For many years I was a freelancer for Brides magazine, writing up weddings at the Museum of Natural History, at exclusive resorts in Cabo San Lucas, on cruise ships in New York Harbor, with bridesmaids in Todd Oldham or Vera Wang and flowers that might have come from the court of the Sun King. These weddings had theme colors and signature cocktails and bridesmaid favors and complex gift registries, the full monty of goofy traditions we heterosexuals have invented to go along with the legal and emotional essentials, and all were thoroughly documented in my accounts.
What follows is my first gay wedding report, in which I fear I have diverged quite a bit from the Brides house style. Bear with me, I’ll get to the place cards eventually.
My husband Tony and I go to the Christmas party of the hair salon where he works in Austin, Texas. Our firstborn son is still a babe in arms. The 22-year-old deejay, Mark Dean, shares Tony’s taste for Ministry, New Order, Yaz and the theme from Sesame Street. We become instant close friends.
After moving back from London flat broke, Mark gets a job at a French restaurant a block from our house. Almost all summer, he crashes with us, saving money and helping us out by cleaning the pool and babysitting our two little boys, Hayes and Vince.
1993 – 2012
Mark goes on tour with Bronski Beat, he moves to San Francisco, he has brain surgery, he moves to New York. We are in touch but not always close touch. I am widowed, then five years later remarry and move up north. Mark has a series of short-term relationships but is still looking for the one when, in 2006, an online dating site coughs up the handsome architect Kevin Seymour. Within a few months, the two are celebrating Mark’s 40th birthday in Barcelona.
The thought of becoming a wedding officiant never crossed my mind until gay marriage was legalized — but I guess if two guys can get married, a Jewish atheist scalawag can perform weddings, right? It is in November, at a party at Mark and Kevin’s Brooklyn apartment when those two reveal their plans to marry, that the inspiration to ordination arrives. I join the global ministry with one click of a button on a website.
A few months later, I perform the wedding of my former writing student, Layla Rahimi, to her beau Eddie Garmzaban, and in this first run at my new role, I find myself unexpectedly nervous. Moments before the ceremony, I begin to fret — can this really be legal? did I miss some vital step? did the power really get vested in me? when was that? Though the laid-back bride and groom seem to feel there is no cause for alarm, these concerns cause me to stumble over a few words in my preamble. But then the mojo starts to flow.
Mark and Kevin’s wedding is held on the patio and in the open-air stable behind Frankie Spuntino’s, an Italian restaurant in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn, attended by 55 guests, including one who journeyed from the island of Tonga in the South Pacific.
The save-the-dates, website, invitations, and programs are all perfectly designed, minimalist and cool, slab serif font, recycled paper and white space abounding. The grooms wear Ted Baker suits. The cake is adorned with a marzipan replica of their dog Jack. The place cards are postcards of the iconic components of New York skyline, which guests match to the miniatures used as centerpieces to find their tables. In lieu of a guest book, the postcards are addressed and stamped so guests can write their impressions and mail them back the next day.
There is an adorable little flower girl but no other attendants, and the ceremony is as simple as can be, all the familiar phrases — gathered here today, for richer for poorer, with this ring, power vested in me — plus sweet, funny, heartfelt vows the guys wrote on their hotel notepads that morning. Some involve the dog. It takes only a few minutes, so the onlookers stand to witness it, with a single row of chairs in front for the older relatives.
The food is to die for: bruschetta, grilled vegetables, chunks of parmigiano-reggiano and slices of fontina, and crusty bread; homemade gnocchi and gemelli, branzino and plates of meatballs; cheesecake, chocolate tart, and wedding cake, all served family style on platters. The drinks from the bar are so fine that even a professional such as myself can have only two of them. Mark’s playlist features wedding essentials such as the TomTom Club’s Genius of Love. The toasting involves passing around a wireless mike so anyone so moved can express their thoughts.
As Vince, now 23, observes, this intimate, unfussy event is the coolest wedding ever. And there’s a reason for that. Now that gay men can do it, weddings will become as cleanly stylish as everything else they have gotten their hands on — pop music, hair styles, buildings, food, interior and graphic design, Congress, the NFL… well, some of those, anyway.
During the ceremony I am not nervous at all, but again feel the magic of being a conduit for other people’s happiness, this time even more poignant because instead of dreaming about this moment ever since they fell in love, the participants never thought they would be allowed to experience it. As I stand between them, beaming, feeling so right about my godless ministry of love, an old memory comes to me. I was not yet ten, I think, and had coaxed our one-eyed black tom cat and our giant tabby under a card table draped with a sheet. The tabby may have been importuned with a Barbie tiara. And so the ceremony began: “Do you, Dustin, take Tiger…”
If this is what’s known as finding one’s calling, it’s a refreshing change for the Profiteer of Misfortune, a description Vince recently suggested for my career as a memoirist. I thought it was so apt I considered having business cards printed up. But now I seem to also be a minor functionary in the Department of Joy. In addition to the weddings, I recently helped put on a storytelling performance by 17 students at the University of Baltimore, and a debut concert by a blues band called Merry and the Melancholics that has played together for years without braving public exposure.
It is so interesting to see what you can make happen for other people, what can come through you, what you can facilitate. Impresario, catalyst, production assistant: and sometimes you don’t even know.
Late in the evening, my son Vince told Mark that his earliest childhood memory is from that summer Mark lived with us. Vince was two years old. He remembers Mark babysitting, remembers some ineffable sense of coolness, remembers Mark letting him play with his turntables. This is especially sweet because Vince is now a musician and a producer. He sometimes plays with turntables.
What a long and interesting story life turns out to be.