ENCORE: How a husband and wife came to love each other more as wife and wife
When Zoe Knox came out as transgender, it was a complete shock to her spouse, Amanda.
The two had been together for more than 20 years as a heterosexual couple and had three kids. And although Amanda knew Zoe had been unhappy, she had no idea it was because Zoe was, in fact, a woman.
But, after some swearing and a lot of long walks, the couple talked through Zoe's transition — and their future. Despite some initial doubts, the couple is still together. And today, they're renewing their vows in celebration of their 20th wedding anniversary — this time as wife and wife.
All-in-all, I think we're a pretty typical family.- Zoe Knox
Amanda and Zoe met when they were teenagers in the early '90s.
"We were both at the same party, and I left the room for a minute and I came back and this gorgeous person was sitting at the table," explains Amanda. "And I just knew within a couple of hours that this was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with."
The two moved in together a month later, had a child two years after that, and in August of 1997, they finally said, "I do."
They now live in Kanata, a suburb of Ottawa, with their three children.
"My family, I think it's a pretty typical suburban family," says Zoe. "There are two parents. There are three kids. Our kids go to school. We have the usual struggles getting them there, you know, getting homework done. All-in-all, I think we're a pretty typical family."
But a few years ago, the family started to go through some major changes.
"There was a time, about three-and-a-half years ago, where if you'd asked me to describe my family I would have said that we were a mom and a dad with three boys," says Amanda.
But she says their middle child had always been unhappy and anxious, and that they never knew why.
More than anything else, I need to be a girl.- Alexis Knox, at age 11
One night, Amanda took her two youngest children shopping for pink t-shirts for an anti-bullying event at school the next day. Their youngest son, Jackson, was enraged that there weren't any pink t-shirts in the boys' department. That led to a discussion about gender stereotypes and how people should just be able to be who they are.
Later that night, their middle child, Alexis, sent her parents an email. Alexis was 11-years-old at the time.
"Please don't be upset," she wrote. "I am a girl trapped inside a boy's body, and more than anything else I need to be a girl."
Alexis explained that she was afraid and that she needed her parents' support.
When Amanda and Zoe went up to Alexis' room, they found her underneath the covers and in tears.
"I didn't know much about trans issues, and at the time, I didn't know Zoe knew a lot about trans issues, but I knew that I loved my child," says Amanda. And so they crawled into bed with Alexis and said: "it's OK. We love you no matter what."
And that was the beginning of their family's transitions.
"When she sent that email, it was something I always knew that I wanted," says Zoe. "But it was something that I'd stuffed so deep down because the couple of times that I'd tried to do something about it, it was closed down so finally by the people around me."
After trying to come out as a young teen, with no support, Zoe had become convinced that it was something she could never do, and that if anybody discovered her secret, her life would be ruined.
"Obviously, the first thing I wanted was to make sure that she [Alexis] was OK and get her what she needed," explains Zoe. "But it also brought up a lot of stuff for me, and so within months of getting [Alexis] started in a transition, I got to a point where I needed to do something about it."
A few months after Alexis came out, Amanda and Zoe went on a date night — just a night out for dinner and coffee without the kids.
Amanda describes Zoe as having her often-present dark cloud over her.
"I had long ago come to this place of begrudging acceptance that my spouse was always going to be miserable, and that I would never know why," recalls Amanda.
I know that there's something you're not telling me and I wish you would just say it.- Amanda Jetté-Knox
Amanda says she had always tried to lift the mood for the rest of the family, but on this particular night, she had grown weary of the effort and started a calm but pointed conversation with Zoe on the car ride home.
"I wish you would just tell me what's wrong," said Amanda. "I know that there's something you're not telling me and I wish you would just say it."
When Zoe did not reply, Amanda started to guess what the issue might be.
"Are you gay? Is that it?"
Zoe responded that she was not.
"What, are you a woman or something? Is that what's going on?"
To this question, there was no reply. Just silence. And in the silence, Amanda found her answer.
"Oh, wow. Did this just happen?"
A less than perfect response
Amanda acknowledges that she did not respond very well.
I had been living with someone for over 20 years and had no idea.- Amanda Jetté-Knox
"I said, 'oh you have got to be f-ing kidding me!'"
Despite having a trans child and understanding trans issues, the news came as a shock.
"Not just the fact that she is trans, but the fact that I had been living with someone for over 20 years and had no idea," says Amanda, with emotion in her voice.
"But then everything started to make sense. It was like, 'well, that would explain why you're so miserable.' That was a really tough night."
So the two of them sat in their car, in a rainy parking lot, talking.
In the car, Zoe told Amanda that she'd never been able to tell anyone about being transgender, saying that's how much she trusted Amanda — she could share her story with her.
Amanda recalls that, "all I could think at the time was, 'I really hope that you put your trust in the right person, because I've got to figure out if I can handle this. This is big news."
Talking it through
"Mostly, I was struggling with fear," says Zoe. "My secret's now going to come out and who knows what's going to come of that?"
While it was a relief to finally share her 'secret' with someone, it was also terrifying for Zoe.
"I was pretty convinced our whole relationship was over that night," says Zoe.
Amanda thought it was over too.
The next weeks and months were filled with a lot of tears and a lot of long walks together, trying to work things through.
I pictured a world without Zoe in it, and that wasn't the world I wanted.- Amanda Jetté-Knox
"I pictured a world without Zoe in it, and that wasn't the world I wanted." - Amanda Jetté-Knox
As with many people who are transgender, Zoe feared losing her family. For Amanda, it meant examining her own sexuality.
"I think we kind of lived parallel lives for several weeks," explains Zoe. "We were keeping in touch, we were talking things out, but we were very much going on with our own lives in a lot of ways."
In the end, they decided to stay together.
"This is the person that I was meant to spend the rest of my life with," says Amanda. "I pictured a world without Zoe in it, and that wasn't the world I wanted," says Amanda.
"We're soulmates. As cliched as that is, we're soulmates," says Zoe.
It was nearly a year before Zoe came out to the world.
The couple started with a teary conversation with their three children. The kids had known something was wrong and feared that their parents were getting a divorce.
Their oldest son, Aerik, 20, acknowledges there was some sense of loss.
"I think the hardest part was letting go of the idea of my parent being my male role model," he says. "I spent 18 years modelling my behaviour after this person who I thought was my father.
But he also notes that his family is much happier now.
"I think the best thing is the openness, the willingness to engage," he says.
Alexis took in the news from a place of understanding.
"I thought, 'well, OK, I don't want to lose my father, but I'm very happy to allow someone else to be themselves."
Slowly, they started to share the news with family and friends. The family acknowledges that they did lose some friends along the way, but for the most part, the reaction has been positive.
Back to work
Until she came out at work, Zoe maintained her previous identity in public, while living as her true self in private.
"It was a very difficult time," Zoe says with a sigh. "It's hard to be two people."
Before fully coming out, Zoe took a couple of weeks off of work. Before she left, she sent her colleagues an email.
"In that letter I basically said that we've worked together for a long time but none of you have ever really seen me because I need to tell you this," explains Zoe. "I'm going to have a new name and new pronouns and this is what they are. And that's probably one of the most terrifying things I've ever done in my life."
However, it wasn't long before her colleagues started writing back to Zoe with words of support and encouragement.
When the day came for the real Zoe to return to the office, she felt immense anxiety. But when she arrived, she found that her coworkers had decorated her cubicle and they even threw her a coming out party.
Amanda's blog post about Zoe's return to work went viral.
"It was wonderful. I wanted them to be the example of how you treat an employee when they come out, and they had been that example," says Amanda.
As the parents of a family with two transgender members, Amanda and Zoe get a lot of questions. Some politely curious, some want to learn, some are downright offensive. But some are also quite positive.
You can marry the woman you were always meant to marry.
"I liked when somebody put the idea in my head that we should renew our vows," says Amanda. "So that [Zoe] can wear that dress that she always wanted to wear, and you can marry the woman you were always meant to marry."
Today, for their 20th wedding anniversary, Zoe and Amanda are going to renew their vows in a small ceremony. That will be followed with a family honeymoon to Western Canada.
"I'm trying not to be a bridezilla about the whole thing," jokes Zoe. "We're going to keep it modest. It's going to be epic."
"And I'm going to look great too," adds Amanda. "And so are you. It's going to be a good day."
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