Offbeat partners: Ji & Nico
Date and location: Lobo Castle, Agoura Hills, California (09/03/2022)
Our multicultural feminist weirdos’ found-family sensory-friendly wedding at a glance:
Offbeat Wed was great comfort to me over the years as I angsted between the grief of my family’s absence and terror of their presence. We hope our wedding story – which unintentionally hits almost all of the “offbeat” tags — can help someone who feels as lonely as I’ve always felt, being a combination of childfree, BIPOC, immigrant, LGBTQIA+, neurodivergent, estranged, older, chronically ill, with C-PTSD.
Maybe it can give comfort to the weirdo who feels they fit too many ‘offbeat’ tags; the immigrant who loves a culture that doesn’t always respect them; the ill who can’t handle the sensory toll; the traumatized who struggles to believe that they are loved; the abused who can’t bring themselves to cut a toxic cord.
My French partner wanted a castle, and I’ve always wanted to host a party for my friends to feel fabulous in something they never get to wear. So we got a castle and encouraged guests to outshine the bride, and our guests came in tiaras, capes, kilts, top hats, steampunk vests. We skipped the DJ and invested in open bar, guest shuttle, and ambient lights so we could chat with friends. To avoid exhaustion from sensory overload, I stayed alone in the dark most of the day.
I don’t like white, so I got a black/green dress from a warehouse to match the ring set I’d designed, and a pink dress reminiscent of my beloved anime Sailor Moon; Nico changed tie colors to match. My friend Jess, who worked tirelessly to create a personalized ceremony with us as a symbolic officiant, had three outfits in solidarity. I didn’t want a bouquet, but didn’t want Nico to feel alone with his boutonniere, so I got a flower hoop. We walked to Final Fantasy music.
Nico’s family and friends are all in France; I was raised in abuse and cut off my family. So it made sense to have a wedding in France, but I still wanted to be surrounded by those I love and admire, so we decided to have two weddings.
Lobo Castle was our domestic wedding for my friends — weirdos like me; introverts, LGBTQIA+, neurodivergent, polyamorous, trauma survivors — and those that were a safe space for them. These friends were the reason and the highlight of it all, and made it so worth it.
Our wedding wasn’t special; the people in it made it so.
Tell us about the Multicultural Feminist Weirdos’ Found-Family sensory wedding ceremony:
I’ve always been the black sheep, the rebellious weirdo. Nico is also not one for tradition, though he didn’t get the same pushback I did from a conservative immigrant culture. As this wedding was about choosing new family, we discarded and customized a lot…
This meant NO to wedding traditions like:
- name changes
- giving away
- bouquet toss
- bach parties or showers
- gifts of any kind
We walked in holding hands, exchanged vows and rings, handfasted, and got showered by flower petals.
I used traditional Korean knots for handfasting, and later wore it with my hanbok; as a nod to Koreans being gifted wooden mallard ducks (who mate for life), I prepared a tiny duck cake topper. In paebek, we skipped the elders and fertility bit – being childfree and elderless – and only shared food and drink; we added a bow and the honorific phrase for “I love you” to signify mutual respect, and changed the meaning behind Nico carrying me from “man financially supports woman” to “cishet white man uses societal power to uplift bi POC woman in times of alienation” (“Yeah, use that male societal power!” called out a friend while he ran a lap, eliciting laughter).
With the bare-bones and half-made-up rites and non-wedding hanbok (Jess wore hanbok that I handmade), our paebek ceremony was scandalous and perfect for owning my culture without bowing to its oppressive elements. As a fierce feminist who strives for diversity and inclusion in all things, it was important to me to strip misogyny from ancient rites to create something we could be proud of.
We don’t uphold tradition for its own sake, but know too well the price of being “different”; the privilege of being “just like everyone else”. As such, we weren’t trying to be unique. We wanted it to reflect us, offbeat or otherwise.
“…Today, Ji and Nico celebrate their love outside of any institution, tradition, or ideology. They’re here to create their own definition of family, starting by gathering their chosen family today. This is a marriage without titles – no “Mrs.”, “husband”, or “wife”, but “spouse”, “partner”, “companion”.
Two people are standing before us today, and two individuals will remain. Today is merely the forging of a team… Ji and Nico will choose each day to meet at a place of love where they respect each other’s solitude, encourage each other’s self-discovery, comfort each other’s grief, and protect each other’s dreams.
…We are both lovers of stories, especially those with light magic- of fairies, powerful princesses, and helpful daemons. This may be because we have both experienced the dark places in life. We know how much a light in the darkness can mean to one lost in the shadows. Ji and Nico met when they were both in that dark place. But they instantly recognized a fellow kindred spirit in each other. …I find it absolutely fitting that Ji and Nico are holding their wedding ceremony in the gardens of a castle, dressed as that powerful light princess, and a chivalrous prince. Together they have created their own fairy tale. They know how to slay dragons, and will wield their swords together.”
Nico’s Vow Excerpt:
“Over the years you have inspired me, and many others, with your kindness and I am always moved by your compassion. I have seen how you spare no efforts to make people around you feel better, and always try to empathize with them. I know how difficult this can be sometimes, so I want you to know that you are loved for it, just look around you. You have made a meaningful impact in a lot of people’s lives and for that I admire you and learn from you everyday… I will support your dreams as my own and carry your worries when you’re upset… I will care for you and love you for as long as I am on this Earth.”
Ji’s Vow Excerpt:
“While persuading me to date you, you said love is the most powerful thing in the world. And I agree, because loving you gave me the courage to stand up against everything I’d been taught to obey, because I found someone worth fighting for. And being loved by you made me realize that, maybe, I was worth fighting for too.
I promise to never stop being brave for you… I promise to remember and remind you, when life gets us down, how wealthy we are in love and friendship.”
Tell us about the Multicultural Feminist Weirdos’ Found-Family Sensory-friendly wedding reception:
We had one long table, and I seated Nico and myself somewhat toward the end, placing together those I thought would get along. It was a huge hit. We also bought huge plates of French sweets with some Korean tiramisu (French tiramisu is too sweet for my taste) that a friend picked up for us, and guests enjoyed the feast.
The guest in charge of the speech dropped out last minute, so I asked another friend for a toast; she made half of us cry, and then my shy, awkward friends rose one by one, defying expectation, to gush about us.
They recalled kindness I’d given them and promptly forgotten about; they said such kind words to Nico; they were bursting with emotion and left us stunned and overwhelmed and in tears. Nico leaned over to say in awe: “your friends are all so nice.”
Nico’s one friend who attended told me over and over how impressed he was with the kind, genuine people I’d gathered. I was told later that new friendships were made and everyone fell in love with each other.
Our playlist was a mix of classical music, art songs, videogame and anime songs, throwback to the Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys era, French pop songs, Korean ballads. We played at low volume, and barely even that because people had such a good time chatting. We had a tarot deck and a Jenga tower on site, and some guests dipped their feet in the pool and relaxed under the fairy lights while reading fortunes for each other and chatted with us.
What was the most important lesson you learned from your wedding?
People love you.
After years of therapy, I’d made peace with having no family there. But I lived almost four decades being taught that friends aren’t real, because who could truly love me if not my magnanimous family? I feared being an imposition. My dress felt too fancy, so I got a different one … and ended up deciding to wear both last minute.
I tried to pass off my hair and makeup artist the day of the wedding to a friend because I didn’t deserve such pampering. I stayed up nights worrying about the unexpected heat wave inconveniencing guests. I was hugging the tower, unable to step out to start processional while guests glanced our way, because I’d be shamed, seen as ridiculous – who did I think I was, making them watch me strut about?
I had to focus only on Nico and vice versa as we walked in, I was so terrified. My friends’ enthusiastic cheers broke me out of the haze as I realized that they were all there to support us – they were genuinely happy for us, crying at our vows, cooing at the way we looked at each other, shouting in joy.
Some friends came early to feed me and run errands so I could save my spoons. They dressed up and traveled in the heat in good humor, wrote loving messages, and surrounded us hammering in how much we were loved — it was like all those years surrounded by family telling me I’m stupid, selfish for living my life my way, worthless if I’m not serving them — but deliberately opposite. Being with the family I didn’t know could exist. It was a lifechanging experience. Who knew weddings could be healing?