledo, a 31-year-old from Montreal who is marrying her girlfriend in September. “It’s kind of hard on my lady that people are assuming she will be in a suit.”

Social gender expectations is a topic that most members of the LGBT community have had to struggle with their entire lives, and they may have had to deal with some painful gender-related issues while planning something as traditionally gender-specific as a wedding. Don’t conjure anything negative during their wedding by saying or asking anything related to the traditional roles of a bride or groom.

Think of the couple as two people that have invited you to partake in a very joyous occasion — two people who may both be walked down the aisle by their parents or simultaneously throw bouquets to their guests during the reception.

“A gay wedding is a celebration of love, so just offer your congratula­tions,” says Ryan Paul, a 28-year-old who married his husband on the roof of their New York City apartment building in March of 2013. “Just use normal social etiquette.”

For example, if you know a lesbian couple is planning on having biological children, don’t ask who’s going to carry the child and why. And don’t ask a groom who you feel is more feminine if he’s going to stay home while his more masculine partner works — or assume he will take his husband’s name. Serious and complicated life decisions are rude topics to bring up during a straight wedding and the same rule applies at a same-sex ceremony as well — regardless of curiosity.

If you feel you need a conversation starter, ask the couple how they got engaged, their honeymoon plans, or where they got their beautiful boutonnières, shoes, or cake.

A same-sex wedding also lends a unique opportunity to think outside the box in regards to gifts and card selection.

“I hope our friends and family are creative and don’t give us generic cards,” says Ledo. “Most Hallmark wedding cards are targeted towards straight marriages.”

If you can’t find a gender-neutral card, make your own. The couple will greatly appreciate the effort.

The same idea applies to gifts. Think of the couple as the mergence of two individuals and give them something that represents both their personalities and interests. If the couple has a hobby that they both love, perhaps focus on that. Or, have the card or gift revolve around where they met. For instance, if the couple met at a Ben & Jerry’s, an ice cream machine would be a lovely and thoughtful gift.

“Being the straight friend at a gay wedding might seem tough,” says Ben Gertzfield, a 34-year-old San Franciscan who plans on getting married to his partner in May of 2014. “But it’s a lot easier if you ask yourself: ‘What would it be like to be the gay friend at a straight wedding?’ ”

All weddings — straight, gay, or otherwise — are really about bringing loved ones together and building connections between all your friends and family — young, old, straight, gay, black, white, and everything in between.

So if you are a straight guest about to attend your first gay wedding and find some apprehension, just keep this in mind: there may be a big white dress or the throwing of a garter belt, and there may not.

Don’t have any gender-specific expectations and you will be just fine.

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