The love that Ivy McGowan and Yoey Maxwell share is a rare kind.
In the five years since they met by chance at a queer picnic in Naarm/Melbourne on Ivy's 22nd birthday, it's grown to become something they had both thought they could only ever dare to dream for.
We asked them to share their story with us.
What were your first impressions of each other?
Ivy: Looking back, it felt like things slowed down when I met Yoey. I remember feeling this immediate sense of calm when we first talked.
They spoke to me like I was the only person who mattered in the moment even though there were lots of other things going on that day.
Yoey: One of my first thoughts was, "Ooh, she's a hugger!" Because Ivy gave me a huge one when we met and I'm not a big hugger, but it was really nice.
Then I remember thinking she was quiet and shy at the same time as being very warm and friendly.
When we spoke, she didn't give a lot away about herself, which gave me the impression she was focusing on making other people feel welcome and safe. I related to that — putting in the effort to make others comfortable and asking others lots of questions.
It made me want to know more about her.
How did you start dating?
Ivy: We didn't do the typical, "I'm going to ask you out on a date" thing. We kept running into each other at parties (that Yoey was invited to and which I coincidentally gatecrashed) for about a year and a half after that day.
Yoey: Yeah, we were in a hazy space between friendship and romance for a while — I like to think of it as an extended courtship.
I eventually got sick of only seeing each other in group settings though. So, I invited Ivy out to coffee and we had cute chats and walked around and ate vegan donuts together but it was still like, "Maybe we're hanging out as friends? Maybe it's a date? We don't know".
Ivy: But then on a fateful New Year's Eve nearly five years ago, we had our chance thanks to some random party we were both at and the construction of the kiss at the end of the countdown.
When everyone there screamed out "One!" we looked at each other and kissed and time stopped again.
Yoey: We didn't put any labels on it until we felt really comfortable with each other. But after we finally talked about our feelings, things got serious really quickly. We were both so clingy — Ivy especially — but in the sweetest way.
In the first two weeks of dating, we made a shared playlist called "Clingy" which was full of all these songs we'd listen to when we were feeling clingy but we were away from each other.
When did you move in?
Ivy: Before Yoey, I could never really imagine living with a partner. I'd always been very quick to fall in love on the dance floor, and I was always getting heartbroken: trans girls like me are rarely the princess in the movie.
But after a year and a half of dating, in 2019 I knew Yoey and I could build our queer and trans chosen family together.
Yoey: I'd made a rule for myself: I wasn't allowed to move in after only like three months of dating because I didn't want to be a stereotypical queer [Ivy and Yoey laugh]. But yeah, by that year and a half point the time felt right.
Ivy: Everything about building a home with this incredible dream of a person in the years since has made me so happy, from moving all our books to the same bookshelf to choosing and nurturing plants together and raising our three guinea pig children that I gave birth to [Ivy laughs hysterically].
How has your relationship changed since then?
Ivy: I was diagnosed with adrenoleukodystrophy [a genetic neurological condition also known as ALD] when I was little and symptoms started to develop in early 2019.
They've continued to progress since then, but because of how rare my condition is, we don't know how rapidly things might continue to progress or how long I have. That's been a really big part of our relationship the past few years.
But as my body and brain's abilities have changed and we've said hello to my dementia, we've created a relationship that doesn't conform to mainstream expectations. We've built something so beautiful I don't have the language to capture it.
Yoey: When Ivy told me her illness was going to start progressing, I knew I wanted to spend as much time with her as I could. Since then, I've started caring for her full-time.
Obviously, that's a very different relationship to being early-to-mid 20-year-olds going to parties together every weekend. There have definitely been really hard times — anyone who's experienced grief or cared for a loved one knows it's all-encompassing and comes with a lot of sadness.
But at the same time, my love for her grows in this ever-expansive way, and I've felt her love for me grow in that way too.
We've built this emotional intimacy and care for each other that's beyond anything I could have imagined.