A year ago, Parenting Times spoke with Ottawa’s Knox family about raising a transgender child.
We recently checked in with them again, and discovered that while the family has undergone more changes and challenges over the last year, they’re happier and stronger than ever – and even more determined to help others. Samantha Ball reports.
When we last spoke with the Knox family a year ago, the conversation centred on their transgender daughter Alexis, and her journey in coming out.
Alexis is now 13, excited to start high school in September, and, even at this young age, eager to share her big plans for the future. And Alexis’ bravery in coming out as transgender has impacted many people. Namely, one of her parents.
Zoe credits her daughter Alexis with her ability to recently come out as a transgender woman.
“Once she told us, it stirred up a lot of old stuff for me,” says Zoe.
“I think that was the beginning; as she started to go through the transition, and I saw how much support she was getting.”
Last summer, after attending Toronto’s Pride celebrations together, Zoe came out to her wife and children. They became, as she says, “a family in transition.”
“When a person comes out in a family, it’s not just the person’s transition. It’s the whole family’s transition because everybody’s role, everybody’s life, changes a little.
“We went from appearing to be a very hetero-normative family to something that’s very very different.”
She says her family transitioned “to being in a same-sex marriage, to having two moms. And society looks at you differently.”
Amanda Jetté Knox, Alexis’ mother and Zoe’s spouse, who is bisexual, says the couple has always shared a lot of love and a deep connection. They supported each other in processing their feelings and “arrived at a good place together,” says Zoe.
As with Alexis, Zoe has been supported by family, friends and their community. When Zoe came out at work in March, her colleagues not only accepted her, they threw her a party.
Rather than fracture the family, Zoe’s revelation only made them stronger.
“For the most part, our dynamic has stayed the same as it was before,” says Aerik, 19. “We’re still two parents and three kids. We’re still a family … but I think the biggest difference is the way that we communicate with each other.
“Everything is much more open, more honest, and in doing so, we’ve developed closer relationships with each other … everybody just seems happier in the place that we are now.”
And Jackson, 9, readily agrees.
The Knox family has been through a great deal, and is stronger for it. And they’re determined to use this strength to advocate for others.
At first, Amanda was doing most of the advocacy work on her own, including writing about their experiences on her blog, The Maven of Mayhem, and using it as a “catalyst for change.”
As time passed and interest grew, the rest of the family eventually became more involved. “It can be difficult at times, and you deal with a lot of backlash, but it’s worth it,” says Zoe.
“We’re a typical family,” says Amanda. “The more people see it that way, the less interesting all queer families will become and that will be a good thing; we’ll just blend into the background.”
“One thing people comment on a lot is how close we are as a family … I like people to see that, because I think it shows that you can weather the changes and come out even stronger,” she says.
“It’s really nice that everyone can just be themselves. I wish everyone had that freedom.” There have been many highlights over the past year, but some favourites include the results of their advocacy work for transgender people and their rights.
“Ever since Alexis came out, and I realized that trans people don’t have the same rights … I’ve been working alongside many people and organizations to get a trans rights bill passed,” says Amanda.
And on May 17, the Knox family was in attendance when a new transgender rights bill was tabled in Parliament — federal legislation to guarantee legal and human rights protection to transgender people across Canada, making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity or expression.
Afterward, the family was thrilled to have a personal moment with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who thanked them for all their hard work and posed for a group picture, which they framed and display at home.
Aerik described it as “one of the coolest things I’ve ever done,” while Amanda adds, “This is something the kids are going to be able to tell their kids and their grandkids.”
Another highlight came after Amanda wrote a piece about Zoe coming out, which was published in a Finnish newspaper. Juliet read it, and was inspired to come out as a transgender woman.
She shared her journey with Amanda, and the two began an online friendship. Ultimately, due to the lack of transgender rights in Finland, the family decided to sell everything and move to Canada. Now, the Knox family is hosting them in their home and providing a support network.
“I am so glad that Alexis came out because Alexis coming out helped Zoe come out, and Zoe coming out has helped so many other people come out, and so this one little girl sent an email to her parents as a cry for help and that has changed all these lives,” says Amanda. “That’s the most incredible thing.
“We owe her so much. She’s an incredible kid and that kind of bravery has just had a domino effect. It’s changed her life, but it’s changed our lives too.”
Photo: Jesse Baron / Billie MacDonald