By Maggie Shui
We meet four gender diverse couples at locations in Tāmaki Makaurau that are special to them, and hear their swoon-worthy stories of how they met and fell in love.
For every story about a trans person’s encounter with a transphobic dude on Tinder, there are also stories about trans people in loving, healthy relationships. But we don’t hear about the latter enough.
The couples we meet tell us about taking time to mature or sort out mental health issues before being in the right place to date each other. They tell us about being entangled with other people at the start of their burgeoning relationships. They tell us about how meeting the other person helped them discover their capacity to love.
They are stories that anyone who has been in love can identify with, and they are stories that are possible for us all, regardless of our gender identity.
Ary and Jess
Ary Jansen (he/him) and Jess Morgan (she/her) met at art school and began dating a year later. Ary is a trans support worker at Rainbow Youth, and Jess is a web developer at Auckland Museum where she helps create digital interactive installations. They’ve now been together for four years and spend their down time together making music and playing on the PlayStation in the beautiful Mt Roskill villa they’re flatting in.
Tell me about the moment you first met.
Ary: It was the first day of sculpture studio, and we're all doing the introductions. We're all sitting in a circle. I remember you saying, “Ary, I'm Sophie's sister.” And I didn't hear Sophie, so I spent about three weeks trying to figure out whose sister you were.
Jess: You acted. You were like, “Yeah!”
Ary: I was so awkward. I just pretended to know what you were talking about. And then I had to do some cyber stalking to figure it out. I had met Jess's sister that summer because we were both involved in People Against Prisons Aotearoa.
What were your first impressions of each other?
Jess: Well, I thought you were cute. And because my sister knew you and had mentioned you're coming to AUT, I was like, oh cool. There's this person that's coming that has probably a lot in common with me. And I'm excited to make friends with this new person. My first impression of you was you were a bit awkward, which I kind of liked. And a bit quiet and mysterious, I suppose.
Ary: I was like, you’re such a babe.
Ary: When I met you, you just gave me this huge smile and a big hug. And I was just like, wahhh, what just happened? Whose sister is this? [laughs]
Jess: Romantic, aye?
So what happened next?
Ary: We were both into each other from the start, but built up a friendship. My mental health was quite messy at the time so I wasn't ready to have a relationship. We would just talk to each other in the studio. I would come in and lie down where you had your studio set up just to talk to you.
Jess: I guess we were spending at least four days a week with each other because we were in the same space in art school. We got to know each other quite well over that time.
And then how did you eventually get together?
Jess: It had been a year since we met, and it was New Year's. We were both at a party.
Ary: And I professed my love for Jess.
Jess: And I was like, whoa... same.
Ary: And you were dating someone else. And they were there as well.
Jess: But it was a chill dating thing.
Ary: It wasn't like a serious relationship.
Jess: And then a few days later, we got together.
Ary, you mentioned you originally weren’t ready to be in a relationship. Can you tell me more about that?
Ary: I was nervous about just being a good partner. I'd had relationships in the past that have been complicated. And I had been a bad partner. And I think that's why it was really important for me to take that year to work on myself and figure out how to be a good partner. And I think that's something we also figure out on the daily together, which I think is really important.
Jess: I think one of the reasons it's worked out so well with us, and why we've stayed together for so long, is because we really figured out how to communicate our anxieties early on and talk about our mental health and how we're feeling about the relationship. And that's just carried through.
Ary: Yeah. Even communicating about how to communicate like, how do I express my needs in a way that isn't gonna hurt you is a big one.
Ary, in your job as a trans support worker at Rainbow Youth, what conversations have you had about love and dating?
Ary: I think some people are worried about narrowing their dating pool. Some parents are worried about like, if my child is trans does that mean I can't have grandchildren? Which is not the case.
I talked to a lot of young people and their parents who were really scared of them being trans meaning that they'll be in unhealthy relationships or they'll find it hard to get into relationships. So I think it's definitely important to have healthy relationships represented.
What do you tell people when they come to you with those anxieties?
Ary: Gender is fluid, you don't know who you're going to end up with, and you don't know who's going to be interested in you. If someone respects you and loves you, they're not going to care about what your body looks like. They'll love what your body looks like. And relationships are complicated, no matter who you are.
And I think another really important thing for trans people is to actually try and surround yourself with supportive people. People who are going to get you, people who aren't going to worry about something that's actually really simple, which is being trans.
What advice do you have for people who haven’t found that circle of people yet?
Ary: Come to Rainbow Youth. They're welcome to talk to me. And we also have a lot of social groups where they can be with people who are a similar age going through a similar thing. Anyone my age who's in a comfortable relationship now was there once, in that space where they were worried about dating or worried about forming community or didn't know that they were trans and that they needed that. So there's always a destination. There's always a place to get to.
Is there anything else you’d want to tell a young trans person?
Ary: Just that you are lovable. It's hard to think of yourself as lovable sometimes. Especially if you're going through some hard times with your mental health or with your family or with your friends or with your school. But you are lovable, and the right people will come to you and love you the way you deserve to be loved.
Elz and Dana
Elz Carrad (he/him) and Dana Andrews (she/her) have been together for seven years, and live together in West Auckland with their three kids.
Dana is a skin therapist and Elz is an actor, most recently playing the lead in Rūrangi, a drama series that follows Elz’s character Caz, a trans activist, as he returns to the dairy farming town where he grew up to reconnect with his estranged dad. The series, which has also been cut into a feature film, has recently been picked up by Hulu. It’ll also be coming to Neon in May.
We met at Craigavon Park where they had their first date.
How did you two meet?
Elz: I was performing at this festival. I used to be a backup singer. Dana was in the crowd, and there was a part of the song where the lyric was “that girl”. The guy I used to sing with was like, we have to point to all the girls as we sing this line. And I just thought Dana was really beautiful, so I just pointed to her all the time. Like, “that girl, that girl, that girl” and then not long after she stalked me on Instagram. She didn't have my name or anything, but she found me.
Dana: I did.
Elz: She's a pro.
A lot of women have that skill. And then how did things go from there?
Dana: I didn't have Instagram and he didn't have Facebook. So I got Instagram. And I didn't know how it works, so when I found his page I just went like, like, like. I didn't know he was getting notifications every time. Then somebody told me and so I went through and unliked everything. And then he goes, “I see you.”
And then your first date was here at Craigavon Park, right? How was that?
Dana: I was so nervous.
Elz: I wasn't. I was confident. She couldn't look at me. She just looked at the ground.
Dana: Because, um, look at those eyes. He was just staring into my soul. I was like, “oh my god”.
Elz: She thinks they're nice, I feel like they're piercing.
Dana: Yeah, but in a good way. Not in a bad way.
What were your first impressions of each other from that date?
Elz: I thought she was beautiful and really quiet. And I just like that. I like that she was mysterious and quiet and just chill. Because I'm not any of those things.
Dana: I just thought he was so funny. I was nervous because I knew he was younger than me and also it wasn't supposed to be anything serious. We'd both just come out of relationships. And then it got real serious, real fast. Just instant connection.
Elz, you wrote an article in Express magazine about being a trans dad and how you can relate to your son going through puberty since you went through male puberty yourself three years ago.
Elz: Yeah, and then I also don't know what it's like to be born male and go through all those emotional, physical changes at such an early age. I know, but I don't know. I think I have a lot to learn from him, which is cool. I like that. Even though I'm the adult, I feel like he can be a good teacher for me, as a trans person. And then with the girls-
Dana: He has a really good bond with our oldest. She goes to him, I think, more than she comes to me for support. They’re just really close.
Elz: I get her, I understand her very well.
Dana: And he's also the referee when me and her are arguing.
What was the moment like for you when you told Dana you’re trans?
Elz: I think it's always hard. But I can kind of gauge if someone's going to be accepting or not. Something that could be helpful for young trans people is, see how you feel about it. See how you feel about them. And instinct will let you know if they're gonna be cool or not, you know? That's always worked for me. [To Dana] So I knew that you're accepting and knew you have family members that are part of the rainbow community. And that's always a good start. But it is always hard. You just never know. I always apologise.
Dana: That's the thing that stood out for me is he said, “I'm transgender. I'm sorry.” And my reaction was, don't ever say that and then say sorry. You should never apologise for who you are.
Elz: I think maybe I apologised more for not being totally honest in the beginning.
Dana: I don't think it's fair that trans people have to go around and say, “Hi, I'm Elz and I'm trans,” because nobody else goes around and says, “Hi, I’m Dana and I'm cisgender.” You shouldn't have to put a label on it or explain it.
What’s your favourite memory together?
Elz: I think my favourite was when I took you up north. There's a swimming hole up there called White Rock and it was the first time I'd taken you away. Just sitting on a rock and admiring you. Everything felt still.
Dana: Yeah, you’re just fully present.
Elz: You're fully present. And it was cool just to escape. It was just us.
Dana: That whole trip is my favourite time.
Grey and Jayne
Grey Alejandro Jaghoy (he/they) and Jayne Watkinson (they/them) started going out ten days after meeting each other, and moved in together after a month. Grey is non-binary and Jayne is trans-feminine non-binary which they describe as, “I was a guy. And then I tried being a girl. And then I realised that I still liked parts of being a guy. So I’m more feminine than I was before.”
We meet at Crave, their go-to cafe spot for when they’re bored and want to get out of the house.
Can you tell me a little about yourselves?
Grey: I’m studying social work at the moment. I’m 19, turning 20 in five days…
Grey: Yeah, Pisces. People have told me that I'm the epitome of Pisces [laughs]. I've been involved with Rainbow Youth since I was 14 years old as part of a school project, because I did alternative schooling because I was too sick to go to normal school. I'm chronically ill. I'm also hard of hearing.
Jayne: I’m Jayne, 21. I'm not studying at the moment, but I am trying to find work that is something that can accommodate the fact that I have chronic pain, and that pain makes me pass out because of a genetic condition I have. So my free time is spent finding jobs where I won't headbutt people by accident while passing out. Which has happened.
What’s it like dating someone who also lives with a health condition?
Jayne: We're very good at supporting each other because we both have to live slower than most people do. For each one day of exercise, we need like four days of rest. So we can accompany each other well, just lying on my couch complaining.
That’s probably what a lot of couples spend their time doing: lying on a couch together and complaining.
Jayne: Yeah, that’s what I tell people to look for. It isn't somebody that you could go on amazing dates with or who’s compatible with the highest moments in life like holidays, and drinking and partying. It's somebody that you could vent about life on the couch with.
How did you meet?
Jayne: I met them one day at Rainbow Youth.
Grey: So that day I was interning and I was the person who trained all the interns. And then Jayne walked in and was like, hey, I'm here to learn how to intern and I was like, oh my god, that's my job. Let me show you how to do that. And they were the most gorgeous person I've ever seen in my entire life. I audibly said, wow.
At first, I didn't actually know that I could become friends with Jayne because they have a funny speech impediment, as they say. They think they have a speech impediment. I think they just move their mouth funny.
Jayne: It might just be an accent. I don't know.
Grey: I think it's just an accent. And because I'm hard of hearing, I couldn't really understand what they were saying to me because they move their mouth differently and I predominantly lip read. Then over time, I just developed learning Jayne's speech and movements to the point that I actually understand them better than anyone else. So with other people, I have no idea what they're saying, and I just look to Jayne and Jayne will repeat it to me.
Jayne: Grey used to do a lot with music before they got more significant hearing loss. I like music quite a lot - I have quite strange, favourite bands. So I wanted to introduce Grey to them, but he was explaining to me how he has 95 percent hearing loss so often can’t hear the lyrics at all.
So I put my headphones on Grey so he could hear the music and because I remember that song so well, if I could hear a tiny bit of music I could know what part of the song it was. So I sang them to Grey on the bus one time so he could read my lips. So we spent one bus trip home with me showing him my favourite songs and singing them to him that he could hear them properly and learn the words.
That is too cute. How did you two start dating?
Jayne: It was quite clumsy. And they were in disbelief, because they haven't really been interested in anyone before. So when I asked them out, I feel he just kind of mumbled his words a little bit. He was like, “Like a friend?” And then I said, “Will you be my boyfriend?”
Grey: And I was like, “Oh, got it.” I was very much in disbelief.
Jayne: Then he hid his face behind his hands and after about ten seconds asked if he could hold my hand. Very cute.
Why were you in such disbelief?
Grey: Back before I knew that I was in love with Jayne, I thought I was asexual and aromantic because I just didn't really like people in that kind of way. But I knew I liked Jayne in a different kind of way, I just didn't know what it was. My parents and sister were teasing me saying that that's what a crush is this entire time, and I was like, no, I have no idea what you’re talking about.
So when they asked me out, I was really shook. My heart was actually palpitating. That's when I realised, oh my god, this is what it must be like to like somebody.
Jayne: If it was a musical, that's when you would have burst out singing.
Possum and Rosemary
Possum Plows (they/them, non-binary) and Rosemary Mitford-Taylor (they/them, agender) met through their mutual best friend Maude Morris, who also happens to be a creative collaborator with them both. Possum is a musician and recently performed at Big Gay Out with Maude. Rosemary is a volunteer with Rainbow Youth and the Green Party, and collaborates with Maude in their arts and crafts project Radish Dad.
We meet at a kind-of-secret beach at Maungauika North Head, Devonport - a place where they began to realise they had something special.
How did you meet?
Possum: We kind of shared a best friend, our friend Maude. So Maude would always talk about Rosemary, but I didn't know her. And then for your - what birthday was it?
Rosemary: It was my 22nd birthday.
Possum: Maude was like, I'm going to Wellington for Rosemary's birthday. And I said, I'll come and we can just have a little trip to Wellington. So I showed up to Rosemary's birthday. And we ended up talking the whole night.
Rosemary: It's not something either of us will ever do now, we always go to bed so early. It was a summer where I just had a big breakup, I got a new job. I was discovering myself. I was wearing a really cute outfit. All of that. I also didn't know I was queer, I hadn't really discovered that part of myself. And I just felt really enchanted by Possum and felt that electricity. And we stayed up till like 6am.
Possum: It was very, like, instant connection.
Rosemary: Very romantic. And then basically had a big crush on them for a year.
Possum: Yeah, it took a year after that before we actually got together.
Rosemary: Well, we were casually dating, but we lived in different cities.
Possum: We'd see each other every couple months. If one of us was in the other’s city, we’d have a romantic weekend and then go back to our lives.
Rosemary: I think both of us were at a point in our lives where we were just on the tip of having a big transformation. There was an unspoken sense we both needed to take time to discover that.
Meeting Possum made me realise my queerness. I was like, I have a crush on this person. What does that mean? It was putting a name to something that's always been in me. It really helped me grow a lot. I changed my name, I changed my hair, all of that stuff. So meeting Possum changed my life. I also never really got crushes on people, and I couldn't stop thinking about them. We both kind of dated other people in that time as well, but we just kept coming back to each other.
Possum: And it meant that when we did decide to be a couple, it was a very conscious decision of knowing this person really intimately and realising that being with them would be the thing that would make them happy. So when we went into the relationship, it became very serious very quickly because we already knew we wanted to do it.
Rosemary: Yeah. Like, I'm moving up. We're moving in together. We're getting a bank account together. All of that gay shit immediately.
Rosemary, you said meeting Possum made you realise your queerness. Can you tell me more about that? What was your dating life like before meeting Possum?
Rosemary: I never really got crushes on people. So when boys would like me, I would just kind of be like, yeah, I guess that's cool. And then when I got older, I thought that it would be cool to have a boyfriend because that's what you do. So basically, boys would like me. And if they wanted to date me, then I would just date them. And then I would just try as hard as I could to find romantic things in the relationship. And then they would break up with me because I would be too intense or whatever. That was pretty much the pattern.
But it was just because it wasn't right for me. I was just trying to find reasons to be into it instead of actually being into it. And that's what was really special with Possum is that the attraction and the connection was there without me thinking about it. And that's how I knew how real it was and what I recognise now is our soulmate connection.
Possum, what was your dating life like before meeting Rosemary?
Possum: I was out as bisexual since I was 11 or 12. It was just normal for me. My sister is gay as well. My parents were very accepting. I didn't have that same complicated relationship to queerness that I know a lot of other people do. I got really lucky, I guess.
I was always very flirtatious, constantly relationships on the go. But I was not that romantic. I didn't believe in true love for me. I was just enjoying being in relationships, but I figured that I would never be someone who would fall in love in a way where I would do it with my whole heart. So I had sort of accepted that as part of who I was before I was with Rosemary.
There's so many components to our romance and relationship that fit into that category of what you hear about in love songs or cheesy movies where it just changes your life. There are so many coincidences that feel like fate… We're just so good together, that it really shifted my whole idea about relationships. And now I'm very much a believer in true love [laughs]. It’s so cheesy. But I'm so happy that I am not that cynical...
Rosemary: ...bad boy.
Possum: That cynical bad boy anymore.
Due to Covid interruptions, Auckland Pride Month isn’t over yet! Here are some events you can check out over the next few weeks:
And if you're in Wellington, you can catch Rosemary's Radish Dad stall at the Out in the City market at Michael Fowler Centre for Wellington Pride, Saturday March 27th.