“Thank you,” I told them. “Thank you for being so much better than an occasional phone call asking if I’ve given up yet.”
Zoë Michelle Knox and Amanda Jetté Knox were already famous in Canada for the improbable beauty of their journey when I met them. They were the family that had gone from the picture of white suburban normalcy to a beacon of queer hope, as father and son rediscovered themselves as wife and daughter, made public by Amanda’s blog and Internet presence, and they had been all over Canada’s magazines and web sites. The fact that they were local meant that my friends and extended circles were particularly aware of these lovely people, and made sure I heard when their speaking tour brought them to an auditorium within not-too-forbidding walking distance of my home. They spoke about Amanda’s then-nascent book, Love Lives Here: A Story of Thriving in a Transgender Family, about trans issues in general, about how society fails us and how people can make sure the transgender family members among them feel loved, supported, and cared for despite widespread social disapproval and even violence.
But it is where Amanda takes the time to present Zoë’s backstory that her craft truly shines. In between detailed accounts of her own background, she presents vignettes from Zoë’s life. These summaries of pivotal moments in the span from Zoë’s childhood to their meeting present the young trans girl’s pain with deep empathy, and the scenes are unerringly familiar for many girls like her. Zoë is referred to as “the girl from Peterborough” until she chooses her name, making these sequences even more hauntingly poetic than they were before, the compassion of refusing to deadname her serving to make her feel immanent upon us all. This is no voyeuristic decadence, but the unflinching emotion of someone determined to acknowledge pain, and error, and beauty, and joy, everywhere they are found. They set up the most important part of Zoë’s path, where she emerges from the pressurized cage of her closet into effervescent, glowing self-actualization, with wondrous aplomb.
Nor does Amanda avoid acknowledging her own missteps. This is a chronicle of her wife’s and her daughter’s journeys into themselves, but it is, at least as much, the journal of Amanda’s own emotional responses to these changes. Amanda does not shy away from presenting the raw and difficult emotions that people like her can experience when their loved ones transition, and where she presents her own urgent and passionate advocacy as the right endpoint, it is as a follow-up to the chaos that preceded it. She shows us the mingled determination to do right by her daughter Alexis and the denial that too many parents of transgender children express, the mistakes of terminology that are too easy to make and that always seem to happen when freshly transitioning people are at their most sore, and the terror of knowing that the best-case scenario for all of the above is still emerging into a world that is determined to make life difficult for one’s transgender child. She grapples with the equally noisome terror of how much can really change when one’s spouse suddenly finds herself. Few narratives about the trans experience written by cis people truly understand that a transition is not just a change of wardrobe and physique and pronouns, but a profound release into a period of self-discovery, showing the previous state to have been a stressful and often traumatized shell, and Love Lives Here shows us this, too. Transition is and feels like finally coming home to oneself after a lifelong absence, and when someone knew and loved the person one was before, that can be a frightful prospect. But we become ever more ourselves as we march through our HRT and our shopping trips and our stints in government waiting rooms, and those who love us find ways to keep loving us. In a world where so many of us know that our romantic relationships might not survive our path to ourselves, Amanda writes of a partnership that came close to breaking but emerged stronger than ever when she and her wife both, ultimately, found themselves.
Love Lives Here is a brisk read, not nearly as heavy as the science fiction I usually devour when I have time for books. Its chapters whiz by with disarming ease, making their emotional impact all the more impressive. Where I slowed down on my tour through this book, it was to clean up after the wracking sobs that its key moments elicited: Alexis’s terrified disclosure, the moment when young Zoë’s first attempt at exiting her closet goes completely wrong, Alexis’s first time in a wedding party as herself, onward to a beautiful epilogue I won’t spoil.
When I met Zoë and Amanda, they were giving a presentation here in Ottawa, not so far from their home, about all of this and more, filling in the audience on more details of a journey that many of them had already seen in outline. I was one of the last people to stand and offer commentary, as much in response to other questioners as to them. I made sure that no one in that room escaped the knowledge that Canada’s conservative politicians and Ontario’s parasitic relationship with the deeply regressive Catholic Church were threats to people like us that our erstwhile allies needed to oppose with all their might, and I thanked the two of them. “Thank you,” I told them. “Thank you for being so much better than an occasional phone call asking if I’ve given up yet.” I thanked them, barely keeping myself together, for being the vision of affirming love and parenthood that the next round of girls like me so desperately needed, so that they might escape feeling like they had to move thousands of kilometers from home and coming close to severing ties with everyone they left behind. After the glad-handing of many attendees, what had been a sunny arrival turned into a rainy departure. They drove me home. There’s a metaphor in here somewhere, but all I can remember is telling Zoë what an honor it was to meet her, and her telling me, “Oh, I’m nothing special.”
That’s the most wonderful thing about Love Lives Here and about the Knox family: the sheer, beautiful extravagance of how un-special they are, and how special they are anyway.
When my parents visited a few months ago, I made sure they returned to Miami with a copy of Love Lives Here. This month, I finally read mine. And for anyone else needing a bucket of hope on a rainy spring day about how some girls like us do indeed find our happy endings, Love Lives Here is here for you.