An Open Letter to the Senate of Canada: Please Support Trans Rights

The Knox family, 2017

The Knox family, 2017

Dear Senators,

I would like you to meet my incredible family.

I’m Amanda, a writer, speaker and human rights advocate. I’ve been married to the love of my life, Zoe, a high tech professional, for nearly 20 years.

In many ways, we are a typical Canadian family. We have three children, own a home in the suburbs of Ottawa, talk gardening with the neighbours, embarrass our children in front of their friends, and do a lot of volunteer work within our community.

We’re almost boring. They write background characters based on people like us.

But it’s what has happened within our family that makes us stand out. We have two transgender family members who have both started their transitions in the last three years. Our journey has been empowering, heart-wrenching, frightening, educational, and surprisingly magical. It has changed me completely.

It is my goal to introduce you to us as we are today, and urge you to think of our family as you make critical decisions in the Senate that will impact the people I love most.

Stay with me. I promise you won’t regret it.

Up until three years ago, I thought I had a husband and three sons. I was wrong. And as that narrative unravelled, as authenticity bloomed within these four suburban walls, I would gain new insights I hope to leave you with as you make your decisions regarding the validity of trans experiences, and the importance of their rights.

In 2014, our middle child, a child I knew as my son, sent us a life-changing email. “I am a girl trapped in a boy’s body,” the letter said in her best 11-year-old language. “More than anything, I need to be a girl. Please try to understand. Please don’t be angry. Please help me.”

She sent this desperate plea from her room, terrified of the repercussions, but knowing she had no choice. After years of internal turmoil, coming out was the only option left if she wanted to live.

Our daughter, Alexis, 2015

Our daughter, Alexis, 2015

This is a hard thing to internalize as a parent, to know your child was that close to taking her own life, and that your actions, from this moment on, can make or break this vulnerable little human. I felt the weight of it all, and I was afraid.

I knew nothing of transgender issues when Alexis came out to us. Not a thing. Anything I had heard about trans people was steeped in ignorance. It was never from the trans community itself, but rather from people like me, with no direct experience and plenty of opinions.

It was from friends who read about a trans person in the news. It was from an anecdote-turned-joke about a co-worker who wears wigs at home. It was from old movies, where trans characters were portrayed as incredibly unstable, and often with malicious intent.

And yet here was my child – my child, who I grew, carried, birthed, nursed and rocked to sleep, someone I know and love more than life itself – telling me she is she. She was anything but unstable, anything but malicious.

I did what a parent should do and loved her through it. While current research tells us this was the right thing to do for her, it was not an entirely selfless act. I didn’t want to lose my child. And when I read about the obstacles facing trans youth, a lack of safety and support were the biggest ones. Trans children who are not supported in their transition are eight times more likely to attempt suicide. Those are the statistics, and we did not want our daughter to be a statistic.

I’m glad I listened and learned. Because the following year, the person I had known for nearly 20 years as my husband, told me she is, in fact, my wife. It was the most terrifying and honest conversation we had ever had. We chose to love each other through this change, too. And I have no regrets. 

There is now a juxtaposition within the walls of our little suburban home. A learning experience we openly share with the world.

First, there is the child who was able to come out at 11 years old, receive much needed support from her family, friends and community, and thrive as a result. It is my hope and belief that Alexis is going to lead a very happy life as her true self, free the pain she would have faced had she remained closeted. 

Then, there is my wife, who spent a lifetime fearing for her safety, her relationships, and her career, so she painfully hid her true self for over 40 years. When she did come out, it was because she could no longer live that way. But in doing so, she truly believed she would lose everything and put herself at great risk.

My wife's fears were valid. Trans people face an enormous amount of discrimination that can impact their happiness, their ability to earn an income, and their basic human right to safety.

There is lived experience, and then there are opinions of experiences we’ve never lived. Up until the makeup of my family changed, I had no lived experience in this area. Trans issues weren’t even in my periphery. They were something that happened to other people, not my people, so I didn’t have to worry about them. I didn't have to care very much.

Until, that is, this became all about my people. My incredible, brave, resilient people, who have taught just how much I didn’t know.

Zoe and Amanda, 2017

Zoe and Amanda, 2017

Today, my wife and I are planning to renew our vows for our 20th wedding anniversary in August. I love her more than I ever have, in part because authenticity looks beautiful on her.

Our daughter is a typical grade 9 student, staying up too late and barely getting those English essays in on time. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t take a moment to appreciate how delightfully typical her life is.

Much of my family's happiness has to do with how much we've moved forward as a society. But we still have a long way to go. 

When we know better, we do better. That’s how progress is made, whether inside a mother’s heart, inside a marriage, inside a home’s four walls, or inside Parliament.

Senators, as a mother, partner, advocate, educator, and Canadian citizen with a fresh perspective on trans issues, I urge you to help me keep my family safe. Please listen to what families like mine are saying, and turn Bill C-16 into law.

You can help my daughter continue to thrive for a lifetime.

You can help my wife live a truly happy life after years spent hiding.

You can help me sleep better at night, knowing my country sees them, hears them, and cares for them.

Please feel free to contact me anytime at mavenmayhem@gmail.com. I welcome your questions, comments, concerns - and especially your support.

 

With sincerity and gratitude,

Amanda Jetté Knox

Ottawa, Canada

Amanda Jette Knox