Downtime

Peeking Behind the Veil

Because I consider myself a dedicated radical queer, marriage was supposed to be my nemesis. Then I discovered queer wedding Instagram.

A hand holds a cellphone with a photo of two men getting married with a rainbow hypnotic spiral GIF in the background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Cunaplus_M.Faba/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Rawpixel/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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I have strong opinions. This has been true about me since childhood. In college, I underwent a political awakening fueled by social justice rallies, American studies classes, and getting the hell out of my lily-white small town. As I began to recognize the often oppressive systems that structure our lives, I found even more things to have strong opinions about. One of those is marriage.

Marriage, I decided, was a grotesque relic from the past warped to fit our modern needs. Once serving a clear-cut financial and logistical purpose, it was now a mess of contradictions and unrealistic expectations. We task a single (1) person with providing love and companionship, igniting and satisfying desire—while also (!) fulfilling a legal arrangement, against a backdrop of longer life spans, higher divorce rates, and more romantic choices than ever before. Absolutely reasonable; positively dreamy.

Modern marriage was supposed to be an egalitarian partnership, but women in straight relationships still did more labor. Modern marriage was supposed to be a sacred union but also a state-sanctioned one—so much so that for decades it was a tried-and-true method to avoid deportation. It remains a reliable source for health insurance and tax benefits. Where else but our neoliberal, nuclear family–obsessed society would we readily hinge our citizenship and health on the success of a relationship that began as a fleeting spark or a good fuck?

Realizing I was queer in college further complicated the marriage problem. I was furious that the fight for LGBTQ+ rights had been coopted by the Marriage Industrial Complex™, which canonizes monogamous romantic love and, as I saw it, stood in direct opposition to the values of queer kinship. Not only that, the community was facing a more urgent issue with the devastatingly frequent murders of black trans women. There’s an argument to be made about queering the institution of marriage, but at the time, I believed the push for this kind of equality reflected a desire among the white, cisgender, queer 1 percent to assimilate. (Not to mention all the waste produced by weddings. It’s been real, Earth!)

None of this, however, was top of mind when I recently happened upon the Instagram page of a queer influencer couple. I can’t speak to the app’s algorithms, because I don’t know dark magic, but I do know that I was procrastinating and looking for a distraction. The couple I found was younger than me, had all the trappings of high-gloss influencer life—and was planning a wedding. It was something I hadn’t considered before: influencer wedding culture, but make it homo.

And so began my descent into a vortex of gay tuxedoes, gowns, and first looks. Because Instagram feeds you the “top” photos first, I was lured in by the most aesthetically opulent.
#Queerwedding was a fount of perfectly tailored suits and ethereal photoshoots in forests, twilight highlighting the glimmer in the eyes of the two people in love. I found myself fascinated—and ravenous. This wasn’t a listless scroll; this was fervor.

Social media is a surreal place, and those of us who recognize this and still choose to engage with it operate from a kind of split cognition. We know the tooth fairy isn’t real, we won’t wake up with money under our pillow … but putting teeth under there is kind of fun. And swiping through endless images of beautiful people in beautiful places makes swiping through endless images of beautiful people in beautiful places disturbingly easy. In that first foray into the fantasy world of queer weddings, I lost myself—was it 30 minutes or 30 years?—until my reverie was interrupted by a deep pang of shame.

I resurfaced in a haze and closed the app. What had just happened? I couldn’t name the feeling these photos evoked, just that I’d been unable to stop looking at them. Did consuming so much wedding content mean I wanted to get married? I wondered if I had betrayed my politics; if, by simply scrolling, I’d abandoned my radical roots in favor of an assimilationist taste for rustic chic decor and a registry on the Knot. My deep dive sent me into a tailspin of questioning my values, and therefore, my identity. Who was I if not a prone-to-overanalyzing, critical queer with strong beliefs about an oppressive social structure?

For better or worse, curiosity won out over shame. That’s part of the aforementioned devil’s Instagram bargain—you know it’s not great for you, but goddamn, there are so many good photos of butches in suits. Searching and scrolling #queerwedding became my dirty little secret. (I wouldn’t dare follow the hashtag, for fear that someone I know might notice the incongruity.) It’s where I go when I want to distract myself from work or, against every doctor’s wishes, look at something blue-lit before bed. Queer wedding Instagram is a way to self-soothe. It both stokes my hunger and serves as a salve, though whenever I stop, I never seem to be sated.

I realized that, after clinging so staunchly to my convictions, giving in to frivolity—albeit furtively—was fun. It felt liberating to indulge without judgment, to be a little bad, Catholic guilt be damned. It’s also known as growing up: When I was 20, everything was black and white. I’ve since learned the world isn’t made up of binaries, and I should probably not automatically write someone off because they said “I do.”

Another factor that’s changed since my #nomarriage #notever days is I’ve fallen in love. Even before college, I never dreamed of a wedding or picked out engagement rings for fun; in fact, I mocked the people who did, because I’m an asshole. Finding “my person” just wasn’t something I cared about. But this kind of love has softened my heart. It’s challenged my dualities—and my obstinacy. It’s shown me that analyzing my way out of a social construct isn’t any nobler (and doesn’t feel any better) than enjoying some conventional sweetness in this short, hard life.

Above all, what keeps me coming back to my vice is the never-ending newness of it all. I was socialized into a heteronormative culture and spent most of my life consuming images of straight, cis couples. Queer wedding Instagram is a wealth of what I’ve been historically starved of: photos of queers doing normie things like kneeling to propose, being celebrated by family and friends, and unabashedly loving each other, while looking damn fine doing it. It scratches an itch I didn’t know I had.

I still believe marriage wields too much institutional power and narrows our perception of meaningful relationships. And I definitely still believe we should continue fighting for basic rights that don’t require a marriage license to access. But right-wing petitioners just temporarily convinced the Hallmark Channel to pull a Zola ad featuring two brides kissing. These images—the ones I can’t stop looking at—are as polarizing as ever. They’re still political.

Which makes me think (sorry, I had to): Maybe I can have my wedding cake and eat it, too?