Weddings are stressful—especially your own. There’s the food, the music, the flowers, the vows and, god forbid, the complicated seating plan. But as prepared as you think you might be, unexpected curveballs are inevitable. Like when, for example, your wedding officiant doesn’t show up.
There we were, the day of our wedding, standing at the back of the art gallery. One hundred and twenty of our family and friends seated and waiting, the ceremony scheduled to start in a few minutes. The only problem was that our officiant, arguably the most important person at a wedding (besides the people getting married), was nowhere to be found.
“Maybe he’s stuck in traffic,” I said, trying to get a view of the parking lot over my partner’s shoulder. “You don’t think he forgot. Do you?”
But there was something else that was stressing me more: The first kiss, the moment when Serge and I would officially seal our union.
It had been bothering me for weeks. I imagined leaning forward and planting one on his lips. But every time I envisioned it, I got a queasy sensation in my stomach. It wasn’t that I had anything against kissing Serge. Over the 20 years we had been together, we’d kissed plenty of times. But this was different, and it took me a while to understand why I was feeling weird instead of wonderful.
Then it hit me: We had never kissed in public.
That may not be surprising for anyone who knows us. We’ve never been one of those touchy-feely couples. Even when we’re alone, we rarely hold hands. We sit at opposite ends of the couch. I can’t remember the last time we spooned. I don’t think this is particularly unhealthy, it’s more a by-product of long-term relationships—and age. The need for touching, for physical reassurance, has faded. It doesn’t mean we’re not in love, but that love has changed over time.
I had expressed my anxiety to friends. “I want it to feel natural,” I said. “But I don’t think I can.” Someone suggested Serge and I rehearse ahead of time, so we tried. But it seemed fake, too contrived. It lacked the authenticity of the moment.
“You’re overthinking things,” Serge said. “As usual.”
He was right. When you fixate on things to the point that you’re not in the moment, you lose that moment. You become preoccupied with what everyone else thinks, instead of focusing on what’s most important: The person standing across from you.
But there was another reason the kiss was stressing me out, one that latched onto my darkest corners. I was afraid of what people’s reaction might be.
When Madonna came out with her 1991 documentary Truth or Dare, I was still firmly in the closet. I was 20 at the time and a huge fan, but in denial about what that might mean. If you’ve seen Truth or Dare, there’s a significant scene where two male—and very gay—dancers French kiss on camera. At that moment, in the theatre, their kiss was met with a chorus of groans from the audience. You’d think we were watching someone get fileted on screen.
It was the first time I’d seen two men be intimate, let alone on the big screen. I remember squirming and wanting to disappear, all the homophobic comments I’d been subjected to over the years pushing me down into my seat. What I heard that day and years prior confirmed one thing: Two men kissing was repulsive.
It was that chorus of groans that I heard whenever I thought about our wedding kiss. A part of me was still trapped in the movie theatre. These were our family and friends, I reminded myself. These were people who supported us. They were happy for us. They had come to share in our celebration. They didn’t have a problem.
So what was my problem? And why couldn’t I just let it go?
As any queer person knows, it’s hard to definitively grasp how growing up queer affects you. Everyone’s experience is unique, but there are usually some underlying themes: Fears of rejection and misunderstanding, a sense of self-hatred and otherness. It’s impossible to be on the receiving end of negative stereotypes and opinions for years and not have them stick. I thought of it as my own internal garbage dump, filled with shame and guilt swirling around all those years later.
I’ve come a very long way in terms of self-acceptance since that day in the movie theatre. I’ve worked hard to rid myself of the bullshit I grew up believing about what being gay meant. There has been much healing over the years: I walked with my dad in a Pride parade. I’ve written novels about gay characters. I’m in a solid relationship with a supportive partner. But there were still pieces of me, sticky black bits, waiting to pounce on whatever joy I felt.
Twenty years into our relationship and I was still uncomfortable publicly displaying my affection for another man. The chorus inside the movie theatre was deafening.
The worst of it? I was ashamed. I felt like I didn’t love my partner enough. I was weak. It was my wedding day and what was stressing me out most wasn’t that the officiant hadn’t shown up, but that I had to kiss the person who meant the most to me.
On what should’ve been my brightest day, I was still in the shadow of the garbage heap.
Our officiant eventually showed up, just in the nick of time. (He was running between weddings and got caught in traffic.) As soon as he arrived, the wedding began. It was a surreal experience walking down the aisle, seeing all the different people in my life in one room at the same time: My family, soon-to-be in-laws, university friends, childhood friends, work colleagues. All the people I had once been afraid to tell I was gay, afraid of their rejection, their repulsion. And there they were, every single one of them with us, sharing in the celebration of two men who loved one another.
When the time came, I leaned forward and met Serge’s lips. We kissed. To be honest, I don’t remember much about it. Maybe that’s not the right thing to say, but it’s the truth. It wasn’t showy, it was nothing out of the ordinary.
What I remember most is the sound that’s stayed with me in the years since: The cheers.