How we met: ‘I like to think of myself as rational, but this felt like love at first sight’

When Tori moved to San Francisco from London in 2000, she didn’t know anyone there. Keen to meet new people, she regularly went to group events and parties, building up a network of friends. In 2002, she was invited to a brunch in Oakland, where she was briefly introduced to Stella, an art therapist. “We caught each other’s eye but didn’t interact very much,” says Tori, who was transitioning at the time. “I thought she looked really nice.”

In March 2003, they bumped into each other again at a party. “I was quizzing someone about Burning Man festival because I’d never been,” says Tori. “Stella joined the conversation and I recognised her from brunch.”

Stella, who’d been active in the Burning Man arts community, was happy to offer tips. They were both smitten with each other, and spent the rest of the night chatting. “I like to think of myself as rational and logical, but this felt like love at first sight, which I’m not even sure I believe in,” says Tori. They exchanged contact details that night. “I still have the scrap of paper her number was written on,” says Stella.

But when Stella invited her to a drag show later that week, Tori worried she’d made a mistake. At the time, she thought Stella was only inviting her to a drag event because she was a trans woman. “I definitely wasn’t,” says Stella. “I’ve always loved those performances.” They soon ironed out the misunderstanding and agreed to meet at a piano bar in early April. “When you’re trans, you don’t always know where people are coming from so I was being a bit guarded,” says Tori.

On their night out together, they “clicked instantly” and soon became a couple. “I was in a band and sometimes Stella would meet me after rehearsal, or we’d go to her art shop or an event,” remembers Tori.

Their first trip together was to Burning Man festival. “I had my friend make us some matching pink costumes and Tori was appalled,” laughs Stella. “But when everyone was fawning over us, she loved it and didn’t take it off for two days.”

Tori appreciates how supportive Stella was while she continued her transition. “She encouraged me to come out as trans at work in 2006,” says Tori. “I worked in software and assumed I’d have to quit my job, but she made me see things differently.”

In 2011, Stella started a counselling job that required her to travel abroad regularly. She rented out her flat in Emeryville, just outside of San Francisco, and stayed in the city with Tori whenever she returned home. They got married in 2016 and moved in together two years later. “We had enjoyed having our own places but we decided we didn’t want to be apart any more,” says Tori. “When we first moved in together we both had clear ideas about how to run a household, but we’re really good at communicating so, if we ever disagreed, we sorted it out quickly.”

Their relationship grew stronger during the pandemic. “We were each other’s everything for two years,” says Stella. One of the things she loves most about her partner is her kindness and generosity. “Tori is also a very good listener. I need to be able to speak my mind and she always makes me feel better instantly. She cooks lovely food, too.”

Tori says that food is her “love language”. “I really love Stella’s wackiness,” she says. “I grew up in a strait-laced family and her zany personality really helps draw me out. She makes me a bit wilder and crazier.”

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