My Marriage to Kathryn Cornelius: personal account
At 9AM on Saturday, the day I married Kathryn Cornelius, my big sister came to pick me up from my apartment. Flustered, nervous, I wasn’t dressed yet, she came in to help get me together. A few days before she called to demand why I hadn’t told her about my wedding. She heard about the performance on the radio, saw my changed relationship status (“engaged”) on Facebook, and wanted to be there for me on my big day. She’s not my real sister, but we’ve maintained those roles since we met when I was a confused rising 9th grader. Who could possibly be a better unofficial maid-of-honor at my performance wedding than my pretend big sister?
We arrived at the Corcoran just a few minutes before 10, just in time to see the first wedding of Save the Date, Kathryn Cornelius’s performance for the Take it to the Bridge series at the Corcoran, co-presented by the Washington Project for the Arts. I felt a little weird about being in the other ceremonies in my outfit, but was glad to see one go through before it was my turn at noon. Incidentally, the second husband Stephen Mack is a friend of mine, I think we met first at Carolina Mayorga’s Soapbox. I stayed “back-stage” for most of his wedding, fixing my hair and make-up, going over my lines, getting encouraged by and maybe passing a flask with my bridal entourage. As the hour drew to a close, Adrian Parsons wired me up with my mic, I took my bouquet of peach-colored roses, wrapped up in white ribbon by Kathryn’s mom, and took position outside on the horrendously bright and hot sidewalk.
I saw my mom and brother standing in the crowd around the Corcoran steps. At the rehearsal the night before, so many of the suitors mentioned that their family was coming, I felt a little guilty and invited them last-minute. Andrew Bucket said he invited his whole family, because this might be the only chance they get to see him get married.
Seeing Kathryn at the other end of the block, my nerves totally dissipated. Sweaty, squinting, but I can’t remember ever feeling prettier, I was glowing. I’m no actress, I’m not used to performing in front of an audience. Kathryn told us before to be ourselves, not to act the role but to really do it. We met in front of the steps and I was so happy to realize this performance with her. We said vows, the minister is a real ordained minister, and happens to also be the director of the DC Arts Center in Adam’s Morgan. Everyone present was invited to participate in the group picture, we got artist Linda Hesh to our right and my big sister on the left. We signed the document, Kathryn suggested that we sign it at the same time. Leading up to this, I was so surprised by how many people asked me about the legal implications of this performance. “Like, is this going to go on your record?” Interesting how so many didn’t understand how marriage works, legally- as if she actually could marry and divorce seven people in a day. To this I repeat Kathryn’s explanation to me, “it’s as real as it needs to be.”
Then the crowd was ushered inside, and Kathryn and I ascend into the performance bridge, the starting point for developing this performance. The glare from the sun on the glass inside was such that I could only see into the Corcoran’s atrium through my own reflection. My mom and brother were straight ahead, my dad kind of wandering behind them. Kathryn and I held hands tightly, thinking of same-sex couples who can’t yet experience some version of what we represented. She told me I looked beautiful, and at the time cue from below, she said we were going to stay for two more minutes. While each marriage was unique, our marriage had greatly different implications than her five husbands. The inter-racial component to her wedding with Holly Bass was different still. We tried not to talk, to be still, meditative wedding cake-toppers. I whispered that my family had come, there she is- the small woman in black is my mom, and my (real) little brother in shorts next to her. That my family was present significantly altered the way that I saw myself within the context of the piece, though so fully enmeshed in the work, a very real and unexpected frame for understanding the work emerged as I watched my them watching me. They were really there, celebrating and supporting me.
I went to my first wedding, ever, just three weeks before. A friend from high school. I got a little teary during the ceremony, got drunk quickly, and danced poorly to the worst music imaginable. I didn’t know anyone else there besides the bride’s immediate family and my date, and it was exactly what I expected a kind of small wedding to be like. The day before my wedding, I took myself to get a mani/pedi, not something I do often, but I figured it would be an appropriate treat. There happened to be a whole wedding ensemble there, and the bride-to-be was clearly the later 20-something yelling into her phone, at her mom, at the manicurist. Apparently, they were going to be late to the rehearsal dinner and would her fiancé bring her fucking hair straightener, even though she probably wouldn’t fucking have time to do her hair. In Kathryn’s wedding, the aspect of pre-performance, all the preparation and the use of social media to share that publicly was really fitting to the content of the piece. We did a rehearsal, we took engagement photos, we went on a first date. The question as to what is and what isn’t being performed was constantly at the forefront of our activities, and resonated perfectly with questions that the piece sought to raise.
I stayed through the end of the performance, if not participating in or watching all of the other ones. Over the rest of the day I chatted with friends and acquaintances, whether they were there to see me or happened to come. Something like an extended receiving line, I enjoyed my relaxed social role after my wedding was over. It’s impossible for me to consider the piece, especially so soon after, with any analytical distance. I don’t feel that my understanding of or position towards or against marriage has changed at all, but I entered the situation with what I think is a pretty open mind. I hope that my participation in the work can at least continue the important conversation regarding marriage equality.
The performance engages with a familiar and standardized ritual, and breaks it down by repeating it, dragging it out, complicating it. Audience participation was logical in the work, unlike some more forced interactions motivated maybe by some kind of collective production theory. I’m struck with how fully each “suitor” (as she called us) entered their role with this woman who was practically a perfect stranger to all of us. The performance began for me the moment I read that she was putting out a call to proposals, and each suitor entered the piece as performers when they proposed. The answer to whether or not audience were implicated as performers or not, or when that occurred, or how, or why, is not so important as the fact that the question is posed. I’d rather be unclear about what is or isn’t part of the performance. Finally, to end the very long day in a fabulous turn of events, and unfortunately there is no documentation, I rode off from the Corcoran on the back of a motorcycle, with the divorce attorney.