State of the Union
Love and Commitment Department
As a gift for the guests of their wedding this past Saturday, Chris Sauter and Rick Frederick burned a mix CD. On the CD’s cover is a photograph of their house on the city’s East Side, and its musical contents run the gamut from Erasure (“Stop!”) to R.E.M. (“At My Most Beautiful”) to Mark Chesnutt (“Lost in the Feeling”). The last song on the mix is “All Right” by San Antonio’s own Christopher Cross, and on the liner notes, Sauter and Frederick designate the 1983 ditty as “our song, unfortunately.”
When pressed about this, Rick Frederick responds with a Facebook post:
“ … We met on Navy Pier [in Chicago] in May 2003. In May 2004 Chris and I returned to the place of our meeting, and he held out his hand and asked if I would consider marrying him some day. I said “sure” and put the ring on. There happened to have been a pause in the music piped throughout the pier. After a sigh and a wistful gaze across the water to the flock of seagulls lifting in flight ... Christopher Cross piped in with “All Right.”
I turned to my Chris and said, “You realize that that is now ‘our’ song, don’t you?”
He said, “No it’s not.”
I said “Yes.”
And he said, “Damn it.”
There’s a metaphor in this. “Our song” winds up not the one you like most, but instead a vaguely embarrassing little number that drifts out of some PA system on Navy Pier. Yet because the song punctuates a profound personal moment with a little grace note of humor, it sticks with you forever. “All Right.” So nothing is ever perfectly ideal, but more’s the beauty.
A similar musical happenstance animated Rick and Chris’s wedding ceremony, too; as friends and loved ones stood under the blazing afternoon sun of an Eastside public park across the street from their house, just after presentations and signing of legal documents prepared by the couple’s friend and lawyer, Mike Casey, and after very moving speeches by each of the groom’s brothers and by several friends … an ice cream truck arrived. Its speakers blared a bizarre medley — first “Fur Elise,” then the theme from The Godfather. The dearly beloved paused in their oratory, figuring the truck would move on.
The truck’s driver, meanwhile, likely held fervent hopes that somebody in this crowd would want to purchase an orange Pop Up. This standoff continued for some minutes, the congregation looking around at one another, giggling, and back at the ice-cream truck. The driver gazed back at us, perplexed. “Do-Re-Mi” from The Sound of Music began to play, and folks started to sing along. Ethel Shipton, a close friend of both grooms and one of the wedding speakers, trotted back to the truck to explain we were a goldang wedding party. The ice-cream truck then had some trouble backing up and turning around, but finally shoved off.
“It was perfect, like organ music!” one guest opined.
“Their recessional!” said another.
Chris and Rick had primed us for the unexpected, come to think of it. The wedding’s theme was a community potluck, with food, music, and games all provided by friends and family. We were the caterers, the bartenders, the florists, the celebrants, the witnesses, the entertainment: Nate Cassie, artist and Ethel Shipton’s husband, emceed the ceremony; Mike Casey stood in perfectly for our imperfect Texas law, as it now stands; Chuck Ramirez designed the invitations (which included a dictionary definition of “potluck” and an exhortation to wear “rolled pants and sundresses”); fellow East Sider Cruz Ortiz crafted the signage. Buttercup, the In and Outlaws, and Sid St. Onge of Fear Snakeface sang and played, and we danced.
The food included a Chuck Ramirez pork roast, Venison Chili Frito Pies by Nate Cassie and Ethel Shipton, countless cold salads and cornbreads and vegetables made and brought by family and friends, and a glorious, sculptural cake, which recalled a tumble of cushions, made by the wedding couple themselves.
“Our idea was that we had a ceremony, I suppose — but in my mind, at least, everything was a ceremony,” Chris Sauter said later. “People deciding what to bring, and bringing the food, the people coming together, it’s all a ceremony, I didn’t wanna pull it apart.”
The wedding industry looms like a digital billboard over the American personal landscape. The dream wedding of Disney Princess magnitude is the mainstream order of the day, with the emphasis on the banquet hall, the dress, the catering, the bride’s meticulous cosmetic perfection. This is why so many weddings can be such a colossal drag to attend; the guests participate not so much in a heartfelt community celebration as in a group gape at a consumer spectacle — witness the televisual trope of the Bridezilla, the chick-flicks about wedding dates and wedding wars, the magazines, the endless anxiety and preoccupation with the artificially traditional. It’s our one-time shot at full-on lifestyle branding.
“With traditional weddings, it’s an ‘us and them’ kind of a thing,” Chris says. “In our potluck wedding, we’re all in it together.”
Chris and Rick decided to make their wedding as large, as public, and as accessible as possible. There were two main reasons for this.
“It’s because of the community we live in, is where the potluck idea came from,” Rick Frederick says. “We come together and make these events happen. It’s the way we live … allowing [the wedding] to be as large of an event as possible came from the fact that whoever heard about it, they got excited. … You become kind of responsible. We didn’t wanna exclude anyone. It became necessary, then, to accommodate.”
Rick and Chris are both public-type people. Chris is a well-known artist and a faculty member at St. Philip’s College, and Rick is an actor, having appeared in numerous acclaimed local productions, most recently in the AtticRep rendition of Edward Albee’s The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?, for which Chris designed the revelatory sets. As a couple, they attend countless local art happenings and exhibitions, lending their support and talents to the art community, the theater community, their Eastside neighborhood, the LGBT community. The wedding guests included visual artists, actors, young families, neighbors, teachers, and gay statespeople such as art activist Gene Elder, gay-rights pioneer Carol Lee Klose, and writer Gregg
Which brings us to the second reason why Chris and Rick’s wedding felt so spontaneously original, so devoid of empty rote gesture.
“All that tradition is based on a mindset that keeps us from marrying legally,” Chris says. “There was a conscious decision to not do those things just because they’re supposed to be done. So we pick and choose — those things that resonated with us that were traditional, we kept. Things that didn’t, we let go. It was a nontraditional wedding, because we’re not allowed to have one.”
“In another situation, this could be an act of activism,” Rick adds, “but one of the blessings about not being able to be allowed to get married is that we’re allowed to negotiate our gender roles on a daily basis. We deal with each other as individuals … Which allows us to remain human and just be.” He adds, “the essence of marriage, for us — it was us making a commitment in the community — we’re having a hard time using the word ‘witness,’ because the dictionary definition isn’t as active as we want the role to be.”
Rick and Chris didn’t want an audience of admirers, but a congregation of connected humans to whom they feel accountable. They took a long time getting to the speckled shade of the mesquite tree under which they exchanged rings. After meeting in Chicago — Chris was doing an exhibition as part of the Chicago Art Fair, and Rick worked for the fair’s director — they spent the first year-and-a-half of their relationship in long-distance mode. They would meet up in Paris or in Boston, with Rick spending an experimental month in San Antonio, then Chris spending a month in Chicago. Michigan-born Rick eventually made the move to our city in 2005, since Chris’s studio is here and, frankly, Texans are notorious for dragging our mates homeward (Chris grew up in Boerne). It wasn’t an easy transition, and Rick kept his Chicago apartment for the first six months while he adjusted to our slower pace and crazy heat, thinking, “If things don’t get better, I can always go home.”
But things got better, and home is here now, in a beautiful little house just across from the park where their ceremony was held, where their community stood in the blinding sunshine, beaming at them. When Chris and Rick talk about it, their voices are hushed with wonder.
“I didn’t expect to look out in the crowd and be so overwhelmed by everyone there, supporting us,” Chris says. “For me it was a concept of a potluck, but then to see this concept taken up by everybody… it was so powerfully moving, that’s why I started crying right away.”
“There was something so very real about it,” his husband agrees. “I don’t want to use words like ‘better’ or ‘stronger,’ but I do feel there’s a certain confidence or security that came from that.”
Plus, it was just a hell of a lot of fun. Several people wore excellent hats, many of them cowboy. Young children ate cake and played with the bocce-ball set in the park while grownups drank champagne in the shed or exchanged chisme in the side yard as the sun set. It was a grand wedding, a country festival, an all-day fete. A taco truck swung by as it grew dark, and dogs cavorted.
On Monday, Rick sent me the ceremonial toast by their good friend, artist Andréa Caillouet:
“ ... I realized that our group participation in helping Chris and Rick create the ceremony that is perfect for them and who they are, has two additional beneficial outcomes. First is that we have all become personally invested both in this day and in their marriage. Secondly, I see this day as an opportunity to understand and celebrate all of us. An opportunity to celebrate the generosity of spirit, as well as the uniqueness and authenticity of the community we have all created together. The law may not recognize this union, but we do. It is our shared beliefs and our shared priorities that have made this San Antonio, our San Antonio, possible.”
The law may not recognize this union, but we do. As Chris says, “The most effective way of getting things changed is by putting a face on the concept of ‘gay.’ People who are maybe on the fence, you hope to show them—”
“ … By living with pride,” Rick cuts in, “and dignity, and with — ”
“With openness!” Chris says.
“With openness,” Rick agrees. “And we stay here because if we left, we’re taking the debate out from where it needs to be.
“And you hope that by doing all that, you live by example. It’s easy to take rights away from an abstraction.”
Plus, Rick laughs, “I enjoy saying, ‘Where my husband at?’”