It is something scary and also powerful when one’s own family becomes a public event. That’s certainly something Amanda Jetté Knox knows all about.
She has written a memoir about her family and her own life and it is certainly a unique story.
Knox is the mother of a trans teenager named Alexis and she is the partner of a trans parent named Zoë. Knox is not unknown in Ottawa and more widely. She has been writing and blogging about her story for sometime and now she has written a book about it all. And you may have seen her on TV lately.
Her book, Love Lives Here: A Story of Thriving in a Transgender Family, is a surprisingly frank story about her family life written from Knox’s perspective.
Why be this open? She was quick to provide a simple answer to ARTSFILE.
“The motivation is to normalize it. That is the No. 1 reason. The thing about our family, other than the fact that a couple of people have transitioned within our family, is we are so typical.
“We live in a suburb. Our kids go to school. We walk our dogs. That is who we are. We just happen to have a couple of trans people in our family.
“That’s why I wanted to write it. I think that relatability is often the missing piece when people are trying to understand something new.
“Trans folks are just human beings. That is exactly what I am talking about. They are the same people, they are just more authentic, happier and more comfortable in their lives because they are transitioning. That is a bonus. That is what we all want in our lives.”
This is a memoir of Knox’s own life and that too serves her purpose.
“There are so many books and blogs and essays — there needs to be far more of those — but there are lot of examples of very visible trans people out there telling their stories.
“I’m not trans. I’m not going to tell that story and it would be inappropriate for me to do. So what I did is try to create a helpful guide to the fumbles and the mistakes and the occasional win and the ultimate leading with love. I am a cisgender person trying to support trans people in her life when I didn’t really know a lot about trans issues.”
She believes the broader society is becoming more aware but it is a slow process.
“So many times I meet people who are saying, ‘Someone in my family has come out and I have no idea what to do’.”
Knox knows from experience that learning from trans people is the most important thing. As well, learning from those who have been through this helps understand that “it’s actually not the end of the world. It can be a positive and here’s how.”
This is not a story that is told often in Ottawa and as a result Knox has become a focus of attention.
“It’s weird. Every once in a while I get someone who says, ‘Wow, look you just tried to get famous off of your family?’ This isn’t exactly the way I’d want to get well known.”
It’s certainly not comfortable.
“The other day I was at the police station filing a report about a death threat.”
And this wasn’t the first.
“I get death threats. Every now and then I get hit with a wave of alt-right accounts that will find a tweet of mine or a blog post or a facebook reference and I get inundated with insults and threats. A lot is hurled at trans family members but a lot are aimed at me trying to get me to shut up.
“So I have to be careful. My family has to be careful. Safety is always at the back of my mind. But we have a nice community in Kanata where our neighbours have seen us through these transitions. We have been supported. We are well protected here. They watch out for us.”
Still she checks the street before leaving her home ans she checks parking lots. She is always extra careful when she is out alone.
“It’s not fun but then you get emails from people who say my family’s story has encouraged them to come out to their family.
“That’s why I do it.”
Knox knows all about learning from experience. She was raised in Aylmer and was bullied badly in school. That experience did prompt the abuse of drugs and other difficulties, but she survived and now she has a lifetime of learning how to deal with bullies.
“That has helped me so much. The therapy I have done, the work I have done on my self, the healing I have done have helped me manage this in a way that I don’t think I could have otherwise.
“I don’t want to leave the impression that I’m grateful for what happened to me but I was able to pull something positive from it.”
She recounts being bullied at school growing up in Aylmer and the impact of that on her own personality.
“I wanted people to see the evolution of someone who was so traumatized by some of the things that happened to me. I wanted them to see how I dealt with that poorly for a long time.”
One example is her re-sodding her front lawn because a neighbour had commented on the number of dandelions.
“How ridiculous is that. My editor said ‘I don’t know if that needs to be in here’ and I said ‘Trust me it needs to be in here’.”
The demonstration continues to the end of the memoir so Knox could show people she had come from being a person afraid of people pointing out weeds in her lawn to not caring what people say about her on the internet and fighting for her family very openly.
“You can get your power back,” she said.
In the book it’s hard not to be moved by Alexis’s story when as an 11 year old she tearfully reveals herself.
But Zoë’s story is poignant too.
Knox said she knew something was wrong in the marriage for a long time.
“I could never put my finger on it, even after Alexis came out. In my mind it couldn’t happen twice in one family. I don’t know why I thought that, but it’s so uncommon to have a trans child, how could there be two in one family.
“I just knew that she was genuinely unhappy in this life we had built for ourselves from a really young age. She was unhappy but not for the reason I was thinking. I thought she felt trapped” by the responsibilities of adulthood and raising children
“People can have resentment over that but it was something else. She was missing life as herself.”
The surprising thing is the couple have stayed together.
“The reason was that she always loved me and she realized that didn’t change. There was always a strong connection even when things were dysfunctional and unhealthy.
“I also think that we leaned into each other as opposed to pulling away.
“I realized she was my person. She’s just a better version of herself now. She was all of those pieces that I was hoping to see in my partner that I couldn’t see because the person I knew as my husband was just so closed off and angry and resentful and bitter and melancholy. Those parts just fell away when that wall fell away and there was this beautiful person there.”
People are so much more than gender, Knox said.
“We have these roles that we play and we don’t question them.
I am supposed to do all these things as a girl and woman. Thankfully that narrative fits me pretty well. But if it didn’t fit, that would probably cause an identity issue for me and bring on a whole bunch of other stuff.”
On the day we spoke Knox had just received a box of books. She was signing them and delivering copies to CHEO, the Youth Services Bureau and Family Services Ottawa — “all the places that really helped us.”
She hopes that the books, in turn, will help others.
Both Alexis and Zoë are comfortable with the memoir and gave their permission for the story to be told. The story was already out there of coursem but the book is more detailed and books tend to have permanence.
“It is a vulnerable place to be but we really wanted to provide people with a guide. When Zoë and Alexis came out wasn’t much like this out there.
“It is absolutely uncomfortable but I really hope that it helps. The only way we are going to get to a place of comfort and full acceptance is when books like this aren’t needed anymore.
“Hopefully some day coming out is something you do because it feels good to own it and say who you are. And it isn’t something you are terrified of doing because there are ramifications.”
Knox has tons of support from family and friends and both Zoë and Alexis are moving on. Zoë is back at work in a welcoming place, Knox said, and Alexis has survived teenaged angst and has her G1 license now.
Today, Knox said, the furthest thing from Alexis’ mind is that she is trans.
“That’s exactly what I want for her. I don’t want her to feel ashamed of it or to forget it either. It’s just one part of Alexis and now she gets to grow up and be who she is.”
There are many young people who are not supported, she said.
“We needed to tell out story so these kids get supported” especially after the Ford government in Ontario pulled the sex ed curriculum that discussed the issues facing queer and trans youth.
“When it went through I was so happy and then they went and yanked it and it’s so sad. These kids deserved better.”
Love Lives Here: A Story of Thriving in a Transgender Family
Amanda Jetté Knox (Viking)