A Letter to Screwtape
|Rose||Mar 18, 2019|
Dear Uncle Screwtape (I find that I want a guy’s voice on this),
Why do I care so much whether my straight friends invite me to their stupid straight weddings? I’m a 31 year old trans woman and I’ve been invited to only two straight weddings, not counting family. And you know how important ceremonies and formalities are to most straights. Before I was out to most people I had someone ask me to be in the groom’s party even though I only knew him because of her. When I said that didn’t make any sense because I was her friend, she was like “well, what do you want me to do? If you were a bridesmaid you’d have to wear the dress lulz.” And I was like “…k. I’m a team player.” She was like “…okay,” only to eventually explain her grandma from Wyoming couldn’t handle it and you know if it were up to her…blah blah blah.
Now, someone I’ve been friends with since we were both new in our city is getting married next month. I just saw her for the first time in like a year and a half, but she knew I wasn’t far away at any rate. She’s having her wedding at an “inclusive” Catholic church but like, what does that mean? She converted for her fiancee and she doesn’t share that theology but like, it’s a place I could never get married and it isn’t about me but it’s really hard to know how to feel about that, when it just goes without saying that I obviously can’t come. It reminds me that being trans is a status violation regardless of how compliant you are with patriarchy or other cultural norms. I hate that it feels like they’re going “look, just let us have this one special day with all the people who matter where queer folks don’t exist. Is that too much to ask?” But I also wonder “would I really look that bad in a bridesmaid’s dress?” and feeling guilty for thinking about the latter as much as the former.
When I did something stupid as a kid and tried to justify it to myself, my dad would often chime in with “ah, man: the rationalizing animal.” I just looked that up and apparently he got it from Robert Heinlein, a man with lots of good things to say about being a human, as long as you don’t ask him about government. Or women. Like Heinlein, most people are not just one thing. Like Whitman would tell us, they contain multitudes.
Unfortunately, those multitudes are not in sync with one another. Your friends with their progressive politics and their old midwestern grandmas and darn Catholic in-laws are failing to understand how to bring all their selves into alignment. They’re experiencing profound cognitive dissonance as they say to themselves “I love my beautiful friend, and I’d like to think I don’t care if she wears a bridesmaid’s dress at my wedding, but I’d certainly care if I had to explain it to someone else, or deal with their reaction to that. Why should I have to deal with that on My Special Day?”
The answer? Because marriage is not just about the two people getting married. It’s an event about solidifying ties between the families and communities of the people getting married. And what the weird dodginess about wedding business is revealing about your Catholic-convert friend is, perhaps, that her intellectual understanding of who her community is (queer! feminist! sisterhood!) doesn’t match up to what her gut is telling her (family! traditions! religion!) And that’s uncomfortable to admit. So: easier not to bring it up. You guys haven’t hung out that much lately anyway, what with her planning her wedding, and you know, converting-to-Catholicism-but-not-really. Multitudes! Dissonance! Rationalizing!
It’s the most difficult and painful work of a lifetime to own up to what you really value. I can imagine a world in which your friend could honestly say to herself and to you, “I’ve realized that at my wedding I want to prioritize brokering peace with my new Catholic in-laws, who will probably be providing me with childcare and financial support over the course of my marriage, over caring for my more transitory community of queer struggling intellectual friends, and I don’t love that, but that’s the order of the day.” And you could decide whether being cut from the wedding on those terms was something you could live with (because she’s got your back in other ways? Because you know she’s had a hard time and that this stability might mean she’s got to sell her values a little and good God, we’ve all been there? Because forgiving itself is a blessing?)
But that conversation is an intimacy that your friend has not granted you. She isn’t inviting you to see the decision-making process. Maybe she isn’t even letting herself see inside that process, in which case, she is cutting herself from this wedding, too. Sure, she’ll be there in the big white dress. But if she isn’t taking stock of what she values, she won’t show up for anything in her life as an agent. If she can’t see that she’s choosing the Catholic in-laws, she’ll wonder why she’s surrounded by Catholic in-laws foiling her good intentions for all time.
I’d like to brag that I pulled the opposite move of your friend. When I got married, I decided not to invite or even tell anyone except for my partners (one of whom I was marrying) and my two best friends. We signed some paperwork, ate Cookout, got stoned and watched Planet Earth. In some ways, that was the right thing because it acknowledged who me and my partner were to each other (not looking to make our relationship into a public forum, just trying to secure health insurance and power of attorney). It was a good and original move, and one that respected the Other’s desire for privacy and peace.
But in other ways, I feel like when I planned it, I lied to myself. I denied that wanted a big dress, the presence of my dad, the support of my close friends, a cake, dancing. I pretended that those things weren’t a part of me too. I felt ashamed that I hid my marriage from some of the people closest to me. Ceremonies are a kind of magic, a ritual of speaking what you want the next stage of your life to be like. My pseudo-Wiccan tendencies tell me that if you lie in ceremony, you bind yourself into that lie. I’m not embarrassed now of the way that I failed myself when I got married, but admitting it was, as they say, the first step to recovery.
You are ahead of the curve on admitting things to yourself. You’re 31 and you know you’re a woman, and you know you want to wear a pretty dress and have friends who are proud to have you stand up with them. You’ve come a long way from casually dropping hints that you’d wear a dress because you’re a team player. You know that what you want isn’t always palatable to others, but you can say “nevertheless, this is.” And you know that there’s a seeming contradiction between your dismissal of the Straights’ Formalities and your own desire to not be snubbed. You’re a bit like Maleficent, in that you maybe wouldn’t have gone to the party if you were invited (too many Catholic grandmas from Wyoming, too few drugs), but that having been banned, the urge is there to sweep in dressed in black and curse a few firstborn since after all, that’s what they must think of you, must live up to expectations, darling.
You want, very badly, to be a Team Player, but you’re still talking like you’re too cool for this stupid party. You want to wear the dress but you feel bad about caring how you’d look in the dress. I feel like you’re on the brink of throwing out the idea that you are bad on both counts. And maybe the new idea is something more like: these rituals are part of the stupid, beautiful ways that humans talk to themselves to make things true, and if two people can stand up and say “we make a promise to our communities to take care of one another”, why isn’t there space for them to also say “grandma, here is my beautiful friend, she’s an important part of my life”? Why can you too not be written into this spell—not in spite of the Special Day, but as part of it?
Your friend is being shortsighted. But she will not get better through you deciding her wedding was stupid anyway. You get to decide whether you think she’s someone to whom you want to say “I’m sad that you don’t seem to want me at your wedding, what’s up with that?” That’s a hard sentence, but it’s an honest one.
You know, maybe there’s value in saying that even if she’s not going to budge, because you’re also telling yourself that you want to be included, that you are worth including in ritual, that among your multitudes is one named “enthusiastic bridesmaid”. Heinlein also said “specialization is for insects.” So much of what we need, we try to rationalize away. If you are a cranky Maleficent who wants to be a team player, be painfully honest about that until you hear someone say “God, do I need an evil fairy godmother on my team.”
Your Affectionate Uncle