The Marrying Kind

Chrystal and Shira pulled off the perfect New York wedding. From rings to Rabbis, this is their story.

In the span of Chrystal and Shira’s ten month engagement, New York and Massachusetts began recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages and Hallmark launched its very first line of same-sex wedding cards. For a short time, things were looking up in the land of lesbian weddings.

But four days after the couple’s legal ceremony in Boston, California brought us all down with the passage of Prop 8. Bummer though it was, Prop 8 didn’t deter our Brooklyn brides.  Their reaction to the controversy? “We have never felt more motivated to flaunt our rings and fight for every person in this country to have the right to marry.”

“My parents taught me to follow my dreams and define my own happiness,” muses Shira, the dark-haired half of our beaming cover couple. “Independence was always more important to me than specific life milestones.” Born in Israel and raised in California, Shira, 31, hadn’t thought seriously about marriage until she met Chrystal. “It was our relationship that made it seem relevant.”

“I came out to my friends and family when I was fairly young,” explains Chrystal. “The word marriage had never resonated with me; possibly because I never felt it was applicable,” says the 26-year-old personal investor. “But I always hoped I would grow old with someone.”

Falling in love did the trick. “I think we both thought of marriage as something we would want later in life, but certainly not something that we were out actively looking for,” says Chrystal. “But after being together for a little while I found myself daydreaming about it.”

Taking the Plunge
“We decided we wanted to get married early on,” insists Shira. “Even if it took us a while to do something about it.” Actually it only took them eighteen months, though we all know that’s a lifetime in lesbian years. Chrystal was the first to passionately play out the bended-knee proposal. “I designed a diamond engagement band for her and anxiously carried it around in my pocket for weeks,” says Chrystal. “Finally, after many sleepless nights on my part, we took a winter trip to Montauk. We were standing in the middle of a pristine stretch of beach, skipping stones on the water and writing each other messages in the sand. I got up my nerve and etched out, ‘Shira will you marr me?’ with my foot. There’s no spell check on the beach, but Shira still got the point.”

They’d played around with the idea of marriage and kids so many times that Shira paused momentarily, not completely sure Chrystal was serious. “I playfully wrote back ‘yes’ with my foot, but I was shocked when Chrystal got down on one knee and produced a ring.”

Shira got so many compliments on her ring that she quickly had one made for her girlfriend. “Chrystal has very  exacting tastes, so to make sure I got something I knew she would love, I took her favorite ring and had it copied. The night it arrived I formally proposed to her.”

The Details
Nerve-wracking though it might be, asking the woman you love to marry you is the easy part. “It took nine months of wearing engagement rings to figure out how exactly we were going to interpret being ‘engaged’ and to truly appreciate how much we wanted to have a real wedding,” explains Shira. Flip through any bridal magazine on the grocery store rack and you’ll find daunting check lists and a mind-boggling array of wedding details. Weddings are such a big deal they’ve spawned an entire industry. “We picked a date ten months in the future, and that gave us enough time to get through all the steps, from the save-the-date announcements to coming to terms with the concept of forever.”

Their first task was picking the perfect spot to get married. The couple was very clear about what type of setting they wanted. “We wanted to have our wedding in an open industrial space that had a real iconic city feel,” explains Chrystal. They researched venues online and looked specifically for urban loft spaces. “We visited maybe fifteen different locations, but when we walked into Pochron Studios in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn it was love at first sight. The vast, white, open-loft feel and huge, bright exposures facing the Manhattan skyline won us over. The large outdoor patio between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges sealed the deal.”
Any wedding planner will tell you that choosing the location sets the tone for the rest of the wedding, and it means you have to cut the guest list to fit your locale. “We wanted an intimate wedding of close friends and family,” says Chrystal. With that in mind, they narrowed their list down to 80 people. “It was large enough that it made for a loud party and small enough that we had a chance to talk to everyone.”

Keeping things small made the planning easier. It also allowed Shira and Chrystal to take a do-it-yourself approach, enlisting their friends and family to help.  “From the get-go, we knew that we wanted the wedding to be very personal, we wanted to take time to recognize our guests, and we wanted to put our signature on every aspect of the fiesta,” recalls Chrystal. “Shira spent countless hours developing a really beautiful and inclusive wedding website that included an ongoing blog documenting the months and weeks leading up to the big day, the schedule of events, and even a picture and bio of each of our wedding guests. I designed the save-the-dates and invites. Each of the 80 invites that went out were handmade and slightly different. Shira came up with the idea to paint our guests’ names on rocks for use as place markers at the tables.”

In keeping with their do-it-yourself philosophy, the couple opted to do their own flowers. They spent hours picking through branches at the flower market and finding beautiful things they loved. The food, however, they left up to the pros. “We are both total foodies and wanted good food to be a central part of the beginning of our new life together,” says Chrystal. “We hired Choice Cooking to cater our wedding.” They opted for a Latin-inspired menu with avocado and mango chutney, arepas and spicy potato pancakes. The entrée was a choice of plantain crusted bass or spice-rubbed prime rib. “Our caterers were fantastic, the meal was absolutely delicious. One of our guests even commented, ‘This fish is like a pair of tits.’ I don’t know exactly what that means, but I’m sure it’s a good thing.”

Serious cupcake lovers, the brides-to-be chose a cupcake tower over a traditional wedding cake. “Cupcakes are something very near and dear to my heart. Some of my favorite New York memories involve standing in line at the Magnolia Bakery in the wee hours of the morning,” says Chrystal. “After weeks of research we finally stumbled upon How Sweet It Is in Soho. We couldn’t imagine being married without their butter crème-filled red velvet cupcakes.”

Wear Nice Underwear
Hers and hers wedding attire runs the gamut. Both brides might lean toward a tailored Jil Sander suit, a fantasy Vera Wang gown, or one of each. In the case of our cover brides, Shira and Chrystal each wanted gowns, though Shira was a bit more experienced with the process of trying them on. “I had never stepped foot in a bridal store before last year,” says Chrystal. Her words of advice for equally inexperienced brides-to-be are, “Wear nice undergarments when you go to try these beasts on. I don’t mean like just clean with no holes, I mean like third-date-nice underwear, because believe me, everyone in that store is going to see you in them.” She also cautions, “Bring a strapless bra. Otherwise you’ll end up with your girls stuffed into whatever 32 A they have lying around. Also, be clear about what you like or else you’ll end up trying on every lacy number in the place.”

Brides often say that once they choose a dress the entire experience seems more real, and Shira agrees. “I went looking for something simple but ended up buying a big fluffy dress off the rack. It was the first big expense and though it was within our budget the dress immediately made the wedding seem so much more real.  I started having wedding dreams, suddenly able to visualize myself getting married.” 

Keeping with traditions

“We met with a few reform rabbis in the city who had performed same-sex ceremonies. We wanted to get a sense of how comfortable they were with same-sex couples, what their contact was with the gay community and how they would perform a two-bride marriage.” Choosing an officiant is key in a same-sex marriage. It’s important to find someone who understands that he or she is performing a marriage and not a commitment ceremony. No one should be treated like a second-class citizen on their wedding day. “We met with Rabbi Roger Ross on the Upper West Side. He heads an inner faith council and works closely with equal rights groups, and we really agreed with his philosophies.  He walked us through the procession and we picked the traditional aspects that we were going to keep and the others that we needed to personalize.”

“One word of advice, get a good photographer and invest in an engagement shoot,” says Shira. “Our photographer, Dave Cross, really made our day special.  He and his assistant Nicholas Coleman climbed rooftops, laid on sidewalks and squeezed into crowded subway cars in order to capture every moment of the day. And having witnessed so many weddings, he also gave us great advice about the flow of the day and kept the schedule moving without for a moment abandoning the easy going attitude we loved.” Cross, whose work is featured in this article, also took the shot of Shira and Chrystal that graces our cover. “Taking what we called a practice shoot helped us get comfortable with each other so that on the day of our wedding we felt he was an extended member of the bridal party.”

A day of rest
Last minute preparations are so stressful it’s a wonder anyone ever enjoys the big day. “We were running on only a few hours of sleep. Without gobs of concealer and a fake tan we would never have pulled it off,” says Chrystal. “I had the sensation that everything was falling apart until the last minute we walked out and walked down the aisle.  The rest of the night went by in a flash of sweaty dance moves, signature cocktails and unbridled laughter. Before I knew it the clean up crew was sweeping up cupcake wrappers and Gerber daisies.”

For Shira, the stress didn’t hit until later. “I was on cloud nine the entire time and had to be dragged home,” she says. “The exhaustion came about a week later, when we were finally away from the excitement of the wedding.  I returned to work with an exhaustion-induced cough that lasted an entire week.”

After their wedding Chrystal and Shira took off for a quick spa retreat to soothe their worn-out nerves. “The morning after, Shira shot out of bed at 4:45 a.m. frantic that we may have forgotten to thank someone. We comforted each other and tried to calm our newly married nerves. In the end, the biggest comfort came from a late night call to room service for grilled cheese sandwiches and Caesar salad. Oh the joy of not having to squeeze back in that dress!”

Chrystal adds, “A few months before the wedding a gay friend of mine said that he didn’t understand why people were making such a big deal about gay marriage. But after the wedding he said he felt inspired and hoped he would also marry one day.  I think it’s so important for those of us who want to get married to do it for ourselves, as well as for the GLBT community.  The more people witness our relationships as normal everyday parts of our society, the more likely they are to advocate for our rights.”

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