This interview first appeared in Attitude’s Love & Marriage, Vol. 2. (published Feb 2015).
For years, marriage never seemed an option for creative director Brian Friedman. Even though the 37-year-old had enjoyed his fair share of serious long-term romances, the thought that he and his boyfriend could make like their straight counterparts and come together as husbands seemed entirely unbelievable. Not because he didn’t believe in the idea of marriage – it was because the powers that be in the US didn’t, refusing for many years to legalise same-sex marriage.
Even when he met 39-year-old Daniel Brown, his now business partner and the man he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, marriage still wasn’t a consideration. “We didn’t really start talking about it until after they made it legal and California overturned the law,” explains Brian. “For so long it was impossible for gay men or women to do what their straight brothers and sisters were doing, so the idea of walking down the aisle never seemed worth thinking about. ”
Now, with same-sex marriage legal in most US states, Brian and Daniel are planning their big day. But for those of you expecting a big showbiz do with Britney Spears conducting the service, Simon Cowell as ring bearer and Stevi Ritchie as the cabaret act, you’d be wrong. “We haven’t decided yet, but we may want to keep it private and low key, just for us,” says Brian. “And then perhaps we’ll throw a big party afterwards, so everyone can feel part of it. ” Here, the couple share their engagement story and wedding plans with Attitude’s Christian Guiltenane…
How did you both meet?
Brian: I was in West Hollywood to meet Alexandra Burke for dinner with a friend, but she was stuck in the studio, so we went to The Abbey instead.
Daniel: I also went out to meet some friends, but they never showed up so… At the end of the night I was leaving and I heard these guys shouting at me.
Brian: When I saw him, I was immediately taken and started shouting at him!
Daniel: I continued walking, but when I saw that Brian was cute, I went over and introduced myself. He and his friend said, “Come and have a drink with us,” and I said, “It’s 2am – everything is closed. Where are you going to drink?” Brian’s friend said, “Back at Brian’s house!” I said, “I don’t think so – I have to work in the morning. ” When we realised that we lived near each other I said I’d drop by for a drink. So, I went to his house and we ended up having our first kiss in the cabana in his backyard. We’ve been together ever since.
The gay scene is so small, we’re surprised you never bumped into each other – especially given that you lived so close to each other!
Brian: Well, about three months in to us dating, Daniel said, “You know I used to live a lot closer to you…” Then all these things started clicking with me and I started driving to an apartment building. I pulled up into the driveway and said to Daniel, “You lived here on the second floor.” He looked at me open=mouthed and I said, “I came home with you seven years ago!”
Daniel: We were both very different. We had hair at the time – Brian had corn rows!
Can you remember it now, then?
Daniel: At that point in my life I think I tried to forget a lot of stuff… all I can remember is meeting a cute guy who came home with me, but we didn’t do anything. I still get flack for that because he’s like, “Who brings someone home for a one-night stand and doesn’t do anything with them except rolls over and goes to sleep?” I did say that I was playing hard to get for seven years and that he had to wait.
How long after you met did you realise that marriage would be on the cards?
Brian: We started dating and we were inseparable. He was pretty much at my house every single day. He did keep his place for three years, though.
Daniel: After three years I thought we’d be together and get married at some point.
Brian: But we didn’t really start talking about it until they made it legal and California overturned the law. Then I started talking to our friends and family about it. I was even asking them to find out what kind of ring Daniel would want.
Daniel: I’d just say, “Oh he knows what I’d want.”
Brian: So every time they came back to me, they just said, “He keeps saying that you know!” Shortly after, we went shopping in Vegas and casually looked at some rings. I used that day to really gauge what he liked.
Were you impatient to be proposed to?
Daniel: I used to tease him and say that every year he waited to propose would be another carat.
Brian: The rings that we loved most when we were shopping were from Cartier and they were special order. They would take six months to make, so I had to get creative with my proposal, considering I couldn’t have an actual ring to hand. I decided to propose while we were in New York, so I set up a helicopter ride knowing that Daniel had never been on one.
Daniel: When we were flying over the Chrysler Building, which is my favourite, Brian reached over and turned on my Google Glass, then pulled three baby carrots wrapped in a ribbon out of his pocket and was mouthing, “Will you marry me?” I was so caught off guard, but of course I said yes.
Did you ever envisage getting married when you were younger?
Brian: I never really thought I would ever get married, because when I came out it was not legal. But then as soon as all that happened, it clicked for me and I knew that I was ready.
Daniel: I always dreamed about marrying a man and having a wedding like everybody else – it just never dawned on me that it was not legal or that someone could tell me I couldn’t. I would do whatever the hell I wanted if I loved somebody.
Surely everyone’s going to expect a big event?
Brian: That was one of the things people immediately said, “This is gonna be the wedding and it’s gonna be full-on.” We’ve got to find a good balance between the two. That’s what I think.
Daniel: After going to so many people’s weddings, it happens in such a flash that you can’t really enjoy it. There’s so much going on between exchanging your vows and worrying that everyone is taken care of, I don’t think you can enjoy it. So I think to break it up and have that private ceremony. You can enjoy the party rather than worry about it.
Brian: Exactly. The ceremony is more about the two of us enjoying it and letting it sink in, then celebrating it later with all our family and friends. The only thing stopping this private ceremony is how to edit the guest list.
Take us back to when you both came out…
Daniel: I came out at 18 to my family, but I’d known I was gay from an early age. I’d always thought the boy next door was cute and even at five or six, I thought my sister’s boyfriends were, too. As I went through puberty I think I kept waiting for something to click where I’d suddenly start liking girls.
We’re guessing that didn’t happen.
Daniel: I had girlfriends during junior high school and in high school. When I got to my senior year I had an experience with a guy and it was a totally different thing. I was completely emotionally and physically into it. At 18, I got a boyfriend and decided that I really liked this guy and my family was going to have to accept that this is what it is. My sister cried when I told her and said to me, “Oh my God, I can’t imagine what it must have been like going all of these years without being able to just say it.” It was really sweet that she actually understood what kind of a burden it was to keep that from them for so many years.
My other sister was totally different and was like, “Oh my God, not my brother!” The funny thing is she was the one that I always thought knew as she used to tease me and call me names when I was younger. To find out that she was the one who was most oblivious to it, and saw me as her little jock brother who could date any girl he wanted in high school, was hard to understand.
What did she say?
Daniel: She was like, “I don’t understand. I can understand how two women could be together, but not two men.” At that point I said, “We can’t talk about this right now.” Later on, after she met my boyfriend, she said to me out of the blue, “I get it,” and I said, “You get what?” and she said, “I understand now. I can see just looking at you two around each other how much you care about each other.” After that day she was completely fine with it. She’d go out to gay clubs with me. Did a full 180. It was really crazy!
What about your mum? Mums are always the tough ones to tell…
Daniel: My mother asked me if I was gay when I was 16. She had found a letter from one of my friends who’d actually asked me if I was gay. So she said, “So what did you tell them?” and I said, “I told them no,” and she said, “You know I love you, it doesn’t matter to me, you can tell me anything,” and I said no. At the time I was still trying to figure it out. When I finally told her at 18, she felt a little hurt that I didn’t tell her before.
So is everything fine now?
Daniel: Well, my entire family was completely accepting and supportive. Even my grandmother was totally in to it and would say to me, “Honey, don’t you think he’s kind of cute? He might be good for you!” [Laughs.] She’s no longer with us, but she was definitely supportive as well. One of the sad things is I wish my grandmother could be here for our wedding.
Was your story pretty similar, Brian?
Brian: I knew from a very young age that I was gay. I remember having crushes on other boys in school from as early as five or six years old. When I realised that no other boys shared the same feeling that I did, I knew it was something I had to hide away. I started dancing at 11 and eventually met other boys who were gay. It took me some time, but a close friend made me feel safe enough to confide in him and, at the age of 16, I finally came out to him and to myself fully.
Coming out to my mom was far more traumatic! She was coming to see me in LA from Arizona and at the time I had a boyfriend living with me. Whenever my family came to visit me in the past I would hide all the pictures and my boyfriend would have to pack up and go away. But this time I was ready to tell my mom. So, as she was at the airport in Arizona, I called her and said, “I think you need to sit down – I have to tell you something,” and she was like, “What’s wrong?” I started crying and told her, “I’m gay,” and my mom said, “Darling, I know!” and I said, “What?” and she replied, “I know, it’s OK!”
Once she arrived in LA, it was incredible to have that huge weight lifted. I had been keeping a huge part of who I was hidden for so long and developed anxiety over it. To have those feelings gone was so freeing. I never actually came out to the rest of my family. I assumed mom told everyone because they just knew. Coming out to her was one of the best moments of my life!
Do you have fights?
Brian: We’ve never have fights. In the first year we definitely had some heated conversations, though!
Daniel: He truly respects my opinion in everything. Like any couple, we can get on each other’s nerves, but we can spend 24/7 with each other more often than most people. Even my mother says she’s never seen a straight or gay couple be able to spend as much time as we spend together without killing each other.
Brian: We enjoy each other, and we have to have our alone time. There’s 4,000sq ft of space in our new house in LA, so we can be on different levels and have time away from each other, and not even know if the other person is at home.
Daniel: He will text me and say, “Babe, are you still here?” and I reply, “Yeah, I’m down in the office.” We can still get private time in our house, even when we’re still there together.
You both have a ‘son’…
Brian: Yeah, Zack, who was one of my students. He’s from a little town in New Mexico and won an award to travel the country with an event that I am creative director of called The Pulse On Tour as an assistant for all of the faculty. Back home he lived with his grandmother in a very small town with no opportunity for him to do what he loves. At 15, he came to LA to train in dance and was able to participate in a show at a club. Daniel and I went to support him and watch the performance. An agent said to me, “Who is that?” I let her know he was a student of mine and that we needed to get him to LA. She agreed to sign him as a client. I saw a little of myself in Zack and wanted him to get working on his craft. We asked his grandparents if they’d let him come and stay with us. They agreed to let him come out for a few weeks to try it out. His grandpa drove him out and stayed with us for a few days and ended up leaving him. Zack lived with us for about two-and-a-half years. After his 18th birthday he got his first apartment down the street from us. He’s been working all around the world. We’re proud of him!
What kind of parents were you?
Brian: He grew up without his parents – his grandmother raised him and he never really had a strong relationship with his mom and dad. He used to call Daniel Mama! [laughs.] We were both grounded parents, he had chores to do every day and a curfew. It was things he’d never really experienced before. He came in and had no idea how to clean his room. We said, “When you leave here you will be ready to go into the world…” It was a great experience for all of us – Zack would say the same.
Do you think you might have kids one day?
Daniel: Brian has definitely had baby fever over the past year and all of our friends are having kids. It’s been one baby after another. We’re getting to the point where we would love to have a kid.
Brian: I don’t want to be too much older, I’m in my late 30s, so I don’t want to be an old parent in a walker when they’re graduating. I think we’re just starting to get more settled. Maybe after we get married this year… The future is exciting!