...when love gives you life
After moving to a new town for grad school, Kenzo decided to create a Tinder profile and start their swiping journey. While nervous about putting themselves out there, when they came across Shantel’s profile, they didn’t hesitate to swipe right and immediately send her a message. And their risk paid off, because after a perfect first date and four years of love later, Kenzo and Shantel are happily married with fur babies.
But Kenzo has not always been, well Kenzo. And Shantel, hasn’t always been pansexual. Both partners, throughout their lives and relationship, have embarked on separate journeys of self, sexuality, and identity. But through those internal changes, therapy sessions and hospital stays, what has remained the same is their love for one another.
How did you all meet? And how long have you been together?
Kenzo: We met on Tinder. [It was] January 21st too, I remember that. Had to wait a few days, she kept me waiting. I'm like, alright, maybe she’s not going to hit me back, let's see. She finally hit me back and I'm like, alright. [But] I'm still kind of nervous at this point, because I've never really put myself out there. So what was my line? (Looks to Shantel) I was like, we can work out together. Now, we didn't actually do that until after we got together, but that's how we [first] linked and then we started messaging and everything. It’s like, she’s kind of cool, I like her. And then we had our first date, February 23rd, we went to a poetry night called Eargasm. And I was like, oh, is that too quick for her? You know, she might think I'm trying to get up in there real quick. [But] we went [and had the] best night. We had so much fun.
You guys went on your first date in February, and were official by April, that’s a pretty short courtship. How did you know so quickly that you had found the one?
Shantel: I would say that, everything just flowed. We just found ourselves hanging out a lot. I was always, at the time, in Tori’'s dorm room or [we were] always hanging out. So everything was just easy. We talked a lot, all day we're texting, hanging out. And it [was] just the connection. It just felt like a legit friendship. Nothing felt hard, it just made sense. And that's how I knew. Us being together all the time, having no issues, being able to talk, communicate. That sealed it for me.
Kenzo: Yeah, like she said, we were always together all the time, [and] it was just dope every single time. There were never any issues [or] anything. And I’m like, this girl is so dope, I want to get in a relationship with her.
Shantel: We have a lot of fun together
Speaker: Tori: [And] we were never doing the same thing, it was always something different, like out of the box. We ended up in a bounce house one day, [and then the] next day we were at a Miami Heat game. Then we [were at] a concert, just all over the place. And each time, it was all good vibes. The connection just felt like it was getting stronger and stronger. And so I was like, you know what? Babe so you will be my girl? And she was like, “you know, I want monogamy, right?” And I was like, we are on the same page when it comes to that. So, she was like, yes.
Shantel, what kind of romantic things did Tori do that really impressed you when you all first started dating?
Shantel: I would say [that], Tori’s very detailed. They listen to the small stuff, even things I wouldn't remember I said, they would remind me weeks later. [And] I’m like, you are actually listening, actually paying attention. I'm not a huge romantic person, so the fact that Tori was able to learn me without me saying it verbally at first really opened my eyes. I was like, okay, this person is actually paying attention. This person wants to get to know me.
Kenzo, what's your favorite thing about Shantel as your life partner?
Kenzo: I'll be honest, my favorite thing about her is the supportive side of her, like, in everything. We’ve been together for almost four years now. And literally in everything that I've experienced, I’ve been through health issues, mental health issues, family issues, and through all of that, she was always by my side. I don’t think a word can even match it. She [has] never faltered at anything. And seeing that we've been [in this thing] for years, how can that not be my favorite thing? She is always there for me. If I gotta go to anybody, I know I can count on her. Because this is my girl.
I know you guys recently got married, congratulations! Did you all talk about getting married before you actually popped the question Kenzo?
Kenzo: We talked about it. How we think things would go in a marriage, if we were on the same wavelength [on] everything. Like what kind of marriage we wanted to have, wedding details, what we were expecting out of each other in our marriage. And just the things that come along with it. Because while, yes, it doesn't feel too different, us being married. It is [still] a big step. So of course, we got to discuss things.
Shantel: I think another big thing is, especially for me, I'm not the type to rush into anything. So I love the fact that prior to you (Tori) actually proposing to me, we actually had that conversation. And we actually got to have open dialog
ue on what our values are and what we want out of life. And if certain things were to happen, how would we handle it, [and if we were] actually ready for something like marriage [because] it is a huge commitment. So having that conversation throughout our relationship really prepared us for the actual day and for the continuation of our partnership together.
What are your plans for the future as a newly married couple? Any particular life goals you guys are looking to achieve with one another?
Shantel: Well, we want to get a house.
Kenzo: Yeah, that's what I was about to say. One thing we've been talking about, even before we got married, was getting a house. We have two dogs, [so] we want a house with a big yard. We're trying to move out of Florida too.
"What word can actually describe it? Like it feels absolutely amazing. Like this love, it is strong as hell."
Shantel, I know. Kenzo is equally very popular, but also hated, at times, on social media. As their partner, in what ways does all of that attention affect you, if at all?
Shantel:Yeah, I would say in the beginning, I was a little concerned, because they blew up out of nowhere, like on Tik Tok and everything. And it was getting to the point where they were getting recognized out in public. And that was my biggest concern, about their safety more than anything. But as far as they're following, it doesn't bother me because at the end of the day, I know Tori, and I know who they are. And even like the comments online, people say all types of crazy stuff, [but] that doesn’t bother us because we know people troll. I know Tori has a huge, huge personality, and I love for them to show that off. So it doesn't bother me at all. At the end of the day, we are solid and not worried about what people say online.
Kenzo, I know you feel pretty protective of Shantel when it comes to your social media following. How do you balance both of those worlds? Your personal one, and the one you have on social media?
Kenzo: So for the most part, I discuss a lot of stuff with her. Anytime I get ready to post a photo of her, [I’ll ask her] “Hey, babe, is this good? What platform can I post it on?” Just because I know [how] those larger platforms treat me. And I'm like, Hell, no, I'm not gonna put her at risk of facing the same thing. People will look for anything to pick a person apart. And to corner my wife, hell, no, I can't let that happen.
Let’s talk a little about identity, what kind of conversations have you all had as a couple around your respective identities?
Kenzo: So, for me, personally, I feel like Twitter has helped me a lot. I come from a small town. I never saw anybody really different or like out there, you know, living their lives, living their truth, and things like that. And with social media, specifically, you get to see so many different people. It makes you realize that those things that you might have been feeling about yourself, or like how you view yourself, it's not weird. It’s who you are, you’re living your truth. And so I think figuring that out, through social media, and then of course, like continuing to feel the way that I did, that's where I came upon the term transmasculine. Just because I'm along that line about gender, I don't really care about it. And then I feel like I'm just more masculine. For example, I didn’t want any titties, so I got them removed. And people made a big deal about it, but I'm like, I'm still who I am. I'm still Kenzo. That's just how it works. But, I was scared at first, I felt like maybe I had some type of hidden transphobia. Because like the trans part of it, I didn’t want to go that route. But then like, going deep into myself, with therapy and just discussing more; I was like [there] nothing is wrong with that. That's just who I am. Right now, I'm embracing myself, I 100% feel comfortable. And it is the best feeling ever.
And Shantel, what kind of conversations are you having around your identity?
Shantel: It's weird because in my early 20s, when I actually started dating, I identified as straight. I was only dating Cis men. And then when I got to my mid 20s, I started adventuring into dating women. So I was like, okay, well then I'm bi. And then [as I moved] into my later 20s, I started to identify as pansexual. I don't really see gender. When I'm attracted to somebody, their gender is not the main thing for me. So I already knew before we even had that discussion, before Tori came out as trans. I already knew I was pansexual. And it didn't really surprise me even. Though I've never felt like you were going to tell me that, like when we first met, Tori identified as a woman. So that's what I thought [they were] and I never had any hints that you were looking to transition or identify as non-binary. But for me, it was never really a big deal, because again, the whole gender part is not a big thing to me. It's more about the person.
And then what kinds of conversations have you had around it with your family and friends?
Kenzo: I feel like with my family, we country, we just straight up with each other. So it was just like, hey y'all, this me. My pronouns are they/them. They still call me Tori which is fine, because I don’t really care. [It was a lot] easier than I thought it would be, because my family is very, very open.
Shantel: We also have a lot of queer black family too, our brothers sisters. So that just made it so much easier because they get it.
Kenzo, I know you work in education, in what ways have you had to educate your students on understanding and respecting your identity?
Kenzo: I really only address it if the kids ask. And usually, it's a pretty simple conversation that I have with them. Usually the question is, are you a boy or girl? And I'm like, I'm neither, some people don't identify as boys or girls. And usually, they go on about it. Well, some of them are like, Coach, what do you want us to call you? And that's where we just came up with Coach Kenzo. And then my pronouns, some of them, you know, they still slip up. And the cutest thing is, they'll catch themselves really quick. Like, for example, I have students come to me [and refer to me as] Miss, and then all of a sudden, I mean, coach! They will correct themselves. But some adults won't even do that, there'll be buttholes about it. And to see the kids just pick up on it like that, they make it easy. At least where I'm at, they make it easy, because I haven't felt uncomfortable around them.
"And that's how I knew. Us being together all the time, having no issues, being able to talk, communicate. That sealed it for me."
And Shantel, do you have any advice you could offer to other women whose partners might be going through a similar identity transition?
Shantel: Yeah, I just feel like if you're really serious with somebody or committed, and you actually love somebody, you have to be willing to be there with them through their life. They're going to change. No one's gonna stay the same, they're not going to be the same person when you first met them. So I feel like it, it all comes with patience and understanding. Everyone's gonna have a journey. I'm not gonna be the same person I am now in ten years. So I feel like once you accept that, and if you really truly love that person for who they are, no matter where they transition to, they end up transitioning to, they're really that same person, you know, at the core and at the root of themselves. And I feel like love just conquers all. When you really love somebody, all that other stuff it's not going to matter. And it just takes patience and communication. Communicate with your partner, try to understand your partner, and be supportive.
Okay, let’s lighten things up before we wrap up. What is the funniest thing you all find about one another?
Shantel: I feel like Tori is just a very lively person. I know a lot of people follow them on social media so they see how they are. And that is how Tori is all the time. That energy, that liveliness and the fact that we can joke around with each other; we're legit best friends. We can joke around, have a good time and we have the same sense of humor.
Kenzo: Well for me it was your roast. When you try to roast me. She thinks she’s funny…
Shantel: My jokes?
Kenzo:Yeah, it’s her jokes. They were corny for a little bit, especially her dad jokes.
Last question, how does it feel to be loved by her and them?
Shantel : It was dope. It feels great.
Kenzo: What word can actually describe it? Like it feels absolutely amazing. Like this love, it is strong as hell for one. And we just intertwine, we're just fit. And it's the most amazing feeling in the world. Like I [dont] feel like I'll have anything to worry about because the connection that we have, how we talk to each other, is all in love. Never yelling, cussing out anything like that. Everything is love.
Shantel: It's very comforting. It's great.
Note: When reading this article you will notice that Shantel refers to Kenzo as “Tori.” Kenzo has confirmed with us that either name is acceptable and are often used interchangeably by family and friends.
Interview by: Kee Simone, LBH Editor-in-Chief (@thebaddiegalore)