Notes on a brief marriage

9 May

1. I spent both my last night as a married man and my first night as a divorced man in my ex’s bed. Not my ex-wife’s bed, mind you, but the bed of the ex I lived with for four years. (He wasn’t in it; I was housesitting for him and watching the dogs whose lives were also once intertwined with mine.)

2. She is my ex-wife; he is simply my ex. I can’t call him my ex-husband, afer all, yet in practice he was more of a husband to me than she was a wife. Still, she was, undeniably, my wife. Though she aroused none of the passions he did, and she and I lived apart and only communicated sparingly, mostly via texts and tweets, I felt a nervous sense of duty toward her that I’ve only felt toward my ex — never toward men with whom I haven’t cohabitated. Something about going through the process together did that.

3. Our marriage was a trust exercise. We knew almost nothing about each other, yet we chose not to draw up prenuptial agreements or to annul the marriage after the onstage performance. We were vulnerable to each other, each responsible for the other if a medical emergency had occurred; she had my computer passwords and we each had each other’s Social Security number and information about each other’s incomes. Either of us could have approached the divorce more combatively, and Reese would have had ample ammunition after learning my past as an escort — and my reentry into the profession — and my disastrous experience with crystal meth. At the very least, she could have chosen to annul instead of divorcing upon learning the news. But she didn’t.

4. Legally, our case was Britt vs. Britt, because Texas automatically gave Reese my last name despite our vows reflecting our wish that I add hers to mine. The state makes the decision for you; Reese, who per our agreement was the one suing me for divorce, also had to petition the court to let her change her name back to Darby. However, when he summoned us to the judge’s chambers, my otherwise by-the-book father-in-law called us Mr. and Mrs. Darby.

5. While ceremonies are an important part of marriage — mine had a cathartic effect on me, leading to my coming out about my colorful past and launching a 10,000-mile journey — actually undergoing civil marriage as an artwork makes you vulnerable in a way that simply staging the ceremony doesn’t.

6. A marriage as an artwork can be both a travesty and something rather sweet, idealistic and sincere at the same time.

7. The intention to make art is as good a reason to get married as any other.

8. Although the wedding was on the stage of a gay strip bar, it was officiated by an ordained minister; sending back the marriage license with his signature completed the marriage legally. Yet the judge’s signature alone was required to dissolve the marriage. From a legal standpoint our divorce ceremony, at which the same minister officiated, was superfluous, whereas the wedding ceremony was an essential ingredient, regardless of its setting. Clergy could help legally bond us to one another, but only the state could sever that bond.

9. In fact, once the minister signed the marriage license, the Universal Life Church and I were effectively through with each other. The marriage’s countours were much more defined by our interactions with the government, whether obtaining the license, filing for divorce, filing taxes “married filing separately” but still needing to fill out each other’s personal information on our own forms, being targeted for an insurance scam aimed at newlyweds by a company who got our address from the county clerk’s office, or, of course, going to court to end the marriage. Another reason our marriage was civil as well as ceremonial.

10. By marrying onstage, Reese and I physically elevated ourselves above the crowd, reflecting the social and legal elevation our wedding gave us over gay couples. At Leon’s Lounge, we divorced standing on the same floor, and therefore the same plane, as everyone else, effectively stepping down from our privileged perch to renounce the 1,138 federal rights of marriage.

11. People hope to complete themselves by getting married, but I didn’t expect my marriage to complete me. That’s what it did, though, by bringing my various, previously compartmentalized worlds together. That’s why I’m staying Devon Britt-Darby even after the divorce, integrating my family name with my artistic identities and acknowleding what milestones the marriage and divorce are.

12. The marriage was one social sculpture, my return to escorting another. Besides the fact that the former spawned the latter, they are separate pieces except to the extent that doing the latter during my 10,000-mile road trip added a few more layers of absurdity to the way Texas and the United States privileged our marriage over those of same-sex couples.

13. Much happened during our marriage to reinforce the piece’s social commentary and art criticism. Numerous politicians raised the very slippery-slope argument The Art Guys’ mock wedding had paralleled, most notably in this instance. And Michele Bachmann said gays were free to marry people of the opposite sex. (Hey Marcus: We’re free to divorce people of the opposite sex, too.) To top it all off, on our first full days as newly single people, North Carolina passed a consitutional amendment banning both gay marriage and civil unions. (Update: And on our second full day as newly single people, the president announced his support of gay marriage conceptually but said he still favored letting states decide for themselves to discriminate.) Our marriage was very much of its time.

14. It is possible to experience the institution’s transformative power in a time-limited marriage that returns one to single life a better person.

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