And the Mountains Brought Me Back

I took this picture without being hit by a train or eaten by a pack of wolves. Bucket list item achieved!

I took this picture without being hit by a train or eaten by a pack of wolves. Bucket list item achieved!

You're supposed to be strong in my line of work. Sometimes, I feel anything but. 

A few days ago, I wanted to quit. Quit advocating for LGBTQ rights, quit writing, quit speaking and interviews and interfacing with people. Quit the Twitter trolls and the middle-of-the-night hate-filled emails and the occasional-but-nonetheless-disturbing threats to my family's safety.

Quit the whole damn thing. Walk away. Done.

I was frustrated; I couldn't see the progress anymore. I thought we were getting somewhere, until Trump got elected. I thought we were getting somewhere, as a people who see people as people, until the mosque shooting in Quebec city and the bomb threats that followed. I thought we were getting somewhere as a society, until I saw sensible people I know stand up for a transphobic speaker being hosted at the National Art Gallery, under the name of free speech. 

I thought we were getting somewhere, and then I didn't. It's like a light went out.

I've only been advocating strongly for about three years, since my first family member came out as trans. I'm not someone who's been fighting her entire life. Yes, I was a giant closeted lesbian for a lifetime, but being closeted and being married to someone the world perceived as a dude (until she became the hottest wife who ever hotted *ahem*) afforded me certain comforts. I could fight for people or not fight for people. I had a choice.

That is, until those people became my people. And then I no longer had a choice, and I fought like a dragon, breathing fire.

I hit the ground running three years ago, and I haven't stopped - not nearly enough, anyway. Not enough breaks, not enough breaths. And it all came to a head two weeks ago, when, between writing, interviews, email and talk prep, I was pulling 16-hour days.

I became the monosyllabic mom who would grunt and point to the boxes of Kraft Dinner when the kids said they were hungry, then grab her coffee and shuffle back to her desk. At night, I would fall into bed next to my wife without saying a word, my energy stores completely spent, and pass out with a book on my chest. 

Truth be told, I was afraid to stop working that week. Because, while I was rapidly burning the candle at both ends, a little voice was saying, 'Why are you doing this? What good is it? Have you seen the comments you're getting on social media? Have you seen the rolling back of rights for trans people? Have you seen the support for Conservative leaders who condone bigotry? You think you're helping, Amanda, but you're not. You're just banging your head against a wall. You're a fool to think you can change anything."

You are a fool.  

I started daydreaming about what life would be like if I just walked away.

Goodbye, advocacy that doesn't seem to make a difference.

Goodbye, pain in the ass trolls who ruin Twitter for everyone.

Goodbye, futile attempts to change the world.

Goodbye.

There are other people who do this work, and they could keep doing it without me. Maybe they're stronger than I am.

Hey, I could just go work in a coffee shop, where I would still deal with bigots, but I wouldn't know they're bigots; I'd only know how many pumps of pumpkin spice they want in their lattes. Bliss. 

I had always wondered what complete burnout looked like, and now I knew. It was ugly and it was mean. It made me forget any of the good I was doing.

But before making the switch to full-time barista, I had a commitment I needed to honour. The YWCA Banff had asked me to be their keynote speaker at the Change Makers event, held on International Women's Day. They do incredible work, from empowering women in many ways to providing social housing in an area that really needs it. Having spent some time getting to know the people there and the work they do, they have a very special place in my heart. (You can make a donation to them here.)

I promised myself I would hold off on making any big decisions until I went out West for that talk. Maybe something would change. Maybe Amanda would get her groove back. 

I had never been to Alberta before. I had never been in the Rocky Mountains, had never soaked in their majesty. 

My biggest accomplishment last week wasn't the keynote address, it was coming home alive because I didn't get hit by a truck as I stood gaping at the mountains all around me. I also didn't get eaten by any wildlife when I walked out of town to find some unobstructed views. It was just like I was on an episode of Naked and Afraid, except I wasn't naked or afraid and I had a hotel room with survival fudge in it. But otherwise? Exactly the same. 

The trip was beautiful, from the vast mountains to the vast amounts of time I spent alone, walking quiet paths or sitting in Evelyn's Coffee Shop not trying to guesstimate the calories in my mocha with whipped cream and extra chocolate sprinkles.

Photo credit: Liz Nelson, who takes great pictures (which is why I stole this one.)

Photo credit: Liz Nelson, who takes great pictures (which is why I stole this one.)

But the real beauty happened the night of the talk. I got up on stage and spent an hour telling my story, as passionately and honestly as I could, hoping to reach at least one person in the audience that night. My goal is always that one person who needs to hear what I have to say. If I know I've reached them, I've done a good job. 

That night,  at the wine reception that followed, I received more positive feedback than I have ever received after a talk.

There was a church official looking at how to best support a transitioning parishioner.

There was a woman who is going through her own coming out process and wanted to know how I speak my truth without shame.

A man who has a recently out non-binary child approached me, and said, after listening to me speak about the importance of parental support, he's going to fully embrace his child, even if he doesn't yet fully understand. 

A woman with a trans child in her family promised to send my blog to her family members, as she feels they could use an example of "how to do it right." 

And another woman came up to me, held my hands, had me look her in the eyes and said, "You, my dear, are a woman of distinction." Because apparently my makeup was too nice and she needed me to cry it off. 

It just went on. Person after person, handshake after handshake, hug after meaningful hug. And, before long, that bitter little voice inside me was replaced with one that said, "See? This is why you do this."

I came home last week with renewed purpose. At the Calgary airport, I shared a dinner table in  a busy restaurant with two men on the corporate side of a large national grocery chain, and I asked about their inclusion policies and ways they could improve upon them. "Keep telling your story," one of them said as they were running off to catch their flight. "It's important."  

On the plane ride home, I sat with two women who were off on an Ottawa adventure for a milestone birthday. We chatted for a good two hours about my family's story, and the many ways all of us can focus on inclusion and acceptance. We hit it off so well that I drove them from the airport to where they were staying, and we shared hugs and contact information. I just got a smile-inducing email from them last night. 

I wanted to reach one person, and ended up I reaching many. It was a reminder that my work isn't futile, it's just slow. But all those connections are important; they weave a web of understanding that eventually envelops the globe. 

I'd like to think I'm entirely bad ass now. (Please play along.)

I'd like to think I'm entirely bad ass now. (Please play along.)

They day after I got home, I had "Lead with love" tattooed on my right arm - the one I shake everyone's hand with. It's been something I've wanted for a while, and it seemed like a fitting moment; a commitment to my work, to my life, and to the love that guides it.

"The mountains are magical," my friend said to me before I left. She was right; they brought me back to my purpose.

Maybe one day, I'll go make coffee for a living. But for now, I'll just keep drinking way too much of it while I do this incredible, overwhelming, meaningful, frustrating and beautiful work.

Lead with love. Always. 

Amanda Jette Knox