My Son Became My Daughter—And Then My Husband Became My Wife
When her daughter came out as transgender, she never imagined her husband would be next.
BY BRIE SCHWARTZ | Apr 18, 2016 | Culture
Two years ago, Amanda Jette Knox was sitting in her home office when her partner came bursting in, insisting that she check her email. At first Amanda brushed it off, assuming it was just some silly Buzzfeed quiz, as you do, but after her eyes glanced at the first few words in her inbox, she quickly realised her life would never be the same.
"I am a girl trapped inside a boy's body," the letter, written by her 11-year-old child, read. "More than anything, I want to be a girl. Please try to understand. Don't be mad. Please help me."
"I was in complete shock," Amanda, 39, told Redbook.
"I didn't know anything about transitions at the time–I didn't know there were trans kids, except from watching Montel Williams. I remember looking at those kids and thinking how awful it must be to be judged like that."
But without missing a beat, she said, "I thought, whoever this child was, whether she's male or female, or anything, we loved her and we needed to tell her that."
So she climbed under the covers with Alexis, who had been sobbing in her bedroom, and held her daughter.
"She had always been anxious, and withdrawn. We had done everything we could to help her, but it wasn't until she went on anti-depressants that she was able to control her moods enough to realise what was actually going on," Amanda explained.
Although she was different than Amanda's two other sons, Aerik, 19, and Jackson, 9, Alexis, was never particularly "girly."
"She liked Hannah Montana, and iCarly and she wanted to sew, but we didn't assume anything. We just thought you be you," Amanda, a writer from Ottawa, Canada, said.
When Alexis sat her brothers down to explain to them that she was transgender, they couldn't have taken the news any better.
"Okay, lemme get this straight. So, you're a boy on the outside, but you're a girl on the inside?" Jackson asked.
"That's cool, I always wanted a sister." And it was settled.
But despite the loving response Alexis received at home, the sixth grader's transition wasn't as seamless at school.
"Alexis was terrified. Wracked with anxiety, battling her way through depression. We had to pull her out of school within a few months, after one of her teachers said, 'She's shutting down, Amanda. I'm afraid we're losing her.' School work was the least of Alexis' concerns back then. Her friends had stopped talking to her, the world as she knew it was folding in on her.”
"THE WORLD AS SHE KNEW IT WAS FOLDING IN ON HER."
Amanda wrote on her blog, The Maven of Mayhem: "I remember spending those early days crying into the phone, crying into the eggs in the frying pan, crying while going through the drive-through ('can you repeat that, ma'am?'). Lots of mascara reapplication. Maybelline loved me very much two years ago."
Now, at 13, Alexis is thriving at an LGBTQ-friendly public school that has an all-gender bathroom and prides itself on being a "safe space."
"Her confidence has grown, and that tearful, fearful little person I once knew as my son has morphed into the most incredible young lady," Amanda shared.
But less than two years after Alexis came out as her true self, Amanda was faced with another astronomical challenge.
On July 2, 2015, Amanda's husband of 19 years, Zoe, also came out as transgender.
"I replied with an eloquent, You've got to be f*cking kidding me. This can't happen twice in one family."
"I was just starting to heal from feeling like I was losing a son, getting her settled in her life, and I was finally able to focus on other things. And then Zoe came out and I had no idea how I'd do it all over again," she told Redbook.
"The life I knew–the life I had with my husband–died that night. There's no other way to describe it.”
"I WAS JUST STARTING TO HEAL FROM FEELING LIKE I WAS LOSING A SON. I HAD NO IDEA HOW I'D DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN."
Amanda would come to find that Zoe, 43, knew by the age of six that she didn't feel like a boy.
"She suppressed those feelings knowing that in her small town, the only 'help' she'd receive would be conversion therapy. So she listened to her friends who suggested she had mental health problems, as she tried to 'man up.'"
Though Amanda always knew Zoe had a deep-seated unhappiness, she just assumed it was part of Zoe's brooding poetic ways. She had no idea her sadness stemmed from years of denying her true self.
"She was a songwriter, and I just thought, so you're a little moody, and you'll get over it." But she didn't. That is, not until Zoe was able to admit who she was.
"I didn't know what I was going to do," Amanda said. "I felt so betrayed and this healing scab had just been ripped off. I was angry and hurt and at the same time, really wanted to support her."
"For a while, I didn't know what to feel anymore," she admitted. Amanda had to make sure that the person Zoe was about to become would be the same person she initially had fallen in—and for a time—out of love with.
"I always told the kids it never mattered to me what gender their mom was, whether it was male or female it wouldn't matter. But I was worried I was attracted to the man I married and the qualities that he possessed. I was concerned that once she transitioned, I wouldn't be attracted to her qualities as a woman." But, as it turns out, Amanda said, "Now she's way hotter," adding with an excited giggle, "Zoe is a tall drink of water."
"I am so in love with the person she is," Amanda said, adding, "Zoe has so many great qualities and those haven't changed over the years–the difference is that now she's happy.”
"When we told the kids, Alexis started crying. 'I'm sorry,' she said. 'I'm just so happy for you. I know exactly what you're feeling right now and I know it's hard, but I know this is going to be wonderful.’"
"SHE HAS SO MANY GREAT QUALITIES AND THOSE HAVEN'T CHANGED—THE DIFFERENCE IS THAT NOW SHE'S HAPPY."
"If anything, their relationship really underscores for me how parents need to be supportive of their trans kids, so that they don't have to remain closeted until adulthood and undo all of this. Alexis only had 11 years working against her. Zoe had a lifetime."
While Zoe's transition has gone considerably smoothly, she was reluctant to share her new identity with her colleagues. But her peers have showed her an overwhelming amount of kindness.
Besides welcoming Zoe into the office with a newly decorated cubicle, they threw her a surprise coming out party.
Although Amanda may have initially been blindsided, she said that she and her wife have never been more in love. "Our marriage is better than ever, because for the first time we're two real people, having a real relationship."
"After nearly 23 years together, I finally have my whole partner, not just the part she wanted to show me," and, she slays in every dress she tries on, Amanda joked.
Amanda hopes that sharing her family's story will help to erase stigma. "I want people to learn with me," she wrote.
"If you learn along with me, then you won't be afraid. You won't think families like ours are defective or weird. You'll get to know the queer parents at your kids' school. Knowledge creates change. And then the world gets safer for Alexis and Zoe, the two bravest ladies I've ever had the pleasure of loving."
Next year, on their 20th wedding anniversary, Amanda and Zoe plan to renew their wedding vows. But this time, Zoe will wear a white dress, and finally get the ceremony she's always wanted.