“A Gay Wedding?” I asked Gerd in German. It was late April; we had just ordered our suits—comparable blue ones, mine blue with a silver vest and his blue gray—and we were discussing plans for our July wedding in our apartment in Berlin where we had lived together for the past four months. Invitations were in the mail; we had made arrangements to meet with the caterer for our evening boat cruise, the florist, and the pastry chef, and we had begun to organize a social calendar for those guests coming to Berlin from other parts of Germany and the U.S., including my 22-year old daughter.
A little background: at the end of June 2017 I had retired as a high school history teacher and planned an eight-month journey to figure out my next steps. On Sunday, July 2nd I landed in Berlin for six weeks. I am a divorced, 61-year old man with two adult children. A week after arriving in Berlin, through GayRomeo (now called PlanetRomeo), I met Gerd, and by the end of the month I decided to take a chance and relocate to Berlin, from Boston, where I had lived for more than thirty years. I wanted to see where this budding relationship with this wonderful man would take us. (The word “boyfriend” in English fails to capture a relationship for adult men; in German “Mann” works much better.)
Within a few months it was clear to both of us that whatever risks were present had morphed wonderfully into the chance for a new life; in January 2018—after a few months of living together—we decided to get married. We both wanted the security that marriage would provide—and Gerd proposed on July 8th, the first anniversary of our initial “date.” In early February we began to assemble paperwork, and by early March we could plan a wedding, although we would not get the final date until late April.
During the planning phase, I had asked Gerd what kind of wedding he wanted: “Rainbows on the cake, a gorgeous twenty-something hunk to shock your 88-year old mother”? Clearly Gerd wanted something to distinguish our wedding from that of a typical straight couple. What he wanted was a wedding whose subtle undertones were clearly gay. We enlisted the help of Gerd’s old friends Joerg and Bernd, who had been in life partnership for years and loved to plan!
We quickly decided to anchor each portion of the day with music that was meaningful to gay men, starting with the afternoon ceremony at the Registry, a reception at our apartment, and an evening boat celebration. The two songs that would do so perfectly at the Registry were Bob Dylan’s “He’s Funny that Way” and Werner Bochmann’s “Das Wird Ein Fruehling Ohne Ende” (“It will be an Endless Spring”). Other songs included Frank Sinatra’s “I Only Have Eyes for You” and Elton John’s “Song for Guy. Background music for the reception was from Philip Glass and Mozart’sPiano Concerto No. 21.
With the help of the pastry chef, we chose a light chocolate cake: a Herrentorte, literally a Gentlemen’s Cake. Decorations included marzipan representations of our intertwined rings—also the motif on our invitations and napkins—and marzipan sculptures of us. (Yes, we had a sense of humor, as the pastry chef had asked us!)
Our speeches would be a clear sign that this was a gay wedding. Interestingly, Gerd’s comments referred to German politics. Our marriage was only possible due to politics, since gay marriage had been legal in Germany for only a year. My comments were emotional, because I needed the handkerchiefs that magically appeared at my disposal. The seating of the 63 guests was a balance of those who knew Gerd and/or me and language. And yes, we had a gay table! We each planned to throw our bouquet.
Ultimately for both of us, men in our sixties, marrying was in fact a statement. Gerd was “finally” settling down, and I was giving myself a second chance and marrying a man this time, the man I loved deeply and who loved me. As both of us said many times that day, we were each marrying the man with whom we grow old.”
James Diskant, Ph.D., is a historian and a retired high school government and world history teacher. Since his retirement he has been working on a number of projects, including a manuscript on men who came out later in life, working in the archive of the Schwules Museum in Berlin, and writing curricula and giving workshops for history teachers. He is now enjoying his expatriate status in Berlin where he moved from Boston in October 2017.