Tuesday, May 28, 2013

My Wedding

For many reasons, both political and personal, I never thought I'd be married.  And now I am.  I'm still processing the glory of yesterday's experience, and I think it'll be a while before I can write about it with any degree of cogency.  Instead, I'm going to provide the text of the ceremony for those of you who are interested in checking it out, along with the menu and list of people toasting.  I do not have the text of the actual toasts, which is especially unfortunate because they were some of the real highlights for me.  

Before I launch into the text itself, however, there are a few thoughts I'd like to share.  Yesterday, I found myself asking: why is getting married important?  I pondered this question in both its gay context and empirically.  I certainly know many couple, gay and straight, who have spent years and decades together without any of the bru-ha-ha of a wedding and I don't think they're any less in love than a married couple.  There is, however, something significant about taking a few hours out of your life and celebrating two people's love for each other.  Standing in front of your community and taking oaths (or, incorporating your community into your oath-taking, as we did) is powerful.  It binds you to your partner, and to your community.  Like in a Racine play, the word is the event and vice versa.  Yesterday, I promised Rafael that I would honor, cherish and respect him.  When next I'm feeling petty or unhappy, I hope to summon the memory of those oaths and use it as a talisman to inspire me to better.  And I do believe that the formality of the event, and its publicity, will make it more potent that if Rafael and I had done it by our lonesome, or without a legal state.


I am deeply honored to welcome you to this joyous occasion.   

Today we are here to share in the marriage ceremony between Rafael Ascencio and Michael Barakiva and to mark this important moment together.  We want to welcome both family and friends who have traveled far distances to participate in today—people who have been such meaningful supporters in the lives and journeys of both Michael and Rafael, including John Iacovelli from Los Angeles, a city Michael loves, Marco Barricelli, Beatrica Basso, Ariel Ford and Durand Ford from the Bay Area, and Charlie and Laurie Beth Rose Engbring, who bought an RV five days ago and drove up from Savannah, Georgia.  We especially want to acknowledge Rafael’s family who came here from Mexico City: his mother Margarita, his brother Luis Antonio, his Godmother Sylvia, his aunt Evangelina, his cousins Adriana, Ana Luisa, Alejandra, Eduardo, and Eduardo’s partner, Alicia and his friends Carlos and Carmen, as well as Francisco and Ricardo who came from Italy and Mercedes, who came from Canada. 

Michael was my first real friend in New York.  We became friends over the course of one week at Lincoln Center, participating in a program for emerging theater directors.  I think all of us who became friends that week are here today. That was back in 1998.

Since then, we laughed and struggled our way through our 20’s, he supported my own relationship and helped me navigate career, love, family—and when Rafael entered at the top of the second act, here in our 30’s, they have cooked for me, introduced me to the best authentic Mexican chefs across the country, and were there for me and my partner Makela when we decided to start a family with the birth of our now almost three year old son, Max. 

It gives me personal joy as well to welcome you to this space, this historic setting, The O’Neill, where I have had the honor of being Artistic Director for almost 10 years now.  Beneath this copper beach tree, some of the greatest theater artists have worked—honing their craft and telling profound stories that have impacted the world. Indeed Eugene O’Neill himself, considered one of the greatest playwrights of all time, grew up down the street in New London, and was inspired by this landscape. It is fitting that in this theatrical setting we come together to share the story of Michael and Rafael’s relationship and to all celebrate their union in marriage. Many of us from the theatre consider this space, this land, even right under this tree, to be sacred space. It is a space where our ancestors walked—it is a space where we feel the ghosts who pass this legacy onto us.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that one of the important people in Michael’s life, playwright Wendy Wasserstein, began her own theatrical journey here and often returned to The O’Neill throughout her life.  We lost Wendy too soon.  And that loss was felt on a very personal level, I know, for Michael.  I know Wendy is here today.  She wouldn’t miss the wedding day of Michael and Rafael and she would be so incredibly happy for you both.

Wendy’s characters sought to find love, as we all do.

Maamoun Jibali, my un-boyfriend's actual boyfriend, designed our flowers and rings.  Fab, no?  The runners and chuppah were designed by Shoko Kambara, one of my fav set designers, from the same material shown here.

Jamie Blumenthal in Wendy’s play Isn’t It Romantic said this about marriage: “When I’m 28, I’m going to get married and be very much in love with someone who is poor and fascinating until he’s thirty and then fabulously wealthy after that.  And we’re going to have children who wear overalls and flannel shirts and are kind and independent with curly blond hair. And we’ll have great sex and still hold hands when we are travel to China when we’re sixty.” 

I think we can all identify with Jamie’s dream—the notion to have someone who evolves with you over time, someone who will grow old with you and hold your hand as you move through time.

It may sound very old fashioned, but it is indeed in this space of romance and love Michael and Rafael began their relationship—

II.   First Song – Kiss Me Each Morning

Michael and Rafael made each other CDs with their favorite songs, early in their courtship.  Michael heard the Bettye Swan cover of the song KISS ME EACH MORNING and knew that it had to go on Rafael’s next mix.  The song will be performed by Maria Thayer, with Jim Russell and Glen DeVries on Guitar and Uri Attia on Percussion.


Another passion that Michael and Rafael share is a love for the writings of the Magic Realists.  Our first reading will be a passage from LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, read by Rafael’s best friend Mercedes Aldana, a lawyer and an actress from Garcia Marquez’ native land, Colombia.

Quotes from Love in the Time of Cholera

“Together they had overcome the daily incomprehension, the instantaneous hatred, the reciprocal nastiness, and fabulous flashes of glory in the conjugal conspiracy. It was time when they both loved each other best, without hurry or excess, when both were most conscious of and grateful for their incredible victories over adversity. Life would still present them with other moral trials, of course, but that no longer mattered: they were on the other shore.”

“Very well, I will marry you if you promise not to make me eat eggplant.”

“And how long do you think we can keep this coming and going?

Florentino Ariza had kept his answer ready for fifty three years, seven months and eleven days and nights.


Although it was chilly to have our ceremony and reception outdoors, our perseverance was acknowledged by a beautiful rainbow that appeared high in the sky.


Like any great love story with a happy ending, the initial days of Michael and Rafael’s courtship were marked with difficulties.  Although they met and were immediately drawn to each other, Michael was leaving to travel the world for a directing job. 

However, just days after he left, Michael penned his first letter to Rafael and their real story started. 

Thus began a long period of letter writing and great anticipation built as they would each wait for each other’s missives.  In Germany, Michael asked the front desk staff of the hotel where he was staying if a letter had arrived for him every morning.  The staff felt so bad when they saw the disappointment on his face that they actually wrote him a letter themselves.

Once back in the same space, New York, Rafael and Michael continued getting to know each other.  There was a day when Rafael said he was having some doubts about their future, but Michael said “I just want to walk with you around the park, that’s all.”  Both Rafael and Michael are modern men, with fast paced lives so the idea of just being together, in the same space, outside with that sort of singular focus, a focus on each other is something Rafael remembers fondly as a true turning point.  It culminated in a kiss outside the lobby of Rafael’s office building. Even that moment felt complicated, but as Rafael recalls, he knew he had to track Michael down and work toward something with this man.  No matter where their travels took them, whether it be Mexico, Europe, Philadelphia or Ninth Avenue.

Both Michael and Rafael felt drawn to each other for many reasons and those reasons continued to drive and guide their relationship for these beginning years.  It is clear that these ties will continue to be very meaningful in their marriage.

Michael and Rafael come from rich cultural backgrounds, and their love for their families and their cultures are strong.  They are both passionate about their ideals, and their work.  Both have a great spirit of artistry and it draws them to each other—Rafael has now officially inherited the world of the theatre, which he embraces and draws inspiration and joy from as well.  Rafael also paints and learned to appreciate the importance and role of the artist since he was a little boy, from his Grandmother Tita, who sang professionally in the 1930s with her sisters, The Navarro Sisters.  Rafael has talked to me about Michael’s passion, and it is a large passion—and that he feels they have a good balance in their relationship between being passionate and grounded.  

And then we got our second rainbow, a glorious, full-sky, full-arc affair.  If you think roasting two lambs in caja china boxes to feed 125 guests was tricky, you should see what I had to do to get these rainbows.

And then of course there is food.  Both Michael and Rafael love food. They love to cook, they love to shop for the best ingredients,  and one of their favorite things about traveling is the opportunity to eat at some of the best restaurants in the world.  —they have introduced each other to their favorite foods, and Rafael has taught Michael how to make his pomegranate guacamole and Michael has taught Rafael how to make hummus.  They have taught each other about their cultures and hearts via meals and conversation, and are founding a new Israeli-Armenian-Mexican fusion movement that they’re sure will be the next hot thing.  They see the act of cooking as one of love, like great art, meant to draw people together.  Michael even made Rafael’s favorite mole recipe, after spending an entire 24 hour period grinding the appropriate spices, putting energy and love into that mole—bringing their cultures and families, together.

And that brings us here today.  A day of union. A day of celebration and reflection.

While on a trip home to Mexico, actually a sad occasion—it was the memorial for Rafael’s father who had passed away—Rafael noted Michael lagging behind to speak to his mother and brother. Rafael assumed Michael was privately passing along his condolences, but he also sensed some sort of feeling of joy.  Actually, what was happening was that Michael was asking if he could have their blessing in asking Rafael to marry him—which they agreed to—Rafael’s father had already given Michael a “10” and he did so because language was limited because of his aphasia—he would rank people, and Michael ranked the highest.  Rafael still speaks about that moment when he didn’t know what was happening, but felt joyous.  He now knows it was his father dancing, and celebrating for him and for Michael.


Our last reading will be Wild Nights by Emily Dickinson, performed by Lindsey Gates.  Michael directed Lindsey in a one-woman show about Emily Dickinson through the Lake George Theater Lab, which Lindsey founded eight years ago and where Michael proudly serves as Resident Director.  This play, The Belle of Amherst, was the first play of Michael’s that Rafael saw.  When Rafael saw that Michael had dedicated the play to him, it brought tears to his eyes.

In the email where she accepted the invitation to read this poem at the wedding, Lindsey wrote:

I remember sitting in your apartment working on this play, eating avocados and watching you fall in love. Mostly I remember the look on your face, realizing it was merely time that would make the inevitability of this relationship happen. It was summer. It was hot. They were wild nights.

Lindsey Reads WILD NIGHTS:

         Wild Nights – Wild nights!

         Were I with thee

         Wild nights should be

         Our luxury!

         Futile – the Winds –

         To a Heart in port –

         Done with the Compass –

         Done with the chart!

         Rowing in Eden –

         Ah, the Sea!

         Might I but moor – Tonight -         

         In thee!

VI. Vows

When Michael proposed to Rafael, again in the spirit of romance, he led Rafael to a bench on the bank of the Hudson River on the West Side of Manhattan. 

This bench had been a special place for them both, a place they walked to, talked on, dreamed about life and possibly a life together.  They had spent celebrated every monthly anniversary at this bench, going their each 24th, since they started dating on May 24th, 2009.

However, on their three-year anniversary, May 24th 2001, Michael led Rafael to the bench and something was different.  Rafael admits his eyesight isn’t the best, so at first, he didn’t see it, but then, Michael proposed to Rafael by reading “100 REASONS WHY I WANT YOU TO MARRY ME/I WANT TO MARRY YOU,” which he had written on the bench the day before. 

Michael would like to invite the guests here to recite these reasons, as his vows, to Rafael.  If you received a yellow index card, please take it out now.  Please speak clearly, articulate well, and make sure to say your number so that the next number knows when to go.  Michael, would you start us off?

100 Reasons Why I Want You To Marry Me/

(100 Reasons Why I Want To Marry You)

1.        We make each other happy and I believe we will continue to do so for the rest of our lives.  

2.        We’re learning how to disagree.

3.        When I asked your brother for his blessing, he gave it and called me hermano 

4.        When I asked your mother for her blessing, we both cried.   

5.        Your mother.    

6.         You let me be there for you when your father passed away.  

7.        I let you be there for me when my grandmother passed away.   

8.        Because I feel like I knew your grandmother, Tita.    

9.        My family loves you.    

10.      We both cook.

11.      We both clean (although you do it better).

12.      You might be a spy.   

13.      Your cat, Taco Grande, thinks it’s a good idea.

14.      Our teddy bear P.J. agrees.

15.      It’s legal.

16.      We belong together.

17.      You get me.

18.      You love the theatre. 

19.      You love my theatre.

20.      I’m so impressed by the company you started and the work you do.

21.      I don’t have to struggle to find one hundred reasons.

22.      You have an artist’s imagination.

23.      Our initial connection was passionate.

24.      Our continued connection is more.

25.      And yet, we’re drawn to each other still.

26.      Being worthy of you is an admirable goal.   

27.      We learned how to share a small living space.

28.      We decorate fabulously.

29.      You love to travel.

30.      You speak many languages.   

31.      You love your friends.   

32.      And mine.   

33.      You let me keep my desk messy.

34.      You’re learning when to let me have my way.

35.      And when to not.

36.      On car rides, and bus rides, and train rides, we talk.

37.      You don’t mind when I meditate in the morning.

38.      You are a very handsome man.

39.      You love your country.

40.      You are incapable of malice.

41.      You are comfortable in your body in a way I envy.

42.      You love the Magic Realists.

43.      It has become impossible for me to imagine my life without you.

44.      You have great taste, especially in color.

45.      You understand the quality of value and value of quality.

46.      You make me laugh: often, heartily and unexpectedly.

47.      You are an adventurer.

48.      See Emily Dickinson, “Wild Nights.”   

49.      I’d rather be blue thinking of you than happy with somebody else.   

50.      You like foreign movies.

51.      You offered to serve lemonade to my soccer team.   

52.      Giving others joy gives you joy.

53.      Every year, you get more handsome.

54.      You know what you like.

55.      You take care of me.

56.      You let me take care of you.

57.      You accompany me to my family functions.

58.      You love children.   

59.      Fatherhood would come effortlessly to you.

60.      I am always proud to walk into a room with you.

61.      You enjoy sleep.

62.      I enjoy sharing a bed with you.

63.      You’re a romantic.

64.      You understand the importance of ritual.

65.      You engage me as a man.

66.      You understood it was important for me to propose to you.

67.      You don’t mind driving.

68.      You are gentle.

69.      Loving comes naturally to you.

70.      As does faith.

71.     But you are not religious.

72.      You don’t watch TV.

73.      You paint.

74.      You let me bring most of my stuff into our apartment.

75.      You like to drink but you don’t get drunk.

76.      You soul is unencumbered.

77.      You don’t torture yourself with regret.

78.      You dress excellently.

79.      We wooed each other with letters.

80.      You have visited me in Lake George, Poughkeepsie, Princeton, Syracuse, Davis and Rhinebeck.

81.      You love an opening night.

82.      The world is a place of possibility for you, a place to surprise and be surprised, full of joy and marvel.

83.      Your ex-wife is your best friend.   

84.      Wendy Wasserstein would’ve approved.   

85.      You massage my feet.  With lotion.

86.      You enjoy a good dinner party.

87.      We have followed each other, through Central New Jersey and Hell’s Kitchen, for most of our lives.

88.      The 24th

89.      With you, three years feels like a long time in all the ways it should and a short time in all the ways it should.

90.      You don’t pry.

91.      But are inquisitive.

92.      When you smile my hearts sings.

93.      I trust you will appreciate this gesture.

94.      I feel least self-conscious and most myself when I am with you.

95.      You prefer experiences to objects.

96.      When it’s chilly at night and we cuddle, you glow.

97.      You’re not scared to haggle.

98.      I’m not sure what your response will be.

99.      You’re the love of my life.

100.    You would’ve forgiven me if I only came up with 99.

Rafael was genuinely surprised that day on the bench, one year ago. He had no idea this would be the day for this proposal.  He didn’t immediately say yes, which Michael says, made him “want to hurl my body into the Hudson River”—in his Romantic Hero way.

But a few moments later, Rafael did accept and a few days later, Rafael returned the proposal with a resounding and passionate “100 REASONS WHY I SAID YES.”

Yet again, romantic, inventive and artistic, their proposal and its acceptance was marked with their unique style and homage to Love.

Rafael would like to invite the guests here to recite these reasons, as his vows, to Michael.  If you received a green index card, please take it out now.  Please speak clearly, articulate well, and make sure to say your number so that the next number knows when to go.  Rafael, would you start us off?

  1. You are my love
  2. Our love has evolved and grown from within
  3. We are learning to disagree gracefully
  4. Your eyes
  5. You love my country
  6. We adopted PJ, our teddy bear
  7. You don’t mind that my hair gets crazy in the rain
  8. Your beautiful curly hair
  9. You love your family
  10. I love your mother
  11. I love your father
  12. You don’t like the suburbs
  13. Plays never direct you
  14. You direct plays
  15. The people you work with love you
  16. You write handwritten letters
  17. You found the letter that I sent you to Berlin
  18. You made three books for me
  19. Your sense of space is magnificent
  20. I am never blue thinking of you
  21. You read my poems
  22. I feel secure when I am holding your hand
  23. You give love to strangers
  24. You know what you want
  25. The world is interesting through your filter
  26. Your friends love you and they show it
  27. You include me
  28. Your brother and sister
  29. Creative space is a priority for you
  30. It is important to make time for our love
  31. You love passionately
  32. You sing out loud with your earphones on
  33. Your hands
  34. We sometimes live in my cat Taco’s world
  35. You inspired me to paint again
  36. We meet every month at the same bench and write our initials
  37. You open the door for me
  38. You cry when you’re moved
  39. You take pictures of small dogs
  40. You like my dog Mezcal
  41. You drink tequila straight up like Mexicans do
  42. You surprise me with details
  43. The art of giving is something you’ve mastered
  44. Nothing makes me prouder than walking into a room with you
  45. You know how much I loved my Grandmother Tita and you love her too
  46. You take pride in your work
  47. You write beautifully
  48. You have big feet
  49. Cooking is an art that you master
  50. You learned how to make mole
  51. You love Puerto Escondido
  52. Your name is like San Miguel
  53. You believe in magic realism
  54. I lived in the same building as Wendy Wasserstein
  55. We might have met each other in another life
  56. People smile when we are holding hands on the street
  57. You taught me to love Wild Nights
  58. You bought me a cinnamon ice cream on the street in December
  59. I wrote a poem about it and you framed it
  60. You know when to apologize and you accept an apology gracefully
  61. You know how to say no
  62. You know when to say yes
  63. I cried at your Grandmother Nana’s funeral
  64. Nana’s painting is hanging on our walls with mine and I feel honored
  65. You came to my father’s funeral
  66. My father, Pepe, gave you a 10
  67. You understand how much I miss my Dad
  68. You love my mother
  69. You learned all of my cousins’ names
  70. You feel at home in Mexico
  71. Understanding why I love my city came naturally to you
  72. You have been kind and graceful to my family and friends
  73. And they love you
  74. You know how to treat me
  75. We laugh together
  76. We love good food
  77. We believe in the future of us
  78. We are patient and loving with our families
  79. My brother responds to your affection
  80. You play soccer
  81. We talk every day
  82. You put your arm around me
  83. You once said “I want something more” and this changed our lives
  84. Your legs
  85. You do yoga
  86. You allow me to be myself
  87. We love Oaxaca
  88. Fear of risk is not in your agenda
  89. We loved Umbria
  90. We had a Roman Holiday
  91. You have allowed me to collaborate with you in your projects
  92. Mercedes loves you
  93. You know when to kiss
  94. You had a green umbrella
  95. We dream of a beautiful future together
  96. When the time comes, I want to be with you
  97. You got tickets for Barbra Streisand
  98. You kneeled when you proposed to me
  99. I only wrote 99 reasons why I said Yes

100.Because the 100th one cannot be written in words

VI.5 – Unity Ritual

(At this point, Ana Luisa gets three containers – two contain clear liquids and one is empty vessel.  Rafael and I are each handed one with liquid and she holds the empty one.)

Before you met, your lives were separate roads, each going in a different direction and seemingly leading to different destinations. But you met, fell in love, and today you find yourselves standing together at the entrance of a new path that will forever join your once separate journeys

You each hold a vessel of liquid. Each represents the separate journeys you once were on, as well as your own sets of friends and families that once were apart. When you combine them, it will represent the coming together of your friends and family, through your marriage, into one. And as the two liquids are poured into one container, your once solitary journeys will now be one of companionship, as you walk a single path together into your future.

"I now ask that you pour the liquids together.  

(the liquids are now poured, forming a new pink solution)

As the liquid has been joined, your lives are now joined, your separate journeys through life are now one. Your friends and family are as one as well, for now you will share those who are in your lives and will walk hand-in-hand along the path of your marriage - united and strong, as inseparable form each other as this new solution."


Ayden, could we have the rings please?

(Ayden, my nephew, delivers the rings.  I take Rafael’s ring and recite)

I, Michael

Give to you, Rafael

This Ring

As a symbol of my love and loyalty

And I promise

to honor, respect and cherish you

In good times and in bad

In sickness and in health

For all of the days of my life.

 (I put the ring on Rafael’s finger.  Then Rafael recites:)

Yo, Rafael

Te entrego a ti, Michael

Este Anillo

Como símbolo de mi amor y mi lealtad

Y prometo

Honrarte, respetarte y adorarte

En buenos y malos tiempos

En la enfermedad y en la salud

Por todos los días de mi vida

(Rafael puts the ring on Michael’s finger.)

By the power vested in me by the State of Connecticut, one of the twelve states in the United States where gay marriage is legal, I now pronounced you married.  You may kiss the groom.

(We kiss.)

VIII. Post Declaration Ritual

In the Jewish tradition, a glass is broken by the groom on the wedding as a reminder that we must remember temperance even during times of extreme joy.  It has evolved into a more celebratory ritual.

My sister brings a glass wrapped in a napkin and I step on it.)

The meaning of this ancient pagan ritual is that the egg, as a living cell, is rubbed to absorb the evil spirits and purify the soul of the new couple. The egg is then broken in a glass, for new beginnings.

(Ricardo takes an egg, wave it around us, then crack it into a bowl.)


Michael and Rafael, you both learned to trust each other, you have the blessing of your family and friends and as Janie says in ISN’T IT ROMANTIC:

“All you have to do is trust me a little bit.  I believe a person should have a little originality, a little “you know”—otherwise, you just grow old like everybody else. And you know, I like life, life, life.  Relax and let me figure it out”

May you both continue to figure it out together and

may you both “grow old on one pillow.”