Day 6

What Amanda Jetté Knox learned from raising her transgender child

Amanda Jetté Knox supported both her child and her spouse when they came out as trans. In a new book, she gets real about what she's learned, and the mistakes she made along the way.

'A lot of parents are going to make mistakes, that happens'

Amanda Jetté Knox, left, with her daughter Alexis, 14. Jetté Knox is the author of Love Lives Here: A Story of Thriving in a Transgender Family. (Submitted by Amanda Jetté Knox)

If you had asked Amanda Jetté Knox to describe her family about six years ago, she would have said something like, "Mom, Dad and three boys." 

But a lot has changed since. In 2014, her then 11-year-old daughter, Alexis, came out as trans. Then, her spouse also transitioned. She told us that story in an award-winning Day 6 documentary

Jetté Knox has since written a memoir, Love Lives Here: A Story of Thriving in a Transgender Family. She and her wife, Zoe, are now in the final stages of adopting a fourth child, Ashley. 

Jetté Knox spoke with Day 6 guest host Nana aba Duncan to share what she's learned from parenting a trans child.

Here's part of that conversation.

Amanda Jette Knox, right, with her wife Zoe, left, and their four children, from left to right: Jackson, Aerik, Ashley and Alexis. (Submitted by Amanda Jette Knox)

You were immediately supportive of Alexis — and I think a lot of parents would relate to that — but I know there are people who wouldn't be quite sure how to do it, so how did you figure it out?

My mother and father also have four children and my youngest brother has Down syndrome. And when he was born, I saw that my mom just loved him unconditionally just like she loved the rest of us — and she fought for him, she fought really hard.

She just led with love, and so I saw that. And when Alexis came out, I was able to model that right away. 

But I was scared and I didn't have any direction. So I went online and I contacted two really good friends of mine who work in LGBT studies and sexuality and gender. And I said, "Hey, listen, this is really new to me. The kid I know as my son just told me that she's my daughter and I don't I don't know what to do."

So they were very quick at getting back to me that night, thankfully, with sort of a list of tips that I could take on. Some of them really kind of threw me for a loop, and some of them were really easy to do. But at least I had some kind of groundwork. 

What threw you for a loop?

One of the main things at the time was my friend said ask your child what pronouns they would like you to use. And I thought, "What?" 

I have been referring to this child as he and as my son forever. Just the idea, at the time, of asking someone what pronouns they would like me to use — what they would be comfortable with — was so strange. It was so foreign to me.

Getting used to the idea that my child's identity was hers and hers to tell me … what she's comfortable with, that was a little weird with an 11-year-old. But I'm really glad we did it.

Jette Knox acknowledges it was a challenge to understand what her daughter Alexis needed after coming out, but hopes her story can help other families. (Provided)

Was there ever any part of you that needed to be sure that she was sure about this? Because what you're about to do, at the time, would've been a big thing. 

Yeah, definitely. I pushed pretty hard on the, "Are you sure this isn't a phase?" thing. 

You did?

I did, which I really hate to admit but I think it's really, really important that other people hear that I had these concerns. Because I think sometimes people look at me they see the finished product more or less.

They say, "Oh look at this really affirming mom, and she goes all out and she really supports her child." 

They didn't see the beginning part where I was so apprehensive. I was so scared because I had looked up what this meant. What does being mean trans mean? At the time, in 2014, and the statistics were dismal — really high rates of self-harm and harassment and violence and all sorts of things. 

And I didn't want that for my child. That sounded terrifying obviously. So I kept trying to find an out ... I wouldn't actually ask her flat out, "Hey, Alexis is this a phase?" I wouldn't do that. 

We've giggled a bit about this but the truth is, it's an offensive question when somebody says, "Are you what you say you are?" 

It's hugely offensive and it's harmful. It hurts. And she would tell me later that that really hurt her, and it's a part of the reason why I talk about it.

I really want people to know that our words are our fears that we pour out onto our own children when they're in a vulnerable space. That affects them and that can affect them for the rest of their lives, and we really have to take it seriously.

A lot of parents are gonna make mistakes, that happens. But if I can help sort of mitigate those mistakes, lessen those mistakes somehow, that would be great.

Zoe Knox, left, and her wife Amanda Jette Knox say they hope their family will one day no longer be 'sensational' to the public. (Provided)

You say that when someone in the family transitions, the whole family transitions. So what was it like for your two other kids? 

They were really supportive of Alexis from the get go which actually surprised me. I knew they would love her and I knew they would support her, but I thought they would have more questions. 

And I thought that they would they would they would need more time — and they didn't. They just kind of rolled with it.

It was a little harder, I think, to find out that their parent was transitioning. When Zoe came out to them, they found out they didn't have a dad.

I used to fear change so much I couldn't stand it. I needed everything to be in this little defined box. And with everything that's happened, I now look forward to change.- Amanda Jetté Knox

I don't want to go back to that whole stereotypical thing but these were two boys, two young men who were finding out that the person they knew was their father wasn't their father and they were in fact being raised by two moms. 

And there were some tears and there were some questions, but there was never anything but support which was amazing.

I think there was a letting go — a letting go of the idea that there was a male role model living in the house; that they didn't have someone to call Dad anymore. 

So what happened in the way that you two parent together? How did you feel about sharing the role of mothering? 

I had no problem sharing the role of mothering ... We're just two moms, but our role as a couple sort of shifted in the way that we parent, which I thought was really strange.

I have always considered myself a feminist and always considered myself somebody who is equal in her marriage and her relationship.

Zoe came up to me, I think two or three months after she had started her transition, and she said, "You know, I think this is a really good thing but you expect a lot more of me now in terms of … division of chores, [and] division of labour in general." 

And I sat back and I went, "You're right. I just it's I don't ask. I just sort of expect that you are going to take on half of everything going on." 

Amanda Jetté Knox with son Aerik, 20, and wife Zoe at the Ottawa Pride Parade in 2016. (Submitted by Amanda Jetté Knox)

You gave birth to three kids, but now you're a mother of four, so how did this fourth child come into your life? 

When Alexis was in grade eight she was sitting at a table a few weeks into the school year and this girl walked in and was looking for a place to sit and had no friends, no idea what she was doing. It was her first day at the school. 

And Alexis and her friends invited her over to sit with them and the two of them hit it off really well.

They became best friends. It turns out that this girl was in foster care and she didn't stay very long in this particular foster home. She ended up moving across the city and then across the country. But the girls stayed in touch the entire time. 

So when she came back, and we found out that she was going to become a Crown ward — the foster care system was just going to sort of keep her in the system until she aged out — we decided that we should be her family since she was over all the time anyway and we loved her. 

So Ashley came to live with us about a year and a half ago and we are pretty close to finalizing everything now. 

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview with Amanda Jetté Knox, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.