We Tried to Marry in Every Country Until a Tragic Diagnosis

I had been married to a wonderful man for ten years, but in 2008, we got divorced and I shortly got into another relationship. In November 2010, I went with my then-boyfriend to a festival in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, about feminist pornography.

It was an amazing evening; that's when I saw Julian. From the first conversation I had with her, I was completely head over heels in love—I had never experienced that before.

That night, I went home and ended my relationship with my boyfriend. I called my mom and said: "I think I'm in love with a girl." I don't know what happened, but this was it.

Fleur Pierets Married Julian
Fleur Pierets pictured with her late wife, Julian, on their wedding day in Paris, France. 3TimesRebel Press

I moved in with Julian in Amsterdam. Then she moved to live with me in Antwerp, Belgium. That's when we thought: Maybe we should move abroad? We were both working from home at the time, so we could live anywhere we wanted to.

She always wanted to live in a Mediterranean country. But we had to get married because of the paperwork, otherwise, if I died, or if she died, the other party wouldn't have any rights. So, we had a very modest wedding at the register office in Antwerp before moving to Spain.

At the time, I was writing about contemporary art for magazines and newspapers. And of course, after falling in love with a girl, my whole world changed.

Suddenly, I got confronted with violence against gay people, and with the harsh reality that gay children commit suicide because of their sexual orientation, and people lose their jobs and their houses over being gay.

I knew that I had to write about these important things. So, I began by writing about queer artists. But most of the outlets that I worked for said it was too "weird" to write about drag and politics or about trans people. So, most of the time my articles got rejected.

I became frustrated. But Julian was an optimist, so she said: "Why don't we start our own magazine? We can do it online and we don't need to have a lot of money." I thought it was a great idea. The magazine was called Et Alors? which means "so what?" in French. At one point, we reached about 750,000 readers worldwide because it was in English.

We understood that we had a voice and that with that voice also came a responsibility. So, we thought: What else could we do? At the time, we went for dinner with some friends and realized that although they were very open-minded, they did not know that me and Julian could only get married in 22 countries.

That night, I woke Julian up and said: "What if we get married in all the countries where it's possible to get married?" In the morning, the idea stuck, and we began thinking about how we could get started.

We didn't have the money to marry 22 times because the biggest cost was transportation and logistics. But we figured that if we sold everything that we had, we would be able to marry symbolically in five countries, which meant that we'd have the wedding ceremony without signing the papers, as we already legally got married in 2015. We hoped that after the fifth country, there would be an airline or bus company who would be willing to sponsor us, or that we could sleep on people's couches.

We took a leap of faith, and we sold everything that we had. We were left with two suitcases.

Our first country was the U.S. We got married in New York City and did a press release. We stayed for two weeks and immediately went to Amsterdam. We then went to the Netherlands, Belgium, and France in 2017.

While we were in Paris, Julian was extremely tired, but we didn't think anything of it because we had been busy selling and arranging everything, and traveling every two weeks from one country to the next, getting married.

But when we were walking the streets of Paris, she said that she felt drunk and couldn't keep her balance. She was getting a lot of headaches and she could barely climb a flight of stairs on our wedding day.

I felt that something was wrong and immediately took her to a doctor. They told us that something was wrong, and after taking a few tests, we were informed that Julian had a brain tumor.

We were then told that it had spread to her whole body, so there was nothing they could do.

The doctor told us that Julian had a maximum of two months to live. As soon as she heard the prognosis, it was as if she began deteriorating on the spot.

There were moments when she couldn't recognize where she was. She didn't recognize me, and she slept a lot. The hospital that she was referred to in France was a Catholic one, which meant that I, being her wife, wasn't allowed to stay with her. But I wasn't going to leave her.

I asked if I could take her to my mother's place instead. I offered to put a hospital bed over there and arrange for a doctor to see her weekly because my mother lived in France. They said yes, granted I signed a waiver that confirmed that the hospital didn't have any responsibility.

I spent the last month with Julian at my mother's place in the South of France. At one point, she couldn't move her arms anymore. Then, she couldn't move her legs. After that, she stopped speaking. It all went by so fast.

Julian was an avid reader. Her favorite author from the Netherlands is called Toon Tellegen who writes adult fables about animals.

Before she passed away, I read them to her. At one point, I read her a story about a squirrel who wanted to learn to count to ten and when she was at number seven, the squirrel asked the mouse, "What is a seven?" but the mouse didn't have an answer.

So, the squirrel stopped learning how to count. As I was reading the story, Julian opened her eyes and looked at me and she said, "You're the best squirrel in the whole wide world." Then she stopped talking. It was heartbreaking.

I did a lot of research on brain tumors and knew what the stages were. I read that the final stage before she passed away was having a fever, followed by heavy breathing. That actually happened.

It was crazy. It was a very terrible time for me. We'd sold our house so I had nothing to go back to.

After Julian's passing, I immersed myself in work. I wanted to write a book about what Julian and I had experienced. So, I worked in kitchens washing dishes for two years so that I had enough brain space to still write a book. Meanwhile, I discovered that the thing that was keeping me alive was my deep empathy for human suffering.

As optimistic as our story was with the marriage project, Julian and I also had so much negativity because we got so many emails from people telling us to die; that we were going to burn in hell, and that they were going to kill us.

After Julian's passing, the verbal abuse worsened. Some people said that it was God's punishment and that she deserved to die. I started to take things very personally, and I became so angry.

But at one point, that anger shifted because I thought: I don't believe that all those people who send those emails are bad people. They do that because they don't know any better.

When Julian and I began our marriage project, we decided to call it Project 22. This became 24 when Julian and I were doing our project because Malta and Germany were added to the list. A lot is changing now, because we can get married in 35 countries, as opposed to the 22 when we started.

Julian and I always wanted our advocacy to be positive. I needed to hold on to that legacy. I need to hold on to that positive advocacy for human rights and not become negative and cynical.

I have currently written two books, and I'm working on the third. I have also written three children's books about bringing marginalized voices to the forefront. I talk about people of color, I talk about women, I talk about queer people, and I'm trying to tell their stories.

Fleur Pierets is an author, artist and an LGBTQ+ activist. You can find out more about Fleur by reading her debut memoir, Julian, published by 3 Times Rebel Press and edited by Elisabeth Khan.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Newsweek's associate editor, Carine Harb.

Do you have a unique experience or personal story to share? Email the My Turn team at [email protected]

Uncommon Knowledge

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

About the writer

Fleur Pierets

Fleur Pierets is an author, artist and an LGBTQ+ activist. You can find out more about Fleur by reading her debut memoir, Julian.

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