Francesca and Alannah married at a time where the fight towards marriage equality in Australia shadowed most of their engagement. For Alannah, the emotional fight for equal rights put into clear perspective what marriage means to her.
Photography by Nicola Lemmon Photography, Words by Alannah
What does marriage mean to me? Everything. The ultimate symbol of a dedication to spend the rest of your life intertwined with the person you choose to marry. The anticipation and safety in knowing someone will always have your back, be on your side and share the rewards and challenges of life. It is the epitome of selflessness but, also something so forever stained in pain. Not in an ‘ever-present’ way, more of a historical ache, and not for one reason alone.
For me, the slow and painful realisation that I was gay was accompanied by an unsaid understanding that I was never going to get married. My Nana’s Dad, my great-grandfather George, would say to me (in a thick Maltese accent) “where’s the pram?!”. He wanted to see my kids so that he could witness seven generations of his own bloodline to check for impurities. Apparently. So after clearing his grandparents, his parents, him, my Nana, Mum, and me (somehow), he only had one left to tick off. As his eldest great-grandchild, there was really no other option as he wasn’t going to live to see the others.
As it happens, didn’t get to see the seventh generation, but it stuck with me. I had a concrete understanding of what it meant to be gay – and it wasn’t all too flash. Certainly not 2.5 kids/a mortgage/happy ending. Each time a relationship ended, I would think “maybe I can just try dating a guy?”. Ew. No. computer says no. Unfortunately, I was toward the end of the Kinsey scale. I still remember mentioning marriage and kids to my parents early on in the piece, and there was a bit of a silence which indicated we all thought the same thing – leave that to Edward, my brother). Totally fine that you’re gay, but it sort of means none of that, right? It was illegal, after all.
Which leads to the more obvious pain. Having my first girlfriend at 20, and then coming out to my family at 22, meant that marriage equality rallies were an integral part of my introduction to the queer community. I was lucky and had brilliant, strong, fierce, confident queer friends to lead the way. Some are coming to the wedding, and without them, I would 100% most certainly not be getting married. Period. It was that sense of community that made the fact we were protesting the basic inequality of human rights less painful, the realisation that I was fundamentally unequal when compared to my brother, my best friends from school, my parents, and the vast majority of Australians, a burning fire vs a crippling sadness.
I both thought it would be legalised before I ever needed the law changed, and never thought it would change, at the same time. And then I fell in love with my future wife, and it started to pierce. I tried to push it aside, saying things like “if it isn’t legal by the time we get married, that’s fine, we will still have a ‘wedding’ and then sign the paper when it is legalised, whenever that will be”. I had been to weddings of friends, beautiful and every bit as legitimate, prior to the plebiscite debate.
But somehow, the timing of our engagement and our impending wedding was like lighting to a dry paddock. Suddenly, I had a timeframe. Suddenly, I was thrust into the world of wedding planning, without a real answer as to whether we would be planning a legal wedding or a ceremony we would legalise ‘whenever it happens’.
Fronting up to wedding expos/prospective vendors/venues was always going to be odd. One – because I am not a traditional girly girl, even if I was marrying a man. We got engaged in October 2016, so, two – marriage equality was in the current lexicon. It was constantly in the news cycle – would it be legalised? Would we have a plebiscite? Would it be binding? What if it didn’t pass? Would it just be shelved until labour eventually get it? Everyone could air their opinion, informed or otherwise. So the instantaneous litmus test when it came to wedding planning was palpable.
We were never coy. We were immediately upfront about who we were and the fact we were looking for a ‘wedding’, not a commitment ceremony, that we wanted to be treated like every cis-hetero couple. I still remember not getting calls back from places. Approaching booths at wedding expos and the awkward silence, the obvious discomfort of the people behind the desks. “is this your sister? Is this your maid of honour? Ohhhh um is it legal yet? Ahhh I think we have done a commitment ceremony? How does future hubby feel—oh, sorry! How do your parents feel?”.
This was meant to be the best time of our lives, and I could barely find a magazine with a same-sex couple (or any diversity, for that matter), let alone a vendor on the sunny coast (as that is where we wanted to have it) who ‘got it’. Luckily, we found Maleny Manor, Jarrod, Lovebirds and Mondo, and we thankfully had people helping us create our day who we thought respected us, embraced us, and ‘got us’. One weight off.
And then it was confirmed that the plebiscite was going to happen. A public, non-binding vote on my right to marry the woman I love, with a complimentary side of every single tom/dick/harry feeling entitled to have their say “because that’s what this is about, freedom of speech”.
Fuck off. No.
I had to manage the aforementioned expectations of family, lack of expectations once I realised I was gay. Then once Francesca came along and we all realised marriage/kids/future was a thing, I had my personal experience of being discriminated against on a daily basis in addition to treating LGBTQI kids at work.
I worked with severe/complex mental health, doing therapy, as well as a service supporting gender diverse/trans kids and their families figure life out. Kids, queer or not, were the fodder for the merciless debate, and never mind my own feelings, I desperately wanted to protect and support them. It was the last thing they needed. They were already dealing with suicidality, self-harm, crises of identity, fear, shame, guilt, everything, and then twats in the media would pull them into the debate as needed. I felt utter despair and helplessness, and will probably keep the feeling with me forever.
I’m sorry, but no one really understood what we went through unless you are part of the queer community. The harm that did, even though it passed, will never leave me. 39% of the country didn’t want this marriage to happen. Hate-filled rhetoric was left unchecked in the media, to the point where I didn’t read/watch/listen to the news or any conversation which may have even mentioned it, for months. I feel I have a fairly robust sense of self, a maturity and coping style strong enough to withstand most things, but I can’t remember how many times I broke down and cried.
I don’t know what would have happened if it didn’t pass, planning a wedding knowing there was a chance (the rights of my minority left to those of the majority) it could have been legal but was rejected.
The timing of our engagement and wedding will go unsaid as one of many examples of how we were in the wrong place at the right time, right place at the wrong time. It felt like a blowtorch on a burn. If felt like relief and grief when it the vote was passed, and then it was almost surreal when it passed through parliament. I live-streamed the lower house the night it passed, on a computer at the very job I have supporting gender diverse kids. Symbolic.
So marriage means a kaleidoscope of things to me. Perhaps it is still a bit fresh, the pain of the fight, but I imagine the reason it hurt so bad is because I knew that once I got through it, it would feel so good.
Alannah, and her now wife Francesca share their Sunshine Coast wedding day with us in Volume 3 of Dancing With Her magazine – Available September 28.