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The UK's First Gay Marriage Show Wasn't Very Gay

While the existence of a luxury LGBT wedding convention is a mark of progress, what are we progressing towards?

by James Greig; photos by Luis Kramer
11 October 2019, 1:12pm

Recently, I attended Pride Lux, the UK's first ever luxury wedding convention to cater specifically to the LGBT community – a historical landmark rivalled only by the Stonewall riots, the 1967 Sexual Offences Act and Nadia winning Big Brother.

"This event," we were told in the opening speech, "is a celebration of how far we've come. It's a testament to the fact that LGBT love is not simply tolerated... but celebrated." There are perhaps more fitting venues for such a celebration than The Shard, a building largely owned by Qatar, where homosexuality is punishable by up to seven years in prison – but the view was exquisite.

Since being made legal in the UK in 2014, gay marriage has become an increasingly important part of the wedding industry. Kathryn Hann, LGBTQ+ expert at marriage website The Knot, believes that, for the most part, the industry has done a good job of adapting to change. "Wedding professionals are more likely to reject denial of service to LGBTQ couples than the general population," she says. "While there are certainly some pockets of resistance – generally based on religious beliefs – when it comes to catering gay couples, most folks are in this business because they love love. It's easy to get behind a celebration when joy is at its core, and wedding professionals understand this."

"The next level of progress I'd like to see," she continues, "would include more professionals understanding the nuance of the needs of all couples – not just LGBTQ couples – who want to build unique, authentic and meaningful celebrations that reflect who they are and their unique love stories, whatever that may entail."

wedding suits

This, theoretically, is where Pride Lux comes in. I'm not a wedding convention critic, and therefore not best-placed to judge it on its own terms, but the extent to which it succeeded in catering to LGBT couples was debatable. I didn't think it was a bad luxury wedding convention, per se, but other than the panoramic view of London it was oddly underwhelming: there was an ice-cream cart, some fussy little macaroons, almost everything in pastel colours. There was a television advertising the services of a magician but, mercifully, no live magic.

Most of the products on display seemed to be catered towards the kind of person who'd want their wedding to look like a Wes Anderson film (gay Tories, in other words). One stand displayed table decorations with fluffy little animals on them that looked like something you'd buy in a trinket shop in a decaying seaside town. The prices were not displayed.

None of it seemed particularly geared towards LGBT people, either, an opinion shared by a number of people I spoke to. One guest, a man attending for professional reasons who asked to remain anonymous, said: "It's striking how few concessions there are to queer couples, apart from the obligatory drag queen. It's whiskey and shoe shines for the boys, dresses for the girls. The whole thing feels like one of those Apprentice episodes where one team has awkwardly tried to target 'the pink pound'."

shoe shine while drinking

In defence of the shoe shining, which was performed by an extremely charming Glaswegian man, it was the highlight of my evening by some distance. I came away with my clapped old Doc Martens looking fresh out of the box. The experience did, however, make me feel uncomfortably like a cross between that picture of Jacob Rees-Mogg dozing in Parliament and the kind of person who'd describe themselves as "an alpha God" in their OnlyFans bio.

Lapinus, a queer artist who was attending the event with his fiancé, was distinctly disappointed by how straight the convention was. "It felt like a regular wedding fair with a rainbow flag slapped on it," he said. "I was expecting more exciting fashion – dresses for men and suits for ladies; something a bit more extravagant – but it was pretty much the same as what you can see in any shop. The same goes for the cake and the food. It was just with added glitter. The LGBTQA+ element felt like an afterthought."

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The one visible queer influence was the inclusion of a drag show. Happily, I attended the event on Friday, thus missing Saturday's performance by Vanity Von Glow – a drag artist who, earlier this year, performed at a "free speech" rally attended by such far-right luminaries as Tommy Robinson, Milo Yiannopoulos and Carl Benjamin (of telling MP Jess Phillips "I wouldn't even rape you" fame).

Her involvement with the convention seemed beyond crass, if also unsurprising. But it's telling that Pride Luxe fail to mention any of this stuff in her bio on their website, which opens with the line: "Vanity Von Glow considers herself to be a global icon." I've no doubt she does. I consider her to be a dickhead.

velma celli drag
Velma Celli

For what it's worth, Friday's performer, Velma Celli, was genuinely excellent. But it was strange watching drag – an art form I associate with late nights in dive bars in east London or Brighton – in a corporate setting. People did seem to genuinely enjoy her set, but the atmosphere was muted; the contrast between the gusto of her performance and the way it echoed out into the lobby a little sad.

But the inclusion of drag did make sense: weddings are an increasingly important source of revenue for drag artists, along with corporate events. It would be easy to dismiss this as lame – you could even call it selling out – but given how hard it has been, historically, to make a living from drag, I'm reluctant to judge anyone who's making bread. To get the perspective of someone involved in London’s drag scene, I spoke to Ginger Johnson – a star of drag collective Sink the Pink, who has received widespread acclaim for her innovative shows, alongside regularly performing at both weddings and corporate events.

"Do corporate gigs make me want to die? Yes," she says. "Do they also pay my rent and allow me the time to make puppets and write queer plays? Kind of. But I only take wedding gigs if the majority of the crowd are going to be queer."

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However, although you can generally expect a more receptive response, performing at queer weddings isn't always easy or pleasant. "Bridezallas are real and come in all genders," says Ginger. "And often with gay weddings, they want me to come specifically to take the piss out of their friends and family, which isn't my game at all. I was once sent a list of guests names and potential insults to use on them a week in advance of the wedding. I cancelled."

"Drag is often kept as a surprise, too," says Ginger, "which is not ideal. Often, this is because the couple worry that homophobic family members won't attend if they know the entertainment is going to be drag. But the decision to keep it a secret just transfers the stress and shame of that onto the performer. I don't want to have to deal with your drunk uncle just because you weren't brave enough to do it yourself beforehand."

hair cut the shard

All of this aside, the luxury LGBT wedding convention did not come at a happy time for me. A man I'd been dating, and liked a lot, had broken things off the day before with a 500-word essay about how difficult it was for him to do so. Completely cut up, I spent the evening staring out over London, thinking about how beautiful it was, and how much I hated it, and drinking all the champagne I could get my hands on. I was still texting him, too, trying to convince him to meet me later in the hope he’d change his mind.

All of which meant I wasn't really in the mood for an event with the ostensible aim of celebrating the romantic success of others. To make an obvious point: the idea of a luxury wedding doesn't just exclude you if you're poor, it excludes you if you're alone. Do we really want long-term coupledom to define the queer experience? Being free from these kind of expectations has always felt like the only structural advantage of not being straight – it's strange, to me, being so eager to cast aside the only privilege you've ever had.

Back in 2014, it was common to hear proponents of gay marriage say, to homophobes, sassily, "It's becoming legal – not compulsory!" That may have been true, but the more normalised gay marriage is, the more it moves towards being an obligation. I don't want, ever, to feel any anxiety about not being married, as many of my straight friends in their twenties already do. The idea would have been absurd 15 years ago, but now it feels as though it’s creeping in; another thing from which to be locked out. Gay marriage, the existence of a luxury LGBT wedding convention, is a mark of progress – but what are we progressing towards? And is it better?

Obviously it's a good thing that we have marriage equality – as the anonymous interviewee quoted earlier says, "The homophobic logic that prevented it needed to be challenged." But the triumph of gay marriage does seem to have spelled victory for a particular brand of respectability politics, one that has all but abandoned solidarity with the more marginalised members of our community. One that, in fact, depends on that marginalisation, on deciding which queer people are legitimate and which are not.

At a time when transgender people are under a vicious and sustained attack, when LGBT people in general are disproportionately affected by homelessness, and being deported to countries where they face persecution and death, it's difficult to see the freedom of the wealthy to spend thousands of pounds on macaroons and shoe-shines as anything worth celebrating at all.

Still, though: my Doc Martens are glistening.

@fudwedding / @kramerdoingbits

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WEDDING
gay marriage