Most couples only get one chance to plan a proposal. But Jenevieve Frank and Janine Herring had two. The first time, in 2015, Frank proposed to Herring in Washington D.C.’s Waterfront Park, right around their fifth anniversary. Frank recreated one of their first dates: “I was very sly about doing it," Frank told Bustle, "like, ‘Oh, let's go for a bike ride. Oh, we should like stop and get some sandwiches. Oh, we can go to Waterfront Park! It'll be great!’” At the park, a friend waited to take surprise photos of the proposal — as Frank struggled to get the ring out of her shorts pocket. "My friend was creeping around, like jumping from tree to tree. It was like a bad sitcom. And then, I finally got it out.” “I said yes,” Herring told Bustle. “It was a really wonderful day.” A few months later, they began planning a June 2017 wedding.
The second time, Herring proposed to Frank, just a few weeks before their May 2018 wedding day. “Obviously, I knew what her answer was gonna be,” Herring said, but after realizing that Frank didn’t have an engagement ring, “I decided that to be a good partner, I needed to get on that.” And so, after a walk-through in the Alexandria, Virginia, park where they were scheduled to have their ceremony, Herring made an excuse to go back to the park, turned to her fiancee and said, "Jenevieve, will you marry me here in a month?”
Between the two proposals, a lot changed for the D.C.-based couple. They had put their original 2017 wedding plan on hold in late 2016 as Frank, who had previously been presenting as male, came out and fully transitioned. They dedicated the following year to supporting each other and readjusting as a couple. And when they picked up the wedding planning baton again in fall 2017, they had a different vision for their wedding day. While their original plan skewed heavily towards classic wedding traditions, this time around, they weren't going to plan the wedding they were "supposed" to have; instead, they planned the wedding they truly wanted.
Janine Herring and Jenevieve Frank's love story began, as all great love stories do, at a legal policy journal. The two first connected in 2009, when both were law students working on American University's Journal of Gender, Social Policy, and the Law. Frank, who told Bustle that she “first noticed Janine long before she noticed me,” spotted her future wife during a meeting for the publication “and I was like, ‘Oh, wow.’” Herring soon realized that Frank “was cute, and not like the other law school kids. She was very thoughtful… just introspective, and interesting, and loved food as much as I did.”
“I think we had liked each other the year before [we started dating],but neither one of us had the courage to do anything about it,” Frank remembered. “At the time ... Janine was 25, I was 29 going on 30, so it's not like we were these bashful kids that still couldn't get to that point! But for some reason, we were.” In the fall of 2010, a series of platonic non-dates finally turned into an actual romantic outing due to a stray foot under the table while dining at a Korean barbecue restaurant; Herring stretched her legs out under the table, which Frank read as an attempt to play footsie. Their first kiss followed later that night.
The pair got serious fairly quickly after that. But, Herring noted, “Our early relationship was a lot of figuring each other out.” "I would say that that's probably symptomatic of our first two years together, almost," Frank added. Though they bonded intensely and quickly, Frank said, “I feel like we both felt this gap in our connection [at that time] for some reason.”
Right around their second anniversary, Frank recalled, Herring “drew me out of the closet" — Herring had noticed that Frank had been experimenting with her gender presentation, and wanted to talk about it. “It was the first time that I had spoken to anyone about it,” said Frank. And after a few months of talking about it, “I almost felt like whatever [gap there was in our] feelings that had been between us, closed.” Herring concurred: “That was kind of the missing piece, we think.”
"We were more comfortable with making choices that we wanted and comfortable with not necessarily being a conventional couple."
A few years later, Frank proposed, and in March 2016, they first began planning their wedding. But, Frank noted, “I feel like neither of us felt very emotionally connected to this wedding when we started planning… It was more, tasks that we had to do because we were expected to do them.” With large families on both sides, they found themselves suddenly swept up in planning a very large, traditional celebration. “I think the wedding quickly became a big event, and I'd always envisioned something more casual. At first, the wedding planning felt really daunting and not necessarily representative of us,” Herring recalled.
As they were planning the wedding, they were also planning a timeline of Frank’s transition. After “questioning about what my gender really was, and then coming to answers in 2015," she said, "by mid-2016, I was transitioning.” But they had decided that Frank would come out after the wedding — "I wasn’t at a point of crisis [at that time], and I was perfectly initially fine. Our initial wedding date was June 2017, and I was perfectly fine to wait [until after that]," remembered Frank.
"We sort of went through a crucible together, and it drew us even closer and connected us even more deeply."
But the 2016 election made them rethink their timelines. Frank wanted to "make sure I [was] fully transitioned at work" before any changes related to the election could occur in their workplaces. "My greatest privilege [as a trans woman]," said Frank, "is that...when I made a decision to transition, it wasn't from a point of crisis, because my partner already knew, and had known for years, that I was trying to figure this out. I had the luxury of being able to not feel like, for my own mental health, that I had to do this all one way, immediately. It got to be a conversation about how we want it together, what would work best for us, in terms of the speed of my transition."
Once Frank began transitioning and coming out, “we were talking a lot about it, and there was a lot of change at once,” remembered Herring. “I think it was February or March [of 2017] that I said, ‘I think it would really be better if we took one thing at a time, and really got used to our life...and have the time to sustain the relationship that we have post-transition before we hop into marriage.' So we decided to postpone [the wedding] for a year.”
The decision to postpone was about making sure they had time to focus on and support each other — "I think going into this, we were pretty ready for my transition, but I think we both underestimated that," Frank recalled. Postponing allowed them to "be there for each other 100 percent.”
It was also to give the pair space to adjust to the changes in their relationship, without dealing with the added pressure of wedding planning or being newlyweds as well. Transitioning before the wedding "wasn't the original plan, but I'm glad we did it," said Frank. "I didn't want to transition at a point where there was all this extra societal pressure on us or on Janine to make it work.” Herring added, “I felt like marriage was a serious commitment, and I think it's better to go into that knowing that you really wanna be in it. I spent two years clerking in family court in DC, and lots of people don't think it through. It was important to me that we were on the same page before we committed to it.”
Additionally, Herring recalled that, “our families had a lot to get used to. This was obviously not something that any of them saw coming.” “I really think that it was helpful to have that extra year to get everybody used to this idea," she added, "and get comfortable with Jenevieve as she is now.”
Frank noted that “our friends were universally supportive, and our neighbors were universally supportive,” but there was an additional, unexpected group of supporters in their postponement: their vendors. Although wedding vendors are notoriously tough on couples who change, well, any major details about their weddings, let alone the date, these vendors “were enthusiastically supportive of why we had to postpone,” Frank said. “There was no question that I wanted to support them 100 percent when I heard about the postponement,” the Plannery's Katie Wannen, who organized the wedding, told Bustle. “I immediately understood that taking on two huge life events at the same time would have been incredibly stressful for them … whatever I could do to make things easier for them, I wanted to do.”
Postponing a wedding is taboo in our culture, with many assuming that it is simply a gentler way for a couple to call the whole thing off. But for Frank and Herring, it gave them much-needed room to pause, breathe, and confirm that, yup, they were in this for life. “We really got to figure it out this past year," reported Herring, "just kind of on our own. I'm happy to say, we're closer than ever...We're coming into this knowing that we really wanna be together. Now we can make it through pretty much anything.”
In fall 2017, when Frank and Herring started wedding planning again, it felt different than it had the first time around: “The last year and a half, but especially last year, was a very trying time for both of us. We sort of went through a crucible together, and it drew us even closer and connected us even more deeply,” said Frank. “It now sort of feels like, even if we're making the same decisions we would have, they just feel so much more significant now.” “I think we're more excited this time around … we were more comfortable with making choices that we wanted and comfortable with not necessarily being a conventional couple,” said Herring. “We're more comfortable making choices that were really what fit us. We're still gonna have this big wedding, but we got to pick things that we really wanted.” Those things included choosing a small, siblings-only bridal party, incorporating a Celtic hand fasting into the ceremony, booking a rock band for the reception, and walking down the aisle together — “I couldn't imagine going down the aisle with anyone but Janine,” said Frank.
The Friday night before the wedding, Herring and Frank's loved ones gathered in a historic loft in Alexandria for a rehearsal dinner a year in the making. Family and friends from every era of their lives — from Herring's former classmates to Frank's friends from her pre-law career in the New York film industry — snacked on barbecue, caught up with one other, and practically bubbled over with love and support for the couple. Debbie Frank Petersen, Frank’s mother, told Bustle, “I think they are totally in sync. And everything they've done to bond now together is indicative of how much they care about each other.” Friend Ryan Webb noted that the wide array of guests present was "a very great representation of their life in general, and just how they've been grabbing all these people and putting them all together.” Chip Petersen, Frank’s brother, told Bustle, “seeing them grow together over the past few years has been a privilege and I've never seen my sister so happy.” This newer vision of the wedding, he remarked, felt “more genuine,” and added, “Since my sister's transition, I've noticed her smile has gotten bigger, brighter, and more genuine. And I can't wait to see that at the end of the ceremony.”
The Saturday evening wedding fell on the first clear day after nearly a full week of rain in the D.C. area. Although the clouds had finally rolled away, the ground still felt like a wet sponge, which meant the planned ceremony in the park was off the table, and they had to go to plan B .
The reception was planned for Alexandria, Virginia's, Torpedo Factory Art Center, a, well, former actual literal torpedo factory turned arts and event space — and now the ceremony would occur there, too, in a tent set up behind the building, on the busy Alexandria Old Town Waterfront boardwalk. Guests filed into seats facing the water, while beyond the tent, tourists took harbor selfies and a handful of teens in ballgowns wandered by — there was a prom going on that night, too.
As the wedding began, the Honorable Judith A. Smith — a D.C. Superior Court judge who Janine clerked for from 2012 to 2014 — reminded us all not to take photos, telling us that the brides wanted us to remain present during the ceremony. And then, to the strains of Haley Reinhart’s cover of “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” the brides entered, side by side in gorgeous white gowns. Jenevieve wore floral haircombs she made herself. Friends read from The Velveteen Rabbit and e.e. Cummings. Ryan and Rachel Webb helped the pair engage in a Celtic handfasting. Frank and Herring read the vows they wrote themselves. They exchanged rings. They kissed. And then, finally, Janine Herring and Jenevieve Frank were married. The crowd applauded wildly as they made their way back up the aisle.
“The end of the ceremony is always the most beautiful part, because they recognize that all the things they have been through together have culminated in that,” Judge Smith told Bustle during the reception. “As they turned and everybody started clapping and cheering, that was the best part of the night.”
Talking to them later, it's clear that even the most perfect-seeming wedding isn't actually as effortless and stress-free as it looks — the days leading up to the ceremony had included the typical pre-wedding rushing around and wrangling, the last-second change of venue was stressful, and Frank claimed she briefly "went a little Bridezilla." But their day ultimately wasn't about having the most perfect ceremony, or the exact right venue, or the most amazing dresses (though for the record, both Herring and Frank had amazing dresses). "At the end of the day," said Herring, "we're getting married. It's wonderful and beautiful, either way."