Patty and I were recently invited to a bridal shower for one of her friends. I’ve never been to a bridal shower before, and while this seems like a lovely affair (tasteful invitation, a request only for recipes as gifts), I’ve heard things about them.
The things I’ve heard were swiftly confirmed by the wisdom of my online social network. Yes, there are generally games. Yes, they involve things like making bouquets out of present bows or styling wedding dresses out of toilet paper or gag gifts and slightly off-color jokes about the wedding night (but the really tacky stuff gets saved, apparently, for the bachelorette party).
I’ve been a little rattled by that confirmation ever since. Not because I’m dreading the event; I’m not. But because how much of the tone of the discussion has been Well, of course, it’s like this. Like it’s just what’s done. Like I should have known. As much as I can be that way about my own subjects of concern (and hey, good reminder of why that is maybe not cool and I should chill) — seriously, does no one know the rules about wearing white anymore? — it seriously discomforted me.
I’m queer, and sometimes it is like living in another country. And I’ve always been queer. Even in my relationships with men (which have not been insignificant in import or share of my personal history), I was always extraordinarily explicit about the fact that I was queer. Sure, I often had some sort of straight privilege in those interactions (a tremendous amount in certain cases — I have a particular ex with whom we performed public, expected gender exceptionally well. In retrospect I know it sort of freaked him out, but I had mostly thought it was fun and hilarious, a game like any other, wow do I fail at communication. Anyway….), but I still wasn’t living in a kingdom that understood things like these rituals.
It took me a long time to realize this was true. I was engaged once, after all, and like many women, viewed that engagement as evidence of my success (to get back to a previous theme around here, I was chosen) and adulthood. I certainly bought wedding magazines then, thought about dresses, the whole nine yards, because that’s what you do when you’re engaged. But it was, for me, a ritual firmly about adulthood. There was no moment of wanting every little girl’s dream wedding because I had never actually had that dream.
Weird thing to realize, that. That one of the most common things held up as an obvious subject for collective, gendered fantasy, just completely never pinged on my radar as a kid. Not once. Not ever. That makes a lot of my 20s more inexplicable to me, but what can you do? My point is, while wedding fantasies I may have harbored at various points in my life were certainly jejune, they didn’t come out of childhood. And, as such, the games of some of those rituals (e.g., the bridal shower), which speak to me of the reenactment of childhood fantasies, completely boggle me.
I don’t know what they are for. Or why they are done. I don’t understand their appeal. And I find descriptions of them nothing but infantilizing. More than that, I’m positively disturbed by the tone of discourse as I perceive it — that of course these things are normal and pleasurable and why is this even a question. It’s not a moment of feminism or politics. It’s really a much more basic sense of huh?
Because I really and truly don’t get it, since in terms of societal positioning, I come from somewhere else. I’m not trying to be stubborn or obtuse. I lack the receptor sites for the activity, and I have not been trained to it. I find myself wishing people would be more sensitive to this fact — that I am not like them in either my desires or my experiences and, certainly, should not be expected to be — but am also fairly certain that that’s nearly impossible. It’s like the impulse to speak louder to someone who doesn’t know your language. It’s obnoxious and it doesn’t work, but most of us do it anyway. I know I do.
None of this means I’m going to be sitting at the shower with my arms crossed huffing at the what the shit is this? feeling I may have if we really do have to break up into teams and design wedding dresses for each other out of toilet paper. No. As a constant, unavoidable visitor to the world not mine (remember, straight people, visiting the world of queer people remains an option for you; but being immersed in your culture isn’t actually an option for me, but a sea about which I have no choice), I am always planning my strategy for passing as if I at least half belong or am safe to have in the room. And so I am strategizing both my wit for the occasion and the drape of this design already.
All of which leads us back a bit to what I wrote about performativity and my childhood the other day. You want stereotypes about queer people in the arts? Is it because the arts are more accepting? (puh-leaze and no.) Or is it because we became skilled at them growing up, rehearsing and performing, in order to survive? If there’s any truth to that, it’s certainly absurd that I’ve pointed it out to both you and me through wedding dresses made out of toilet tissue. What is an act of reliving childhood dreams of an adult future for one person, is, for me, a performance, not just of exclusion from heteronormative adulthood, but of my ferociously clever childhood of survival.