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Its 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 states supreme court. Im 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. Theyre 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 -- whos darkly handsome in an Italian way and looks as if maybe hes had some work done, but Im afraid to ask -- rides shotgun. They are telling me the story of how they met back in 2000.
Its 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 Philips 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 friends 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 retreatturnedtrendy 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 rooms 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, were driving to L.A. today on a few business calls.) When Philips aged parents, who lived nearby, became too frail to live alone, they moved them into the mansions guesthouse, where Dean would visit them every morning and sit with them every evening until Phils 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 citys 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.
Theres 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. Its one of countless calls between them and the Parker Palm Springs, the swank, recently redesigned hotel compound thats 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 well have all the phones forwarded to this one, says Phil.
Were 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 -- lets call them Philandean -- than two people in one relationship. They are almost never spotted apart.
Dont they ever want time alone?
No, Dean says bluntly. I dont 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 -- everyones so nice, Phil says.
Deans 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 didnt 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 hed go out and about. Deans very good at making friends.
The California courts 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 states polled voters say theyre OK with it, which bodes well. But in Palm Springs and statewide, the gays know theyre 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 everyones 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 cant 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 Californias gay nuptials lobby, even if they have hearts of gold (which, I find, they basically do) and even if theyre more inseparable than my own parents, whove been married 40 years. To answer that, Ive crashed their lives. For the next five days its Philandeans 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 excitements 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 states 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 cant 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.
Its safe to say that Philandean cant imagine any pair more perfect than themselves to flack for gay marriage here either. They tell me that the citys 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. Were not producing this wedding to be a mediafest, Phil tells me. Its a good thing for the city.
On the way back we stop at the Wildlife WayStation. Dean is on its board, but its actually run by their good friend, a charming French-born Hollywood producers 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 Im getting, he says.
I can barely see you, Dean says.
The next day were sitting in the colossal, near-empty front room of the house Philandean are moving out of. While two hired women pack up their kitchen and a Mexican guy cleans the pool, Philandean chat with Jamie and Cindy, a peppy young lesbian couple theyve hired to video their wedding. Phil does most of the talking. Dean, who has a hard time focusing on one thing for too long, seems distracted; he keeps taking iPhone pictures of Rex under the table and frequently wanders off.
I want this to look more documentary-form, not a wedding video, says Phil. I want it to be like youre watching an important moment in time. He says he wants copies of the video to go out to every gay youth organization in the country. This is going to help the kids that are dreaming about being married, he says. Were not really doing this so much for us. Some kid in the Midwest will see this and think, You know what? This isnt a bad thing.
Jamie and Cindy agree. In fact, they had a commitment ceremony of their own recently at Philandeans, and they plan to marry in November. Do you also have a still photographer? Jamie asks Philandean.
Ours is going to move around a lot, Dean cracks.
That night Philandean take me to dinner at Look, a gayish caf, where we talk more about their monogamous sex life. Deans usually the top, they tell me (somehow, its a snap for me to see gabby Phil as a bossy bottom), but after a long night of dancing Phil will sometimes oblige and flip. Then we go dancing at Hunters, where Phil invites everyone they chat with to their wedding reception on Tuesday.
Around midnight we go to another club, Oasis, located in a shopping plaza. Phil buys me a huge Red Bull with a straw with a light in it that rises when you suck. Philandean say the place should get crowded, but in the end it turns into a fairly uncrowded night of dancing until about 3 with some of their friends, including a cute couple named Maui and Joseph, plus Philandeans high-energy trainer, Jill, who wears outrageous skimpy chain mailtype outfits to show off her taut body, and her friendly husband, Steve, also a trainer, who looks like a gay muscle daddy in his tight, clubby shirt.
Philandean take their shirts off, and in the spirit of the moment I join them. At one point, with Phil off somewhere, a guy Dean and I are chatting with puts his hand on Deans lower back, and -- in the spirit of the moment, I guess! -- I do the same. Moments later Phil is back, asking if Im having a good time.
The next morning at 8:30 they text me: Koffi? I decline and go back to sleep, partly because I want to be totally fresh for my noonish visit to the home of Mayor Steve Pougnet, whos also a realtor and lives with his partner, Chris Green, who works for a biotech firm. Twin 2-year-olds, Beckham and Julia, whom they had through a surrogate, and two yellow Labradors, Sidney and Sophie, complete their household.
Philandean have raved about Steve to me. Upon meeting Chris and him -- and their two almost unjustly beautiful towheaded kids in their dazzlingly new, massive neo-modernist home -- Im a little taken aback. Steve, dressed in a polo shirt, khaki shorts, and mule-type mandals, makes a point to tell me hed made no special moves to get Philandean Palm Springss first-married slot. He merely promised to marry whoever signed up first with the county clerk, he says, and it happened to be Philandean (with a little help from their friend, the ex-mayor Ron Oden). He also tells me hes marrying eight other gay couples that week.
Palm Springs has always been a getaway for honeymooners, and now we get to rebrand that, Steve says. Whats more, he adds, so many gay couples are raising kids in the Springs that hes started a support group, the Pride Parents Association. In fact, the gay couple next door is raising triplets. As for Philandeans high-profile knot-tying, the mayor doesnt seem so rah-rah. The most important part of the story is that they love each other, he says. They mean well.
The next day Philandean and I go to City Hall to go over their civil ceremony with Mayor Steve. En route we get on the topic of images of drag and leather queens ending up in the news tomorrow. This topic has been coming up a lot; the day before, at a weekly gay pool party at the Hotel Zoso where Philandean wore matching cowboy hats in the pool, Marty Rouse (the national field director for Human Rights Campaign) told me he was in town in part to make sure that, to the best of his ability, the images projected on Tuesday are ones of joy and celebration that most people in California could relate to their sons and daughters.
Philandean say, not for the first time, that they hope such folks -- such as a longtime local gay male threesome who, Philandean say, have joked about wanting their marriage rights -- dont steal the show.
I work up the nerve to ask: Do they ever worry that they might be perceived as stereotypes? You knowas, um, decadent circuit queens?
Theres a pause. Circuit guys are successful, good-looking, attractive, Dean finally says.
I like to think of it as the A-list, Phil says.
But, I mean, compared to a gay version of a Brady Bunchtype household, like the mayors, I say.
They evolved into that, Phil says cryptically. We knew them when.
For about the 20th time on my visit Dean asks Phil for a hair check. Am I pretty? he asks.
But Phil seems distracted by my question. Ive never perceived myself as that, he says, meaning a stereotype. Does that mean I have to buy Polo?
Its not comfortable to dress preppy right now, says Dean, referring to the scalding Palm Springs summers. I think we always look pretty sexy.
At City Hall, Mayor Steve is wearing, sure enough, another Ralph Lauren polo and his mandals, this time with long khakis. How are you going to announce us? Phil asks.
United in marriage, Mayor Steve says.
Phil says they were hoping for I now pronounce you husband and husband. The mayor repeats: I was going to say united in marriage.
Thats great, Philandean say in dutiful unison.
Phil says that one paper wrote that their union was going to be a precedent.
Its a precedent all over the state, the mayor responds dryly. He then runs down the ceremony script with them and when they should say I do and such. We should be done in two minutes, he says.
So I dont have to memorize anything? Dean asks. (He cant read text for too long without getting a headache, hes told me.) Nope, says the mayor.
It sounds like ours will be the first full-blown formal wedding in the state, says Phil. This is something they repeat often to family, friends, press -- anyone, really. The Parker is giving them a 30% discount in return for all the publicity, but the whole bill, including putting some family and friends up at the hotel, will still come to nearly $30,000, they tell me.
The mayor reminds them that, at 5:01 that afternoon (when gay marriages become legal), Mayor Newsom in San Francisco is marrying Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, 80-something gay rights pioneers whove been together 55 years.
Theres a pause. Good for them, Philip finally says. And HRC will distribute our video for us to gay youth? he asks.
Yep, yep, the mayor answers.
We want them all to grow up to be like Phil, Dean says.
Walking out, Dean says of the mayor, Hes aged a lot in a year. He used to socialize with us a lot. Phil agrees.
We stop by a medical center, where Philandean leave me in the Hummer. They are in the process of merging their assets, and Dean has to pick up blood work to show that hes competent to handle his own financial and legal affairs. It all relates to the same reason Dean cant read anything for very long without getting a headache: He was born with hydrocephalus, Philandean had explained to me our first day together. Its a buildup of fluid in the brain that was routinely fatal until a means was developed to shunt the fluid from the brain to the stomach -- a procedure that accounts for a large, somewhat sexy scar that Dean has on his neck. Since the procedure he occasionally has seizures in his sleep that leave his thinking hazy for a few days afterward. Thats why Dean stayed so long in his last relationship even once he knew the guy was messing with him financially -- he was afraid to be alone because of his condition. It took him awhile to realize he could trust Phil completely.
They come back to the Hummer. The penis enlargement worked! announces Phil.
Its a little bit before 8 a.m. in the hall in front of the glass window of the county clerks desk in Indio, about 40 minutes from Palm Springs, and happy pandemonium reigns. A crush of reporters and photographers lean in as Philandean, dressed in dark suits (Deans D&G, Phils Armani) and pale yellow ties, fill out the paperwork for their marriage license. Looking on as witnesses are Phils 89-year-old Aunt Millie, who lives nearby and is adorable in her glasses with rhinestone crucifixes on the side, and Deans blond mom, Winona, who lives in L.A. and has been married to her fifth husband for 16 years now. Later, Winona tells me that years ago she honored Deans childhood request for an Easy-Bake oven and then defended him to his teasing brothers. Jill and Steve and Maui and Joe are there too.
Once the paperwork is complete, Philandean, holding hands, lead the 50-person crowd out onto the grass in front of the courthouse. Marriage, they are told by Mayor Steve, is not to be entered into lightly, but reverently, discreetly, and in true love. Each says to the other, brandishing the Tiffany bands theyd bought for the 2004 nuptials, With this ring, I thee wed and pledge to you my faith and love. Phil cries openly while Dean grins like a little boy. Mayor Steve announces them united in marriage, and to my happy surprise -- given the throng of mainstream press -- hugs and kisses them. Phil throws a fist in the air, Rocky-style. We did it! he cries. Everyone applauds. Philandean then do about a dozen interviews -- I think people will understand that were as normal as everyone and we have the same rights, Phil tells one reporter -- before everyone retreats to their cars. I watch Philandean walk, hand in hand, across the parking lot in their dark suits, a rare moment alone for them. In a sense, Im taking them seriously for the first time.
That night is what Philandean call the spiritual ceremony and reception at the Parker. About 150 people, many of them muscle gays in tight shirts, sit on either side of the aisle in a pretty function room. I sit next to Philandeans semilegendary friend Liz Conner, a senior citizen who left her husband decades ago for the gay dance club life and lived nearly six happy years with a bisexual guy before he died of AIDS complications. She met Philandean at their White Party recovery party.
Everyone hushes as the song Philan-dean have chosen, Aerosmiths I Dont Want to Miss a Thing from Armageddon, comes on. Philandean walk down the aisle holding hands, then stand together, flanked by Millie and Winona and their best men in from L.A., couple Brendon Carroll and Joseph Chandler. Ron Oden presides, and again the public image theme comes up: Were calling on you to be an example, the ex-mayor says, so that 50 years from now they will still find you listed in the married column, and happily so. Oden says that the public sees gay men as being obsessed with the physical. I snicker inwardly when he reminds them that good sex in a marriage is short-lived. Thats when love steps in.
Philandean then read their vows. I remember hearing such things as autonomy and people not needing others, as it was a terrible weakness, Dean reads, his hands shaking. Well, I have learned with you that not wanting to be without someone is the most incredible feeling that anyone could ever feel. Im taken aback by the emotional bluntness of his words, however imperfect, and my eyes well. Its hard not to choke up and cry along with Phil when he tells Dean, You surround me in love. You loved my parents as though they were your own -- and you guide me and help me to expand who I am. I promise to honor you in word and deed.
Oden says, It gives me great pleasure to present to you the family of Dean Seymour and Philip Colavito. Philandean get a standing ovation from us. This is where the party begins, Phil crows. Liz leans over to me: This is where their shirts come off.
Liz called it. About 20 minutes into the reception, with a DJ friend spinning circuit music, Philandean and Brendon and Joseph start posing for the cameras with their shirts off. Probably the best moment is when the first tier of the gorgeous five-tier $1,800 wedding cake -- rich with chocolate, fresh cream, banana and raspberries, and topped with figurines of two grooms, one blond, one dark-haired -- slides on its base and collapses. Phil scoops up a handful and shoves it into Deans mouth, then they make out. Pretty soon everyones feeding themselves and one another cake with their fingers, and it feels like the kind of sexy, all-in-the-family fun that Philandean have forged into their personal brand.
The next morning, a few hours before I leave, Im hanging out with Philandean in their gift-laden Parker villa, where the indefatigable Jamie and Cindy are still videotaping. Later that day the Los Angeles Times reports that in just the first two days of legal same-sex marriage, California has issued nearly 4,000 marriage licenses -- more than whats usually issued over a whole week in June. Riverside County alone saw a spike of nearly 1,000%: to 493 from a June weekly average of 45. And thats just the beginning; the Williams Institute study is predicting that half of the states 103,000 gay couples will marry in the next three years (if same-sex marriage remains legal) and that nearly 70,000 gay couples from out of state will come to California to do the same.
As for Philandean, a Google News search of their names yields hundreds of links, and they seem elated at the coverage. I ask how they felt about a Times piece that called them not typical grooms; they met on a yacht, co-own a design firm, and until recently lived in an 11,000-square-foot estate. Are they aware that they arent quite representative of most gay couples because theyre so wealthy?
Thats not true, though, says Phil.
All of our friends are wealthy, says Dean.
Or wealthier, says Phil. We have friends in every station in life. As long as theyre good to us and were good to them, thats all we care about.
Were very protective of the underdog, says Dean. Whether it be a homeless person or --
A dog, Phil finishes. I dont think we are that wealthy either.
Before I go to the airport we drive to Old Las Palmas, a lush Beverly Hillstype part of town, and drive by their new house, which we cant enter because its still occupied. Since theyre between homes now, having fully packed everything from the old house, theyll be shacking up for a week at the Hilton, another swank hotel where Ive been staying. I cant really see the new house because its hidden behind sculpted hedges and a yellow brick wall with Moroccan doors, but they say its small compared to their old one despite having five bedrooms and five baths.
In the backseat of the Hummer, I look down at the place where Phils cousin Alice had held the photo of Phils mother, Mary, as they all drove to Indio for the marriage, because Philandean wanted Mary with them. Moments ago, Phil, whose older brother was killed in a car accident when Phil was 7, had told me hed learned only a few years ago that his father, whod been married to his mother for 72 years, had also been unfaithful to her for many years. Hed learned this from a FedExd letter from the family of the woman with whom his father had had an affair.
Did he write them back? Was he angry? Not really, he said. People make mistakes. I was in the worst relationship in the world for nine years.
Now he turns to his relationship of the past eight years, one half of Palm Springss partly self-appointed poster couple for the defense of same-sex marriage -- something that California gays must quickly convince their straight neighbors is normal and fair, even if the straight folks can legally wed amid any kind of garish, freaky ceremony they choose; even if they met that night; even if theyre not in love.
Can we go have coffee? Phil whines.
Dean does a hair check. I look like shit, he says.
You look beautiful.