Recently I have been asking all of you, my perfect customers how you found me. Furthermore, if it was the case that you found me because you saw me in action at a ceremony and liked my approach…. how would you have found me online otherwise?
One of the answers?
There was something about this statement and this expression, ‘Queer-Affirming’, which I had never heard before, coming from one of my couples that hit me like an epiphany. I just suddenly understood so many things which had remained elusive. As Celebrants we are always trying to understand our ideal customers so that we can serve you better and find you more easily. This means taking a long hard look at ourselves and our practice, our values and sensibilities and also at you…the customers who are attracted to our style. I need to know who I am and who you are and what you need and whether I offer that. I was struck forcibly by the realisation that ‘Affirming’ is entirely what my practice is about and what i am about and what my clients need.
To Affirm: ‘ad’ ‘firmare’
‘To Affirm’, loosely paraphrased from Oxford and Cambridge Dictionaries, and as I understand it colloquially…. is to ‘publicly show your Support for something, or someone, or an idea, an ideal etc…and also to ‘publicly affirm something as true’. The etymology of the word is also apt in every other regard. Subsequent layers of linguistic meaning have further deepened its significance, in social, religious and legal contexts.
What are Ceremonies for?
Why it has taken me so long is anyone’s guess…but I think If a ceremony is for anything it is for affirming. Ceremonies ‘strengthen’, they ‘make firm’, they ‘consolidate’, ‘strengthen’, ‘declare solemnly’ and they do all this ‘publicly’. If you can do this by having fun…so much the better!
I don’t study the origins of words but I must have been one of the last generations of people to study Latin as part of a school curriculum! I know that sounds absurd, but it’s true. I was taught Latin compulsorily! My Latin teacher was extremely peculiar but that is beside the point. She must have been a better teacher than I realised or perhaps I was secretly interested, because despite my awful memory…I’ve remembered it.
When I was 16 I had no idea what the point of it was. Now, it serves me well. Clearly the Latin roots of this word ‘ad’ (‘to’) and ‘firmare’ (strengthen or make firm) still hold truth today, even for me and for you in 2022.
It is so important to affirm someone’s difference. To ‘validate’ it, to make it a good thing. Ceremonies do that too…
“This child wanted so much to be the Flower person. I loved it so much that he identified as a boy but wanted to scatter the petals. It didn’t cross his mind to think that ‘it was for girls’. I loved that“
I wanted to sneak this image in here of a wonderful day when I first used a non-gendered term for a petal scattering assistant. My first Flower Person. This year we will also have a ‘Flower Dude’! Its progress!
Most of my same-sex couples are people who don’t really want their identities to be ‘centre stage’. They want to be affirmed as people and for their relationships to be affirmed too. They feel that they are more than ‘their sexuality or gender’. This is the case for everyone, Gay, Straight or of any identity whatsoever. We are more than that one component of ourselves. It is vital for the realities of the fight LGBTQAI+ people continue to face to be acknowledged. It is our moral responsibility to recognise the significance of hard won equalities and of those not yet won. It is essential for those to be celebrated and embraced and for the fight for justice to continue.
It is also vital that lives are not narrowly compartmentalised or defined by people like me or by any marketing strategies which might put people in yet another uncomfortable box or metaphorical straight-jacket just as tight as those they have escaped.
“Ceremonies are FOR Affirmation, Affirmation for all of us, however we identify.’
Why have I never really advertised my support for Queer Communities?
I have always avoided plastering my feed or my website with Rainbow Flags or references to my support for people with LGBTQAI+ identiies. This is because I believe that we are people and individuals first, people in community, and people in a particular relationship at a particular point in time. You are contacting me because you feel we are a match and you want a ceremony with a Celebrant you connect with. You are not contacting me because i ‘specialise’ in ‘people like you’. This is because you are a person just like me.
You may not really consider your Sexual orientation that much or even think very often about the fact that you are in a same sex relationship. You are in love. You are in love with this person and ‘thats that’. I want that for you. I want you to feel no need to explain any of these things to any old stranger. I never have to do that. Why should you?
The proliferation of Rainbow Flag cliches
You may or may not like rainbows, you may or may not place emphasis upon your gender identity or your sexual identity. You may identify as Queer, as LGBTQAI+ or not. I have never liked the assumption that because you are Gay or Non-binary or Trans or of any identity you will necessarily place this centre stage in your life.
I also have an ingrained distrust and suspicion of large retail organisations realising the so-called ‘power of the ‘pink pound’, and the increasing cynical employment of wonderfully empowering Pride marches into marketing campaigns and publicity stunts for corporations. I don’t like such incredibly significant central themes in people’s lives to be treated flippantly. At the same time, it is great to see diversity championed visibly by powerful organisations and it is great that this acts as an agent for change.
The rainbow flag is an excellent thing. Pride is an excellent thing. But we are all different. Some people love it, but it is not for everybody in every context. You might be Gay and have no interest in it or connection to it at all. i want to honour all of you. You have a unique story, you are a unique person, people will have made unhelpful assumptions about you for your whole life. I don’t want to be someone who does that to you all over again at such a significant point in your journey. You are not ‘all the same’, it would be offensive and ridiculous to think so!
I want to treat everyone with equal respect, not as ‘other’
I don’t want you to feel that you have to be treated as ‘different’ or as ‘other’ or labelled and pigeon-holed because of your Gender identity or Sexual Identity. Your interests, personality and priorities for your Celebrant might be entirely detached from these. I’m not here to tell you otherwise. I’m here to hear you, hear your stories and to serve your need by telling them in your own voice.
Affirming Neurodivergent People
I loved the term ‘affirming’ so much that I started to realise that it applied to all of the ceremonies i do for all the diverse families I work with. For many years I have collaborated with people with neuro-divergence. I am technically Neuro-divergent myself as I have epilepsy. I have a profound understanding of how it feels to be a bit ‘different’ and only recently realised how lucky I was in that regard.
Celebrating our distinctiveness is part of what my ceremonies do but they are directed towards finding commonalities which affirm everyone’s place in ‘community’. Many people are attracted to my work if they are living with Social Anxiety, or Generalised Anxiety, depression or any kind of Mental Health issue which impacts how they are feeling about their ceremony. I like my ceremonies to affirm that too, by finding ways to make things easier and more accessible.
“Neurodivergent people also need affirmation and again part of ‘affirming’ is to treat everyone as different and unique but not as ‘other’. Ceremonies should do that. Celebrate difference whilst creating belonging.”
Affirming Interfaith and Intercultural Families
In central Birmingham it would be very strange to be working with homogenous societies. If i was doing that I would not be working. We are a very vibrant mix of cultures and ethnic identities. Some families really need the beauty of that diversity affirming because by publicly affirming it they are publicly affirming their belonging together and finding new ways to affirm each other. This is some of my favourite work. I genuinely believe that it changes the world to find a ‘shared language’ from many different ones with which to navigate the world together. Affirming Ceremonies can do that. It enables the strengthening of communities.
Affirming Bereaved people in Happy times
The affirmation theme went on and on…the more I thought about it the more obvious it became. Most Celebrants will tell you that we bring our life experience to our work as Celebrants. ‘Affirming’ in one way or another, has been my life’s work and my greatest need. I feel sure i have ended up creating contexts for affirmation for others because I felt lack of it in my own life.
I have worked with bereaved people on and off since I was 25. This is a long time! But I have learned more about it from my own experience than any training courses. When we are bereaved we need that pain publicly affirmed sometimes. We need it acknowledged. This is a form of affirming too. We are saying ‘it is valid to feel this way’.
The image below is a little keepsake from a family Healing Ceremony which was a Wedding with a distinct component within in it to provide a space to acknowledge multiple miscarriages. We had a candle for all of the babies who were not born. It was a chance to try and embrace the future and to accept the loss but in a public space.
Affirming relationships within differing Religious Communities
So you see the theme? This incredibly beautiful couple came from two very different strands of the same religion. Their ceremony affirmed the value of that and of their respective families. It was a display of public support for that relationship. It strengthened that bond between them and between their communities. How amazing is that?!
Celebrations of Life
When we are bereaved we Celebrate a Life with a ceremony. We do it in order to ‘affirm’ that person’s life and their memory. We strengthen those memories. We publicly declare the validity of their time on this earth and in our lives. A funeral is really not that different from a Wedding. it is a Ceremony. In the Church a ceremony is known as a ‘Service’ and fro me, with my background in Church life ‘A Service’ is what a ceremony has remained for me. I can’t see that changing. I offer a service of ‘affirmation’. When we create ceremonies together we are ‘affirming you’, your relationships, your life and your loved ones. I’m happy to have discovered that I am a ‘Something’…Celebrant after all.
Since my epiphany about being an Affirming Celebrant I have decided that my reluctance to make too much fanfare about my work with LGBTQAI+ communities is actually not that helpful. I think my reluctance to share about my experience with Neurodivergence and Mental Health is probably also unhelpful. I want people to know that an Affirming Ceremony with an Affirming Celebrant is an option for everyone and I don’t want you to feel you have to search too hard to check out whether this is the case. You may be seeing a few more rainbow flags in future!