To Be Trans: Charlie and Roman

K: Hi friends! First, let’s tell the readers a little about yourself!

C: [I’m] Charlie Manzano (he/him), I like to make zines and watch the Great British Bake-off. I run the Young Adult Facial/Bodily Difference and Disfigurement Network, as well as co-run the Transgender Cancer Patient Project and the Sick and Disabled Zine And Craft Fair. Most of my work centers healthcare activism and community.

R: [I’m] Roman Ruddick (they/them),- I love to live and work with animals, eat yummy food, and make art! Most of my art during quarantine has been boba themed (current yummy obsession), but typically I enjoy making art and zines related to cancer, healthcare, and gender. I co-run the transgender cancer patient project and the sick and disabled zine and craft fair, and participate in other community art and health related activism.

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K: Thanks so much for these intros! I love hearing more about you both! Here are some questions for you… [first off], how did you two meet?

R: We met on Tumblr! Charlie started a “transgender cancer support” blog and [I] was his only follower. Embarrassing. lols.

K: What do you do for work and how are you involved with your community?

C/R: Neither of us are working right now due to COVID-19, but outside of work we are involved in community organizing. We run the Transgender Cancer Patient Project and just co-organized the Virtual Sick And Disabled Zine and Craft Fair!

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K: Tell me more about the TCPP and the Fair! How did you come up with the ideas and why are they important to you?
R: Charlie and I started the Transgender Cancer Patient Project because it was very apparent to us that cancer resources (and the healthcare system as a whole) were not created with trans people in mind, so we hoped to change that by creating resources and buliding community based on our own experiences as transgender cancer patients.
C:  The Transgender Cancer Patient Project was created by Roman and I in search of community and resources, as trans cancer patients ourselves. There wasn’t much out there for trans patients, especially created by us, which is why we felt that it was so important to bring this project into fruition.

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K: Have you ever heard of a story about a trans person facing discrimination in your state, or have you personally been discriminated against for your sexual orientation or gender identity?

C/R: I think that most trans people have faced discrimination in their life. It’s hard to keep count, or really narrow down to just one experience for me personally.
K: Describe your support system.
C: My support system is definitely my family, my partner, and my friends.
R: My support system is mostly Charlie and his family since I live with them and have gone through quite a bit with them.
K: Roman, would you be interested in expanding on your choice to live with Charlie’s family or the reason for/impact that has had on you?

Roman: I moved in with Charlie and his family after we were both accepted into SFSU last year. I was living in Oregon at the time, and since we had been dating for over a year and wanted to be closer to each other anyway, it just really worked out for me to come here for school. It’s been great to feel so easily accepted into the family.

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K: Are there any defining moments in your journey you’d like to share?
Roman: Not particularly, lots of ups and downs for sure!
Charlie: I think that we’re constantly learning and growing, and so it’s hard to point to specific moments which I think have mattered the most — they all have. Every time I meet someone through our project or support network, I have a new favorite moment, and a new favorite person I want to lift up.
K: How have your friends and family supported you in your journey?
Roman: This is a hard question to answer because life seems to change so drastically so often.
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K: What are some common misconceptions you’d like people to have a better understanding of in regarding trans folks?

Roman: Probably that there are more of us than they think there are. People that don’t know me very well will make comments about gender stereotypes or about trans people all the time, working off the assumption that there are none around, or that trans people are some kind of anomaly. But this isn’t true, trans people are everywhere.

K: Any advice on how to be a good ally to the trans community?
C/R: A lot of the work that we do is on creating environments that reflect different experiences, bodies, and identities. A big recommendation from us is to think critically about the steps being taken to make something more inclusive: are these steps exceptions to a rule that centers the exclusionary system in place, or are the rules being changed to include more people fundamentally? For example, making sure that trans people won’t be denied care at a “women’s health clinic” is good, but given the fact that not only women seek the services available there, how about changing the title of “women’s health clinic” to something gender neutral? To take it even further, questioning how and why these “gendered” services are separated in the first place, and how it impacts all people, can help us understand that these health spaces really can, and should, be re-imagined with every body in mind. Re-imagining systems for the purposes of inclusion, not just on a surface level, is something that we need more allies to be thinking about and advocating for.

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K: Are there any causes that are particularly important to you that you’d like to shout out?C/R: Yes! Black Lives Matter! Black trans lives matter! Black cancer patient’s lives matter! Racial justice and representation is also severely lacking in healthcare and cancer spaces and we need to uplift Black and Black trans voices on these subjects whenever we can.
K: Anything else you’d like to add? 
C/R:  Check out our social media to learn more about what we do @transcancerzine!
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Heidi and Molly: A Colorful Same Sex Wedding on California’s North Coast

Tell us your love story!

Heidi: We had several mutual friends from LiveJournal and Twitter communities for fans of a few specific bands (Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, etc.), and I kept noticing my friends talking to this smart, interesting person I wanted to know, so I started following them on Twitter. We kept discovering more things we had incommon, having lengthy conversations in private messages, and eventually collaborating on a creative project together that just meant even more talking and discovering. Molly confessed they had feelings for me and I was thrilled! Not long after that I planned a visit (they live in San Francisco and at the time I lived in Vermont), and meeting in person was like meeting someone I’d known my whole life. That visit was in February; in May of the same year I moved across the country to live with them. A wild leap of faith, but I just knew it would work, and I haven’t looked back.

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What about the proposal?

Heidi: I knew Molly was planning to propose around Christmas, so I was getting increasingly excited as it got closer. We travel from San Francisco to visit my family in Vermont every year, which involves a full day of travel and usually a lot of sitting around an airport late at night waiting for our last connection. During that wait, Molly confessed they hadn’t actually gotten a ring and I would have to bring them shopping in the few days before Christmas. It worked out really well, because my sister worked at a jewelry counter at the time so I went to her to help me pick something out, we found my dream ring, and then I sat in a cafe while Molly shopped so I didn’t actually know if they went to my sister or picked something outon their own.

On the day of, when we were mostly finished with presents, I unwrapped my gift from Molly to find a cute, more casual ring they had picked out for me, and then they told me that wasn’t the only ring I was getting. My mother gasped so loudly you could probably hear it states away as Molly got down on one knee – and immediatelygot swarmed by my parents’ dog! – to propose. There was my dream ring, and also my dream person, and in my excitement I almost forgot to actually say yes!

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When did you know that you were meant to be with each other?

Heidi: I don’t know that there was any one moment! There have been a thousand little things that just reaffirm it, over and over since I moved. Being around Molly makes me feel like a better version of myself, and I knew very early on I wanted to be that version forever.

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Going into the wedding planning, what did you definitely know?

Heidi: I knew I wanted to get married in Mendocino County where Molly grew up because both the coast and the inland are gorgeous, and that we wanted to be outdoors. Also a lot of people would be traveling so we wanted our wedding somewhere people could stay, to take some of the planning stress out of it for people who were coming a long way for us!

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What surprised you during planning? What was easy, what was difficult?

Heidi: I was surprised by how little I ended up wanting to do myself. I was out of work and planning the wedding was basically my full-time job, but even then I would find myself staring down the barrel of assembling favors or hand-painting place cards or DIY floral arrangements and nearly always make the call to pay someone else to take care of it. I’m a very crafty person but the time investment, the need to have everything Just Right, and the amount of space it would take up to store materials and finished products in our tiny apartment was just a little too much.

Molly: The vendors all know each other. This helped us out in a few ways, most notably when the DJ we initially hired had to cancel a month out and suggested an excellent alternative. But it also made for an awkward 5 minutes between our back-to-back interviews with florists who turned out to be friends.

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Is there anything you wish you knew while you were planning your wedding thatyou know now?

Heidi: The fewer things that need to be Perfect, the better. I had two things that I wanted to go Perfectly, and many many things that didn’t need precise timing or people to be in exactly the right places or six different moving pieces to line up, and there were many little hiccups throughout the day but the ones that really devastate me were with the two things that needed to be Perfect. The more you can stick to concepts and not details when you build the image of your perfect day, the more relaxing it will be! Do you need your tables to be named with in-jokes perfectly tailored to the people at each table (entirely thrown off by a minor printing error neither of us caught in the proofs) or just cute things that feel like You? Do you need to enter the reception to a precisely-timed piece of music for maximum dramatic effect, or just pick a song you like?

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Any advice for couples planning weddings now? Anything you would have donedifferently or anything you’d like to add?

Heidi: 1. Pick a point person for your wedding and give them more information than they need, more tasks than you think you should, and lean on them hard. Our point person was wonderful, but I only fully utilized her on the day of the ceremony, so the day before when I had a killer migraine I still had to contend with a full list of tasks to either do or delegate when I could barely remember my name. 2. Don’t be afraid to say no to people. I’m a big people pleaser at the best of times, and I was afraid of being branded a “bridezilla”, so I would try to be accommodating of suggestions, ideas, and offers that didn’t work with what we wanted for our day and then I would be stuck with the labor of making them work for us. If you’re accepting money from people, let them have a say in some things, for sure, but there is nothing wrong with knowing what you want and what you don’t and being gentle but firm about it. 3. Budget more than you think you need for everything. Obviously this isn’t always possible! But however much you can do will help take the pressure off. Most budget advice I saw recommended having a specific cushion of some percentage of your total budget, and we did that, but I also did my best to overestimate how much we would need for things so each category (food, apparel, etc) had its own cushion as well.

Molly: The single best thing we did in our planning was a decision we made early on: that for any given decision, the person who cared most would get their way. In the vast majority of cases, this meant we went with what Heidi wanted, because she is much more opinionated about weddings than I am. But there were a few cases where it turned out I had stronger opinions than I realized, and Heidi was great at drawing me out and making sure we had the wedding I wanted, too.

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What was your favorite part of your wedding day?

Heidi: Our ceremony overlooked the ocean, and after our recessional, when people were just beginning to get up to head in for the cocktail hour, whales began breaching right behind our wedding arch! We were facing away, heard most of our crowd of loved ones gasp, and turned to watch whales celebrate our wedding with us. It was truly beautiful; I still can’t think about it without crying.

Molly: for me it was getting to the end of the procession and turning around and seeing the crowd—so many people from different parts of our lives, all together in one place because they cared about us and our happiness together. That was an overwhelming feeling.

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Photography: Katherine Elyse Photography / @lovekephoto
Venue: Heritage House Resort & Spa / @heritagehouseresort
Catering: Heritage House Resort & Spa / @heritagehouseresort
Dessert Table: A Sweet Affair Patisserie / @asweetaffairpatisserie
Flowers: Mendocino Floral Design / @mendocino_floral_design
Hair & Makeup: M Salon / @marianellabrey
DJ: NorCal Pro Sound, Tony Muzzin / @norcalprosounddjservice
Chair & Tent Rental: Matt Rowland Events  / No Instagram
Dress: Wtoo by Watters / @wtoowatters // Purchased from Haute & Co Bridal Salon / @hauteandco
Tailoring: Tailor Maid / @tailormaidsf
Corset: Dark Garden / @darkgardencorsetry
Suit: Kipper Clothiers / @kipperclothiers
Ring: Mendocino Gems / No Instagram

Laurel and Mike’s Zhangjiajie Forest Park Wedding Part 4 – Couple’s Photos

There are very few words to describe the beauty of Zhangjiajie Mountain Forest Park in China. Being a photographer who loves dark and moody weather, I was overjoyed when I saw the fog settling over the gorgeous floating mountains. If this spot looks familiar to you, it’s because it was featured in the 2009 hit Avatar by James Cameron. Wow that Movie made history with CGI and over the top special effects, there’s really no need to enhance this place with the technology. You can feel how old everything is, how come the air and the forest feels. It’s lush, wild, romantic, and expansive; The perfect place to take couples photos after your wedding.

Laurel was an absolute trooper as well, trucking around in her giant red wedding dress and then eventually changing into a more westernized strapless white gown. I was super lucky to have the help of two of Laurel’s assistants, her hair and make up artist and her wedding coordinator, because posing that dress in the wind and the rain would’ve been just about too much for a little old me!

Every time I look at these pictures I’m reminded how lucky I am to be able to do what I do. This unique experience is one that may never be topped. (But of course, if your’re having a destination wedding, feel free to top this one and invite me to be your photographer!)

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Maia and I met at Sugarloaf Fine Arts Camp as kids and have always been sort of kindred spirits. We’re both loud, pretty opinionated, artsy fartsy, and have a deep love for the outdoors. Over the past few years, I’ve kept in contact with Maia via social media and have seen them grow into an outspoken advocate for the queer community. While I’ve known Maia was qeer for some time, I realized that I didn’t truly know what it meant to them and was curious to find out. There seemed to be A LOT of different terms and phrases associated with queer identity so I was very eager to dig a bit deeper and hear about Maia’s personal experience. I’m unendingly appreciative for the time they gave me when answering my (fairly novice) questions as well as the compassionate nature of their responses.
*Disclaimer: I started a portrait project a few years back titled “To Be Woman” but have recently realized how restrictive that is to my utimate goal of uplifting up a mutitude of human stories. I’m thrilled that Maia is the first gendervoid participant in my newly christened “To Be” series. 🙂
K: Why don’t you introduce yourself and tell everyone a little bit about you. 

M: [I’m] Maia Fernandez, they/them, queer (to be hyper-specific: Gendervoid quoriomantic demi/noeti/bisexual). 

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I am terrible at giving blurbs on myself, haha. I have an M.A. in Literature, combining my love of pop culture and spooky folklore with my mestizx heritage. I generally prefer being out in the forest, as opposed to my house in the city, and head out there as often as I can. During the stay in place order, most my free time is spent running D&D, playing video games, drawing, trying to learn mandolin, and running out to the forest.
K: When did you first become familiar with what it means to be gendervoid/nonbinary? 

M: I can’t speak toward what being nonbinary means for anyone but myself; the trans community is so wide and has so many differing experiences and perspectives that if you line up 100 people from the community, you’ll have 100 different explanations of gender.

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K: Can you talk me through your process of coming to understand your specific experience with gender?

M: Gender has always been rather tricky for me. I grew up a tomboy – as far back as I can remember, I didn’t like dresses, and preferred playing in the dirt and roughhousing. Of course, that doesn’t mean anything regarding gender identity, but it helps illustrate the train of thought. When I was 15, I went on a camping trip with a (gay, cis male) friend of mine. We spoke at length one evening about gender and how we know we’re our genders and what it feels like to be our genders. I realized, fairly quickly, that I have absolutely no idea what it means to be a woman. And not just because I was some precocious teenager; I never felt any sort of identification with being referred to by feminine pronouns.

It was this horrifying revelation; all I knew was male-female for genders, and if I didn’t identify as a woman, then clearly I must be a man. I called my mom in an absolute panic and she just shut it down. I didn’t know how to respond, so I hung up.

The idea of gender stayed in the back of my mind, but never resurfaced until my early 20s when I learned about nonbinary identities. Genderfluid didn’t fit, because my gender didn’t change or shift. Genderqueer fit the best for a while, until I read about agender identities on Tumblr (hey, the site has its benefits). I spent probably too long on https://lgbta.wikia.org/wiki/ looking at different gender identities, sexualities, and romantic attractions. I overloaded the hell out of my brain and slowly just came to recognize that I don’t know what my gender identity is because I don’t have one.

When I think about my body, my mind, and the labels attached to it, I never really felt that the concept of gender as a whole had any space. My body has always just felt like this weird, awkward meat sack powered by electric signals, and the idea of assigning an abstraction of gender somehow never clicked for me. My sexual and romantic identities are just as abstract, but those managed to wiggle their way in.

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It’s difficult, most days, because I don’t dress or look androgynous, in terms of identity or gender presentation. While androgyny has nothing to do in the grand scheme of things when it comes to being nonbinary, there’s still an implicit expectation that being nonbinary means you actively try to look like both/neither masculine or feminine, but are also thin/waifish, with little curves or contours, and have sharp/angular features. That “real” nonbinary people walk down the street and the average passerby can’t tell upon first blush if they’re a man or a woman. I’ve had close friends tell me that because I don’t actively work to look more masculine, they forget my pronouns. That it’s hard to remember my pronouns because I “just look so much like a girl.”

I never used to like dresses or makeup, and it wasn’t until about 8th grade that I stopped shopping in the boys’ section for clothes (cargo shorts are a blessing and I stand by that). As I got older and more secure in my identities, I started dressing more feminine. That, and when you’re in the throes of a horrific depression episode and the idea of wearing clothes is just a nightmare, the ability to throw on a dress and call it an outfit is a blessing.

But I don’t bind my chest, I’m not on T, and I have no intention of undergoing top or bottom surgery. On top of that, I’m fat and dress fairly feminine (I really have to emphasize how amazing dresses are for people with depression). I like my boobs, hard as it is to find bras that fit, and that doesn’t invalidate my lack of a gender. Deconstructing gender presentation expectations, gender norms, and the entire construct of gender removes the correlation of physical appearance with gender – as it ought to – and needs to happen. Strangers’ discomfort does not supersede my right to exist, freely and as myself.

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K: Have you personally been discriminated against for your sexual orientation or gender identity?

M: I think microaggressions like that – saying I look too much like a girl to remember my pronouns – are the more casual forms of discrimination I’ve faced. Granted, there are some people who openly admitted they’re going to have a hard time with they/them and nonbinary pronouns in general, and a select few are people where misgendering doesn’t bother me. Only a few, though, and they already know who they are. Otherwise, I expect people to use my proper pronouns because it, yanno, denotes basic respect and human decency.

Growing up in Placerville, homophobia was fairly common. Before Prop 8 in 2008, there were the Truth Trucks – giant, red trucks covered in signs and banners and what have you quoting the Bible and the infamous “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” slogan. They had loudspeakers attached to the roof of the truck, driving past schools and shouting their bigotry. I am not a passive person, and I have never known when to keep my mouth shut.

I dated a guy when I was 18 who kept telling me that I’m not actually bi because I hadn’t had sex with a woman in over a year, and was thus actually just bicurious. Mind you, this was around a year into our monogamous relationship. Logic.

More recently, aphobia – the belief that those on the asexual spectrum don’t have a place in the LGBTQIA+ community (despite the, you know. A) – is on the rise. I also recently figured out that I fall under the ace umbrella (demisexual) and the aromantic (it’s like asexual but with romantic attraction) umbrella (quoiromantic). The idea, I’ve seen, stems from asexuality being a relatively new term, compared to gay, lesbian, and bisexual. Historically, ace folk were lumped in with bisexuality because, reductively, no attraction to any gender is still equal attraction to any gender. I’d like to say that aphobia will gradually fade away and people will begin recognizing asexuality as part of the LGBTQIAA+ community, but seeing as people within the community are still transphobic and biphobic – to say the least – doesn’t offer much hope.

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K: What would you like cisgendered people to know about you or the queer community in general? Any advice on how to be a good ally to the LGBTQ+ community?

M: Honestly, the best way for people not part of a community to combat their implicit biases, microaggressions, and conscious or subconscious participation in oppression is to listen, not get reactionary / defensive, and understand that a person within that community probably has a better idea of what the experience is like. It’s like having a cis man tell a woman what it’s actually like to be a woman, yanno? Just…stop. No. I don’t need a cis person telling me how to look nonbinary, just like I don’t need someone who isn’t bi or demisexual to tell me what those terms actually mean, just like I don’t need someone who isn’t mestizx or Mexican telling me how to be Mexican.

Another part of that is humility. Nobody is perfect and everyone has hurt someone else, intentionally or not. What’s important is to accept with grace that someone trusts you and your relationship with them enough to tell you that you’ve hurt them. It’s a huge display of vulnerability on the hurt party, and overcoming the kneejerk reaction to deny, get defensive, and shut them down shows not only extreme emotional maturation, but strengthens the relationship. It’s something I had to work really hard to do, both because I hate the idea of hurting people, and I hate the idea that I can be problematic. But both are true and both still happen. The important part is to accept the criticism and grow from it. Acknowledge the hurt you’ve done, apologize, and consciously work to not repeat it.

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K: Describe your support system. Are there any causes that are particularly important to you that you’d like to shout out?

I’m really lucky and grateful that I’ve never had to hide who I am from my mom, and that I never felt I would lose my home / stability / life for being queer. I recognize that isn’t a privilege a lot of people have, and I try to exude the same love and compassion toward them that mom’s always shown me (even if she doesn’t understand everything I’m saying). She’s one of my best friends, and an absolute pillar when it comes to my support system. I have a pretty large support system, if I really think about it, and I also recognize how lucky I am for that, too. Not only do I have my 2 boyfriends and other partner, but I have a hefty handful of friends who are there for me when I need them – just as I am for them. I think stabilizing a support system and really solidifying those bonds and relationships are crucial during the pandemic, even if it’s with people you can’t regularly see in person. Having these systems are doubly important for the LGBTQIAA+ community, those who are mentally ill, and PoC – especially Black folk.

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Which, with the current affairs of the world, all I can really say is Black Lives Matter. Support your local Black community, the BLM movement at large https://blacklivesmatter.com/, and look into organizations in your area that offer aid for protesters. The officers who murdered Breonna Taylor need to be arrested and charged for their crimes. My fellow trans folk need protection now that the Trump administration decreed we do not deserve access to healthcare. Indigenous tribes are being ravaged with coronavirus deaths and received no aid. Our system is inherently designed to kill and hinder, and it is our collective responsibility to fight and enact change and equity. We are all allies to one another, and we need to work together.

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Big thanks to my studio assistant, Maxine, for keeping everyone happy!

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Kate & Maia: 2020

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Wedding Wednesdays!

Wedding Wednesday

I hop online each week with a tasty brew to chat about an array of topics surrounding your wedding planning and how to make everything as awesome as you ever imagined. We’ll cover everything from picking a venue to posing for your engagement photos to how to ensure your wedding day runs smoothly. I’ve been in the wedding industry for 10 years, I’ll share my wedding tips along with some anecdotes and bad jokes here and there. If you know me at all you know I don’t take myself too seriously, so this series is a fun romp through all the wedding wildness that’s floating around in my brain! 🙂 

COMING UP!

I’m super pumped to dive into Wedding Wednesday for week number two where we’ll be talking about where the heck you even BEGIN the wedding planning process! While overflowing pinterest boards and DIY dreams are some of the more fun and stress free parts of the experience, there are a lot of big and serious tasks you’ve got to tackle right out of the gate in order to set yourself up for success! Tune in to my FB and IG live at 5:00pm PST to hear the tip of the iceberg of advice I’ve got for couples who are planning. If you’ve got planning success (or horror!) stories, advice on where to begin, or a specific question regarding planning then let me know at the link below! I’m stoked to connect with you personally and get you all the help you need to make your wedding GRRRRRRRRREAT! 🐯💛

WEDDING WEDNESDAYS QUESTIONS, ADVICE, & STORY SUBMISSIONS

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Laurel and Mike’s Zhangjiajie Forest Park Wedding Part 3 – The Ceremony

FINALLY. The big day. (Holy sh*it, we were excited!)

After the immacualte welcome BBQ, the rowdy door games, and the amazing breakfast, I was STOKED to get to the main event. Mike and his boys were well into their suits by the time we arrived for photos and were already starting in on their second bottle of wedding wine. If ever there was ever an indication of how awesome this day was going to be, that was it. Their get up gave a nod to traditional Chinese styling and fused the past with the present with slim fitting garments and modern dress shoes. The crazy socks were a must, signaling how wild and wonderful they all felt.

Now, I had heard for months about Laurel’s custom made red wedding dress but NOTHING prepared me for the sheer perfection of it. Her gown looked like something off the MET Gala carpet and I was HERE fot it. Not only did Laurel look stunning, but so did all of her bridesmaids. Their dresses all sported a different cut for each but created from the same gorgeous navy bloe floral pattern. I don’t know about you, but I think this is one of the hottest bridal parties ever!

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The ceremony was held at the Zhangjiajie National Forest park in the Hunan province of China. If this epic backdrop looks familiar, it’s because this is the same spot James Cameron filmed his 2009 epic Avatar. The floating mountains were absolutly breathtaking, I couldn’t believe this was the backdrop for the wedding! Of course, the decor of the aisle and alter matched the stunning neautrals of the fog filled background with an abundance of white flowers, walkways, teraces, and arangements. Watching Laurel stride down the aisle in her electrifying red dress is a sureal and beautiful moment that I will truly never forget. The ceremony was performed in both English and Chinese to accomdate for all the guests and involved traditional Western vows as well as a tea ceremony with the parents of the couple. It was sealed with a kiss, some dancing, and lots of joy!

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Laurel and Mike’s Zhangjiajie Forest Park Wedding Part 2 – Door Games

After recovering from a rowdy late night Welcome BBQ (see the blog post about that HERE) everyone was up bright and early for the Door Games. I had no idea what to expect from this part of the wedding, but Laurel said it was the part she was most looking forward to, so I was definitely stoked to see it all play out.

Door games are a series of challenges that the bride and her bridesmaids put forth to the groom and groomsmen in order to determine if he is, in fact, worthy of his bride. These can range from physical strength competitions to straight up making him pay cash for his bride, as well as anything in between. With Laurel’s insanely fun friends on the stage, I knew the boys were in for trouble. They did an awesome job completing all the challenges and no one died, so that’s a plus! 😉

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THE PRESENTATION OF THE BRIDE (with bridesmaids in matching onesies, no less!)

CHALLENGE #1

There was an attempt at winning the bridesmaids over with cold hard cash but, unfortunately for the boys, they wouldn’t get off that easy.KEC11182KEC11191

CHALLENGE #2

The bridesmaids tried to get the groomsmen to quit by making them wear saucy little headbands and Kardashian level fake butts, but these boys were in it to win it. The next part of the challenge was for the men to show Laurel how much they love her by creating the word LOVE out of their bodies! While it seems like an easy feat, one of the members also had to be inverted throughout. These boys busted out all the stops to impress the girls and give everyone a laugh.KEH20754007Q0579007Q0599007Q0645007Q0640

GAME #3: BALLOON POP

I’ll go ahead and throw this one in under the category of a humiliation ritual (re: hazing). The groomsmen had to tie balloons around their waist and, without using their hands, pop all of the balloons. Needless to say, there was a lot of hilarious physical contact and attempts at smashing in all the wrong places.

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CHALLENGE #5

This challenge was the physical representation of all the feelings of married life: spicy, sweet, bitter, and sour. These boys had to slam some red chilli peppers, whole sweet mandarin oranges, some icky bitter melon, and a shot of black vinegar!

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CHALLENGE #7

This challenge was sort of a two parter. The bridesmaids asked questions about Laurels life, family, favorite things, etc. and Mike had to answer them. He also had to name 8 countries that Laurel planned to visit in the near future. If he got a question or country wrong, he had to hold a Scorpion inversion yoga pose, meant to open the heart, for 60 seconds. Lucky for him, he was able to also ask a groomsman to step up to the plate. One of them even managed to slam a beer while upside down! (And he’s single, ladies!) 😉

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CHALLENGE #8

Where would the fun be if there wasn’t some element that was actually physically painful? The girls wanted to know how tough these boys were, so they busted out the wax strips for a healthy dose of  ‘beauty is pain’. Each one left the game with a fresh bald patch on their leg. Secretly though, I was hoping they’re go for the chest or armpit!

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CHALLENGE #9

This was one of the most fun challenges, of which the boys had been able to practice ahead of time. They did an amazing dance routine to a 90’s boy band song and got everyone to sing and dance along!

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CHALLENGE #10

Last but not least, FEATS OF STRENGTH! The boys were challenged to a pushup contest and a tug’o’war against Laurel’s chosen team of friends. The push up contest consisted of a team of boys doing push ups at the same time with one of Laurel’s friends resting on their back. Laurel’s team kicked butt, groomsmen… not so much. My all time favorite part of this challenge was when, to many people’s surprise, Laurel’s friend Lucia DEMOLISHED Mike’s brother Rich in an arm wrestling contest. I guess all that acro yoga, rock climbing, and aerial silk training pays off!

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And of course, even though the boys got their butts handed to them (real butts and fake rubber ones), Laurel and her bridesmaids approved of the effort and it was time to get ready for the wedding!

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PART 3 – ZHANGJIAJIE NATIONAL FOREST PARK WEDDING – COMING SOON!

Laurel and Mike’s Zhangjiajie National Forest Park Wedding: Part 1 – Welcome BBQ

Who: Laurel and Mike

Where: Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. Hunan, China.

When: October 2019

If I had been told 5 years ago that I would be flown all the way to China to shoot a multi-day all expenses paid black tie wedding, I would have called you BANANAS. As much as I love to travel, China was never really on my radar. I didn’t have friends traveling or living there and I had very little knowledge on any of it’s features or history other than the Great Wall and Mulan (I know, I know… typical Westerner). But of course, life has a funny way of pushing your boundaries and opening up doors you never knew existed.

Enter, Laurel.

I met Laurel about 5 years back while shooting a wedding for our mutual friends, Gia and Scott. She was a bridesmaid and as Gia’s day carried on with plenty of drinks and tons of laughter, Laurel and I chatted and realized we had a lot in common. After she freed me from a folding chair acting as a bear trap (that’s a whole other story) she hugged me, drunkenly proclaimed us BFF’s, and told me she wasn’t engaged but was DEFINITELY going to hire me to shoot her wedding one day. As a wedding photographer you hear this quite a bit at events, especially when people have been drinking, so I hugged her, we exchanged numbers, and said I would hold her to it, without giving it a second thought. I never thought that such an innocent exchange would lead to the most insane travel and photography experience of my life!

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Evidence of our first meeting at Gia’s wedding. (Look at the sweet babies!)

Fast forward a few years and Laurel and I had gotten closer while living near each other in the Bay Area. She invites me to come shoot headshots for the women of Docusign and eat ramen, I invite her to eat ramen and participate in some passion projects of mine. (You can see the ovararching theme, no?) Eventually, I got to know her boyfriend turned fiance, Mike. A sweet and light hearted friend to everyone, Mike is always good for a laugh, a drink, or some political banter. He also helps to order authentic and delicious Asian food for me when I’m strugling with a foreign menu! It was pretty much love at first dumpling for Mike and me.

When Laurel and Mike got engaged on a trip to New Zealand everyone was thrilled. It’s always so fun when your friends make bug moves in their lives, and I knew these two were about to truly become the power couple of the century. I was equally as excited when Laurel floated the idea of my shooting their engagement photos and wedding. (That long held drunken promise wasn’t forgotten!) Working with friends is always so much fun and I knew their wedding would be a reuinion of friends, a celebration of her heritage, and a truly epic party. I may have had an inkling it would be great, but I had no idea what Laurel had up her sleeve.

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Roaming the streets of SF to find the perfect photo and food spots. You can see more of their engagement photos on the blog HERE!

Two years of coordinating, engagement sessions, planning, and preparations later and I was off to China in October to capture their incredible multi-day wedding! My faaaaabulous associate shooter and travel companion for the trip was my best friend Da Karai. We were pretty much ready for adventure the moment we got to the airport at 6:00am. Mimosas (lots of mimosas), movies, and munchies got us from SFO to Shanghai and, although I almost got stranded at the Shanghai airport, we eventually made it to Zhangjiajie.

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WE MADE IT! Good to be showered and fresh after nearly 24 hours of travel!

The first of the many amazing wedding festivites was the welcome BBQ. Laurel and Mike are huge international travelers and have lived all over the world. You know a couple is well loved when 200 of their closest friends and family members fly into China from abroad to celebrate their big day! Their guest list was an aclectic mix of friends from every corner of the globe. In order to welcome people and allow everyone to settle in properly the BBQ was full of insane food, bottomless Tsingtao, and some incredible Chinese traditons. The night began with a heart pounding traditional Tang Gu (堂鼓) drum routine and an intricate lion dance (or Wu Shi 舞獅) filled with skillful acrobatics and stunts. It was shockingly beautiful and the perfect opener for many of the guests’ first time in China. After the performance we were greeted by the MC, heard toasts from some of the important people in Laurel and Mike’s lives (including the couple themselves), and were encouraged to eat and drink while mingling with the array of other guests. It was one hell of a party, especially for a first day!

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STAY TUNED FOR A CRAZY PART 2: DOOR GAMES! 

Happy New Year!

The new year is here! While I understand it’s simply another Wednesday and nothing has truly changed since yesterday, it feels like a very transformative time; even more so that years past because of the changing of the decade. It’s time to transcend to the next version of ourselves. Today marks the pinnacle of a time of renewal. A time to affirm goals and envision our brightest future.

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For me, that future includes growing my client base as well as my family. (I’ll settle for a small dog or a small human, they will be equally loved.)

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It includes improving my work, challenging myself, and thinking outside the box more often. (I plan on doing lots of personal creative work this year!)

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It includes finding my ideal client and giving them exactly what they want as an artist. (POWER TO THE PEOPLE!)

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It also includes solidifying my personal relationships as well as professional ones and carving out paths that lead in positive directions I haven’t even figured out yet. (2020 includes a LOT of love and adventure!)

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As cheesy as it sounds, today is the first day of the rest of our lives! I strive to remember that this year and treated every waking moment with the respect and focus it deserves. Cheers to a ridiculous growth spurt in 2020!

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