An inspirational story of accepting and embracing two trans people in a family--a family who shows what's possible when you "lead with love."
All Amanda Jetté Knox ever wanted was to enjoy a stable life. She never knew her biological father, and while her mother and stepfather were loving parents, the situation was sometimes chaotic. At school, she was bullied mercilessly, and at the age of fourteen, she entered a counselling program for alcohol addiction and was successful.
While still a teenager, she met the love of her life. They were wed at 20, and the first of three children followed shortly. Jetté Knox finally had the stability she craved--or so it seemed. Their middle child struggled with depression and avoided school. The author was unprepared when the child she knew as her son came out as transgender at the age of eleven. Shocked, but knowing how important it was to support her daughter, Jetté Knox became an ardent advocate for trans rights.
But the story wasn't over. For many years, the author had coped with her spouse's moodiness, but that chronic unhappiness was taking a toll on their marriage. A little over a year after their child came out, her partner also came out as transgender. Knowing better than most what would lie ahead, Jetté Knox searched for positive examples of marriages surviving transition. When she found no role models, she determined that her family would become one.
The shift was challenging, but slowly the family members noticed that they were becoming happier and more united. Told with remarkable candour and humour, and full of insight into the challenges faced by trans people, Love Lives Here is a beautiful story of transition, frustration, support, acceptance, and, of course, love.
About the author
- Long-listed, Canada Reads
- Short-listed, Ottawa Book Award for Non-Fiction
AMANDA JETTÉ KNOX is an award-winning writer, human rights advocate, and public speaker. She is the recipient of the 2014 Joan Gullen Journalism Award for Media Excellence in small print. Her work, and her family's journey so far, has been featured on CBC, The Globe and Mail, Chatelaine, Upworthy, Buzzfeed, Us Weekly, Uproxx, Ottawa Family Living, The Today Show, and various other national and international publications, podcasts, and media outlets. She continues to write for her blog, The Maven of Mayhem.
Excerpt: Love Lives Here: A Story of Thriving in a Transgender Family (by (author) Amanda Jette Knox)
She told me in the car.
Or rather, she didn’t tell me. Because it’s what wasn’t said that gave it all away—the space between our words leaving a silence where you could almost hear our hearts break.
It’s funny how much we remember about important moments. That night, a warm summer rain was tapping lightly against the car windows and I could smell the air conditioner as it worked overtime to push out the mugginess of early July. I could hear the splash of puddles as we made our way down the road toward our suburban neighbourhood. I remember how a bright-green grocery store sign lit up the car’s interior as I turned and asked that one pivotal question, and how our ten-minute ride home ended up taking well over an hour.
Whenever I think about the night my life changed forever, I’m thrust backwards into sensory overload. The sights, the smells, the sounds are forever a part of the memory. It’s only one piece of a much larger story, but I recall it as clearly as I do my children’s first breaths or my grandmother’s last.
I suppose this makes sense, since that night was both the start of a new life and the end of an old one.
By any measure, it had been a terrible date night. Unbelievably so, even for us. And hey, we knew terrible. Back then, I had a mopey, moody partner. This made everything—including date nights—a lot less fun. How do you have a good time when someone is lugging around misery like a millstone? The person I married barely smiled, even at the best of times. But after more than two decades together, I had come to accept this as our reality. Some people are just not the smiley types, you know?
Oh, you know. We all know people like this: the ones you can’t coax a grin out of no matter how hard you try. For years, I figured that if I led by example—if I just smiled more, modelled joy or exuded gratitude—the moodiness would disappear. The cloud would lift.
After trying those techniques for so long, and failing spectacularly to get the result I was hoping for, I probably should have known better. Sadly, I’m a killer optimist. I always see a way to let the light in. I’m Charlie Brown running for the football Lucy is holding for me with a mischievous glint in her eye. Damn it, I was going to get the person I’d married to love life, even if it took another two decades. Just watch me.
That’s why I’d suggested we go for coffee and cinnamon buns. What kind of person can eat a cinnamon bun without cracking a smile? I was sure I had a foolproof plan as we made our way to Quitters, a quaint hipster establishment owned by the famed musician Kathleen Edwards. In 2014, she had purposefully stepped away from the spotlight to return to Ottawa and open a coffee shop. Her decision garnered much local attention. Who walks away from a career full of accolades to make espressos in the suburbs? People like Kathleen, that’s who. Those who seem able to shift from one life to another with much grace and little fear. In hindsight, it seems only fitting that a place that symbolizes so much change would serve as the backdrop to our own seismic shift.
That night, we sat along the back wall in mismatched chairs, a candle dancing on the table between us. I was probably smiling too much and drinking my coffee too fast, which I always do when I’m nervous and fidgety. I know for certain I was asking what was wrong. Because that’s what you do on a date night, right? One of you mopes, and the other tries to prod out the cause. They make movies about people like us and release them on Valentine’s Day.
“I wish you would just tell me what’s going on with you,” I said. We sang this little song on a regular basis; we both knew the words.
The person I loved stared out the window. It was nearly dark out; the dim candlelight between us was casting shadows on both our faces. Neither of us was smiling now.
“It’s nothing. It’s not important.” This was the reply that always followed my prodding.
“It is important, and I don’t buy that it’s nothing,” I countered, just as I always did. “If it were nothing, you wouldn’t be this unhappy all the time.”
Unhappy. So unhappy. I was tired of it. Twenty-two years later, it was time to figure out what the hell was going on.
After years spent emotionally propping up our family—like Atlas with an impressive muffin top—I had reached my limit. All that emotional lifting was exhausting and left little room for compassion. Dealing with a spouse in an Eeyore-like state—anger or melancholy oozing out of every pore—and feeling like I had to crank up my own happiness to shield the kids from it all, my magical well of giving a damn had run dry. And there, at the bottom, sat the bitter little troll I’d become. Because once I had used up all my overcompensating smiles and excessive happiness, once I had tried to make things better yet again, I would land with a thunk on the cold, hard floor of failure. With that, my patience would unravel and the troll would start shouting angrily from the bottom of the well.
“We have a great life!” I often said when I’d reached my breaking point, my voice filled with frustration. “Three amazing kids, a nice home and full bellies. What more could you ask for? Some people would kill for this life! I just don’t get you.” It was a script I’d memorized.
But not this time. For some reason, I went rogue. For some reason, on this night—in this place of coffee and big changes—I held it together. Somewhere deep down, I must have had a special reserve of patience for this occasion—vintage, stored in fancy bottles with dust on them. I pulled some of that patience out of the cellar and stayed surprisingly calm.
That was a good thing. Because as it turns out, it’s hard to open up to someone if that someone is frustrated. This is especially true if you are holding back on sharing a life-altering secret out of fear of your entire world falling apart.
I’m glad I drew from my reserve that night. By not getting angry, I changed the pattern. I likely saved us another twenty-two years of dysfunctional dancing. Unfortunately, I took what normally would have been a bad evening and turned it into a truly terrifying one. Because what would be revealed in the car on the ride home would shatter the life I thought we had. In just a few minutes, I would be staring at the rubble beneath my feet and wondering what the hell I had just done.
But hey, at least I had good intentions.
FINALIST for the 2020 Ottawa Book Awards
One of CBC's “21 books by Canadian women to read right now”
Praise for Love Lives Here:
“. . . a success both through strong writing and the crackling feeling on the page that she genuinely loves the shit out of her trans family.”
“This sweet and positive account of a family facing obstacles and growing closer together is inspiring.”
“Love Lives Here is an emotionally raw, often funny book that leaves the reader wanting to be Amanda Jetté Knox’s best friend. It’s the story of how people tried to push her down, and will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever been bullied. And that’s a lot of us!”
“I read Love Lives Here in one sitting, or more accurately in one day. There were several times I had to walk away to cry and collect myself, but inevitably I was pulled back in because I had to know what would happen next. Amanda tells a story about how to deeply love your family, but more importantly, she shows us how we all have to learn to love ourselves before we can fully show up for others. That’s a lesson we should all learn.”
—Debi Jackson, parent and trans youth advocate
“. . . an inspirational road map for others living through similar situations.”