Sunday, December 23, 2012

Getting Gay Married: The Rings

Getting Gay Married: The Rings

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about getting married in a way that’s interesting, because god knows this is not a field starved for literature.  The closest thing I have to a unique insight, I think, is to discuss the ways in which getting gay married is different than getting not-gay married.  I’ll start with the rings.

Rings have been involved in the wedding rite for a very, very, very long time.  It started as a ring presented at the time of betrothal (this was still the case in the Orthodox religions until recently).  Around the time of the Reformation, in England, the ritual expanded to include another ring that the groom gave the bride at the wedding.   It symbolized the material wealth a groom could offer a bride, as is seen in the The Book of Common Prayers (also known as the Eduard VI Book of Prayers, since it was published during his reign in 1549).   After the groom said, "With this ring I thee wed," then said:  "This gold and silver I give thee,"  At which point, the groom would hand the bride a bag of money, usually filled with silver and gold.  I hope Rafael isn’t expecting this, but if he decides to hand me a bag of money at the wedding, I’m not going to say no. 

In some cases, the ring was given in exchange for the dowry, as is seen in this lovely German proverb, incorporated into their Renaissance wedding vows: "I give you this ring as a sign of the marriage which has been promised between us, provided your father gives with you a marriage portion of 1000 reichsthalers.”

Now, I’m not sure what today’s reichsthalers-to-dollars conversion is, but it sounds to me like the groom is getting a pretty good deal here.  I wonder if the bride in this example had some deeply unattractive features, like being a Republican or believing in the nonsense the NRA spouts. 

Eventually, the evil wedding machine realized it could double its ring sale profit by convincing us lay people that the groom needed a ring as well (after all girls, you don’t want your man unmarked do you?  That’s right you don’t), and there you have it.

I knew I was going to propose to Rafael Ascencio Almada on May 24th, 2011, our three-year anniversary.   I knew I wanted it to propose with a ring.  I knew that I wanted to present him a ring when we got married.  Assuming he said yes, of course.  I wasn’t one of those cowards who only proposed after I was assured an affirmative response.  Rafael and I, in fact, had barely spoken about marriage.  Just a brief exchange a few months earlier when he asked me, hopefully, if I ever thought I’d want to get married and I said, simply, “No.” 

I proposed at our very romantic location, a pier on the Hudson River.  I figured if he said no, I could just throw myself in the river, and since I don’t know how to swim, he could either let me drown on jump in after me and save my life, which is the least he could do after dashing my dreams.

But unlike the heteros, for whom all this stuff has already been figured out, I needed to rethink the custom since Rafael has a real job, and I didn’t want him to have to wear two rings – what man wants to wear two rings?

My dear friend Andy Goldberg (brilliant director and teacher – check out his Shakespeare classes at:  

is dating a wonderful man, Mammoun Jabali, who recently left his successful career as an anesthesiologist to become a jewelry and floral designer (I find stories like this inspirational because they reinforce my possibly deluded belief that if I had gotten into a real profession I would’ve left it anyway).

Mammoun and I met a few times, and designed an asymmetrical half-ring.  The idea was simple: I could propose to Rafael with this bottom piece, and then when we got married, I’d have give him the top.

Didn’t it come out heavenly?  Designing the ring was fun, but following Mammoun as he navigated his way through the Diamond District and got it made was amazing.  The Diamond District and Chinatown, I’d say, are probably the last two totally un-gentrified neighborhoods in New York, and I’d highly recommend taking a walking tour of either.

First, I stole one of Rafael’s rings and measured it size (8.5).  Then Mammoun created the cast, and we bought a sheet of 18K gold that would be melted down into the cast to form the ring.  For those of you gold-neophytes, 24K gold is basically pure gold, but rarely used in casting rings because it’s too soft.  18K gold is around 75% gold, and the remaining alloys used to strengthen it up is what determines its variation in hue – use silver and zinc and other white’ish allows, and you’ll get white gold.  Use only pure silver, and your gold will get a green’ish hue. 

Once we had the ring itself, we went to the office of his teacher, this amazing Russian jewelry-maker named Boris with the most beautiful artist’s hand.  He took out a bag of diamonds, and I bought the one I wanted to set in the ring.  He also had the idea to put a few smaller diamonds on the inside band of the ring itself, which I loved, so I bought three little ones more, one for each year we’d been together.

Mammoun and I took the ring and the diamonds to another office in the diamond district maze.  This one had a hard-core security system, which always makes me feel like I’ve come to steal something, even though I obviously hand’t.

The guy there, who I believe was half-Russian/half-Pakistani, gave me a fine-tipped pen and had me draw, on the rings, where I wanted the diamonds set.  He told me to come back the next day.  As I was leaving his office, through the locking doors, I thought how stupid I was for leaving the most valuable object in my possession with a stranger without even so much as a receipt.  But that’s how they roll in the Diamond Disctrict.  Luckily, my half-Russian/half-Pakistani friend didn’t rip me off, and the next day I picked the final product up.

Rafael and I decided that we’d have a ring for me made in time for the wedding, along with the top half of his.  Last night, however, Rafael took me out to Torrisi Italian Specialties (one of our favorite restaurants, even before they won their Michelin Star this year).  $75/person isn’t cheap, per se, but it’s just about the best value for a brilliant meal you’ll get in New York.  Here was the menu. 

Right as our lemon cake was coming, Rafael surprised me with this beautiful piece:

He used 18K white gold and found a stunning black diamond to set in the ring.  I have been wearing it for a total of 17 hours now, and I love having it.  He even found three smaller black diamonds that he put on the inside of the band, like I did with his.

 I know that being engaged is not about having a pretty ring.  Meg Keene writes in her great book, A Practical Wedding:   “The next time someone tries to imply that you are not engaged because you don’t have a dramatic enough engagement story or a ring, firmly say, ‘You know, I like to think of my partner as my rock.’”  I did that a few times in the last months and the discomfort I caused was profoundly satisfying.  It is nice, however, to have a physical representation of the new state, especially, I think, when the legitimacy of gay marriage still hangs in peril in the few places where it exists.

I was happy with the process of creating Rafael’s ring because I did it on my own terms.  I didn’t have thousands of dollars to buy something from one of the stores, and so I tapped into my amazing network of friends and made something unique for him.  I’m using this experience as the touchstone for all of the wedding planning – rather than getting hoodwinked by thieves disguised as vendors, we’re really trying to do it on our own terms, shifting through the traditions that are meaningful, discarding the ones designed to make you spend an obscene amount of money, and create an event that reflects who and what we are.

I'm going to end every getting gay married post with something like this:
Do what you want.  Don't get pressured by crazies into spending a ridiculous amount of money on ridiculous things (the older couple sitting next to us at Torrisi yesterday told us they flew in a ten-piece band from LA to St. Louis to perform at their daughter's wedding, then augmented it with another ten-piece local brass band.  I contemplated asking them to pick up our check).  Figure out what's important to you, and, like you're figuring out a production budget, sacrifice accordingly to make it work.  

The great thing about being gay, and getting gay married, is that it forces you to re-think all the givens, all the accepted conventions, and figure out what you like and how you like it.

Happy holidays, and more soon on the crown of pork my brother and I are making for very unkosher Xmas.


  1. I'm so happy to get to see your ring - and so happy you had soccer yesterday so I didn't have time to spill the beans!

    Heteros can also use a dose of your advice on rethinking expectations. I remember being so worried that people would "expect" favors and be sad not to have them. In the end we had three charities and gave everyone little forms to fill out where they circled the charity of their choice. Then we donated a sum to each charity for each guest that chose them. It's hard, though, to stay clearheaded amidst the insane hoopla of the wedding mafia.

  2. Amy - this is such good advice. The favors things has been really stressing us out also, and your solution does feel so much better than some cheap knickknack that people will have to resent for taking up space in their homes.

  3. Beautiful post. Your rings are simply inspired. I agree about weddings and doing what you want. I think being in an intercultural, interfaith (even if half of the inter is zero-faith) relationship also forces you to rethink all the givens. I didn't want (or believe in) a white wedding dress, then I learned that widowed Indian women wear white saris, so I wore a raspberry-colored dress instead. We didn't want a wedding cake, and opted for homemade pies by family members instead. As for favors, bah! Didn't even think of them and honestly I don't think anyone cared. You're throwing them a fabulous party, why do they need a gift as well? I can't wait to see how the rest of your planning unfolds. In the meantime: you can't swim!?

  4. Heather,
    I love how people's responses are helping me liberate myself from the chains of a traditional wedding - homemade pies sound delish. In Mexico, there's a tradition where the bride has one cake and the groom has another one, and Rafael and I might co-opt that. I'm trying to figure out if I can get the caterer to make the Stilton Blue Cheesecake that I made for my dinner party. And I think Rafael wants something with some spicy Mexican chocolate.

    I also love what you wrote about being in an intercultural, interfaith relationship. One of the reasons that I think there are so many of those relationships among gays, as well as relationships that span age or class, is that when gender is a "like," one is drawn to other "unlike" elements to create that balance.

    About swimming - every time I'm watching an action/adventure movie, I try to figure out the point at which I wouldn't make it. It almost always has something to do with water. I have some memories of swimming in the Mediterranean as a child, but I didn't like the chlorine in the pools when we go to the States, and much like Hebrew, disuse atrophied the skill.