Probably the headline sounds like clickbait. Thing is, it’s true.
On last Friday night at Melbourne venue Max Watt’s, I stood on stage and surveyed a very odd scene. My partner, the comedian Zoë Coombs Marr, and her father, ambling up the aisle as she scrambled into an ill-fitting white gown; her mother sitting beside the groom’s parents in the front row; the groom, comedian Rhys Nicholson, looking resplendent under spotlights to my left; and his boyfriend Kyran in running shorts standing behind him, scowling. Hannah Gadsby, in a three piece suit, had taken her place as the emcee, and Judith Lucy, Denise Scott, and Celia Pacquola were the flower girls.
After an eight-month engagement, this was really happening – replete with a riot, fake blood and a bit of vomit. You know, traditional.
There are very definite wedding trends emerging this decade, and none of them were present that night. The Baby’s Breath crowns of my youth have gone the way of Lana Del Ray, croquembouches have been replaced with artisanal ice-cream cakes, and Midori is now served in mason jars, for that classic speak-easy look. Trends also include: an official hashtag on the invitation, and straight friends who actually do support marriage equality but believe that adding in a disclaimer about it during the vows makes up for them doing something that we’re not allowed to choose to do.
My feelings about weddings are … complicated. I love a wedding, I do – I just won’t ever say that particular phrase during one. I enjoy seeing friends making googlies at each other, and dancing and drinking with their relatives I’ll never see again. But growing up gay, weddings weren’t in my wheelhouse; they weren’t something I could select in my particular queer pick’n’mix. Besides, I was schooled in feminism via riot grrrl culture, thus unless it was going to be a radical act that challenged the deeply conservative history of the ritual, probably not for me.
I’ve been to some lovely weddings over the years, that I wouldn’t have missed for the world. Right now although, with the marriage equality debate at its peak in Australia, receiving a save-the-date feels bittersweet. I can’t help but think of the message still being sent out to young queer kids: your relationships are not equal, you are not equal. As Gadsby said in her speech on Friday night, that message is reaching an even broader audience than that: “What we are doing in this country is saying to ALL of the children that it is OK to exclude a minority. It is OK to be a bully.”
The general consensus among marriage equality-supportive friends seems to be that it’s fine to get hitched, because “gay marriage” is inevitable. But, is it? I know gay couples who have been saving that date for three decades now. And so it was with a lot of mixed emotions that I took a weird phone call last August.
My girlfriend was in Edinburgh, performing at the Fringe Festival largely dressed as a man named Dave, and I was in Sydney, about to head to the airport to meet her. It was late at night in the UK, and she was tipsy. “I have something to tell you …” is never a great start to a phone call from your girlfriend, particularly before a long-haul flight. It’s even worse when it’s followed with: “I’m engaged!”
Zoë and I have been together for six or so years – about as long as it took us to get through the entire series of Xena: Warrior Princess. Of course we’ve talked about what we’d do should marriage equality ever come to town. The quick answer: It’s not for us, but it would be nice to have a choice. We’ll settle for an elaborate Brigadoon-themed anniversary booze-up at some point.
And yet here she was, wanting to wed fellow comedian and friend Rhys, who was also in Edinburgh, and more importantly a man. It was to be a protest wedding; a wedding just because they could; a farce, a really good party, and best of all – given their genders – legal. Despite the ridiculousness of it all, I was surprisingly affected. Here was the big day we didn’t want, that one of us was going to get – and now I had a good 26-plus hours to stew on a long-haul flight. Thank god for sleeping tablets.
The engagement was kept a secret until last week, but we’d all had to break the news to our parents. Zoë and I told my parents on Christmas Day, over lunch. They took the idea in good grace, but my dad grew misty at some point between the trifle and the pudding, when the statement behind the event really hit him. That would turn out to be a common response from our straight, marriage equality allies, who hadn’t ever really had to think about how weddings could actually make gay people feel – a persistent, nagging reminder that you can’t access the same simple rights; that your capacity for love is not deemed the same as theirs.
It was a strange scene backstage last Friday, as the audience filtered in – friends and family scattered throughout the ticket-holders. There were the usual pre-show jitters of course, but on that night they were amplified by an electric energy about what we were about to take part in.
Essentially, all weddings are variety shows, but this one took the fruitcake – all carefully curated by the bride and groom. Hot Brown Honey and Brendan Maclean kicked off the evening in song and a black power salute, Peter and Bambi Heaven gave a bloody good performance; Father Geraldine Hickey created a sacred space with incense; the flower girls mesmerised with a knicker-flashing ribbon dance, and Aunty Tina Del Twist read a lovely piece from the bible. There were objectors of course: first in the form of a feminist take by Adrienne Truscott, and then a full brawl broke out, with the True Australian Patriots chanting, “Leftie scum!”.
In other words, the best wedding I’ve ever been to.
Throughout the nuptials, I played the dutiful role of “reluctant partner”, a character that came quite naturally. But I cracked during Gadsby’s wedding speech, a piercing take on inclusivity and queerness. She has since published it online, and I keep revisiting it, each time misting up like my dad on Christmas Day: “Exclusion is not a simple act. When you say to a person, ‘No, you can not join in, you do not belong in this community,’ the end of that sentence is not the end of the story. The ramifications are traumatic to the individual. To actively isolate a fellow human being is nothing short of structural violence.” Between the performances and the speech, it could well have been the only wedding in history with neither a dry eye or seat in the house.
Vows and rings were exchanged, papers signed; when it was announced their wills would need updating, Wil Anderson appeared from side of stage to have his arms signed. The only thing left was the ceremonial kiss. Groom and bride – both covered in fake blood and fake vomit at this point – wrinkled their noses and turned, respectively, to Kyran and me, for what turned out to be quite an embarrassingly lengthy public pash.
The rest was a blur, but the flashy fun of it all paled the next day when one of the young attendees, a stranger, sent through a message, saying the wedding had given him the courage to eventually come out to his friends and family. Marriage equality isn’t everything. In fact, it’s pretty boring. However it’s a start.
Frankly speaking, I wish Rhys and Zoë the best of luck in their new union. Bless ‘em. Kyran, give me a call.