It Only Takes One Moment to Change a Life

Yes, we're basically twins. Except she's 26 years younger, And has shinier hair. And no wrinkles.
So I'm basically the older, wrinklier twin.

BRB, need to call my therapist.


In its simplest form, it all started with an email.

I think about this all the time. We got an email on a cold February night from the scared little person in the other room. A desperate cry for help. She told us she’s transgender. She told us she needed our support and understanding.

There was a moment when Zoe and I were sitting in our room across the hall, separated from a terrified child by two walls but only a mere 8 or 10 feet, when a decision had to be made: what do we do? How do we handle this?

So many things could have gone wrong that night. So. Many. Things.

I could have chosen to remain ignorant to trans issues.

Rather than embrace her child, Zoe could have chosen to keep her own then-unaddressed true gender buried with a total lack of acceptance for her child’s true gender – a safety measure I’ve seen happen many times. (Remember the guy in high school who was super homophobic and then ends up coming out in college? That.)

We could have considered conversion therapy (still legal at the time for youth in Ontario) and tried to “fix” Alexis. I feel sick just thinking about it, but, sadly this still happens in many families today.

Or, we could have just ignored the email – and all the fears and uncertainties it brought up – and hoped it would all quietly go away. Shove it under the rug. We never saw an email, dear. Let’s talk about this in a couple of years, when you’re a little older and understand yourself better.

I will never forget that moment. I sometimes relive it in slow motion: read, process, look at Zoe, look at across the hall at Alexis’ closed door, look back at the email on the screen, process, repeat.

That moment changed everything. Because, for whatever reason, we chose the right things. We put love first, even though I felt like I was drowning in fear of something I knew nothing about, and Zoe was doing the same in fear she knew all too well but tried never to look at.

It’s important to note this: We are not amazing parents. We are not perfect parents (I fed my family takeout twice this week and forgot to do my kid’s homework with him – again.) We are not parents who are somehow better, smarter or more capable than other people raising kids.

But for our many imperfections, I think we have our priorities straight: Love before fear. Belief before doubt. Questions before assumptions.

In other words: We chose to let love lead rather than our own fears. We chose to believe what our child was telling us about who she is rather than doubt her. And we chose to ask questions about what was going on rather than make our own assumptions.

(Now, if only I could make a meal plan as well as I can make room for acceptance, I would be BOSS at this parenting thing.)

The reason I keep going back to that one moment in time is because it was the start of something beautiful. It’s the moment I found out I have a daughter – that we all got it wrong for so long and she could finally tell us. I hold it in high regard, like the day my babies were born, or the day Zoe and I said, “I do.” Like those moments, it was the beginning of incredible things; a transformation in our lives.

Because of Alexis’ bravery in that moment, Zoe was finally able to come out.

Because of that moment, I am married to the woman of my dreams, who makes me so much happier now that she’s finally happy.

Because of that moment, our kids have two moms who are modelling authenticity. The cloud that hung over our household for years has been lifted, and it’s made all our lives better.

Because of that moment, I started sharing the story of our family’s transition – because it is a family transition, in many ways – and it’s resonated with people all over the world. Because maybe you can’t relate to being trans or having a trans family member (or two), but you can relate to the bigger picture: unconditional love, acceptance, support, fighting for the people you care about, and taking care of yourself in the process.

Or maybe you can relate in deeper ways. Because of that moment, I’ve heard from trans people and their loved ones from all over the world. Five different continents! (Oddly, no one has emailed from Antarctica yet.) We even had a family stay with us for a few months while attempting to find their footing in Canada, a place where they can hopefully escape persecution.


And now, because of that very moment, Alexis and I will be tackling our biggest speaking engagement ever. We’ll be sharing our story at WE Day Vancouver on November 3rd, 2016.

I often go to WE Day in Ottawa as media, and will bring one of my kids along as my “assistant.” (I’m not sure how much they’re assisting me, but it makes me feel important and they get to go the press conferences and such.)

Last year, I took Alexis for the first time, and her eyes lit up. “Imagine being up there?” she leaned over to me as she gazed at the stage. “I want to speak at WE Day. I think I could make a difference, too.”

“You already make a difference,” I told her. And I meant it, obviously (see above.) But I knew what she was saying. WE Day is magical. I always leave ready to take on the world. The speakers are empowering, the messages are strong, the thousands of youth who attend are changemakers in their own communities. Having an impact on a crowd like that can make a sizeable difference.

You may recall we did some work with Microsoft earlier this year. That project was particularly special to me, as I fully understood how a company of that calibre putting its support behind trans rights was a bold and important statement. It shows us the world is moving in a direction that embraces people for who they are, and that some companies – the best kind of companies, in my opinion – are prepared to stand with the LGBTQ community beyond pride parade sponsorship. It’s big.

So, you can imagine how it warmed my little activist heart when Microsoft asked if Alexis and I would be willing to come to WE Day to share our story of how technology – in the form of an email – helped make that all-important moment in our lives happen. And the WE Day organizers having trans youth on stage is a big step forward, too.

Basically, all these people deserve hugs.

But most importantly, it warmed my mama heart to know this was happening, because I could tell my daughter her wish was coming true: on November 3rd, she will be a WE Day Speaker! (Insert many heart emoticons here and probably some crying face emoticons because I tend to get emotional over this stuff.) Her brave message of authenticity is going to be told in a whole new way.

One moment. That’s all it takes to change your life and make a difference in the lives of others. I’m glad that, in the moment, we chose love. And now we get to spread that love all over.


Okay, I’m crying. I swear, I'm my own worst enemy. 

Off to make a meal plan. 


The Day My Wife Was Misgendered



My family has an interesting relationship with drive-through coffee places.

Two times now, they have vastly changed the emotional landscape of that day. Or, rather, a single word said during the ever-important coffee acquisition has done so.

Both those words have been gender-specific, and they tore one of my family members apart while building up the other.

But before we get into that, let me backtrack a little.

As far as social acceptance goes, it’s been fairly smooth waters for my wife, Zoe. She came out to me in July of last year, came out to our friends and family over the fall, and by late winter was out at work and to the rest of the world.

Everyone has been accepting of this change, from her parents to her co-workers. Our kids call her “Mama” now, without missing a beat. I’ve fallen madly in love with her in a way I never was with my “husband.” That’s because she’s way happier now, and that happiness is intoxicating.

Also: boobs. Boobs are great.

Femininity fits her like a glove, to the point where I don’t know how I couldn’t see what was staring me in the face for such a long time. My spouse was meant to be a woman. And now that she’s admitted this to herself and everyone else, it just all works so well.

This is why I need to up my game. *swoon*


But even though she rocks at this girl stuff to the point where I’ve self-consciously upped my own game a little to avoid feeling frumpy, there are a few things testosterone has done to her over the years that she really struggles with. One of those things is her voice.

Like many trans women, Zoe is very conscious of her voice. Does it sound like a cisgender (non-trans) woman’s voice? Is it high enough? Soft enough? Does it have that gentle lilt, or whatever women have that differentiates us from the gruffness of a typical male voice?

Zoe has been fortunate enough to get vocal training to help bring her voice to a place where she’s mostly happy with it. Mind you, when gender dysphoria hits – that deep feeling of discomfort faced by many trans people – her voice is often the first thing she focuses on. It’s not right. It’s too deep. She sounds like a guy. It’s a nasty spiral.

However, she was feeling particularly good one day in early spring as we drove through the drive-through to get coffees. Newly out at work. Life felt amazing and free. And she was looking stunning, I might add.

“Welcome to Coffee Place Amanda Isn’t Naming on Her Blog. Can I take your order?” the outdoor speaker asked.

“Hi,” said Zoe. “Can I get a medium with one cream and a small decaf black?”

“Sure,” said the voice behind the speaker. “Drive up to the window and someone will see you there. Have a nice day, sir.”

Sir.

My heart broke as I saw Zoe’s face fall.

“Sir?” she said to me as we drove up to the window. “He called me sir.”

“Zoe…” I started.

“Does my voice sound that bad?”

“No! You sound good. Really.”

And just like that, our day fell apart.

She: I sound like a guy. I’m just fooling myself. No one is ever going to see me as the woman I really am. Why do I even try?

Me: You don’t sound like a guy. It’s hard for them to hear properly on those things, that’s all. You’re a beautiful woman, honey. Please don’t cry. Oh, please don’t. Come here.

The light that had been in her eyes all day dimmed. Her confidence eroded. It took days to fully return.

If you think this is overreacting, then you’re probably not trans or don’t have a trans person in your life with whom you share all the feelings. Because this type of thing, this misgendering, can be devastating to many trans folk.

I can only equate it to when I was heavier than I am now and very self-conscious about it, and someone would assume I was pregnant. It happened three times – including once when someone actually ran up and touched my belly – and each time left me in tears later on.

There’s nothing wrong with being pregnant. But I wasn’t, and being seen that way was a reminder that I wasn’t being seen for who I really am, which is not an expecting woman.

And there’s nothing wrong with being a man. But when you’re a woman who is finally trying to project her true self out to the world and you get called “sir,” I can only guess it’s like being called pregnant times one thousand. Your entire identity is being thrown into question. How awful that must feel.

But it’s going to happen. Someone will undoubtedly say. Sorry, but you can’t expect everyone to know everyone’s gender!

You’re right, Someone Who Will Undoubtedly Say This. We can’t know everyone’s gender or preferred pronouns. That’s impossible.

But here’s the truth: It doesn’t have to happen, because we don’t have to use gender salutations when dealing with people. We just don’t.

We can be polite without using “Sir,” “ma’am” or “miss,” particularly in situations when it’s impossible to know someone’s gender, like at a drive-through. Just hearing someone’s voice is not enough to know what gender they are. Even cis people can have higher or lower voices than what is typical for their gender.

I know trans people who’ve been misgendered by waiting staff, in clothing stores, and even in government service offices. I know a trans woman who was misgendered by police when she needed help, and several who’ve encountered problems when seeking medical attention.

Sometimes it’s an accident. Sometimes it’s deliberate, which, don’t kid yourself, is a form of hate. No matter why it happens, though, it hurts. And as I held Zoe on that day – and on a few other days with similar misgendering moments – I promised myself I would talk about this issue and try and make it better.

Because while I can’t stop all the bigots, I can help the rest of us who want to do better, do better.

In contrast, Alexis was pleasantly validated at another coffee location a few months into her transition. We picked up drinks at the window and the barista said, “Have a nice day, ladies!”

My daughter’s face lit up. It was the first time in her 12 years of life that someone she didn’t know saw her for the girl she really is. I, of course, was moved to tears by her joy.

Basically, I just cry at drive-through windows, I’ve realized.

But for every positive story, there are bad ones. And I always think about the trans people who don’t have someone they love to hold their hand through that triggering dysphoria, and how lonely that must be.

Our words are powerful. They have consequences. And that’s why we need to think about and talk about this issue more often.

If you don’t know someone’s gender, don’t assume it.

If corporate policy dictates service staff use gendered salutations, it’s time to change that.

This is fixable. We can do this.

And with astronomically high suicide rates in the trans community compared to the rest of society, we have a responsibility to get this right.

Zoe is months deeper into her transition now. Her voice is closer to where she wants it and her boobs are fanta—she’s transitioning nicely. But ever since this one incident, I’ve made a point of being the one to order at all the drive-throughs (and I drink a lot of coffee, so we’re no strangers to them.) It’s getting ridiculous.

I’m so protective of her, and I probably don’t need to be. But when you love someone as much as I do and you see them try so hard only to hurt so badly, it’s hard to let go.

I need to let go.

So I’m going to write this post, write about this more thoroughly in my upcoming book, and do my best to keep my mouth shut the next time we stop for coffee.

(But please, world. Be kind, okay?)


"Just who do you think you are?" The Dance of Shame



I’m having a really bad day today.

Not a my-wife-left-me, dog-died, lost-my-house and wrecked-my-pickup kind of day. Those are legitimate reasons for wanting to cry into your beer and/or write a country song.

Rather, I am dealing with a more insidious reason: shame. Shame from a long, long time ago, re-emerging through a series of events over the last 24 hours.

I feel so ashamed that I don’t even want to write about it. “That’s stupid, Amanda,” I can already hear someone say. “Get over yourself. Just who do you think you are?”

Good question.

But I’m going to talk about it anyway because I believe that, when we give voice to shame, we weaken it. We can even silence it altogether – at least, for a time. And just as importantly, there’s always a chance someone will say, “Hey, me too,” which is a big part of why I write these posts in the first place.

And so, with that, here’s how and why my day got very dark very quickly.

It started last night, when I did something kind of, well, kick ass.

I was at my 9-year-old’s school’s parent council meeting (not as a council member, but as an interested parent), looking pretty fabulous and with just enough caffeine in me to make me say things before I think them all the way through.

Towards the end of the meeting, someone asked how we could get better volunteer attendance; it’s always the same core council members with a few extra parents. In a school of nearly 700 students, we could do better.

Some good ideas were thrown around, but mostly folks agreed they had “tried pretty much everything” with little change.

Well, my brain hamster was pretty high on coffee, so I shot my hand up and said, “I think we need to be more inclusive and let people know they’re welcome.”

Yep. Just like that. You can dress the activist up, but you can’t take her anywhere.

I told them I have a wife. I told them I’ve heard from other same-sex parents who are worried about not being welcomed within school communities. Oh, and then I went on to point out that everyone in the room was white, and that we should recognize that and ask ourselves why, in a school with such a diverse population, we don’t see that reflected at council meetings.

So, basically, I outed myself to a room full of people, brought up queerness and race, and said we all need to do better. I did so in a room full of parents, the principal, the vice principal and some teachers.

Oh, and I’m now on parent council.

I know I talk a lot about my life online, in the media and to rooms full of people who know what to expect. But there’s something about making yourself vulnerable on the fly that makes your now panicked brain hamster freak fall right off the wheel.

So, by this morning, I had what researcher and incredible human being Brené Brown calls a “vulnerability hangover.” It’s when you put yourself out there, and then you find yourself mortified by that fact for a little while after. That “OMG. What did I just do?” kind of feeling.

When I start my day with a vulnerability hangover (which has happened more times than I can count, given the work I do), I’m going to internalize the day’s events in ways that are far more negative than usual.

Obviously, today was no exception.

I went to a launch for a large local fundraising campaign. I was asked to go by the organizers specifically because my family has been part of their fundraising efforts, and therefore, media might want to speak to me.

News flash (I use this term ironically): No media wanted to speak to me.

Apparently, the reason is because they’ve all recently interviewed me. Between Zoe coming out and our efforts to help our friends from Finland, we’ve been in close contact with a lot of news agencies this year. It’s not at all surprising they wanted to interview other people instead.

But, of course, that’s not how Hangover Amanda interpreted it. Not even close.

“Who do you think you are?” the critic in me said. “See? You shouldn’t have come. Everyone is tired of hearing you talk. Hope you had fun, because they’ll never invite you back.”

But don’t worry, shame wasn’t done with me just yet. I also spilled Diet Pepsi all over the table I was at because I was too busy talking with my hands. And then I had nothing to clean it up with, so I pulled some used tissues from my purse to mop it up with. All class, all the time.

As the closing act to Shame-a-palooza 2016, my credit card was denied in the parking garage while 10 people were in line behind me, and then said machine ate my ticket. So I had to call for help and yell into the crackly speaker while occasionally turning around and mouthing, “sorry! I’m so sorry!” behind me.

I left with heart palpitations in my chest and a lump in my throat. Shame is balls.

Over the last couple of years, I have consciously learned to love myself. I did it to be an authentic role model for my daughter, and also because I started to realize I could not let anyone else love me if I didn’t think I was worthy of that love in the first place. And I do a great job most days. Hell, I just delivered a TedX talk on this very topic, which will be available online soon.

And yet, here I was, hating on myself today - hard. Belittling myself. Asking myself just who I think I am. So not only am I feeling ashamed by this point, but I’m feeling ashamed of feeling ashamed. Emotional inception.

I came home, and Juliet – the trans woman from Finland who’s been staying with us while she attempts to seek refuge in Canada – asked me how my day was.

“Do you really want to know?” I asked, holding back tears.

I didn’t want to tell her. She tells me all the time that I’m her hero. Despite my constant disagreement on the issue, she has this idea of me that is far more impressive than reality. I was ashamed to admit how I was feeling to this person who expects me to be strong.

But I did, because humans need help from other humans sometimes, and my brain hamster was tired of running all those thoughts around on the wheel.




And then she said something really insightful. She told me those negative thoughts are like a tree that has grown over time. The branches can grow and throw us some shade.

“You’ll never be able to get rid of the tree,” she said. “It’s a part of you. But you can trim the branches back enough to see the sun again. That’s what you have to do on days like today.”

Finnish people. They’re pretty smart.

And that’s why I’m writing this. I’m trimming the tree back. Because she’s right: I’ll never be able to kill it. That tree was planted when I was a child – back when things and other people were the ones saying terrible things to me – and it will always be in my yard. But I can control how it grows. Shame might exist in my world, but it doesn’t have to take over.



Funny enough, today is also the day I got a nice, short tweet from Brené Brown herself – someone I deeply admire. On a day filled with shame, this was a nice reminder that I can be pretty brave, too.


So, just who do I think I am? The girl with the pruning shears staring up at the branches, that’s who

"Some Families Have Two Moms" and Other Things I've Explained Since My Spouse Transitioned

Photo credit: Pexels.com


“No! You’re lying!”

My friend’s child – all of six years old – stomped downstairs, yelling this behind him.

“No, I’m not,” our nine-year-old replied, as patiently as he could, as he followed the littler one down the stairs.

The kid stood in front of us with a determined look. “Jackson said he doesn’t have a dad. But everyone has a dad or you can’t be born!”

Oh! Hello, Knox family. Have you just arrived? Pull up a chair and get comfortable. Welcome to queer family life.

Honestly, I never much thought of my hetero privilege until I lost it. For many years, I had what I thought was a husband. And now that same person is my wife.

But before she lived as she, I just floated through life, completely oblivious, on this lovely little cloud of privilege.

Why? Because it was easy to do so. Our entire society is set up for families to have one mom and one dad.

It’s the automatic. The default. The assumption.

Don’t believe me? The next time you’re out, drive by a new housing development – or a new medical office, or a car dealership – geared towards families, and look at the sign, If it has a family on it, it will likely contain one mom, one dad, and one or two kids. (And usually everyone is white – but that’s a whole other kettle of fish.)

Automatic.

Filling out forms for your kids at the dentist or the new dance school? How many of those forms still ask for “father’s name” and “mother’s name”? My guess is at least 75%, despite queer families having existed for, like, ever.

Default.

“What does your husband do?” the hair stylist would ask, even if I never offered up my spouse’s gender in a conversation.

“He works in high tech,” I would reply. And on our conversation would go while she made my roots not grey anymore.

Assumption.

I never looked too hard at this stuff because I didn’t have to. Nothing about my family was questioned, so why would I question it? We were nuclear and middle class and owned a home in a safe neighbourhood just beyond the city’s greenbelt. Two sedans. A garden of perennials. A couple of dogs. We were Pleasantville.

And now, with one change to one spouse’s gender identity, I am keenly aware that we’re not so Pleasantville anymore.

How many times have I crossed out “father’s contact information” and wrote “mother” in its place over the last few months? Answer: A few times now, with a gentle conversation ensuing with the form-giver on the importance of inclusion.

And, while there are thousands of same-sex families living in Canada, finding any advertising geared towards us outside of Pride week is like finding Willy Wonka’s golden ticket.

But, as an unapologetically social person, the most noticeable difference comes from the once-easy conversations with strangers.

“What does your husband do?” the woman doing my nails will ask.

“My wife, actually,” I’ll reply, as casually as I can. (That moment of vulnerability still makes me a little nervous.) “She’s in high tech.”

Pause in conversation. Subtle face change.

“Oh.”

What happens after that “Oh,” is anyone’s guess. Sometimes, things go on as usual. Other times, I know we’re not going to be chatting quite as openly as we were a few seconds before. The chatter cools. People become more professional. Not rude, but definitely not friendly anymore.

And that hurts a little, by the way. Every. Single. Time.

The automatic. The default. The assumption.

And maybe I wouldn’t notice this quite as much if I had not enjoyed that glorious privilege for so long. Going from easy to not-quite-so-easy is a learning experience for me.

We’ve stopped holding hands in public. When my beautiful wife leans in for a kiss in the driveway before heading off to work, I automatically glance around first to see who’s watching. It’s a safety thing, and not something I had to do before.

Pride 2016: we marched in the parade and held hands the entire time.
I miss being able to do this the other 364 days each year.

We’ve come a long way as a society, but I’m now learning firsthand how far we still have to go.

So, how do we get there?

Well, when a little kid comes downstairs declaring how impossible it is for a child not to have a dad, we can do some educating.

In this case, I told him lots of people don’t have a dad or don’t have a mom. That some people have two dads or two moms, and that’s perfectly normal. (His own mom, one of my good friends and a wonderful ally, happily let me explain what had simply never come up with him in conversation before.)

I showed him pictures of our family and said, “See? Two moms and three kids. No dad.” And then I showed him more pictures of more families I know. Two dads and an adopted son with a different skin colour. Two other dads with four smiling children. Two moms with two beautiful girls.

“Oh. Okay, then,” he said happily, and ran back upstairs to play. Jackson shrugged and followed him.

And that’s how we’re going to get there. Because now, when this kid is older and maybe helping create forms at his first job, he’s going to make sure those forms don’t say “mother” and “father.” Because now he’ll know that isn’t everyone’s normal, even if it is his.

And long before then, he’ll be the kid correcting other kids’ assumptions. “Yeah? Well I know a family with two moms and they don’t even need a dad to be born!”

Meanwhile, I’ll keep going back to the same nail salon, despite the awkward I-don’t-know-what-to-say silence. I’m determined to become a part of their normal, so the next woman married to another woman doesn’t get met with the same.

Let’s change the automatic. Question the default. Obliterate the assumptions. (And have cute nails.) 

40 Life Lessons I Learned Before Turning 40



I turn 40 on September 1st, and I can't even

How do you sum up four decades of life? I'll soon find out, as I recently quit my job to write an autobiography. 

Yes, that was probably a dumb idea. 

Yes, I'm properly terrified. 

But I also know that I have to do it. Life has taught me that if we keep waiting for opportunities, those opportunities don't always come. And in that way, it's probably the best thing I've ever done. 

This, and 39 other lessons I've learned through a life filled with challenges and education, are listed below. I wish I had learned some of these sooner, so I'm passing them on to someone else in the hopes they will have more clue than younger me did. 

1. Life is change. So don’t get too comfortable. I experienced big change in the last couple of years, both as a mother and as a spouse, and I did not see either of those changes coming. It was like the ultimate surprise party. With subsequent therapy sessions.

2. Change is not your enemy. It’s not out to kick you in the ovaries, even if it feels that way sometimes. Life is like an occasionally irrational roommate, who is totally fine most of the time and then trashes the house when he can’t find his Blink 182 CD. Then you come home from work and you’re all, “What happened?” Life, your irrational roommate, happened. He still pays rent and cooks a mean stir fry though, so he’s not all bad.

3. When you can help someone, do it. Life works best when we are there for those who fall down. And believe me, we all fall down, eventually. So when you can be that person for someone else, be that person. Do one small thing, or one big thing. But do a thing. It comes back to you, I promise.

4. Seriously, dudes: Today is all we have. I know that’s written on about eleventy-five-thousand inspirational memes, but that’s because it’s true. We only have today. Any of us could die in a freak poutine-eating accident tomorrow (especially me, as I fully plan to go out in a blaze of cheese curds and extra gravy.) So enjoy today, okay? It’s not so bad.

Photo credit: Yuri Long via Flickr.


5. Don’t give up the foods you love. (#poutine.) If you’ve been following the health side of my journey, you know I’ve gotten smaller and buffer in the last 18 months. I did that without completely giving up chocolate or coffee with cream or anything else that makes me happy in the mouth; I just eat less of it now. Life is too damn short.

6. Balance is unattainable (but try anyway). The term “perfect balance” is used for two reasons: in embarrassingly challenging yoga moves, and to sell magazines. The latter concept is a myth. We can get close, but our lives are too messy and too imperfect to achieve perfection in any way, including balance. So just do the best you can and awkwardly high-five yourself for it like I do in meetings sometimes when I say something witty.

7. You can love your kids AND your career. Why are parents (and mothers in particular) always expected to choose one over the other? I love both of mine for different reasons. I love my kids because they’re awesome and love me back, and I love my career because it’s fulfilling and doesn’t eat all my Doritos.

8. Love is good. And sometimes hard. And yet, still good. I’m more in love with my wife today than I’ve ever been. But as I’ve mentioned before, we’ve had to put a whole lot of work in to getting here. Thankfully, a deep connection happens when two people face the storm together. We’ve faced a few, and I think we appreciate our togetherness in a more meaningful way because of it.

Zoe and me, Pride Ottawa 2016


9. Don’t work out to get thin. If that was my goal, I would have quit a long time ago. Look, some of us get thin through lifestyle changes and exercise. Some of us, like yours truly, do not. In my case, it may have something to do with genetics and also poutine. But I work out because it makes me feel like a powerhouse of amazingness – at any size. And that’s way more motivation than trying to fit into a pair of jeans.

10. You can be a strong person and still need help. I got depressed last year. My life got dark. I went to the doctor and the therapist and I got the help I needed. In no way does that make me weak, and if you’ve ever had to do the same, it doesn’t make you weak, either. In fact, I’d argue that level of awareness is a strength in itself.

11. Comparison is for suckers. My neighbours have a yard that screams, “I love gardening!” I have a yard that screams, “I love apathy!” But so what? That’s where they put their time and energy. I put mine into other things. Both time and energy are in limited supply, so use them where you think it’s worthwhile and don’t worry about what other people do. Heck, if my neighbours don’t like my yard, they can come over and landscape it for me.

12. Some of us bloom a little later. My school years were brutal for me. I had few friends, lots of bullies, and was even set on fire in front of my middle school. But today I have a voice and a fierceness and a lot of resilience thanks to the things that happened to me when I was younger. If you haven’t bloomed yet, don’t worry; you’re just a late summer flower like me. You’ll get there.

13. Authenticity is the key to happiness. Both my daughter and wife are proof of this. They’re happier than ever now that they’re living their authentic lives. So just be you and you’ll be so happy!

14. No, wait. Connecting with others is the key to happiness. Yeah, that’s what I’ve read. Love your people and let them love you back. It makes your whole life better!

15. Sorry, sorry. I’m wrong again. Acceptance is the key to happiness. Yes. This is really it. I’ve accepted all the changes in my life and I’m pretty happy. That must be the thing that does the good stuff to all the other things.

16. Sigh. There is no key to happiness. I think I need to stop reading magazines. Honestly, happiness is a culmination of a whole bunch of good and wise stuff, while also coming to terms with the idea that life won’t ever be perfect.

17. You will regret not travelling, so travel. I’m one of those suckers who wishes she travelled more, which is why I put this here. Up until now, my main idea of travel has been a bowl of popcorn and a documentary on European cathedrals. Here’s hoping that changes in the future.

18. We need less than we think we do. When our family moved to this part of the city, we had to downsize so we could still have poutine money (#priorties). It was one of the best things we ever did. Smaller home and yard = fewer expenses and less upkeep. We also paired down what we own, reducing the clutter and making our lives simpler. I’ve realized things don’t make us happy long-term. In this way – and only in this way – I am living a home & lifestyle magazine life.

19. There are many ways to be rich. You probably won’t achieve all of them, so focus on the most important types: rich in love, rich in friends and family, rich in donuts. (But if you do happen to win the lottery, I know a certain writer who really wants to go to Europe.)

Aerik and his moms, Pride 2016.


20. The power of love will surprise you. Like you can’t even. Love has made me do some scary shit, man. I’ve stood up to bigots, gone on live radio, spoken in front of large audiences, gone on camera more times than I can count… What else could make me do that? Nothing, that’s what. Love is the most powerful force in the universe. Except maybe black holes. (Did I mention my little documentary problem? I need a life.)

21. It’s perfectly okay to take a good selfie. You know what? Screw everyone who thinks it’s vain/narcissistic/some kind of mental health issue to want to look your best in a picture. If you take a pic of yourself that you love, feel free to show it off to me. We will celebrate your gorgeousness together and how good you feel about it.



22. Some people will leave, and that’s okay. Not everyone is meant to stay in our lives forever. My biological father walked away when I was a baby. Some of my friends walked out when my daughter came out as transgender. I thank my father for his half of my selfie-friendly genetics, and I thank my former friends for the friendship we shared when we did. Holding on to resentment only hurts me.

23. You will leave some people, and that’s okay. Sometimes, you’ll be the one to walk out. If it was a good decision, awkwardly high-five yourself again. If it wasn’t, forgive yourself and move on. We are imperfect beings. But as old relationships flow out, it leaves the door open for new relationships to flow in that are perhaps better suited to the people we are today. My life is full of great people these days. I’m glad I left the door open.

24. Stand up for someone. We all have a voice, but some of us are in a better position to use ours. If you know someone who could use an advocate, put your advocacy pants on and get busy. They’re a little tight at first, but they get really comfortable in time.

25. Be passionate about something. I don’t care if it’s Icelandic summer sports. If that’s your thing, go full tilt and enjoy the hell out of it. Passion is one of the greatest human emotions. I experience it whenever I paint, speak to a room full of people, or when I buy the giant bag of Peanut M&Ms.

26. Just do it. It’s never going to be “the right time.” I just quit my job so I could focus full-time on LGBT advocacy and writing a memoir (I’m calling it my midlife crisis.) We could use the money from that job right now, since we have another family living with us and three more mouths to feed. But I’ve spent years waiting for “the right time.” I’d rather eat macaroni and grass clippings than waste another year waiting for the right moment. Sometimes, we have to make the moment right.

27. Not everyone will like you, so stop caring so much. Fact: Some people legitimately don’t like me. (I know, right?!) They just have poor taste in humans. If some people don’t like you, it’s surely for the same reason. We can’t control what other people think of us, and we shouldn’t change because we’re not someone else’s double-double. It’s an unsolvable quandary. So let’s not worry about it and just like each other, instead.

28. You don’t have to be mean back. Never, ever. Being mean to someone is a choice. I get trolled online all the time and try (key word: try) to take the high road. Either I ignore it, or I come back with education and kindness. (Funny enough, this seems to upset trolls even more.) When I realized other people’s meanness has everything to do with them and nothing to do with me, it made this whole “not being mean back” business much easier.


29. Fear-based decisions are often wrong. I’m not talking about deciding not to walk down a dark alleyway, obviously. I’m talking about choosing not to take risks in life because we’re afraid; afraid of rocking the boat, upsetting the status quo, making the wrong move. But if we stay in stasis, we never grow. Sometimes you have to quit your job so you can write a book, as terrifying as that is, because you don’t want to end up on your death bed wondering why you never did anything great. So be great. Go big. Fear be damned.

30. Self-care is paramount. I couldn’t do the work I do if I didn’t put myself first. Take care of yourself. Self needs you to. Self can’t care for others if self is too unwell. Take self for a walk, or for a pedicure, or out for a glass of wine with friends. You are the only self you have, after all, and you’re important, too.

31. Adulting doesn’t have to be boring. I have a small collection of Converse shoes. According to style experts, they are all too young for me. I do not care. Style experts can go tell some other professional woman how to dress. This one wore glitter skull shoes on stage during a keynote presentation and will do it again if she gets a chance.

32. No matter how busy you are, take a downtime day. We can’t be on all the time. We get tired and we need rest. Take it from me: Do not burn out. I’ve done it and it’s not pretty. Hell, even my selfie game took a dive. Sometimes you just have to sit on the couch with the giant bag of Peanut M&Ms and binge watch The Good Wife. (This is essentially a perfect day for me, by the way.)

33. Hang out with kids more often. Some of us have no choice but to do so because we made kids come out of our bodies (or lawfully attached ourselves to ones that came out of someone else’s body). But even if you have no children of your own, make sure to spend time with some. Yes, even if you “don’t like kids.” Why? Because kids are better teachers than grownups. They remind us to be authentic, look at the world in new ways, and be just self-centered enough not to burn out. All the fundamentals.

Juliet and I met after she read one of my pieces on Zoe's transition.
Use your voice. You never know who's listening.

 34. You can’t help everybody, but you can help somebody. And that’s enough. I know the world can seem overwhelming. So many people in need of assistance, not enough time or resources for one person to help them all. But you don’t have to help them all. Just help one. If we all helped one person, the world would begin to heal. (Want to help someone today? Click to support Juliet and Emmi's fundraiser to stay in Canada.)

35. Say “yes” to things more often. Yes, I will try that new class at the gym. Yes, I will go out with new people. Yes, I will buy Amanda a latte.

36. Say “no” more often, too. Wait. What? How does that work? Allow me to explain: Say no to anything you would normally say yes to just to make other people happy. Pleasing people is exhausting. Don’t do it. Unless it’s buying me a latte, in which case, pleasing people in important.

37. Everything will kill you, so stop obsessing about it. Newsflash: No matter how much organic kale you eat, you will eventually die. That’s the problem with being mortal; the prognosis is fatal. I love being healthy, but obsessing about it is stressful and useless. It also takes away from eating chips of the non-kale variety (AKA the good chips.)

38. Raise a little hell. We all have an activist inside us. Don’t be afraid to let her out when you need to. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.

39. Never make lists as long as your age beyond the age of 15. Trust me. My hands are weeping and I’m pretty sure the kids have formed a search party by now.

40. Just. Be. You. You are enough. I am enough. Just as we are. I wish I hadn’t spent years thinking I wasn’t enough. What a waste that was. This world needs more of me and it needs more of you. It takes every star in the sky to make that sky magnificent. So shine brightly, little star. You make life better. 

Happy birthday, Old Lady Amanda. It's been a great first half of your life. 

It is Not a Sacrifice to Love You



I saw an old picture of you today, and I hardly recognized you.

There you were, building a deck with two of our kids. Smiling, but not really smiling. Trying to play a role that wasn’t meant for you.

I surprised myself with how little I connected with the memory of that person. The picture didn’t stir up any nostalgia. It didn’t make me sad. It didn’t make me wish we could go back in time, before you told me, before I knew.

If anything, it hurt to think it had to be like that for so long, and reminded me that this life – the life where both of us are living authentically – is so much easier.

“Do you miss having a husband?” one of my friends asked me not too long ago.

“I never had a husband,” I replied matter-of-factly. Because you were always a woman, even when I didn’t know you were.

“You know what I mean,” she said.

I do. She meant the simplicity of before.

Life is easier for heterosexual couples. It’s easier for cisgender (non-trans) folk, too. The world is built for people who fit into neat little normative boxes. People not like us. You can move into any neighbourhood and visit any restaurant. You can get a job without worrying about someone’s bias. Your kids are just like every other kid on the street and accepted as such. Your family can travel anywhere in the world and not worry about laws prohibiting its very existence.

Not too long ago, that was what I thought we were. And yes, in those ways, I guess life before was easier.

But it wasn’t really easier. It was emotionally taxing. And no, I don’t miss it.

You were unhappy, and that unhappiness spilled into our everyday lives. It saturated everything we did, all our relationships, how we interacted as a couple and how we parented.

So I don’t care if we need to think twice before moving or check a country’s LGBT laws when planning a trip. I wouldn’t go back to the before, not even for a second.

I don’t miss who you used to be. It took some time to let the idea of “him” go, but I have. Completely. Because the woman who emerged from the ashes is my perfect fit. She was worth waiting for. My wife rocks.

Society likes to talk a lot about what a “sacrifice” it is for people to stay with a partner who’s transitioning. If we’re not immediately judged by those who would “never stay”, we’re lauded and applauded for going above and beyond in the name of love and family.

But the thing is, my love, it’s not a sacrifice for me to love you. Not even a little bit.

Do we have hard days? Of course. Welcome to marriage. Long-term love is not an easy thing for anyone. It requires work.

In some relationships, one partner supports another through a chronic illness or affliction. That’s their story. In ours, I support you through some days when you’re deep in the trenches of gender dysphoria, that intense discomfort that happens to many trans people. I hold you and remind you how lovely you are and hope it helps.

And some days you support me through a major bout of anxiety, or those moments when I feel like I haven’t achieved enough, or that I suck as a mom. You hold me and tell me I’m enough, just as I am. You do it with a depth you were never able to reach in the before. If you dug too deep back then, you would uncover what you were trying to keep buried. But now? Now you can meet me where I’m at.

I am your rock. You are mine. And being with you is not a sacrifice.

When you wrap your arms around me I feel safe and whole. My heart skips a beat when you wear a beautiful dress. My eyes take in your smile; my ears take in your laughter. My fingers still wrap around yours effortlessly.

If I had known that, beyond the initial minefields of fear and worry, I would arrive at this place of deep love and connection, I would have shed far fewer tears and eaten far less coping chocolate.

You are the before, but better. So much better. It’s an honour and a privilege to love you and be loved by you. Oh, if everyone could be this lucky.

And it is anything but a sacrifice.