Wednesday, 23 March 2016

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today ... I Got Married

It was twenty years ago today ...

I got married.

Most of the words below are taken from a long letter my mother wrote afterwards to my brother, who couldn't come to the wedding due to being on the other side of the world to me at the time.   I've changed my name from that in the letter to my current name, because I had a different name then - and a different gender too of course, otherwise we could not have got married at all.  And I've just left initials for other names.  Those who were there will know who we all were.

Image: St. Mike's Church, taken from the church website
That's where we were married, the church of St. Michael and All Angels, Aberystwyth, or St Mike's as it's been known for a long while.  At that time we both worshipped there, with hundreds of other people because it was the largest Anglican parish congregation in Wales.  I'm not sure they had ever had a wedding quite like ours.  Photos below were taken on my very cheap camera today from those in our official album - which was made up by B.


... We were all in church at 6 o'clock for a rehearsal.  The Rev. Bell likes everything to run smoothly in his church.  Behind his back they all call him "Commander" Bell.  The musicians were setting themselves up and having a practice, while the ceremony was run through.  I asked Rev. Bell if he had ever done a wedding with a Best Woman before.  He replied that it had not occurred in 25 years!  "Well, I'm proud of you Clare," I retorted. ...

Yes, I had a best woman.  Turns out that I'm a woman too.  It's highly probable that St. Mikes has never married any other couple who turn out to both be women or men.  And unless things there have drastically changed in the last twenty years they still wouldn't want to marry a same sex or same gender couple.  In any case, it's nice to do things in a way that aren't average.

... The following morning, I slipped down a few steps at the guesthouse, on the way to the bathroom and severely strained my left ankle.  I hobbled down to breakfast, and then B went out to find a chemist for a support bandage and some anti-bruising cream.  I spent the rest of the morning sitting looking at the sea, with my ankle raised. ...

... We went round to Clare's place, for we were having their things for going away in our car.  He was very calm.  It's not many bridegrooms, I think, who spend the night before the wedding with another woman; but then it was an obvious place for V to stay. ...

Yes, I spent the night before getting married with another woman.  And two weeks later I went to stay with her for a few days in Manchester.  Curiously, the closest bus stop to her home at the time is also the closest bus stop to the home of the good friend I've been staying with recently when visiting Manchester.  Twenty years on and at least some things haven't changed - I still go to Manchester and stay with another woman.

... In the church car park we greeted the M relations and M and D; we were introduced to some more of B's family, and then we all went in the church.  Another difference about this wedding was that there was no "giving away."  At 3 o'clock Rev. Bell came out from the vestry, met Clare and they both walked up the aisle to the church door to greet B.  Then Clare and B walked back down the aisle together.  Our M preached a sermon and little C (the one from Dorking, who we all love) did one of the readings. ...

Yes, no giving away, on the grounds that my wife is her own woman.  She hadn't been owned by her dad.  She wasn't then owned by me afterwards.  So she couldn't be given by him to me.  People didn't allow me to do what I wanted.  I wanted, when the time came, to stand up, look as panicked to the world as I could and then leg it out of the church via the vestry and make it look like I'd done a runner, and then calmly wander round to the church door to walk in with B.  I thought that would be funny.  But I didn't get to do it.

Thanks to C for reading.  She wasn't named in the programme but filled in at the last minute.  One of our readers couldn't come due to burning herself badly that morning.  Another reader still came even though he ran someone over on the way to the service.  No serious injuries thankfully.  My mother was amused at while C read because I was at the front of the church with B, C, and V.  She almost thought of them as my three women.  And I can say in all innocence that I have shared a bed with all three of them.  The fact that C was reading Psalm 51 - King David repenting of adultery - is not relevant to this story.


... The music was, of course, unconventional.  One song was sung to the music of La Bamba.  That, at least was a tune we were familiar with.  The others we sang heartily, taking our lead from the musicians in front of us and M and S standing behind us.  The musicians were great.  There were guitars and keyboards, a violin, a saxophone and some singers.  One unhappy little soul was Grandad, who put his book down at the beginning of the first hymn, knowing he couldn't cope. 

I'm normally a bit tearful and emotional at weddings, but was fine until we went into the vestry for the signing of the register.  It was at the moment when I get B a hug and kiss to greet the new Mrs. M that I shed a few tears ...

... The weather was very dull, but at least when the service was over it was not raining.  B ... (my dad) ... took the photos of the formal groups that ought to be taken at weddings, although I'm not sure if Clare and B thought it was all that important - perhaps it was just me.  Certainly, I found it was me that was organising people into these groups.  But then it was a very woman dominated event ...

... The reception was in a church hall about 5 minutes walk from the church, so most people walked.  I did not.  The friends had laid out a spread of, well the normal sort of things you would have at a buffet.  It must have been hard work, because there were 70 people at least.  We had wine to drink.  There were to be no formal speeches, but B's mother did just do the "thank you all for coming" bit and proposed a toast to the bride and groom ... see, I told you it was a woman dominated event.  I needn't have worried about people not being happy.  They all seemed to have enjoyed being involved in such a special wedding, that had been planned by the happy couple to be what was important to them ...

A cutting the cake photo.  The little girl is B's cousin.  It was her birthday.
Yes, we planned our wedding well, although to be honest I might still have stayed away had it not been my own wedding.  Big social gathering, having to smile lots, having far too many cameras pointed at me, having to put on the acceptable social show and be the centre of attention while doing it.  That's just not my thing but really the bride and groom are essential parts of a wedding!

We didn't want normality.  We wanted it to be as close to what we wanted as it could be, within the contexts of an Anglican church service.  So we borrowed the youth band from the local Methodist church - which included people we were at college with - and they played eleven happy songs for us that day, cut down from a list of seventeen.  My poor Grandad gave up early - the first song was one of our two traditional hymns.  Much of the rest of the service was a praise party!

Our preacher was my half uncle who was just starting out in full time church ministry then.  He's now a baptist minister in a growing church in Gloucestershire.  I don't know if he still tells as many jokes in sermons as he did then or whether he would still use the word "testicles" in a wedding sermon.  People still remember that.

We had a cheap wedding too.  We got married in Lent - so couldn't have filled the church with flowers even if we had wanted to.  One of B's friends made the cake and our limo to the reception and train station was her boyfriend's car.  My dad was the wedding photographer.  Our band played for free, just for the experience of playing at a wedding.  And friends from college did indeed work really hard and clubbed together with their cash and their time to give us a relaxed wedding reception to be proud of.

B's clothes came from a charity shop.  Mine didn't - I was the expensive one.  That suit lasted me until I came out as transgender in 2013 and acted as weddings, funerals and preaching suit.  When the time came I was massively grateful to get rid of it.  I gave the contents of my wardrobe to the West End Refugee Service in Newcastle and I'm sure it all got put to good use.  As my mother said, B and I walked into the church together for the service.  Equal partners from the start.

One regret is that I didn't take B's surname in 1996.  We had discussed the possibility and I don't really know why it didn't happen.  Obviously it can't have been that important at the time to us or we would have made it happen.  Of course, in 2013 it happened.  It seemed the right thing to do when I embraced myself as Clare and she embraced me too.  Quite inconvenient though.  I got B to change her surname.  And then got her to change it back again.  Talk about indecisiveness!  As regrets go, that's a nice small thing.

And here's my mother's description of how our married life began.  It kind of set the pattern for the next twenty years of things not going quite as planned and us muddling through it all:

... At just gone 7 o'clock we had to chivvy Clare and B to be going to station to catch their train.  Strangely, it was only Clare's relations who went to the station too, to send them off in style.  Mind you the journey wasn't all that they planned.  V also had to travel on that train (she had to get back to Manchester), but promised that she's sit in another carriage.  Unfortunately there were only 2 carriages and one had a large crowd of drunken yobbos in, and there was no way any of them would travel with that sort.  Then apparently the train was help up for over half an hour at Dovey Junction, and then when there train did get going there was no electricity and they were travelling without lights. ...

And then our hotel room at the Shrewsbury Hotel that night was dreadful.  The bathroom was so small that you had to sit sideways on the toilet.  The bedside table, instead of a Gideon's Bible, contained half a packet of condoms.  Yes, half a packet!  And the window looked out on a back alley the other side of which was a take away which didn't shut until 2 am and kept it's back kitchen door open.  People seemed to be vomiting in the alley for most of the night.  The breakfast the following morning was dire.  The "Full English Breakfast" when it eventually happened consisted of one sausage and a fried egg.  Thankfully they did move us for our second night there into their best room and that was much more comfortable.

It wasn't the most promising start and the first year of our marriage contained quite a few tough things.  But we survived that year.  And we've got through nineteen more years of marriage and a lot more hard things have happened and there have been big surprises that just keep coming.  We made it.  Twenty years.  Traditionally you should all give us some china today.  We have more than enough china so feel free to give us the modern suggested gift of platinum - but be assured that we don't need platinum either so would be selling your gift.  Because we're like that!

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