Representation without Tokenism: A Wedding Vendor Guide. 🏳️🌈
Recently, Tori and I ended up at a Styled Session that had the best of intentions at being inclusive, ended up missing the mark. The day quickly devolved into misgendering the queer couple, forcing them into heteronormative stereotypes, and overall just tokenizing the queer community.
I’ve seen this happen before. People think they are being inclusive by putting two queer people in front of the cameras, and then find themselves falling short. So I want to explore why this happens, and how it can be avoided.
Representing the queer community is about more than just dropping a queer couple into another heteronormative narrative. It’s a responsibility to do more than put us into a predetermined box.
There is work to be done, and it’s about doing that work.
Let’s talk about how!
Tokenism is superficial.
Tokenism is participating in diversity without a commitment to inclusivity.
To break it down, it’s much more of a “show,” where marginalized people are used as props for the benefit of the photographer/planner/publication/other vendors, etc., and less of a true effort to support, appeal to, and accurately represent the LGBTQ+ community.
Note: I am going to talk a lot about Styled Sessions for this post. This can just as easily happen with weddings, model calls, engagement and/or family sessions, the list goes on for freaking ever. Just replace “Styled” with any other kind of session.
If you are a heterosexual wedding vendor and you want to take on the responsibility of representing the queer community through a styled session, the first step is to recognize that, no matter how good you may be at your job, you are no longer the expert.
And that is okay!
Deciding how the queer community should be represented means you are taking on a responsibility to do that truthfully and as accurately as possible. Dropping queer couples into a straight, cis, and/or white narrative is not an authentic, or accurate, representation of the queer community. As you create scenarios that tell queer people how they should look, and act, and present themselves to the world, you have to ask yourself
Queer people often find themselves being forced to live outside of their own comfort zones until they begin to feel more comfortable there. So when you decide to work with the LGBTQ+ community, then taking on queer representation might very well mean that YOU have to step outside of your comfort zone and start playing on our “turf.”
But don’t worry! It’s going to fun, creative, and full of love!
Playing on our “turf” may mean doing things a little differently than you are used to. That may mean getting uncomfortable, or having conversations that may seem awkward at first. It will very likely mean taking on additional work. Though, isn’t that the very foundation of what it means to be an ally of the queer community? Work? (the answer is yes!)
Collaborate with them. You are literally doing market research, for the queer market!
Queer people have been ostracized and rejected from the wedding industry for a very long time. Actually for all of time minus like, 5 years. In fact, we are still regularly experiencing this. I know you’ve seen some venue or vendor, being called out on their bullshit, it’s a pretty common occurrence. But, how many are not publicly talked about? How many couples are made to feel shame from vendors, made to feel shame about their relationship? We already hear so many stories about Queer couples being rejected, but how many are we not hearing?
That can mean that sometimes, our love looks different. Our celebrations have been modified, our traditions may not be the same as the ones you may have previously experienced, and while that is part of what makes our take on love so beautiful, it can also mean that you may not be the best person for the job, on your own. (and that is okay!)
You have to realize that while you may have the best of intentions, your perspective may be way off. A great design might be great, your intention, and your heart, may by in the right place, but if you just sticking queer people into a design crafted from a heteronormative perspective, without even considering the nuances of queer celebrations of love, you will probably find yourself missing the mark. Big time.
And let’s be very blunt, here: asking us to conform and fit the same mold as your straight couples because you didn’t bother to do the work, or bring on a queer vendor in a position of power, is just asking us to be your token queer couple so you can ease your guilt surrounding your crappy representation efforts (and this one is not okay).
So talk to the queer vendors around you, bring them onto your team. Hear what they have to say and contribute, because how are you going to tell someone,
“this is what your queer wedding will look like”
when you haven’t even spoken to a queer person to see what someone like them may want?
Dressing us up just to parade us in front of your clients so they don’t think you’re bigoted is not okay. It’s peacocking, it’s tokenism, it’s gross.
However, there are ways to legitimize your efforts.
An important aspect of avoiding tokenism, is to understand that you can’t just sit back and benefit off of the queer community by organizing sessions, or photographing them for your portfolio. You have to be a strong, affirming LGBTQ+ ally and help us work to better our community, and fight back against discrimination and oppression.
Okay. let’s clear this whole slate and start here: what does ‘affirming’ even mean?
Affirming, by definition, means to declare one’s support for, uphold, defend.
It means offering [someone] emotional support or encouragement.
It means giving [something] a heightened sense of value.
Use your voice to promote and uplift queer voices, stories, and skill sets. Yes, even if they are the same kind of vendor as you.
You don’t have competition, you have collaborators. Lean into the support and knowledge that other vendors, even those in the same category as you, can provide.
The biggest thing you can do to be an affirming ally of the LGBTQ+ community is to publicly share and show your support for the queer community.
Now, this doesn’t have to be situation where you make posts like I <3 Gay People. Naaah. However, there are ways you can share and show your support that are more socially acceptable! 🙂
I realize that there is a lot of pressure out there to have an inclusive portfolio, but if you are not prepared to take on a queer session, you may end up making things much, much worse.
*I believe there is an exception to this. If you are addressing a specific person or specific people, (i.e.: blog posts) it is okay to use the gender specific language that person goes by.
(although you should really start making those changes)
It’s okay to not be ready. It’s okay to not be the best choice for a couple, or a session, or whatever other situation.
What is NOT okay, is to go into a session and misgender someone, or make gendered jokes that do not apply to your couple. It is not okay to go into a session and force your beautiful queer couple into a heterosexual narrative that neither serves, nor benefits the queer community.
Representing the Queer community is a responsibility!
You must show up for us in all aspects of your life, not just your business. Not just for money.
You cannot simply fill your portfolio with Queer humans and call yourself an ally. There is work to be done and representing the Queer community means taking on the responsibility of that work.
You’ll probably see some repeats here, but that’s okay. This way, it’s all in one place 🙂
Let me know if you have any ideas to add to this list! Let’s gather as many incredible suggestions as we can to make the wedding industry a kinder, more inclusive space!!