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Creating A Safe Space For LGBTQ+ Couples with Carly Fuller

On The DMV Wedding Pros Podcast this week, I got to chat with Carly Fuller from Carly Fuller Photography.

On this episode we are talking about LGBTQ+ inclusion in the wedding industry. If you know me, you know this is a topic that's close to my heart, and why I created the LGBTQ+ DMV Wedding Resource Guide. Today we talked about inclusion and making it a safe space for ALL in the wedding industry. That means on our websites, in our marketing, and through our posing.

Hey Carly! I'm so excited for you to be on the podcast today. Give us an introduction.

Good morning! I'm so happy to get to be here and share and talk with you today. I am Carly. I own Carly Fuller Photography, which is a wedding and lifestyle boutique photography studio. We just opened up our new space in Savage Mill. We specialize in capturing all love stories, business branding, portraits, you name it. We want to be a part of capturing people's stories in their lives.

Awesome. Well I'm really excited to have you today and be talking about the LGBTQ+ community when it comes to the wedding industry. Where would you like to start?

I would love to start with the word "inclusivity." I think so many people want to be inclusive and want to celebrate everyone's love story. At the end of the day, we are all a part of this incredible wedding industry, and we're a part of people's biggest, best, epic most exciting day of their life. I think a lot of people do want to celebrate inclusivity and maybe they're just not sure how, or what sort of language might actually speak to that.

When we start with a website, I feel like there are things you can write out in text, and there are things that are symbolic or more of a vibe... I don't know how to explain it. But what kind of things do you think people are looking for when they go to a website to know that this brand is inclusive and won't turn them away because of who they are.

I think it starts with - I always call it "the seeds we plant along the way," or the seeds you plant for your ideal client. Who do you want to speak to? I think it starts with the identification of the person who owns the business. What is their story? What are they wanting to relate to their client? Who are they speaking to? And really working on identifying your "why" will actually help you then lay those other stepping stones for your client to find and feel welcome. So when your business has its "why," and it has its story that it’s sharing, then the website, your Instagram, your verbiage in your emails, and the PDFs that you share with each client will speak to each person individually.

A lot of professionals are still using the word “bride.“ I think that that is really a word that we need to put it aside. I got married a year and a half ago and I don’t know about anyone else who’s listening to this but I am a very feminine woman and everyone called me a bride. But I was like, “I am a bride, I get it. But like I’m just in love and so excited to marry my person.“ I really feel as though, yet again, “bride“ is just another boxed-in term that we call a female. The great thing about this conversation is that we get to like share words that might work better for people. Just simple words like couple, spouse, partner, significant other. You can make it fun! Your “boo thing.” Whatever you vibrate with, whatever word you might call your spouse or your favorite person in the world, start using that language in your website and your PDFs and your emails.

Definitely. I think it's important because for so long even the contact form on my website said "bride and groom." When I realized that that wasn't the sole couple who was booking me, I went in and had to figure out how to fix it. Then I basically changed all the language on my website, my contact forms, and my wedding guide to "you & your partner." When we came back with season two of the podcast, the first episode was with Jenna Miller who is a web designer. She told this story about a photographer who used "Babe #1 and Babe #2" for their contact form. I was like, "I'm taking that."

Language is where it all starts. There are plenty of people who don't identify as either a bride or a groom.

Absolutely. My wife didn't really identify as a bride or groom. When we went to have our bach parties, which is what we called them - which is a whole other industry that serves everyone but we're putting people into boxes like "bachelor" and "bachelorette" - Shannon didn't identify in that way. The best experience we had was going to Bindle & Keep in New York. She was just beaming. She got to custom design her own suit, and it was one of my favorite days, watching her feel seen and in her element. Everything fit, and she was so excited to finally have a suit that was tailored to her and her body.

I had a bride in November who was the same way, and she went to Bindle & Keep and couldn't speak more highly of them. It was good to know because I have plenty of people looking for an inclusive suit experience that isn't necessarily a super masculine vibe. I think it's important that there are services like that, and businesses who are open to fitting everybody.

And from the moment you walk in, when you speak to them on the phone, when you set up your appointment, they are just super open and aware to... who are you? How do you want to be defined? Because that's what they want to see and create for you. The first interaction we had, they asked our pronouns. That was something for me personally, marrying a woman and going through this process of planning a wedding, I got to see how other businesses plan their process, and their systems in place to be inclusive. That starts with questions, and being able to ask openly, "What are your pronouns? How do you like to be called? What are your nicknames?" Just opening yourself up to not assuming things about people.

In fact, I just caught myself in the trap by referencing my "bride." When you talk about your couples or your potential clients... you know, we can say "couples" or "people getting married," but what comes to mind is people posting on instagram with general statements about their clients. People use "bride" a lot. I do it all the time. Is there a word or phrase you've found that is pretty general and fits the bill?

I just think "couples." That's the word I personally replaced it with ten or so years ago. I know it sounds silly but "brides and grooms" just aren't my favorite words. "Couples" is my favorite. It relates to everybody. Also, we're in the business of telling love stories, and I don't think that's only on the day you get married, and I don't think it's just because you have a marriage certificate. "Bride and groom" kind of niches it down to that one second, whereas "couples" - or whatever word vibrates with you - that goes beyond that one day.

That's one thing I've talked to people about a lot - we should be getting to know our couples as more than just a bride or a groom, as more than just a person getting married. It's one day. It's one day that they have a wedding and get married, and then their story continues. It's so important to recognize.

And, a funny story, the reason why I started using the word "couples" is because my best friend, Dennis, his husband, and I went bridesmaid dress shopping. We went to find my maid of honor dress and we went to some place I won't name, but when we walk in there's two men and me. We walk in and they were like, "Who's the bride and who's the groom?" Immediately my radar was like, "Excuse me, these are my best friends. They will be two husbands, they are both grooms, and I am a maid of honor. Maybe we should think about a new question..." I always go into immediate education. That is so not sensitive. It's not compassionate in my opinion.

And I do want to recognize now and as we go along, there are certainly levels to it. If you're trying, if you're trying to be more inclusive and change your language and ask those questions, you're way beyond a lot of people. But it's okay to make mistakes or slip up or say "bride and groom." We need to continually educate ourselves.

Luckily I think the wedding industry is changing for the better. This is a topic that's I'm so passionate about, but I try to educate people about it and I still slip up, and that's okay.

Absolutely. We're human at the end of the day. We get into our own routines and our own comfort. Sometimes I forget not everyone is lesbian married to a woman. We all mess up, and I think the best words are they and them, learning to use those in our vocabulary more rather than identifying "he" and "she" because it's an instant word where you can't mess up. I'm working on using those words more than he/she.

I totally agree with that. It's a hard thing to relearn, especially if you've grown up thinking the world is binary. I have a friend who is starting to experiment with they/them pronouns, and because I've known them for so long I slip up sometimes. Again, if it's something you're educating yourself on and you're working at it, if they love you they'll understand. I think the general they/them is something we should be working on.

Definitely. So we talked about websites, and emails are another place you mentioned using certain language, then on Instagram, and now there's Clubhouse. People are making live videos on Instagram, and TikTok. When you're speaking, sometimes it's even good for me personally to practice or quickly run through what I want to say to find out if I'm going to say something that won't feel like a hug to everybody. That's one of those things that's helpful.

When it comes to using pronouns, do you have yours in your bio, on your website? Where do you suggest people put their own in order to feel like a safe space?

I leave mine at the bottom of my email with my name and company name, and that I feel is an opening door to others if they want to share their pronouns with me. I don't ask for pronouns in my emails because I've changed all of my language to be way more broad. Maybe I'm far on the spectrum, but I really don't want to put people in boxes. My whole life I resisted sitting in a box that somebody else defined me by. You can make whatever boxes you want to understand people. We're in a business, too, so some people have to track details and information.

So website, emails, social media. When it comes to direct marketing/advertising, do you have ideas there?

That for me is super visual. Like you said "vibing." When you identify your why and what's important for your business and what you want to create for your client, that's when I think you come into the visualization to the text. I think a great ad can just be one image that speaks to your ideal client. Look through your portfolios. We all forget to reassess our work that we're sharing as anyone in the wedding industry who's sharing imagery. Go back and look through your past images and make sure ALL of your clients are represented. And if they're not, find ways to integrate more of those images in. Even if it's more images of hands or backs of people. Everybody's butts... just kidding! Just having more hands involved. I always feel like hands are the unity for everyone because when you look at hand, sure you might be able to define it by a sex, but I feel like hands are one of those unifying things for us all.

I love that. And I'm glad we're talking about that because it transitions well into the styled shoot world. I have some strong opinions on styled shoots. I agree with you. I think it's important to show what you want to sell, and also to fully be representing everybody and all couples who may inquire with you. I think it's hard for people if they don't have that to show yet. They want to, but don't know how to go about doing it.

I was very into styled shoots for a couple years. When I do styled shoots, in the past year and ongoing, I don't love to do styled shoots with... I haven't said this in any public forum before, but... I don't love doing shoots anymore with straight, skinny, white couples because we don't really need more of that represented in the wedding industry. Maybe that's bold of me to say, but that's how I feel. It's really important that when you're doing styled shoots both your models and vendors make a diverse team. I do think styled shoots are a viable way to get that inclusivity into your portfolio, but it has to be done in an ethical way. I'm extremely against having two straight people pose next to each other so that it looks like a same sex couple for you to put on your website.

Absolutely. I think it goes back to identifying your why. If you're really working on trying to get to the root at who your business is and who you want to make an impact on and inspire, if that's defined and you feel like "Yes! That is me, that is who I want to attract," when you go to plan a styled shoot, that's an embodiment of who you are and how you want to be seen. Sometimes our clients can shift our businesses one way just because we're marketing to a certain area, and that doesn't mean my clients 100% define me and my brand. When you are curating your styled shoots or online portfolio, you don't have to include every client that you photograph if they don't really speak to the message you want to get across.

I see the styled shoot thing debated a lot - which I don't know why it's a debate that we should be pretending that straight people are in the queer community - but the other thing that I see pop up a lot in posing groups is, "I'm working with a gay couple. How do I pose them?" I think it's important because half the comments on the post are like, "You pose them like any other couple! I can't believe you're asking this question"

I think it's a valid question because it is a little bit different. No, you shouldn't be treating them different than any other couple, however there are things you need to keep in mind if they don't identify as very masculine or very feminine. It's a valid question, but people are like, "Ugh! I can't believe you asked this." I don't know. What's your opinion on that?

No, I think posing and balancing a couple's energy is super important and it comes into our own awareness as ourselves. I pose my couples as if I have a pretend person next to me. It's great to actually practice with your imaginary person in the mirror. That could be a masculine or feminine-leaning energy. You're totally right - posing two women versus a male and a female figure, all of our figures are so different, but if you strip away our sex, we just are figures. I was lucky enough to get my BFA in photography at an arts school that forced us to do all this crazy artsy stuff. I took square rocks and we had to chip it away and create our own form. That's all that a human body is. If we can start to strip away identifying as a sex, and just look at their figures and how they fit...

If I'm not sure of how to pose someone, my go-to is, "Alright, you two, get into your nook." Even with your best friend or a parent, you have a nook with that person. If you guide them to find their nook, that will start to help you see how their bodies shape and fit with each other. Male, female, whatever you identify as, your bodies are all different.

I love that. I hadn't heard it in that way before, but I love that so much. I think the people who are offering real advice on that kind of forum say what I think is a good suggestion which is to ask them, "One of you do this thing, and one of you do that," so that they're in control of what roles they're in.

Yeah, like someone kiss someone on the cheek. I start low-key and then I get more brave. You know, kiss down their neck, kiss on their shoulder, kiss all the way up from their hand to their neck. You get a little silly and playful, that's just my style of photography. You get to see who grabs whose hand. Who might want more affection.

That's a good segue into the way some couples show love is different than others. We also in the wedding industry show tons of images of people kissing and that means you're in love, but I actually think there's a lot of other affection that some people are more comfortable with that still shows that this is a love story and they are connected.

Definitely. I think it goes back to the hands thing for sure. I love that you brought that up. I've thought a lot about that in my own work. For me, motion is a little more important than it is for photography, so I'm always trying to figure out ways to get them to move around. Some couples just aren't lovey-dovey or super physically affectionate in that way. I forget that not all couples are like that and that's totally fine. It's their love story. I don't have to fit them, again, into this box to make my content look good because it's not them.

Exactly. As soon as you can strip that away, you'll probably create the content you want. Engage them in some conversation that flashes them back to a cool memory, or gets them laughing about what their favorite sandwich is to make, or something totally off-topic. Or adjust one another, or saying one word back and forth about what they love about each other. Getting them out of their nerves or jitters on that day, it will actually open them up to movement that might not have been in your mind, but that reflects them perfectly.

I love that. What I love also about this conversation is that even though we went into it focusing on queer couples, the advice is all universal, and it comes back to putting people in boxes, and I love that.

Yes. I do think there is a need for a resource for people who do not identify in the queer community to understand and be more open, and open their eyes and help them practice and learn that it's all just love. It's just an embrace, it's just someone adoring someone else. I do think you're onto something that people still need guidance. It's great that you're creating this conversation and I hope that some of these small gestures or tips allows someone to be more inclusive so that they feel more alive and lit up.

I hope so, too. It's been a really important piece of my business for awhile now. It's led to me creating my DMV LGBTQ+ wedding resource guide. What's funny is I feel like most of my motivation comes from anger, which I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but...

It's passion!

Yes, it's passion! That's good. Creating the resource guide really came from the fact that it was so disheartening for me to look around and not see a lot wedding vendors passionately supporting queer couples. I just didn't get it. When I would get emails, I think before my site was super everybody-friendly, I would get emails that started with, "Do you work with gay couples?" It broke my heart every time. So, that's a mission of mine, to stop people from having to email that line, and know that people will work with them because they're in love and they're great.

It goes back to - is it within their wheelhouse? Is it a part of who they are and their why? It is really sad that that still exists. It's something where the people before us moved the pendulum so much, and we still have to do our work to move it and continue to progress people's openness to everybody's love.

We planned our wedding a year and a half ago and those emails still came in. I've been in the wedding industry for 15 years. Shannon and I had a very open online relationship. I was bursting at the seams with love when I met her and I couldn't withhold any information. I always found it hilarious when someone would email me, "And who is your groom?" And I'm like, "I don't even want to reply to your emails because you didn't even stalk me for a second. You see my beautiful fiancée!"

I was going to ask if you'd come across that for your own wedding, but I know a lot of the people you hired were good friends of yours so I wasn't sure.

Our dream team included people who I’ve been aligned with for many years. But there were still other things that we had to search for, like a venue, a dress for me to wear, and a suit for Shannon. All sorts of things. A cake. It was fascinating talking to some venues.

I think venues need a lot of education and I hope that this can go out to all venues. That doesn’t need to be a “bridal suite.” There are terms we are used to using and continue to use. I actually had a venue tell me that they thought I was a scam artist because I was using the word partner and spouse and fiancée, and they couldn’t stop putting me in the bride/groom box. Those things just obviously are still out there unfortunately.

Oh my god my mouth just fell open.

I know I was so excited to tell you that. I was dying to share about our process but, you know, a pandemic hit. Hashtag who has time to share about our wedding from a year and a half ago. I always just try to laugh at situations, I always am a believer of just spreading honey on everything. But that specific conversation riled me up a little bit. Legit those words were used, “scam artist.” Because they thought I was saying that I had a business partner... it was so off-the-wall. It was like, have you never had a gay or lesbian couple? Have you never had anyone other than a bride and groom get married at your wedding venue? It was crazy.

I was a part of someone else's styled shoot last year. It was a brand new venue, it was so beautiful. But I was stereotyping a little bit in the kind of venue it was, where it was, and who ran it. I was nervous because I loved their venue, but I wouldn't want to refer it if they only took what people like to refer to as "traditional couples," which grinds my gears. (Code for straight white people.) So I ended up DMing them and asking if they worked with same sex couples, and then said absolutely. I was like, oh thank god!

It's so funny because I feel that way now when I connect with new wedding vendors. If I'm connecting with new photographers, or I've really tried to reach out to more female videographers recently and share my knowledge, it's always a little bit nerve-wracking because unfortunately I feel like I have to ask that question up front. It's such a strange thing to ask, but it's important to me that they work with everybody.

I think the venue thing is so important. I've been thinking so much about the bridal suite / groom suite thing. The bridal suite is all airy and white and blue, and the groom's suit is all masculine and leather.

Exactly. And Shannon wanted that room! And I was like, "It needs to be called something else."

That's so smart to bring up though because I genuinely don't think it's something venues think about, especially if they've never hosted a same sex wedding. It's incredibly valuable for venues to know.

Even the words "bridesmaids" and "groomsmen." I've had so many mixed wedding parties that I have such a hard time using those words. Not everyone identifies that way, and some people have all sorts of outfittings and everything. Everything is on the table now, so we've got to start working on new words. I call it a wedding crew or your VIPs if you're looking for new terminology.

That's cute! That's something I've done very recently, making sure to say "wedding party."

I think that a lot of people are afraid to be vulnerable. It's in vulnerability that we can actually grow and get closer to one another. If people reading this aren't sure if their site or the language they're using is as open as they wanted, why not ask someone? It's in being vulnerable that you can become exactly what you want to be. Like you said earlier, it's okay to mess up. We're all in this to feel more love and feel lit up around each other, and feel like I'm allowed to live in my space as big as I want it to be and so are you.

I've owned my wedding photography company for 15 years. I started it in college. And my personal story has changed so much over that time. When I fell in love with Shannon, there wasn't even a second that was like, "Do I share this with my entire community?" They had put me in a different box. I can't share enough that when you step into being 100% you, people see and feel that. They embrace it. When Shannon and I fell in love, I was just like, "I'm not hiding this from anybody! I don't even want to look at the 'business risks' or whatever." There were people that talked about that, like sharing your true identity would be damaging as a business owner, and I was like, "No way. I want to be who I am 100%. This is the person I love, and if you can't step into that with me and just fly a flag with us, I'm okay with you not being on my path."

I hope that sounds okay, but it was just one of those things I felt so passionate about. If you can step into all of who you are, people just embrace it. That excited people. It might even inspire someone else to be like, "Man, I've been hiding who I was because I was afraid people might not accept this version of me.:

I think that vulnerability is definitely an undercurrent of this whole conversation. I tell basically everyone to put their face on instagram and show up for their brand because 1) It connects you to people by doing random, silly things, and 2) It builds people's trust in you because they know who you are since you're being open and vulnerable with them. I do acknowledge that it's much easier for some people. I have always been very extroverted. I joke that I was a theater kid, so I have no problem being in front of the camera as well as behind the camera, but I know it's not easy for everybody.

I didn't come out too long ago. I came out as an adult. I came out on my personal page, and I can't remember when exactly I dropped it into my business. Now it's something I'm open about. Like you said, if people don't jive with that, that's cool, they're probably not my people. I think that's true with finding your ideal clients and marketing and all that. If they're not your people, that's totally fine. You're equally attracting and repelling people. I just love all of that.

We could go into so many things, like this conversation about vulnerability and inclusion. It goes into the competitive forces of being a business owner in a creative world. There's just so many things you can apply these thoughts and focus on, focusing on people's energy and allowing people to be in their space and you in yours. I love what you're saying about how there's so many different types of people and styles that make other people feel comfortable. I'm an intro-extrovert as well, and I wear my heart on my sleeve. I have since the moment I started my business. I overshare, and I want to get close with my clients and couples so I can really capture who they are, but I definitely understand that there are many businesses out there that don't tie their personal into their business as much. That's great too, but there still is a way to connect and be compassionate and open to people without even sharing your full life story.

Definitely. I think we're similar in that way. And listen, I'll tell you, if you're one of those people who don't feel comfortable sharing everything and anything that pops into your brain like I do, it might be for the better because then when a global pandemic hits and your entire identity is your brand and your business and suddenly you can't work... you'll be fine!

I had to relearn who I am because I had identified myself as a business owner for so many years. All of a sudden I was gardening more than I was photographing weddings. I was like, this is weird and amazing.

For sure. I feel like we could talk forever and ever, and I'm really grateful that I've been able to open up these kinds of conversations. They're so important, and as I move into more education and mentorship there are just so many nuances to being a business owner and being in the wedding industry. We've hit so many of them today. There's just so many layers. Getting down to that vulnerability level is something. There's a nugget in there. I'm so grateful for these kinds of conversations.

Yeah, me too. And thank you for opening them up. I really do think that if one person hears something from this and they dig a little bit deeper and shed a layer so that all of who they are can shine out, I think that it really truly will make our small community, our state, our country, our world all vibrate out from within one person. It's really neat that you opened this conversation up.

Thank you. I really hope that that's true.

It is true! You've gotta believe. Really and truly, it takes one person hearing it and it's like a wave, like a ripple effect. You really only need one person to turn their light on a little brighter. It will shift all those people who touch or interact with them.

Yeah. So shine your light, y'all! Shine that freaking light.

I want to get a T-shirt that says that, "Shine your light for all to see!"

I love it. Well, at the end of every episode I have to ask - if it's not blatantly obvious - why are you so passionate about this topic?

Yes, if it isn't apparent, if you didn't have the chance to listen to our conversation, I am just incredibly passionate about inclusivity for all. I have had so many experiences from growing up in theater, I just loved everybody. I wanted everybody to feel embraced and accepted by all those that were around them. Talking about one more step further where we can love and accept each other for who others are makes me feel excited and hopeful that more and more people will step into 100% of who they are because it's safer.


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