They met on the dance floor at Burning Man.
Michel Madie, a 57-year-old French Jew of Algerian descent, a former veterinarian, and a real estate mogul in New York City. Rasmus Foyer, a 27-year-old Swedish civil engineering student with an open heart and a talent for fire dancing. Their thirty-year age-difference was a minor challenge when compared to all that would stand in the way of their love: geographical distance, sexual orientation, and the vagaries of technology and time.
Michel and Rasmus’ encounter might have been as fleeting as any other in Black Rock City, where the desert sands often act as the pixie dust of love at first sight. Thousands of people fall into instantaneous, erotic rapture with fellow travelers during this annual experimental desert arts festival with radical self-expression at its core, only to go back to their workaday lives alone. But fate’s hand interceded for Michel and Rasmus and it could not be ignored: On December 12th, 2015, sixteen months after they first met, the two men were married by a rabbi in the converted Harlem church that is also their home.
Surrounded by hundreds of friends dressed in faux fur, feathers and LED-lit animal costumes, the couple took their vows and was blessed under Michel’s ancestral tallit, a Jewish prayer shawl. Each of them stomped on a symbolic glass under a chupah threaded with feathers, African masks, tribal chest pieces and dream catchers. The crowd wept and burst into cheers. Then the party went for another 24 hours, starting with a traditional Algerian dinner, and followed by belly and flamenco dancers, acrobats and a rotation of five gifted DJ’s spinning deep house, down-tempo and funk. Glowing antlers and mermaid tails swayed to the beat, sky-high on the thumping love buzz.
“Dancing is a place of giving free expression, giving in to who you are with movement, being an animal – being your own animal,” says Michel, whose wedding guests embraced his philosophy that night. All four floors of the building vibrated with explosive joy and in some cases, nakedness and sharing of intimate pleasures. Sexual evolution is part of everyday life for this pair, so conscious sexual play was a natural denouement of their wedding ceremony.
In the summer of 2016 they will have a second wedding at Burning Man — one that will surely somehow outdo the first one, whose invitation beseeched guests to:
Be your totem animal: body-paint on your bare skin or body suit, full-on animal costume, or CREATE your own CREATURE. What we want present at our wedding is the beast inside of you. Is it furry, feathery, fuzzy, prickly, clawy, funny, mystical, dark, ethereal, dangerous, charming, sexy, all the above…? Cartoons and fairy-tales, jungle and fantasies, Noah’s Arch and mythology, be invited!
Both men are strikingly handsome, tall, and unflinchingly masculine; disarmingly attractive and seemingly completely free of pretense and affectation. It seems natural that Rasmus and Michel’s lives would change the moment they saw each other – so much raw power colliding – but it would be a few months until either understood exactly how.
Michel and Rasmus were each in relationships with women the night they met, and both had been previously married to women. (Michel also has a 35-year-old son from a previous relationship who lives in Paris, and attended the wedding.) They both made it clear that their blossoming partnership was no ethical breach – their previous relationships had ended before they allowed themselves to consider pursuing each other.
For several years Michel has been a practitioner of what he calls “open sexuality,” the expression of conscious love and touch with multiple partners. Rasmus, living in Montreal at the time, was just opening to the idea of love without boundaries. A few weeks after the wedding, we sat down and did the math together – some twenty percent of the guests were current or former lovers of one or both of them.
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Back in the desert, both men knew that the Wednesday night party at Camp Mystic, one of many self-organized encampments at Burning Man, could not be missed. Michel was dancing on stage when a shirtless Rasmus, wearing a turban and what he calls “Ali Baba pants,” saw his future husband for the first time. He was immediately drawn to the man dressed all in black with a white leather harness and glowing shoulder scales. Even in a sea of fantastical sartorial self-expression Michel stood out. For Rasmus, “It wasn’t what he was wearing: it was that he was shining, shamelessly enjoying himself.”
Rasmus knew that he had to be next to that man, one who appeared to be magically moving the energy around him like some kind of divine spirit. Michel is also a tantra teacher and healer, something that Rasmus says he picked up on energetically, without knowing anything about him. “I told my friend I’m going to go dance with this guy, because dance is one religion that I carry close to my heart, and I saw how he was inspiring and unleashing people.” Rasmus approached. Michel recalls seeing, “…this body with staggering shoulders. I was in awe of his beauty, and he was looking at me like, ‘Where were you all my life?’”
They danced for several hours, the others in the room blurring in the background. Before he left the tent, Rasmus told Michel: “I need to keep you,” and Michel handed him his card.
The next morning at sunrise Michel spied Rasmus near the Golden Dragon Abraxus (an art-car that moves around the playa, as attendees call Black Rock Desert). Even though something stirred in Michel, he didn’t know quite where to place it: “I know what it means, yet I don’t know what to do with this moment,” he recalls.
They spoke a few words that neither of them remember, then lost each other in the dust-riven psychedelia of the playa. Rasmus had snapped a picture of Michel’s business card the previous night, but he promptly lost it. Then, when his iPhone broke in a playful wrestling match with a girlfriend, their connection should have been lost forever.
They thought of each other in the intervening months but neither knew how to get in touch. For Rasmus, theirs was a “meeting of souls.” He wanted to continue the connection because, “Every once in a while you meet someone remarkable. Like a gravitational force, of all the people I met at Burning Man, Michel made an imprint.”
In December of 2014, they found each other quite by accident. Unbeknownst to Rasmus, the picture of Michel’s card had been uploaded to Facebook before it broke — and one evening in December, a photo tab he’d never noticed appeared at the top of his screen like a shooting star in the night sky: totally unexpected but also quite obviously meant to be.
Rasmus wished on it and messaged Michel, who was at that very moment at his beloved 94-year-old father’s funeral in Nice. Only many months later would Michel realize that his father had to leave his mortal coil before Rasmus could take up space in his heart. Rasmus recited this first message as a part of his vows.
On Dec 14, 2014, at 4:12 PM, Rasmus Leo Foyer wrote:
I found you God of Gods!
I thank you for being and inspiring! I know that you know what you do, and how your sunshine warms people, but as a sun your light reflects back at you. This is me reflecting your light and adding some of mine. The energy you carry allows people to feel good about themselves, you empower people around you. You are a big heart and your heart shines through your eyes. I truly hope that you are surrounded by people who see you, who you can continuously discover your depth with, that holds space where there is nothing to prove, that enables you keep growing to your potential as a human being and God! I am sure you are, and have been, surrounded by gods and goddesses, as your world mirrors you and the energy you put forth.
Dance some time!? ;)
Big hug, Your Swedish friend, Rasmus in Montreal.
Four minutes later, Michel wrote back. He took in the message as a totally egoless gift that he wanted to return, so he invited Rasmus to stay at his place in five days’ time — when Rasmus would be passing through on his way to JFK for a trip to Sweden.
Rasmus arrived at the house and they hugged long and deep. Michel was profoundly moved by the unexpected intensity of this first touch. They sat at the long wooden table in the living room and talked. “I don’t remember what we said; he asked a couple of questions and within ten minutes he cried,” Michel says. “He was in a state of surrender.”
This first night both men knew that their connection was unlike anything either had experienced before, but it was too soon to say it out loud. At this moment, all Rasmus knew was that he would have to confront his feelings. “I wanted to face myself with love and not fear,” he says. Once this flood of emotions was released, there was no stuffing it back in.
In yet another stroke of fate that seemed directed from on high, they discovered that both would be in Nice just two weeks later. Michel, to attend to the details of his father’s recent passing, and Rasmus, at the behest of a girlfriend he’d made plans to travel with.
In the hallway of Michel’s home in Nice, with his mother sleeping a few doors away, Rasmus reached out and kissed Michel for the first time. This began the long and sometimes-uncomfortable process of admitting that they were each in love with a soul who happened to reside in another man’s body. For Rasmus this included, “Shedding the whole social construct of relationships and identity and attachment to putting myself in a box, and letting myself being completely fluid.”
Soon the concept of a traditional family structure and having children the “old fashioned way,” would
have to be grappled with, as would letting go of the cultural straight jacket of sexual orientation – all these inner battles would be fought in the intervening months. (It should be noted that both men are still involved with women, including some of the same women.)
More coincidences of geography and timing would come to define their love. When Michel drove to see Rasmus in Montreal not long after that, his tire blew out on the New York State Thruway — at the exact exit he often took to visit the woman he once considered to be the great love of his life. She had broken his heart twenty years earlier. Michel heard an explosion and drove off the road, as if he’d been punched by someone trying to tell him something that he knew all along. After all that, he still managed to make it up to Montreal, not missing a chance to deepen his growing connection with the man he’d eventually marry.
Several months later Rasmus moved to New York City to live with Michel in Harlem, learning the real estate business and making a home together. As they grew closer and closer, sometimes stumbling but always coming back to a “…limitless way of living in the world,” as Michel put it, they decided to marry and set a date for just a few weeks later.
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The night of the wedding, during the cocktail hour, partygoers were transformed under the fastidious hand of a makeup artist who dusted their faces with glitter, sequins and abstract neon stencils. It appeared as if everyone fell in love with everyone they met that night, starting with the handsome and flirtatious maitre d’ who greeted guests at the door and seemed handpicked for his good looks and charm. This was a theme throughout the evening – all of the very attractive servers twinkled devilishly, smiling knowingly into guests’ eyes as they passed trays of exquisite salmon sashimi. No detail had been left unattended to, even though the entire affair was planned in under three weeks, after Michel’s father’s unveiling and between various real estate deals.
The guestbook was an enormous tome of antique paper that looked straight out of some royal family’s grand lair on “Game of Thrones.” During the cocktail hour Rasmus appeared downstairs in a smart tuxedo, his long, wavy hair pulled back into a bun. He received hearty hugs and congratulations as he surveyed the room looking dapper and just slightly nervous.
Michel did not appear until the ceremony. When guests finally took their seats and the music began (a gorgeous version of Ava Maria) he emerged, walking down the aisle in slow, deliberate steps toward a stage once stood upon by priests offering sacraments. He was a king, a god, a magical creature with white horns and hooved feet. He walked up to the chupah and stood on the right side for minutes, basking in his guests’ hoots and hollers as they admired him in his beastly authenticity. Rasmus came out a few minutes later, a ravishing chimera of horse legs, wolf’s shoulders and a loincloth of tails, occupying his position on the left side of the chupah. The guests repeated their full-throated bravos. The couple spoke their vows and the rabbi married them.
A piece of paper sat on each chair, with the following verses.
May you be generous and giving with each other.
May your sense of humor and joyful spirit always enliven your relationship.
May you appreciate and compliment each other’s differences.
May you always respect the diversity of humankind.
May you act with compassion to those less fortunate and with responsibility to the communities around you.
May you be best friends, better together than either of you are apart.
This portion of their vows was meant both as an entreaty to the guests to be their best, most loving selves tonight and always, and also as a ritual incantation of sorts. Everyone repeated it together, voices echoing through the sacred space like a prayer.
Back on the balcony at dinner, bunnies, wolves, sea creatures, rams, turtles and other spirit animals carefully sliced into cuts of beef, as if on the set of a Stanley Kubrick movie. This intentional absurdity is part of the ethos of Rasmus and Michel’s love: come and be safe in a place where you can be yourself and dance like no one is watching.
Many details, both dazzling and strange, made this wedding different than any other. But what stood out was that Rasmus and Michel shined as much light on their guests as the guests were meant to shine on them. For Michel, “The mega-message was self-love – not ‘Look at these two people who are in love.’” There were the requisite toasts before dinner and the “traditional with a twist” religious elements of the ceremony, but what mattered most to the grooms that night was a sense that love can indeed exist without restrictions and recriminations.
Rasmus and Michel confirm that this is why they believe they met on the dance floor that night, and reconnected in spite of all that stood in their way: to model this freedom, this boundless self-expression and surrender, this permissible vulnerability. The night of his wedding, Michel wanted to be “…a wild beast that was bigger than life,” in order to show his loved ones that they can also be this.
Whether they left before midnight or stayed until the next day, guests departed Rasmus and Michel’s wedding knowing with certainty that our world is teeming with love.
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Stefanie Iris Weiss is a New York City-based writer covering sex, sustainability and subcultures. Her latest book is Eco-Sex: Go Green Between the Sheets and Make Your Love Life Sustainable (Crown Publishing). She tweets as ridiculously as possible @ecosexuality.
Born in Paris in 1979, Jonathan Alpeyrie moved to the United States in 1993. He has shot photographs for local Chicago newspapers, in the South Caucasus, Congo, the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. His work has appeared in The Sunday Times, Le Figaro magazine, ELLE, American Photo, Glamour, Aftenposten, Le Monde and BBC.