Rethinking tradition • Pride Weddings & Celebrations 2011

From ‘broomsmaids’ to choice of wedding planner, newlyweds Hal Wallace and Johnathon DeJarnett made their nuptials their own

boys to men | DeJarnett and Wallace partake in the tradition of feeding each other cake, but they mixed up the ceremony in other ways to reflect their own gay sensibilities.

By Jef tingley

A straight friend of mine once said, “I am totally against gay weddings. I’ve seen the extravagant lengths the gays go to for theme parties and Halloween, and, quite frankly, I think you’re going to raise the bar too high.”

Clearly she was speaking tongue-in-cheek, but there was also a kernel of truth in her statement: We gays do love to do it up for memorable occasions … or even simple Sunday brunches. Need proof? Look no further than the bearded bears wearing leather and lavish feather bonnets with LED lights at Easter in Lee Park. Or how about that couple who makes a custom Carmen Miranda outfit for their Jack Russell terrier? You know the type.

Yes, with great gayness comes great responsibility. And when Dallas couple Johnathon DeJarnett and Hal Wallace decided to get married, they made sure to keep up some time-honored traditions common to most straight unions … but added a touch of excess (and glitter) to mark it with a trace of fabulosity.

First was the proposal — an unlikely but successful stealth mission.

“Hal proposed to me on Dec. 19, 2009, at our friend’s holiday party,” says DeJarnett. “I was so surprised. He can’t do anything without me hearing about it, so for the entire party to know and me not to was absolutely phenomenal.”

The couple has been together five years, but has known each other much longer. They grew up in the same small town; Wallace was in the same grade as DeJarnett’s older sister.

They cleaved to tradition with a legal, official wedding ceremony in Boston on Aug. 13, but the real fête came on Nov. 20, when they hosted a Dallas wedding dinner and reception for 135 of their closest family and friends.

In keeping with the uniqueness of the event, DeJarnett’s first step was to establish a new member of the wedding party: the “broom.”

“The ‘broom’ started out as a joke,” he explains. “Since I am the obviously more, umm, colorful of the pair, people were playfully calling me the bride. That would be fine if I were a woman. Instead, I started calling myself a hybrid of the bride and groom. I was the ‘broom.’”

Finding a venue was easy — DeJarnett’s has worked for the InterContinental Hotel in Addison for four years. But finding time to plan the affair was another issue — even the best of “brooms” can get overloaded. DeJarnett’s boss, Tamara, served as interim wedding coordinator and assistant to the “broom,” tackling details ranging from cake toppers to toasting flutes.

“Hal works full-time and is a part-time student. I am the exact opposite, working only part-time and I’m a full-time student. Our wedding was right in the middle of my semester. I would receive phone calls with [wedding] questions, and I would just say, ‘ask Tamara,’” laughs DeJarnett.

When not employing the services of Tamara, the couple worked together on the details of their wedding, even designing their own invitations. As DeJarnett tells it, “Hal actually recovered from our duel bachelor party by arranging our flowers with our friends Don and Judy.”

In keeping with their theme of unique combinations, the duo also had a mixture of men and women in their bridal party. “Hal and I had our best friends Kit and Jeff, respectively, as our best men, and they accompanied each other down the aisle. Luckily, they are a couple so no one was uncomfortable,” says DeJarnett. “Then I had my best friends Holly, Vanessa, and Mytzi as my ‘broomsmaids.’ They where escorted through the ceremony by Hal’s groomsmen, Chris, Tim and Josh. And to round off the queen’s court, as it were, were our friends David and Don, who so graciously allowed their holiday party to be high-jacked for our engagement.”

With the wedding ceremony itself nearly five months passed, DeJarnett and Wallace still treasure the photos and memories of their friends and families at their side. But be it brides, grooms, or “brooms,” DeJarnett is quick to point out one common theme lifelong commitment:

“Marriage is not easy. We didn’t start out as Ward and June Cleaver. And we kinda, foolishly, thought that we would just ride off into the sunset,” he says. “Even though the horse left without us, we are still very much committed to our relationship and still very much in love.”

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When kids ParTAKE in SAME-SEX weddings

I love children’s books, especially those with an affirming message for alternative families, and Leslea Newman’s Heather Has Two Mommies is one of my favorites. Whenever friends have babies, I make sure it’s in their library. Heather and And Tango Makes Three — that’s the one about the gay penguins that made this year’s list of most complained-about book at libraries — are must-have literature for gay or lesbian parents.

Newman’s latest book, Donovan’s Big Day, is one more to add to the list. Not only does Donovan have two mommies, but they’re getting married.

Donovan is taking his role as ring bearer very seriously. He can’t oversleep. He has to remember to wash and dress in his new clothes. And he can’t forget that white satin box. At the church, he must walk down the aisle very seriously. And he can’t fidget while that poem is being read or the piano is played.

His grandfather wakes him. His aunt meets him at the church. His cousin will be there. Of course the entire family is attending. It’s a wedding — why wouldn’t the whole family be proudly involved?

These are subtle touches, to be sure, but Newman is a master of telling children a simple story and making them feel included. We don’t know that it’s two moms who are getting married until the last few pages when Donovan kisses the brides. The story could have ended with a husband and wife. After all, illustrator Mike Dutton is married — to a woman.

That’s Newman’s point. It’s all about families and it’s all the same.

— David Taffet

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 6, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Boy-on-girl action

Two of Sundance Channel’s stars of a new queer reality show open up about girl-boy friendships — and how they hate the term ‘fag hag’

STEVEN LINDSEY  | stevencraiglindsey@me.com

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A REAL WILL & GRACE | Sarah Rose, a straight woman, and Joel Derfner, her gay best friend, are two of the stars of Sundance’s new reality series ‘Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys.’

No matter what your opinion is on unscripted television, anyone opening up his or her life for a camera crew — and potentially millions of viewers — has some balls: Maybe that comment will be taken out of context, or unflattering moments will be exaggerated or distorted, or a “character” will be created in the editing room to fill any number of pre-determined role: hero, villain, diva, token gay.

Sarah Rose and Joel Derfner knew this going into Sundance Channel’s new reality series Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys, which premiered this week, focusing on the lives of four couples (each consisting of one straight woman and one gay man). Luckily for them, the experience was positive, with only minor exaggerations implied in the final edits — so far.

Still, Rose insists she is not nearly as jealous of Derfner’s pending nuptials as the show makes it seem.

“They were hammering hard on how jealous I am and I’m not, for the record,” she says, having seen the first two episodes. “But I think one thing the show really does get right with us and the other three couples is the way we relate to each other. The sort of kind of friendship we have, the kind of bond there is.”

Their particular connection has certainly stood the test of time.

“We met in the dining hall at Harvard where we both shared a love for fried things and chocolate things. They supplied us amply with both and we’ve been the best of friends for the past 18 or 19 years,” Rose says.

“Oh my God, has it been 18 or 19 years?” Derfner exclaims with a laugh.

Derfner became involved when one of the producers, who knew him from musical theater writing circles, suggested he audition for the show; Rose was his natural partner in prime time. What attracted them to the premise is that for once, the relationship of gay men and straight women would be presented a little differently than is typical for Hollywood.

“The gay best friend is typically framed as a kind of sidekick. When Stanford Blanch is off-screen, he doesn’t seem to have a life on Sex and the City — he exists only in order to be Carrie’s friend. And my relationship with Joel isn’t a sidekick situation at all. He’s primary,” Rose says.

Before the show even aired, the duo were still getting used to glimpses of fame, like seeing their faces everywhere in Manhattan.

“We’re being chased by our own buses and I’m in this really unflattering wedding dress,” Rose says. “I have this idea that the entire Metro Transportation Authority is making fun of me.”

Perhaps that’s a downside of being associated with these shows, but there are plenty of positives even if the ratings aren’t huge. Both Rose and Derfner are writers and hope that any exposure from the show will widen the audience for their books. But it’s their friendship, and Derfner’s marriage, that ultimately benefited the most.

“I wasn’t expecting it, but Sarah and I have ended up spending more time together than we often do or are often unable to,” Derfner says.

“Joel works in his underwear. I’ve seen it,” adds Rose. “What I’ve discovered is the joy of collaborating with Joel. It’s a whole element to our friendship that wasn’t really present. We were sort of each other’s cheerleaders, but we weren’t each other partners in a business venture the way this feels. And it’s extraordinary. I’m falling for him all over again. It’s like being 18.”

A series of family tragedies and other obstacles had prolonged Derfner’s engagement to Michael Combs, but the reality show actually changed things for the better.

“The reality show was really the kick in the pants they needed to actually get that done,” says Rose, who was the official witness at both the legal and ceremonial weddings.

“We were on the verge of becoming the perpetually engaged couple,” Derfner says.

Instead, they now have a very detailed record of every challenging moment, every triumph, every smile and tear. Derfner hopes in some small way, his role in all of this will be to further the argument to legalize gay marriage.

They both also expect that people better understand the relationships at the focus of this show — and that the term “fag hag” be retired for good; “friend” is descriptive enough.

“From my perspective gay men and straight women often see the world the same way and we want the same things: chocolates, boys, to be thin. She wants boys and I want boys, but not the same boys,” Derfner says. “We understand each other and we recognize how we’re in sync, but there’s no competition so we can be completely 100 percent supportive of each other without worrying that somebody’s going to encroach on somebody’s territory.”

“I get all that, plus technical support,” Rose says. “I have somebody with the same plumbing and wiring and I can ask detailed technical questions [to help understand men].”

It’s a win-win for both of them — and a lot of fun to watch for us.

Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on Sundance Channel.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas