0 In Cast of Creatives

Wedding Industry Mental Health and Diversity with Michelle Taylor, The Funky Celebrant

James Pearson
Hello, welcome to Cast of Creatives, the series dedicated to exploring creative work and the impact that this has on mental health and well being. I’m James Pearson the founder of Wedding Industry Mental Health and Wedding Espresso and today we’re talking about diversity in the wedding industry. I’m thrilled to be joined by no other than Michelle Taylor, The Funky Celebrant. So Michelle, how’s it going?

Michelle Taylor
It was really bad, and now it’s really good. And somewhere inbetween it was OK.

James Pearson
Yeah, that’s what we like to hear, we always get there in the end. The leaps that it takes to get to this place, people will never understand.

Michelle Taylor
It went from 0 to 100 miles an hour. And it was pretty full on. I’ve got a few more ceremonies left to do, and then I will start to calm down a bit, so that’s nice to actually stop for a breath again. But I’m in a good place.

James Pearson
Brilliant. So, I was really, really interested to speak to you about diversity in the wedding industry because I see you as such an accomplished pioneer in the wedding industry. You’ve done so many different things. You’re now a Town Mayor?

Michelle Taylor
Yep.

James Pearson
You’ve published a book, obviously you do your work with The Funky Celebrant, you were Celebrant of the Year at the Wedding Industry Awards. I think, you’re now a judge?

Michelle Taylor
Not for that awards, it was for another awards. Well it was a wedding industry award but not that one.

James Pearson
I see. So, above all and all else, you really, really are very, very busy, which means you have lots of hats to wear and you get involved in so many projects. You’ve just been down to London on a diversity project, so that’s really, really interesting. And recently I had a… you’ll like this one… I had a brush, a learning experience actually. I played a video game called “Tell Me Why”. And the subject of this game was basically two protagonists, they were sisters, and one of them transitioned to a male. So I played the game through his perspective. And it really opened my eyes to what the challenges are that people must face in that kind of space. So I’m wondering, what has led you to sort of adopt this as one of your big drives and interests in the wedding industry?

Michelle Taylor
I mean I know the Equality Wedding LGBTQ Equality Weddings, and I started working with them. This would be four years ago when they first came on the scene as Equality Weddings, and it was a tentative interest learning about how diverse people are. My friendship has evolved over that time, and they have taught me so much. A lot of it is, we can’t understand things because we’ve not got the lived experience, they have a certain lived experience which is evolving all the time, as everybody is, but they’ve taught me to have my eyes open, to have my ears open, and my heart open. It might be still that I don’t necessarily agree with the way some people live their lives, or some people won’t agree with the way I live my life, but it doesn’t matter whether you agree. It doesn’t matter whether you necessarily understand it, but you should have your eyes and heart open to their lived reality, whatever that lived reality is. So I started to learn a bit more about LGBTQ equality. And then when the Black Lives Matter movement really took off properly last year, I kind of took a step back and looked at the Wedding Industry as a whole, and thought, we need to do a lot, lot better, because there’s no representation at all. Whether you’re black or brown, you’re disabled or LGBTQ, and it’s kind of like, okay, the wedding industry needs to wake up to this, and we need to represent. So I’m working with Kai and somebody else to put together a basic 101 for wedding industry professionals. We are very, very close to launching. But it’s just going to be an online course, a very basic online course, which we hope to then develop into something bigger and better and dive deeper into different topics. But initially it’s just like, you need to understand this, you need to know this, you need to be open to this. Stuff like that, because there’s so many people that are just so closed minded. And it’s very relevant to everybody within the industry. So yes, a very long answer to a short question, but I’m a massive advocate. Yeah, I am. I’m learning all the time and I just want to spread the love and the learning, and help where I can. But not as somebody that’s preaching, but just to direct people to say, this person has a lived experience, they can tell you so much more, in a much better way than I can. And I feel I’m a bit more of a side poster, than a teacher, because I don’t know. Because I haven’t got the lived experience.

James Pearson
Right, we’ve been buds for quite a few years now. It’s been really interesting to watch your career progress in this direction. If I rewind… let me do some quick maths, it’s going be about 27 – 28 years. Well, I had just discovered a band called KMFDM, and I had to bring the albums, the CDs, over from America, because they had no record label representation in this country. That’s how rare this was. And they were all about equality, and I remember some of their lyrics, you know, as a teenager, the mottos and the lyrics that I was repeating were things like “one world one nation”, and they really drilled that sense of united humanity into me, at a very, very young age. And recently they had a song, and they came up with the lyric “diversity is human strength”, and again, I was reminded about it. I think in culture and society we are programmed, especially here, to judge. And I guess that we’re kind of measuring ourselves against somebody else when we judge them. But unfortunately, we don’t accept difference as readily as I think we should. And I just think what you just said there was really, really interesting. Part of the reading that I’ve done is certainly about when we have an experience, when we experience another person, and we don’t necessarily have the same thoughts or feelings as them, we think differently. Then, we tend to immediately go into that kind of judge mode. But instead, if you could just take a step back and just experience their experience, through their eyes, it becomes a totally different thing, because it’s not your experience. So it sounds like you’re doing some really, really progressive and exciting work there.

Michelle Taylor
We hope everybody will embrace it. It is a very basic course, but it’s a needed course because there’s no point trying to dive deep until people understand the basics. And my eyes were really opened last year to so many different things, and I mean for example, now I sport an afro. When you first met me, God knows what my hair looked like.

James Pearson
I’m trying to cast my mind back actually, it’s changed so many times. Yeah, it’s glorious.

Michelle Taylor
But it basically could have been plaits or something like that, but it took the Black Lives Matter movement last year for me to embrace my natural hair. Because I in 50 odd years, I tried to conform to what society would necessarily expect of the mixed race woman, and straight hair or different kind of styles, and it’s like I was always ashamed of my fro.

James Pearson
Is that not born out of a fear of being judged then? And then not having the same opportunities? Is that sort of where that’s coming from?

Michelle Taylor
For me it’s because people don’t know how to look after it. I was raised by a white family, and they are still my family because I was fostered. They’re still my family and I love them to bits, but they had no experience of caring for natural, Afro textured hair. And so I grew up with no real experience. It wasn’t till I hit my teans that everybody was having the curly perm, if you remember them? and relaxing, and things like that, that I started to get braver. I always remember what my mum said, the day you look after your hair is the day I’m gonna raise a flag. I mean the thing is, I was never taught how to look after my hair, so I don’t quite know what she was expecting. I went from that to kind of like, say, having it relaxed, so it looked more Western, and easier to look after. It’s just a shameful thing to say that my hair is unruly, my hair is unmanageable, but it’s not unruly or unmanageable, I was never taught how to do it. And that’s not her fault, that was society at the time. So it took till last year for me to say, you know what, my hair is beautiful. My hair’s natural. I don’t need to be putting lots of stuff into it and onto it to try and make it conform to society’s preconceptions. Yes, I’ve gone red because I am The Funky Celebrant. So yes, it’s got to be something, but the actual style itself just embracing my fro is just ahhhh. It’s so easy to look after now I’ve got the right products and I know how to look after it. And it’s taken 53 years to get to that stage.

James Pearson
Worth it though!

Michelle Taylor
Absolutely yes. So it’s a progression but it’s kind of like, you know, I am worthy, and I don’t need to push myself down and hide. I can stand up and be loud and proud, and people see me as loud and proud, but I didn’t necessarily see me as loud and proud. The difference is I embrace the loud person that I am, so yeah.

James Pearson
Amazing, that’s like proper emancipation, I love it. So, moving ahead then into the wedding industry at large, do you feel that in order for people to become more accepting of our diversity, is that a question of raising the profile of diversity?

Michelle Taylor
Yeah, people need to see people. A lot of people will say, when I look at you I don’t see your colour, or when I look at you, I don’t see your disability, or when I look at you I don’t see you’re different. For everybody that isn’t the norm, whatever the norm is, we need you to see us, we need you to see the colour, we need you to see the disability, we need you to see the difference in people and the way that we love, and be accepting of it, non judgmental. But let’s say we all judge because that’s an immediate knee jerk reaction, but we need to do that step back and say, okay, they’re different, but they’re still human. I like that person because they bring an energy to my life. So, yes, we need to see each other. And I think we need to see representation, and we’re seeing more and more people… I’m seeing more and more people that look like me being represented. And that brings me joy, and anybody else that, you know, black or brown, disabled, LGBTQ, doesn’t matter, when we see people that represent us. Because it’s not just white cisgender people getting married in their 20s. People of all ages, of all colours, the whole rainbow. But we need to see that representation, and we are starting to see that representation, but there’s still a long way to go, because it was a knee jerk reaction initially. Some companies, some organisations, some suppliers have kept that going and have dedicated the last 12 – 18 months to learning and spreading the word, and some people jumped on the bandwagon, did a few photos and went, Okay, we’ll go back to what we normally put up.

James Pearson
To change is too difficult!

Michelle Taylor
And it’s hard, it’s hard to sustain. It’s hard to keep learning, but that’s the only way we’re going to evolve as an industry, to keep on learning, to keep on pushing the boundaries, because the boundaries are there to be broken, because the boundaries shouldn’t actually exist.

James Pearson
Yeah. No, I totally agree there’s another band actually called “Delain”, who unfortunately broke up over lockdown. But they did release a song that was very, very successful called “We Are The Others”. And one of the lyrics in that song was “normal is not the norm”, and I kind of loved that, and again it became a bit of a bolster for me. Just remembering that we are not all the same, and it’s important to not see people that way. But I think that’s the natural reaction. I feel that if you rewind 1000s of years, we would have been in the situation where we needed to tribe together to survive. And I think what you do is when you judge someone, you’re actually doing a mental calculation as to whether that person could belong in your tribe, or whether you belong in their tribe. And so you make these snap judgments, but the reality is I think a tribe would actually need a variety of people in order to survive. So it’s kind of a bit confusing. How would you say your approach to the education is going? What’s one of the fundamentals of it?

Michelle Taylor
With my learning or what I want teach?

James Pearson
With the teaching that you’re seeking to provide!

Michelle Taylor
It’s a very basic 101. I’m expecting everybody that comes on our course to have actually gone off and done… and there’s lots of free courses out there, has gone off and done a free Equality Acts course, which is 2 hours long, and it just tells you what protected status is. Because a lot of people don’t necessarily know what’s protected under, you know the 2010 equalities act, and it’s basic stuff. It really is. But once you’ve got that understanding, then you can come on our course, and, I mean, for instance, the modules that I’m looking at are “what’s appropriation versus appreciation”, that kind of thing. So I’m looking at how to be an active ally, at a very basic level of saying, you know, please don’t turn your back. If it’s safe, and you’re able to challenge people’s perceptions, don’t just sit back and think, oh, that’s wrong, and empower and enable the person like on a train, someone who’s being abused. And empower or enable the person that’s being abused by talking to them, and taking away all the power from the abuser. If you say these things, and you’re confident and comfortable to do things like that. But it’s just a question of just tweaking, how we as individuals, look at things. I don’t want to tell people or say you’re doing it all wrong. But have you considered, maybe just turning what you’re thinking and what you’re seeing around, just a fraction, just to see it through somebody else’s eyes. And just because this is your lived experience, doesn’t mean it’s going to be somebody else’s lived experience. Mine is going to be completely different to my friend’s who also have mixed race, brought up in the same area of Birmingham, going to the same school. But they will have had a completely different experience because of the street they will have lived in. Basic as that. And then obviously we’ve got the disability module within the wedding industry as well. So you know not everybody that gets married, is completely able bodied. Everybody has some thing, but what we don’t consider are people who are deaf, people who’ve got ADHD. Wheelchairs is a fairly obvious one, but you know, people who might have anxiety or dyslexia. One of the things I do is, whenever I speak to any of my families, and a couple that I’m working with, I asked the question “has anybody got dyslexia? Beause if so, and I’m going to have to print stuff out for you, what colour paper do you want to print it out on?

James Pearson
Right!

Michelle Taylor
What colour ink do you need using? And people are like, Oh, awesome, she’s considered it. And it’s basic, it’s not something different. And there’s lots of people that are living with dyslexia. It’s something that we should be deciding okay, it’s just normal, we have that conversation. And how do I best make your learning experience and your wedding experience easier for you? If it’s a question of I just need a different colour paper. Simple, how basic is that, that’s what we will get people to start to think about other people. Some of the Celebrants, some of the Photographers, some of the other people that work in the industry will have had the same experiences, and nobody’s ever asked them that question. So for them to get asked that question themselves, and then to be able to confidently and comfortably ask them the same question, it’s kind of empowering. Somebody is going to be listening, and somebody is gonna be taking notice, and something’s going to be changing the way that they work to accommodate you, rather than you having to accommodate the way they work.

James Pearson
Yes, I would say that throughout my decade of filming weddings, actually I came across quite a huge variety, a massive diversity of couples, and whenever I came up against a culture or something that I’d never had any experience of, I would always go away and do a bit of research, and then try and incorporate something from that culture into the wedding film. Quite often that was more of an effort than the wedding at large, had made, and I think because people are constantly measuring themselves against this kind of invisible yardstick right? That normality of things, and what is the normality of things?

Michelle Taylor
I don’t want to be normal. I want to be me.

James Pearson
Right. And I guess like the work that you’re doing, and the push online and just that constant drip feed of seeing it. Is that going to help people to come to terms with it? And I guess progressive media like video games that let you step into someone else’s shoes and experience their life from their point of view, that gives you that kind of understanding about how it’s not how you perceive it, it’s about you perceiving how they perceive it.

Michelle Taylor
Yes. And what we have to remember though is that is only one other person’s perception because somebody else will not have exactly the same transition, but their lived experience of their transition would be completely different to the person who’s in question. So it’s a question of like, okay, I know all about trans people because I’ve seen this, and I’ve spoken to one person. Now you don’t know anything, you have to take each individual person, regardless of whether they’re cisgender, transgender, or any other the genders, and talk to people as an individual, and learn about that person as an individual, so you can best reflect that person. And not still automatically say, Oh I know what I’m talking about. When we don’t, unless we’ve got that lived experience, we don’t know what we’re talking about, but we can have, we can have an overview, and we can have an understanding, and we can have an openness that allows us to absorb what they’re saying to us. And like I said, you don’t necessarily have to understand it, but you have to love the person, like the person, be willing to listen to the person, to just absorb what they’re saying, because there’s lots of things out there that I don’t understand. But when people start talking to me about their lived experiences, it’s like, okay, okay, I get it from you. I get it. I understand where you’re coming from. As much as I can. And, okay, tell me more. I’m understanding you.

James Pearson
Yes it’s that inquisitive nature isn’t it?

Michelle Taylor
Yes that’s all we’re asking for, to keep on learning, keep on asking, it’s very much the same with the mental health aspect, isn’t it?

James Pearson
I was just going to say actually yes. The situation is I think that there’s a lot of consideration going into how to have, or how to maintain your mental health and well being, throughout wedding planning, and certainly now for suppliers, which is the big push that we’re making, because they do need looking after. Everybody needs looking after from time to time. But there’s very little consideration I feel towards mental health and diversity, because like you said, the experience that you’ve been through has really freed you up and empowered you and given you strength and happiness, and that’s so important. We need to keep one eye definitely on mental health and diversity because it’s such an important thing for people’s lives.

Michelle Taylor
Yes, I think everybody can say that their mental health has suffered over the last 18 months, to one degree or another, and I’ve stepped away from a lot of social media. I’m still on the ball, not interacting anywhere near as much as I would have been this time two years ago, because I’ve been triggered by so many comments, and so much ignorance from some people. And it’s around diversity. Some people I’ve had to completely step away from and other people I’ve muted. For my sanity, coming away from a lot of the social media because everybody’s got an opinion, but I don’t particularly want their opinion shoving down my throat when I don’t agree with their opinion. Do we have the right to openly express our opinion as gospel? No, but I think people on social media think “it’s my platform I can say what I want”, without thinking about anybody else and I’ve had to step away from that, for my mental health. And, yes, it’s been quite interesting how triggering some of the comments have been and how black or white, and immovable people are. Some people don’t want to listen, it’s like I don’t want those people in my life.

James Pearson
It would be interesting to actually explore the roots of the cause of that.

Michelle Taylor
Yes. But a lot of it has been around the diversity issues, so you know, the Black Lives Matter and the Colston statue coming down, that’s what started it for me. Triggering some of the comments out there and then you’ve got a lot of things around gender and gender identification that got people banned, and making lots of comments from an ignorant place. And it’s like, you know what, I don’t actually want to listen to what you’ve got to say, I don’t want to read what you’ve got to say. So I’ve stepped away from social media.

James Pearson
It’s almost like we’ve moved on from that place of judgement now, and we’re waiting for the rest of the world to kind of catch up a little bit. Would you say that we are really on track for positive change, are we doing enough?

Michelle Taylor
There’s more and more people doing it, which is brilliant. But certainly in the circles that I mix in within the wedding industry, it’s the same people listening.

James Pearson
Okay, so we need fresh ears.

Michelle Taylor
Yes, you’re talking to the converted anyway, the same people listening and absorbing and learning and trying to spread the word. But we’ve still got a lot of people that… I don’t want to use the word ignorant, but are ignorant of the fact that the world is changing, and need to step up and open their ears, and open their hearts. So, we are moving in the right direction, but we are nowhere near where we need to be, or where we should be as a United World. There’s been a lot of hate, there’s a lot of hate in the world anyway, but I think it’s become more and more evident

James Pearson
And available, yes accessible to people I guess?

Michelle Taylor
So yeah, we still have an uphill challenge, and it’s about getting fresh ears to listen to it, but the converted are converted and it’s brilliant, because they are going out and spreading the word. But we need more people to actually listen.

James Pearson
I guess from my own lived experience of trying to increase my presentation of diversity in all things… I go on to a stock photography site for something, by jingo is it hard to find anything that isn’t a white male and a white female getting married.

Michelle Taylor
Of a certain age group! Of a certain size, of certain look.

James Pearson
So the question becomes do I use an image of a bride and a groom, or do I go off and use a generic image of the rings, because how do I express my awareness of diversity, when the material isn’t there to use?

Michelle Taylor
I mean, and this is one of the things I say to people, you’re not always going to get the diverse imagery that you want. But there is diversity in stock imagery out there, it is a question of you’re going to have to pay for it. But because all the free sites, they don’t care. Sites do have it, you’re going to have to pay for it. But the way that you express your diversity is through your language, written and spoken. You don’t have to have rainbow flags all over your website, you don’t have to have, you know, wheelchairs and you can say I’m LGBT friendly or disabled friendly, but you don’t have to have that. Your language that you use on your website, on your social media, on your literature that you give out to people should be inclusive, and should come away from bride and groom. You can just go as basic as couple couple or thruple, you know, but you don’t have to have bride and groom, because not everybody getting married is a bride and groom.

James Pearson
I’ve got to be honest, that was one of my biggest challenges. I’ve spent so much time talking about weddings, bride and groom was burned into my brain over years of just repeating that, and I guess that’s coming from external influences. It’s not necessarily my own take on it, but I’ve had to adopt couple. And every time I say a couple or write it, immediately I’m just imagining a world of diversit.y So it’s been an actually really pretty positive kind of process.

Michelle Taylor
Yeah, I mean LGBTQ equality weddings have got a language guide which for a donation, anybody can access within the Wedding Industry, and it gets people thinking about the language they use on social media. The language, the websites, using verbally as well. In my questionnaires that I sit down with anybody I’m working with, to go through some of the basic stuff, my inclusivity questions have gone from half page to five pages.

James Pearson
Wow, right.

Michelle Taylor
Because I’m trying to cover as many bases as possible. The latest one, I added on there, do you want to stand up or sit down with your ceremony. To be inclusive for people that don’t want to stand. At most celebrant ceremonies, most people will stand up. But not everybody can stand up for the duration of 20 – 30 – 40 minutes, and it’s something basic like that. I like to ask the dyslexia question, and I get my clients thinking about not just whether they have anything that I need to be aware of, but whether anybody in the wedding party has anything I need to be aware of. Or whether any of the guests have anything I need to be aware of. There’s no point putting granddad and grandma at the back, which they wouldn’t be anyway, but you know what I mean, especially for the hardest of hearing. Or visually impaired, you wouldn’t put them somewhere where they can’t see in here. I thought everybody will automatically think oh we need to sit granny and granddad there because then they can see, oh you know, it’s parents at the front end, bridesmaids and groomsmen, or whatever. And then granny and grandad can go on the second row. By just moving to the front row, then they can see and hear, smell. It gets them thinking about the inclusivity of their wedding guests and their family and that is basic stuff. But, yeah, we’ve got to do better, and by us doing better and getting the people that we work with, to start thinking about language and inclusivity, it makes them feel more comfortable with using the right suppliers as well.

James Pearson
Excellent, yes. So, Michelle, we’re very quickly approaching the top of our little half an hour here but before we log off, where would you suggest to start? Give us some kind of destinations that suppliers can go to start to brush up on their understanding of diversity. Where can we start?

Michelle Taylor
Obviously you’ve got LGBTQ equality weddings, that’s top of my list because of the language guide, you’ll soon have my course, basic 101 for weddings. Yes, that’s coming very soon. And there’s loads of books out there. My latest purchase is the “The Good Ally” by Nova Reid. That came out yesterday, and this is currently what my iPad is actually perched on!

James Pearson
Dual use, I like it!

Michelle Taylor
And it’s a guided anti racism journey from bystanders to change. So there’s loads of books out there, loads of literature, not necessarily aimed at the wedding industry. So, though I think once we start with society, then we can change the industry from within. But yes I mean I could give you a whole list of books that I’ve purchased over the last year and a half, some of which I have read, some of which are on my still to read list. as are audiobooks – I’ve listened to them. But it really started to get me thinking about how I speak, and hopefully my language, verbally and written, is so more inclusive than it would have been even this time last year.

James Pearson
Wow, right!

Michelle Taylor
That’s where we need to be, that’s where we need to be starting with ourselves, and the language that we use. It’s not necessarily about images because hopefully they will come. But if you want those images, you’re going to have to pay for them, you’re going to have to bite that bullet and pay for them. But it’s a small price to pay to show… without shouting from the rooftops, to show how inclusive and diverse your presentation is.

James Pearson
Wow. Well, Michelle, thank you so much. That was really, really insightful. Very, very interesting. Certainly progressed my understanding a little bit and and has given me some food for thought. So that was amazing. Thank you, thank you for sharing.

Michelle Taylor
No worries, thank you for having me.

James Pearson
Always, always a pleasure, Michelle, you know that! Fantastic, well, I will love you and leave you. And, yes, hopefully we’ll get a catch up in the near future again and get into it again, I can’t wait to see how this this course progresses.

Michelle Taylor
Yes, we’ll be broadcasting soon to say when it’s coming out. We’re literally on the final kind of tweaks and saying “right okay let’s do this”. It’s been a work in progress and, you know, we’re very close.

James Pearson
Fantastic. Well, Michelle. Thanks again, we’ll speak to you soon.

Bye, cheers!

You Might Also Like

No Comments

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: