Wedding Party

8.10.2008

By Tim Murphy

It's Friday, June 13, three days before California becomes the second state in the country to allow gay couples to marry, per a historic ruling of the state's supreme court. I'm barreling west through the California desert toward Los Angeles on Highway 111 in the backseat of the black $75,000 Hummer H2 belonging to Philip Colavito and Dean Seymour of Palm Springs. They're the tanned, muscular, tank-topped pair who at 8 a.m. next Tuesday will be the first gay couple in Riverside County, Calif., to be married -- by their own Palm Springs mayor, no less, and before a phalanx of local, state, and national press. Outside, the dry heat is a punishing 110 degrees, but in the massive H2 the air-conditioning is blasting and their XM satellite radio is tuned to the circuit party tracks of station 81 BPM. Blond, TV-star handsome Dean is driving, while Philip -- who's darkly handsome in an Italian way and looks as if maybe he's had some work done, but I'm afraid to ask -- rides shotgun. They are telling me the story of how they met back in 2000.

It's a winding tale that plays out like a high-class screwball comedy set in latter-day gay L.A., but basically it goes like this. Meet Dean, 44, who grew up with a single mom in the San Fernando Valley and made a modest fortune by 27 after selling a textile company he owned. Now meet Philip, 43, who grew up in a prosperous, tight-knit Italian-American family in Brooklyn and moved West to start an interior design business with his first boyfriend. Eight years ago they were both at the grim tail ends of long-term relationships, burned by their respective partners' various sexual and financial deceptions but not sure how to cut the cord, when they met at a Cinco de Mayo party aboard the yacht of a mutual friend. Ironically, it was Philip's former partner who introduced them.

Philip does most of the narrating (only because Dean is driving, he says, but in truth he does about 80% of the talking for the pair): 'My boyfriend said, 'Come over, I want you to meet Dean,' ' he says. 'And at that point something happened to both of us where flirtation began. It was subtle, but both of us knew it was happening.'

Soon after came the 'just friends' dinner in what Philip calls 'this romantic Italian restaurant in West Hollywood,' then the fateful weekend in Catalina Island aboard a friend's multiroom queen yacht with both their boyfriends absent. Philip not so innocently offered to share his one-bed room with Dean, and within minutes of arriving they both, um, somehow ended up in the shower together.

Nine months later they moved in together in the retiree retreat'turned'trendy gay desert Shangri-la of Palm Springs (where Philip already lived). In 2003 they bought an 11,000-square-foot mid-century mansion once owned by former Batman TV star Adam West. It has a mushroom-shaped pool that comes right up to the front room's sliding glass doors. There they hosted innumerable parties and benefits, including those (replete with leashed docile lions and tigers) for the Wildlife WayStation, a refuge for hundreds of unwanted exotic animals, which they are currently helping to relocate from the foothills north of L.A. to Palm Springs. They started a commercial interior design business called Flaunt. (In fact, we're driving to L.A. today on a few business calls.) When Philip's aged parents, who lived nearby, became too frail to live alone, they moved them into the mansion's guesthouse, where Dean would visit them every morning and sit with them every evening until Phil's father, Roland, died in 2006, and his mother, Mary, died last year.

In 2004, surrounded by press, they were married in San Francisco in the gold rush of gay marriages green-lighted by the city's mayor, Gavin Newsom, before the state supreme court ruled the unions null and void. They then exchanged Tiffany rings they wear to this day.

Phil recalls their first year together: 'We were in love. We had sex all the time. We still have sex every day.'

Every day? I ask, incredulous.

'Sometimes twice,' says Dean.

'There's something to be said for monogamism,' says Phil. The two say they are 100% faithful despite numerous circuit party propositions for three-ways and four-ways, though Dean -- who, unlike Philip, claims a younger period of playing the field -- says he sometimes wishes he could have sex with 'two of Phil.'

For among the first of hundreds of times over the next five or six hectic days, their iPhone goes off, a spooky UFO-type ringtone that always lends a strange note of foreboding into their manic, upbeat lives. It's one of countless calls between them and the Parker Palm Springs, the swank, recently redesigned hotel compound that's hosting their wedding reception and sheltering them in a villa, while they move from their Adam West house to another mid-century jewel in a more centralized but also posh part of town.

So they share an iPhone?

'We have different phones, but on many occasions we'll have all the phones forwarded to this one,' says Phil.

'We're always together,' says Dean. As they later walk me through a typical day -- early-morning java at Palm Springs' gay meeting house, a caf' called Koffi; a workout with their trainer, Jill, and meals every two hours per her orders; trips into L.A. to meet and dine with clients; dinner and parties back in the Springs with their gay or gay-friendly social circle -- I begin to realize this seems more or less true. Everyone I talk to confirms it; they are inseparable, more like one unit -- let's call them Philandean -- than two people in one relationship. They are almost never spotted apart.

Don't they ever want time alone?

'No,' Dean says bluntly. 'I don't like it.' Dean has a habit of reaching out and touching Philip all over, looking at him with the same uncomplicated flat-out need of a 6-year-old for his mother.

And they do seem to have fun together, hitting most of the big circuit parties in the United States and clubbing till the wee hours many weekends, if not every single weekend. It was circuit vet Dean who got Phil into the scene just a few years ago -- before that, Phil would sneer at the people who 'go home from the White Party all cracked-out.' But Dean begged him, so he went. 'I said, 'My God, this is so great -- everyone's so nice,' ' Phil says.

'Dean's more extroverted than I am,' he adds somewhat unconvincingly. 'When we were in L.A. this weekend, he told everybody on the dance floor -- it didn't matter if it was midnight or 3 or 7 in the morning -- he would bring these people over to me in droves and say, 'This is my fianc'.' And then he'd go out and about. Dean's very good at making friends.'

The California court's decision will be put to a popular referendum this November. Ultimately, the people -- the mostly straight people -- of the Golden State will decide if gay marriage lasts. At this point, days before gay unions become legal, polls show that just a bit more than half of the state's polled voters say they're OK with it, which bodes well. But in Palm Springs and statewide, the gays know they're being watched keenly for the images they project: Will they be wholesome ones of gay couples who are 'just like you'? Or freakish mass ceremonies, leather queens, drag spectacles, and lesbian butch-femme mockeries of a sacred union? I soon find out that everyone's sensitive about not putting these 'stereotypes' on the media radar.

Including Phil and Dean, who make it clear to me they see themselves as above the drag-and-leather fray. But I can't help wondering whether two hard-partying, muscled-up, Hummer-driving, ostentatiously DINK-like (major double-income, no kids wanted -- beyond Rex, their cute Tibetan terrier) circuit boys (who also drive a Jag and a Rolls) make good ambassadors for California's gay nuptials lobby, even if they have hearts of gold (which, I find, they basically do) and even if they're more inseparable than my own parents, who've been married 40 years. To answer that, I've crashed their lives. For the next five days it's Philandean's world, and I -- plus a massive coterie of family, friends, hired help, and reporters -- just live in it.

A week before gay marriage goes live here, the excitement's crackling in the air, not least because, as a recession hovers, a study from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law has calculated that gay marriage will bring nearly $700 million to the state's marriage industry and $65 million to the state budget over the next three years. Palm Springs (now about 35% gay by the estimate of its gay mayor, Steve Pougnet) is a once-decaying, now-thriving mid-century-modern landscape that gays have almost single-handedly rehabbed, and it wants a piece of the action. Historically a retreat for honeymooning heteros, the city has now launched a website, MarriedinPalmSprings.com, aimed at same-sex couples that promises everything from package deals to a how-to on getting marriage licenses. 'I can't imagine any place more perfect to marry,' reads a quote on the site from the good-looking Pougnet, who plans to marry his own partner of 16 years in the fall.

It's safe to say that Philandean can't imagine any pair more perfect than themselves to flack for gay marriage here either. They tell me that the city's previous mayor (Ron Oden, also gay) told them after their 2004 marriage was voided that if California ever legalized gay marriage, he wanted them to be Palm Springs' first gay couple to wed. 'We're not producing this wedding to be a mediafest,' Phil tells me. 'It's a good thing for the city.'

On the way back we stop at the Wildlife WayStation. Dean is on its board, but it's actually run by their good friend, a charming French-born Hollywood producer's ex-wife named Martine Colette. She lives in a tchotchke-packed bungalow on the property, where she lets a baby chimp roam around freely, though not today. She accompanies us around the WayStation in kitten heels, a glass of white wine in her hand, walking us past huge cage complexes that house tigers, lions, foxes, and bears -- all of them unwanted pets or rejects from zoos and labs. Most of them laze about. Only the chimps go crazy when we approach; one tries in vain to hit us from 12 feet away with a mouthful of water.

Leaving the WayStation, Phil looks at his reflection and laments about missing the gym amid the wedding hoopla.

'Look how little I'm getting,' he says.

'I can barely see you,' Dean says.

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