How My Life Unfolded When My Partner and Kid Both Came Out as Trans
By Amanda Jette Knox
Lead photo supplied by author; post images by Jon Ball and Rochelle Buenviaje
Nov 8, 2019
In many ways, communities have never felt lonelier.
While many of us recognize this, we’re so busy juggling jobs, kids and life, that we often don’t know our neighbours beyond a simple wave from the front door.
We might chat with them on social media groups or see them at a store or two, but what they’re dealing with behind closed doors remains a mystery.
Six years ago, when we pulled up into our home’s driveway for the first time and started unloading boxes from the car, our new neighbours had no idea just how much our family would change over the next little while.
But then again, neither did I.
Their reaction to it all, however, should be an example to everyone on how to be a real community.
The First Transition
Not long ago, we introduced ourselves to everyone we met as a mom, dad and three boys. Moving into an area full of other young families meant blending in seamlessly, and I liked it. We were like them. They were like us.
As someone who used to stick out in her younger life and was often a target for it, fitting in meant safety.
But my at-ease feelings quickly evaporated a few months after we bought our home.
"'Please don’t be mad,' she said. 'Please help me.'"
One night, our then-11-year-old sent us an email. In it, she explained she was transgender, and that she could no longer go on living as the boy we thought she was.
“Please don’t be mad,” she said. “Please help me.”
We ran to her room, quick to console our sobbing child and tell her that everything would be all right; we would figure this out together, and our love for her was as strong as ever.
The Second Transition
This was the first transition within the walls of our typical home on a typical street.
After Alexis came out, we became advocates for her at school and within the greater community, working to make her transition as smooth as possible and being a visible example of affirming a transgender child.
Eventually, the dust began to settle and we became used to our new normal. Alexis was happy, and the sky hadn’t fallen. We were still a typical family on a typical street — but now we knew we had two sons and a daughter.
"The following year, my spouse of 18 years, the person I knew as my husband, told me that she was also a woman."
As it does, life would throw us another curveball.
The following year, my spouse of 18 years, the person I knew as my husband, told me that she was also a woman.
Encouraged by the support she had seen everyone give our daughter, she felt she might finally be able to live as her true self after over 40 painful years of hiding.
I was supportive, but fearful. A second transition would push the limits of what our historically conservative suburb could accept. How would they react to two trans people in one family? How harshly would we be judged as a family with two moms? What happens when you no longer blend in?
I held my breath and hoped for the best.
A few weeks ago, I received a text and shared it with my family at the dinner table that evening. It was from a resident of our west Ottawa suburb. Samantha Ball had interviewed us about the changes in our family a couple of years ago for a local publication. We had become friends on Facebook since then. She had always been kind and supportive, but this message from her took us all by surprise.
“They want to throw a party?” Alexis asked incredulously. “For us?”
According to Samantha, they most certainly did.
We were a family of six now, in the process of adopting Alexis’ friend, Ashley, who had been in foster care for most of her young life.
"Samantha and other community members felt this was worth celebrating — that we were worth celebrating."
Throughout this process, I had also written a memoir about our family’s journey through our varied transitions. It debuted on the bestseller list and ended up staying there for several weeks.
Samantha and other community members felt this was worth celebrating — that we were worth celebrating. If they put a party together, would we be willing to attend?
“Yes,” I replied to her. “We would be delighted.”
Tears formed in my eyes as I sat back and took in what this all meant.
That Feeling When...You Feel Accepted
It was a beautiful Sunday evening when we pulled up to the park where the party was being held. I stepped out of the car nervously, still convinced, on some level, this couldn’t possibly be happening.
A pride flag hung outside The Barn, a historic building in the heart of Stittsville, which was graciously given to the organizers to host us that night.
Balloons danced playfully in the unseasonably warm September wind. White lights cast a welcoming glow inside the wooden structure and a giant, handmade sign that spelled “LOVE” was the first thing to greet us as we walked through the doors.
Three large cakes with pictures of our family and my new book sat in the corner, rainbow icing lining the sides.
A projector flashed photos from my social media feeds, showing us smiling, working, celebrating — living.
Dozens of people were seated or standing amidst tables hosting artfully crafted food arrangements, all donated by an anonymous community member.
Octopus Books, a local bookseller, made sure anyone who wanted a copy of my memoir could get one and have it signed.
Seemingly everywhere at once, Samantha, her friend Rochelle and others were running around, making sure everything was ready for a book reading, a Q&A and a warm introduction to it all from local city counsellor Glen Gower.
We were greeted with hugs, handshakes and stories from people who were touched by the work we do at teaching inclusion and acceptance.
I held back tears as I looked around at all of these people who had made coming to celebrate us a priority. Holding the microphone, my voice trembling slightly, I thanked them all for being there.
Death Threats, Slurs and Hate
My family has received death threats simply for sharing our truth. We’ve been called every name imaginable over the last few years. My inboxes get their fair share of hate mail every week. There was a time when I worried far more about this online hate seeping into our offline lives. At best, I hoped our community would be civil with us as we went through all these changes — not trying to understand or accept, perhaps, but at the very least, providing a basic level of respect.
I dared not wish for more.
Instead, we were celebrated by the people I feared would reject us. We are loved and supported by countless neighbours. Whenever I get approached by someone new on the street or in a store, it’s always to tell me they appreciate our family.
Read a parent's perspective on gender, which she understands a lot better in 2019 because of her teen girls.
We walk in relative safety here. We still live our typical life on a typical street. Never, in my wildest dreams, did I think this was possible.
Unfortunately, these are not the stories I most often hear from other LGBTQ people and their families. Every day, I hear about rejection, discrimination and isolation. I know our world can do better, because my family is living it. It’s my hope that by telling the story of how our own community lifted us up, we can be an example to others. Everyone deserves to feel safe and loved.
Thank you, Ottawa. Thank you, Kanata-Stittsville. Thank you, neighbours.
We are proud to call you home.
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