A Mass Lesbian Wedding at the End of the World

It seems like it might actually be the end of the world. Environmental collapse, nuclear threats and the continued transfer of wealth to the billionaire class while the rest of the world burns or drowns weigh on my every waking moment. I walk around in a state of nostalgia for the present, for the life we have right now that seems so close to disappearing forever. And the thing I will miss most is hope.

The last time I felt hope was on a hot summer day in Provincetown.

Provincetown, located on the tip of the curling landmass that is Massachusett’s crooked finger, can itself feel like the end of the world. This summer, as climate change left sea birds dead and dying on the shores of Cape Cod, my partner Suzanna and I did what many couples—who have the luck to be in love and the privilege to ignore the world, at least for a while—are doing in these times. We cocooned. Yet despite spinning a layer of privilege and romance around ourselves as the world went to hell in a hand basket, I started to feel more and more certain that this was the end of the world—that there was no way out, and nothing could save us.

I needed to find hope before I slowly slipped deeper and deeper into the tide of despair that was tugging at me. And so, on a steamy hot day in July, I put on my best dress, grabbed a notebook, got on my bike and rode to the Pilgrims’ Monument.

The monument, built in the early 1900s, marks where the pilgrims first landed before sailing onto Plymouth nearly four centuries ago. It is a large, phallic granite tower that pushes more than 252 feet into the sky. Once there, I made my way through 60 or so tourists getting out of a bus to take selfies.

I was not there to be a tourist. I was there to attend a wedding. A mass lesbian wedding.

via Bride Pride

The mass wedding is Bride Pride, the brainchild of Allison Baldwin and Ilene Mitnick, who had a civil union ceremony and then later, after it was legal, a marriage. When they moved from a small town in Connecticut to Provincetown they decided to renew their vows and “invite women from the entire planet to join in.”

In its second year, Bride Pride attracted 94 brides between the ages of 25 and 75 and from as far away as Kansas and Florida. They were mostly white and, based on the 16 couples I spoke with, educated. The women had professions ranging from book editor to human resource consultant to social worker. Many of the women wore white, although only four wore actual wedding dresses. (Of these, two wore sneakers underneath, one was barefoot and the fourth was covered in tattoos.) Many of the brides also wore three-piece suits, often in shades of lavender, or matching ensembles like kaftans and head wraps or white slacks and pastel tie-dyed tops. All the brides had rings. One-fifth of the couples decided to share a last name.

In other words: Bride Pride was pretty much like most weddings in the U.S. The women gathered there, like most people getting married, believed deeply in the power of romantic love and the importance of a white wedding. Marj, a somewhat zaftig, 50-something white woman, told me that she had always dreamed of a wedding. “Isn’t it every girl’s dream to have a wedding, wear a white wedding dress?” she asked.

I don’t tell her, but it’s never been my dream. I hate weddings, even lesbian ones. Once a straight colleague told me that same-sex weddings were the most important civil rights issue of our time; I think, in my shock, I spit hot coffee onto his dress shirt. Had he not heard of mass incarceration? Voter suppression? The world outside his romantic, Disney-fied bubble? But that’s the thing about romance: It’s an ideology, in the way Karl Marx meant, the way that it masks our real interests. Romance dupes us into believing our future can be secure if we just find “the one.” Yet true love cannot stop climate change or ensure democracy. It’s not that I don’t want everyone, myself included, to have the rights associated with marrying—like health insurance and inheritance and hospital visits. I just think those things might be based on something other than marital status.

Bride Pride creator Baldwin told me, “only the bitterest of souls could look at that ceremony and not see beauty.” I blushed, afraid she was reading my mind. I am bitter. I am bitter that the world my children—everyone’s children—will inherit is on the brink of environmental collapse, and that the political system of one of the world’s richest countries is so dysfunctional we can no more fight climate change than provide health care or higher education for all.

Yet the more I talked to the women getting married, the more optimistic I felt. It is as if I were being covered in fairy dust and magic. I tried to resist—but there was something about Bride Pride that infused me with hope.

The wedding was officiated by lesbian comedian and social justice activist Kate Clinton, part somber ceremony (“with these rings you offer each your hand, your heart and your soul”) and part stand up routine (“you may kiss your bride… NO tongue!”). Yet Clinton also reminded the brides that by creating marriages that are equal partnerships, and that outside of patriarchy, they can transform what has been an oppressive institution for so many women into something better. I am not sure I agree with her—but the feminist optimism with which she and others believe this was infectious.

The wedding was also not the sort of extreme conspicuous consumption that so many weddings have become. Even with fancy wedding clothes and a stay in Provincetown, most were spending about $5,000 on their big day—not the $35,000 that is the national average. And the $150 ticket cost for the event was subsidized by corporate sponsors, making it possible to give free weddings to women of color and local Provincetown residents. Although the organizers of Bride Pride have a “robust marketing plan,” they donate the proceeds—this year to Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors, organization for homeless youth.

For them the point is not profit, but love as a political act. As they like to say: “love is our weapon.” Mitnick told me, “after the election we personally chose to focus on love… to put love out there… We cannot stay in fear. We cannot say what if the waters rise?… if Trump takes all our rights?… We have to focus on what matters most. Love is what matters most.” Her partner in love and business added: “If you stay in the panic, if you stay there and become unable to function, then they win. And, if you stay there, your individual behavior can go crazy. It can become lord of the flies… I have to balance myself and focus on love.”

I want to focus on love, too, but I am not a five-year-old in a Disney princess dress. As a feminist, I do not think that a white wedding, even a mass lesbian one, can ever fix patriarchy or racism, nor will marriage ever solve poverty, as many conservatives argue. Weddings cannot stop global climate change nor can they stop the collapse of democracy. But they can build community, and this one certainly does that.

As the organizers of Bride Pride told me, they see this event as a way of building a network of brides who can stay in touch and build larger and larger networks of lesbians who care about their communities and the world. There are Facebook pages of Bride Pride alumni, where many of the women there talk about being moved by the community to fight harder to change the local laws and cultures in which they live.

So if I am bitter about the end of the world, I am also deeply romantic about love as a source of community building and a site of resistance. As I walk through this winter of hopelessness and feel the present slipping from us, I try to focus on the hopefulness of a summer day at the end of the world and remember that love is our weapon of choice. Like Cinderella, I really do believe tomorrow can be better than today—that we can find our way through the many evil obstacles that stand in our way and end up, collectively, in a people’s happily ever after.

One mass lesbian wedding at a time.

Laurie Essig is a professor at Middlebury College where she also directs the Program in Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies. Her forthcoming book, Love, Inc. (UC Press) considers romance as an ideology perfect for our precarious times. Her last book, American Plastic, looked at cosmetic surgery as both industry and ideology.

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