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  • “All the World Was There” and Other White Lies about the Royal Wedding
  • Laurie Essig (bio)

Since I began teaching sociology of heterosexuality 20 years ago, I have relied on queer theory. Perhaps nothing is as queer as studying heterosexuality, because if there is one thing queer theory has taught us, it is to question the “naturalness” of sex, all sex. But the longer I teach heterosexuality, the more I have to mingle queer theory with critical race and even postcolonial theories. After all, normative heterosexuality has always been about the power of race and nation to organize our lives. This article is an attempt to think queerly about a white wedding that was whiter and weightier than all others: the royal wedding of Kate Middleton to Prince William. By attending to who was at the wedding, and who was not, I hope to unveil the royal wedding, and white weddings in general, as a site for the production of not just sexual and gender hierarchies, but class, race, and national ones as well.

Watching the Wedding

On Friday, April 29, 2011, even London’s weather was in the mood for a wedding. The day dawned warm and sunny and stayed that way. I made my way down to Westminster Abbey a little before 7 a.m. to witness the wedding of Kate and William. Even that early, the mood was festive. People were popping [End Page 35] champagne as well as downing good old English pints. The pungent smell of marijuana wafted through the air. The crowd was dressed in outlandish costumes, mostly made up of Union Jacks: Union Jack hats in the shape of three-tiered wedding cakes, Union Jack capes, socks, shirts, and even baby blankets competed with red, white, and blue hair and the ubiquitous Union Jack “fascinators” atop women’s heads. As the morning wore on and we awaited the arrival of the beautiful bride and the lucky groom, the crowd swelled to over a million people. In a sea of humanity that large, there is nothing to do but go with the flow. I drank to the royal couple and the queen, to true love and marriage, and to a variety of other things about which I am in fact ambivalent. But that is the affective power of a hegemonic ideological formation like romance: it can move us in ways that we cannot explain through rational analysis.

Romance does not merely make us feel; it also structures our worlds. Like any ideology, romance disguises the material world in a smokescreen of immaterial symbols. In the same way U.S. geopolitical interests are disguised as “making the world safe for democracy,” romance makes race, class, gender, nation, and the sexual ruling elites disappear in a puff of happily ever afters. As Chrys Ingraham points out in White Weddings, the heterosexual imaginary is

that way of thinking that conceals the operation of heterosexuality in structuring gender across race, class and sexuality and closes off any critical analysis of heterosexuality. … At the same time this romantic view prevents us from seeing how institutionalized heterosexuality actually works to organize gender while preserving racial, class and sexual hierarchies as well.1

This ideological magic whereby the material world is made immaterial was nowhere more evident than at the royal wedding of Kate and William. Billed by the media as one of the most important events of the twenty-first century, an event that would unite rather than divide us, the royal wedding operated behind a magical screen of true love even as whiteness, heteronormativity, and the resurgence of the British Empire were at the heart of the affair.

Power could be made to disappear because the wedding was represented as both a universal and global event. The Palace and the press described the royal wedding as “every girl’s dream come true” as well as an event watched by “everyone.” In Style magazine gushed that the royal couple got married “in front of the world!”2 The Daily Mail told us that a crowd of a million “roared with excitement” as the two exchanged vows at Westminster Abbey.3 Supposedly over two billion people around the world watched television...


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pp. 35-55
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