Written by Sarah Elspeth Patterson.
Photos by Cayden Serenity.
Late last year, I was thinking about how to celebrate turning 35. I was single, and deep in recovery from years of codependency and alcohol abuse. Approaching the milestone birthday, it felt strangely like arriving to meet myself. At the same time, I was becoming increasingly worried about the state of our collective world. In many ways, I was the walking cliché of a white woman in her mid-30s on a journey towards self-realization, except I’m a solo poly former sex worker leatherdyke and not a straight suburban mom. In contrast to the usual Eat, Pray, Love crowd, I have no stencil wall art in my bedroom, and I don’t plan on “finding myself” by appropriating other cultures. I’m just a perverted weirdo from New Jersey, known for pro-domming and getting into bar fights (usually with myself or a stationary object). Still, though. I decided that if I was truly going to commit to myself at 35, why not “marry” myself, too?
I decided that if I was truly going to commit to myself at 35, why not “marry” myself, too?
Self marriage, or sologamy, is not an idea I came up with. Many straight women have done self-marriage before I ever thought of it. The episode of Sex and the City where Carrie gets married to herself and registers at Manolo Blahnik is a cringeworthy, but memorable ur-text. I do have to admit that the whole thing is kind of embarrassing. We are plunging headlong into a climate crisis, brought on by capitalism and increasing the social impacts of racism and inequity. Focusing on oneself right now can feel apolitical and white supremacist, just a privileged excuse for consumerism and selfishness. Face masks and bubble baths won’t save us, and neither will Instagram #OOTD pics or the accompanying selfie light from Amazon. Self work without attachment to collective change is, well, just keeping the water warm while you drown.
Self work without attachment to collective change is, well, just keeping the water warm while you drown.
Which is not to say that warm water doesn’t sound really comforting right now. It’s hard not to feel hopeless, helpless, and altogether bleak. Self-discovery during the apocalypse is a weird concept. But so are self-care, self-love, and mental health maintenance. It’s “crazy” to talk about not feeling crazy right now. From our individually wrapped makeup removal cloths to capitalist refusals to transition off fossil fuels, even the most avoidant of folks can see that we’re headed towards darker times. This world will change drastically in our lifetimes, and it will not be for the better. We are planning for futures that we likely won’t have. What’s the point of planning, then?
Photos by Cayden Serenity.
The election was a shock to all our systems; some less marginalized folks more surprised than others, sure, but undeniably a collective trauma. Three years ago, Alexandra Petri wrote about the five stages of post-election grief, but crossed out the last one: acceptance. I don’t think queer people will ever reach that stage, but still, the first two years seemed to me to have a very different tone than this past year. Folks have unclenched their fists and gone from fighting non-stop to something much quieter, more internal. I think we all freaked the fuck out and then realized we still have to live with ourselves through this. Some people with the luxury to do so gave up fighting altogether (see the aforementioned face masks), but I saw many people in my communities turn inward to search for what they could actually control—while continuing their work in social justice movements. There’s been an adjustment: the abnormal is our normal now. And while throughout it all, we yelled up and down about how collective joy and pleasure still mattered, I saw a lot more people start doing more inner work to figure out what the hell that was going to mean.
Which brings me back to this whole wedding thing.
If you’re going to do a wedding—any sort of wedding—you might as well do it right. Especially if you’re a high femme dyke like I am. I booked a few rooms at an all-pink romantic theme hotel, made a wedding website on Zola (“Sarah & Sarah”), and even invited some of my biological family.
Weddings are definitely not created equal, just like any large-scale event that celebrates a subjective personal decision. People make commitments for many different hidden and unhidden reasons. Queer people have married for health insurance, the legal right to be partners under the law, and for plain ol’ love. I wanted to marry myself for some of the same reasons straight women do: self respect, a commitment to personal improvement, and the stabbing realization that failed relationships might have been a result of long-term people pleasing and bad boundaries.
But there was even more in it for me.
Being a codependent person is like slicing yourself open from throat to guts and asking someone else to walk around inside of you. It’s the extreme avoidance of being responsible for your own self. My goal as a dyke marrying herself was to create a bond with myself that I used to desperately seek with others. It was to commit to the woman I’d been avoiding my whole life—me.
I celebrate the fact that I don’t have to marry another person to feel a sense of home. I can find a very gay home in myself, with my community celebrating me. I can dedicate myself to the work of being the best version of me. How you come to meet yourself and your loved ones, in all your flaws, still matters. And it will matter in the end, too.
So this summer, I got married like so many other summer brides. I built femme altars with my femme friends. I covered myself in flowers and fringe. I raised funds so everyone could come with the right resources to celebrate instead of accruing more debt. I invested in those who are invested in my survival. I wanted femme opulence before crushing decay. I wanted to gaze into the eyes of my beautiful gay friends at a beautiful gay party. I toasted to myself, and to my friends, with a glass of non-alcoholic punch. I created a space where all of us could reflect on what we honor about ourselves and each other.
We’ll see what happens next. I want to live for myself as much as I want the world to live. While I’m fighting to save the world with my friends, I should probably take my life seriously, too. Me, in all my ridiculous forms: complicated, contradictory, and sometimes troubling. If this world doesn’t survive, I want to feel the cord of gasping capitalism wrap itself around me, watch it expand and contract, crack open, and die. I want to step away from its rotting vessel and see if I’m strong enough to live without it.
Photos by Cayden Serenity.
What we’re going into is dark and I’d like to enjoy myself in this vanishing world before the detritus. This is both deeply problematic and freeing. It’s a thing of hope to hold onto in a hopeless fight. Dreaming of a life worth caring about can prepare me to imagine what happens after. Because if this life doesn’t feel worth living, I can’t imagine the next one will either.
Sarah Patterson is a writer and creator with many irons in the fire. She lives and writes in the Bay Area. She has been a part of social justice movement work for nearly 15 years. She began her writing career as a media columnist for $pread Magazine, a magazine by and for sex workers that was independently published from 2005 to 2011. She has also been published at the Rumpus. She can be found on Instagram @JerseyTrashFemme and on Twitter @SarahElspeth_.