Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Toasted

It was an honor and a privilege this year to speak at three weddings, two as a member of the bridal party and one in a reading during the ceremony. The speeches were both difficult and delightful to write, and I thought it might be fun to share them. So here they are, slightly edited, in the order they occurred. I mention RuPaul in all three of them.

Alissa & Ian
September 8, 2018
Half Moon Bay, CA


I had the pleasure of meeting Alissa in 2005, at what she lovingly calls “nerd camp,” taking college classes at a university neither of us, thankfully, attended. Though at one point that summer she called down the street to me and ran to catch up, cello case flailing behind her, and said “Wow, I’ve never run down the street shouting my own name before!” We were 16 and 17 and even then I knew she was extraordinary.

Alissa instead went to Cornell, where she met Maya, who in 2012 took Alissa, dressed as Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek, to a Halloween party where she met a guy dressed like an airline pilot who eventually became her husband.

We in the bridal party have collectively deemed Ian “respectable and appropriate.” Curious and intelligent with a dry sense of humor, even after meeting Ian for five minutes I was able to slap a big YEP of approval on his forehead. This has since been compounded by the fact that Ian has picked in advance the winners of not just one but two seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race and only slightly wrinkles his lips when I purposely call his football team the Seattle Sea Lions.

Alissa, you are in friendship and demeanor fierce and unflinching, a true king among your subjects. My sister from another mister, I am regularly in awe of your intellect, humor, ambition, and resolve, and it is a privilege to be the friend of a person who is so discerning about the company she keeps. I am so happy you have found another king, a strong partner and confidante, with whom to share your life and rule your kingdom.

I have never been a person to give fairy tales credence, but in her book Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give, author Ada Calhoun recounts poet Sriharsha’s story “The Episode of Five Nalas.” In it, Princess Damayanti hopes to marry King Nala, but first she must pick him out from a lineup: four are gods pretending to be him, one is the real man. If she chooses incorrectly, they’ll never be together. She struggles, but discovers the king by seeing the gods: they float effortlessly and don’t break a sweat, while he has imperfections. He sweats.

In your life together, I wish you only happiness. But there will also be sweat. That’s how you know what you have is real, that you aren’t floating on some cloud, that the person with whom you have chosen to spend your life is a living, breathing human and won’t dissolve into thin air. For every mess, there’s a clean slate with the person you love, who has vowed to always love you, by your side. I can think of no greater gift and I’m so glad you have found each other to give it to. I love you both. Cheers!


Erin & Sean
October 6, 2018
Hackettstown, NJ


I will start by saying that sometimes people will surprise you. For example, when Erin and I were in college, I was working on a magazine story about stripping. I had to do some reporting at a strip club, but I couldn’t find anyone to go with me. Erin and I were new friends at the time, having bonded senior year in the yoga class we took for P.E. credit. I complained to her about my predicament over lunch, only intending to vent. But after my rant was over she very calmly piped up, “I’ll go!” Which, only knowing Erin as fairly reserved at that point, was rather a surprise to me, to the point where I still remember her saying it as we sat across from each other at one of the University Center’s tiny grey tables. So with some other friends, we went. A stripper named Bentley talked to us and man bought us a round of shots called Redheaded Sluts, and we went dancing afterward at a place where a man flirted with the group of us by doing the hokey pokey.

Erin, since our strip club days, I have been inspired by your ferocity and dedication to your work and to those you hold dear. I am so happy you have found in Sean a partner who not only finds you inspiring but is equally ferocious and dedicated himself.

And I found getting to know Sean equally remarkable as well, especially when we were all going to Cleveland together for a friend’s wedding. Sean stuck out the car ride like a champ, complaining only once about a playlist Erin and I made that was primarily comprised of Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, and RuPaul. At the wedding he then proceeded, also like a champ, to break it down on the dance floor to Run DMC’s “It’s Tricky,” hardly something I would have expected from a man who famously describes himself as a cranky old man. But again, people will surprise you. It makes sense, though, because if Erin chose him, he must have had to have a few tricks up his sleeve.

Also on that trip, we went to go see “The World’s Largest Rubber Stamp” sculpture created by renowned artists Oldenburg and van Bruggen. Sean and Erin looked at it for a few minutes, but then immediately found themselves more interested in a broken prescription pill bottle in the grass nearby, both eagerly peering down to the ground to see what it was. And that, good people of New Jersey, is how you know it’s real love.

I wish you both a lifetime of only positive, beautiful surprises. I know that getting to know and love both of you has certainly been one for me. Cheers!


Stephen & Jesse
October 21, 2018
Big Indian, NY

What I perhaps understand least about weddings is how this day, among all other days, is often considered “the most important day of your life.” When in reality, it’s not humanly possible. Because arguably, the most important day of your lives is the day you met each other, the first night of Snowpocalypse in Pittsburgh, in January 2010. The night when, of all the Phi bars in all the world, you walked into his.

And then, you braved years of long-distance and you moved to New York and you moved in with me. People told me it was a terrible idea. “Oh, they get into it,” I heard, referencing how much you would fight. And I held my breath and I sucked it up anyway, because I made a promise to you both to live with you, and here we are, all three of us survivors. And not that survivors is even the right term, because suddenly I was living the hag fantasy I had always dreamed of, and I had something to eat at night because Stephen would cook and I had music to listen to when Jesse would practice singing with the door closed. I learned a long time ago that love doesn’t exist in the movies. That it takes work, and patience, and commitment to not just another person but yourself. And part of the way I learned that was by seeing the both of you.

I have seen you fight, I have seen you laugh, I have seen you smile at each other and kiss, I have cowered in fear as you attacked video games together, I have heard you scream and yell at each other and I have heard you, ah, not scream and yell at each other, and yet through all of this you stuck by the choice you made over eight and a half years ago to love each other. And love is a choice.

It starts out, of course, as science, a combination of dopamine and norepinephrine that thrusts us through the world as something our bodies seek just as much as food and shelter. But that feeling lasts only six months and then it fades--our bodies simply cannot sustain the high. And that high, that “can't-eat, can't-sleep, reach-for-the-stars, over-the-fence, World Series kind of stuff” to quote the 1995 Olsen Twins vehicle It Takes Two, evolves into attachment. Attachment is what makes us stay. Attachment, love’s evolved form, is a choice.

It is a choice to not stop when a relationship gets difficult; to show vulnerability, this strength to open oneself to another human that people spend a lifetime trying to acquire; to be present for each other’s joys and sorrows; to lift the other up when one is falling; to be a shoulder to lean on and a chest to cry into at night; to be a person to stand proudly next to as you introduce them to your friends; to be a person who will see all of your partner’s performances and attend all of their cocktail parties; to eat curry chicken so many times per month and to collect strange rocks and put them on the dining room table and to have plants, so many plants.

In 1939, the writer Jean Cocteau wrote a letter to his lover, the actor Jean Marais. “The folly of lovers is immense, vegetable, animal, astral,” he wrote. “What should I do? How can I make you understand that I no longer exist apart from you?”

For all any of us know, you’re already married, and you have been for a long time. This just puts a bow on it.

May RuPaul bless you and keep you.

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Tobie Giddio

Tobie Giddio’s favorite cafe on the Lower East Side is Pause Cafe, where she stops first for coffee and an acai bowl. She tells me about her life in New York, how she moved here from New Jersey after high school, yearning for the glitter and music and nightlife the city had to offer.

She attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, studying fashion illustration. Upon graduating, she joined the team at Bergdorf Goodman, producing advertisements that ran in The New York Times. Mid-conversation, a friend, a famous drag queen, calls. She laughs and her mala beads shiver as she holds the phone. Tobie met this queen at the Pyramid Club a few years into her New York life. Seeing performers every night who inspired her, Tobie says it was more formative than art school.

Tobie’s work as a fashion illustrator is heavily influenced by the color and glamour of fashion, but with an abstract viewpoint. Her elegant and bold work has appeared everywhere from The New Yorker to Harper’s Bazaar. She includes among her clients Tiffany & Co., Crest 3D Whitestrips, Cartier, Marc Jacobs, Amy Sedaris (specifically her book I Like You) and more. Tobie has moved into fine art now as well.

One series of black, abstract charcoal drawings, reminiscent of her fashion work, is on display in her bedroom. Her Bengal cat, Rae, saunters by and shines her big green eyes at me. A shrine sits not too far away, decorated with images of Tobie, her mother, and her daughter as young children as well as images of respected gurus. Tobie has been practicing meditation for over 20 years and often visits an ashram in upstate New York. There are various shrines throughout her home on the Lower East Side, in which she has lived and/or worked for about 30 years. To say the neighborhood’s cute cafes and shops couldn’t exist when Tobie first moved in is a wild understatement, but god bless rent stabilized apartments and those who have them.

Tobie’s studio is decorated with her works in progress and a wall of inspiration that includes everything from pictures of Tori Amos and Kate Bush to printouts of paintings by Hilma af Klint. Tobie is especially jazzed about Klint’s work these days, having recently seen the artist’s show at the Guggenheim and attended a symposium about her work. While producing her own work (for decades she has been using the exact same Polly-O ricotta container to dip her brushes in), she listens to Aerosmith and Sia. Also on the walls of the studio are works by Malian photographer Seydou Ke├»ta, Tobie’s favorite, and Tabboo!, another drag queen from the Pyramid Club.

Tobie takes out her laptop and for a while we watch videos from the Pyramid years, my favorite of which is one taken by the late Nelson Sullivan. It’s Leigh Bowery’s birthday, and among the guests are RuPaul, Sister Dimension, Lahoma Van Zandt and, of course, a smiling Tobie. Her hair was just as dark then.

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