Ivory Conover on monster leeches, open marriages and the terror of skydiving
Lunch With: Conversations with interesting people in Kawartha Lakes
She can breathe fire, save horses and is a sought-after burlesque dancer. Oh, and she once jumped from a plane with a tiny Russian man on her back. But we’ll get to the tedium a bit later.
When I meet Ivory Conover at The Pie Eyed Monk in Lindsay she apologizes for getting back to me so late. Something about long days on set, shooting an indie horror movie. Something about playing a cop, running through the wilds of Ontario, chasing a monster leech. (The usual excuses; as journalists, we just get used to these things.)
The 36-year-old is biracial, bisexual, polyamorous and happily married. So maybe not your typical Woodville resident.
The self-described cockeyed optimist believes that Star Trek is better than Star Wars (I liked her immediately), and that archery and axe throwing are underrated pastimes.
Conover was largely raised in Toronto but spent summers in the Kawartha region while growing up. But when she and her husband moved to Woodville five years ago to an idyllic rectangle of a farm, she felt she was at home.
She explains that the panini has affected people in many ways. (Conover avoids saying pandemic so uses a substitute; cue the Italian bread.) For her, the panini caused her Toronto-based event planning business to dry up, almost overnight. From an income perspective, she had lost her bread and butter. (Okay, enough with the bread.)
Conover’s soda water arrives at our table, along with my green tea, our beverages unreflective of the spicey content in our conversation.
It was the stunning loss of her event planning business income that caused her to reevaluate her life path. She and her husband planned for a new life in Woodville, using the equity in their Toronto home to acquire the five-acre farm. Friends and family said she wouldn’t last, that Toronto was in her veins. They were wrong.
Toronto is still there for her to visit when needed for her career, but Kawartha Lakes continues to impress her.
“I love Lindsay. I love Kawartha Lakes. Everyone had money on me going stir-crazy here. Seven months in, I said, ‘I don’t want to go back to Toronto.’ Things are at a reasonable speed now,” she says, referring to her new pace of life. She also describes herself as a “fish,” so “the 250 lakes in this city can’t hurt.”
Lunch arrives. It’s a large garden salad for Conover, minus the candy-striped beets — she’s allergic. For me, it’s a choose-your-own chicken and pineapple pizza. (Judge not, lest ye be judged.)
Back to the spicey bits. “So, I’m bi and I’m married to a man who also identifies as queer.” She told her then-boyfriend, “I date women and men. You’re welcome to do so as well.” It was also clear before they got married that they were interested in a polyamorous relationship – an open marriage.
Conover, in conversation, is not one to lean in and lower her voice, preferring instead the let-it-fly approach. From our high-top table I can see at least six heads turned our way during this part of the chat. At first, I am self-conscious. Then I am happy that we’ve made their day more interesting.
“I don’t recommend an open marriage for everyone,” she says. “It takes humility, commitment and self-searching. It means checking in with your primary partner regularly about what you’re feeling.”
Conover says a lot of people in the queer community know how to be “poly” more easily than heterosexuals “because we’ve been used to being on the fringes.”
But Conover says there are still feelings involved in this kind of relationship and “News flash: you can cheat on someone in a polyamorous relationship.”
That happens, she says, when people act sneaky about it. Everything must be out in the open for a poly lifestyle to work. “My husband and I have been through infidelity in our open marriage. That’s a tough one to explain to my hetero girlfriends.”
Fifteen years in, though, they’re still happily married. Even the hustle of the back and forth between Woodville and Toronto seems to be working for them.
When in Toronto and other major cities, you can sometimes catch Conover touring with Les Femmes Fatales, Canada’s premier women-of-colour burlesque troupe.
The big city has also been kind to her television aspirations, with several shows to her credit, including One Queen, Five Queers, streaming on Crave. “It’s all about sex, relationships, love. It’s more risqué than a lot of people want to hear,” she says. “I told my father, ‘You don’t want to watch it.’”
Then there’s The Succulent Six on CBC Gem or YouTube, from 2018, a show about body-positive heroes who encourage people to love how they look. The six episodes are more family friendly, according to Conover.
She steers things back to farm life and says I should see their place sometime. She starts to paint a picture of a very normal farm life. Oh, except for the no-clothes thing.
“Clothes are like prisons. I am naked all the time.”
I make a note it’s best to call before visiting.
The boisterous nudist and plus-size model says there’s lots to do on the farm. First and foremost, there’s caring for her horses, all of them massive draught geldings. On the day we met, she was off to pick up her fourth — her biggest yet, at 19 hands high. (Back in 2007 when she got engaged, she didn’t get a ring — she got an engagement horse, which is just what she requested.)
Aside from the equine focus she loves doing archery and axe throwing on the farm and walking around breathing fire for photo shoots. It also comes in handy on the stage — a gift that’s in her blood, since her late mother also had this talent.
For Conover, it’s all about keeping “wonder” in her life. “Kids do that naturally. For adults, we need to work on that.”
Knowing she liked to push her own boundaries, her husband decided to send her skydiving in Niagara Falls on her 32nd birthday — but he made it a surprise.
Conover says it was “just me, the pilot, and a tiny Russian man,” who she estimates was maybe 5’4”. The way she was told that it would work was they would be connected to one another for the descent.
“He was strapped to my back like I was wearing him. Just me and Sergei.”
A camera took a picture of her face every two seconds as she plummeted to earth. “What we got in the end was a stop motion video of my terror. First, you just want to laugh but then when you see that the terror never leaves my face it gets really uncomfortable,” she says with a laugh.
“One day I’m just going to send my husband alligator wrestling with no notice.”
Conover may not have enjoyed skydiving, but she hasn’t slowed down for a minute on her approach to life.
“I have so much I still want to do — there’s still so much to create. So many leeches still to chase.”