en English

 

In this episode of the GenderGP podcast, author, speaker and LGBTQ advocate, Amanda Jetté Knox (aka Maven of Mayhem), shares her family’s story with Dr Helen and Marianne. Together they discuss the importance of love in navigating the family dynamic, when life as you know it changes.

 

If you have been affected by any of the topics discussed in our podcast, and would like to get in touch, please visit our Help Centre and get in touch. You can also contact us on social media where you will find us at @GenderGP on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

We are always happy to accept ideas for future shows, so if there is something in particular you would like us to discuss or a specific guest you would love to hear from, let us know. Your feedback is really important to us so, if you could take a minute or two to leave us a review and rating for the podcast on your favourite podcast app, it will help others to discover us.

 

Links:

Find out more: www.amandajetteknox.com
Love Lives Here by Amanda Jette Knox: Visit the Penguin Random House Website
On Twitter: @MavenOfMayhem

 

The GenderGP Podcast

Evolving as a Family with Amanda Jette Knox – The GenderGP Podcast S4 E6

 

Hello, this is Dr Helen Webberley. Welcome to our GenderGP Podcast, where we will be discussing some of the issues affecting the trans and non-binary community in the world today, together with my co-host Marianne Oakes, a trans woman herself, and our head of therapy.

 

Dr. Helen Webberley:
I’m really, really delighted to welcome you, Amanda. Amanda Knox is joining us from Ottawa in Canada. And she is a writer, a speaker, and a human rights advocate. You can see that I’ve read that off a piece of paper, but actually, what I would really like you to do, Amanda, is introduce yourself. We are a group of transgender advocates in the UK. We’ve been working with trans people for a long time. And what we would love to do is capture some of your experiences and the advocacy work that you have done over where you are, and see if we can learn, share ideas, you know, join hands, get enthusiastic about new avenues ahead. So please, introduce yourself. Tell us all about you and the work that you do and the experiences that you’ve had.

Amanda Jette Knox:
Wonderful. Well, first of all, thanks for having me. It’s great. So, my name is Amanda. My pronouns are she and her. And I do live in very cold Ottawa. Our family is a fairly special one. We are a family of six, and one of our children came out as trans in 2014. She told us in an email. And a year and a half later, my spouse of then-eighteen years came out as well, and let me know that she was also a woman. And the work I do as a result of all these changes in our family is to help people understand that in a lot of ways, we are just like everybody else. That is my work in a nutshell. It is how can we be inclusive of the differences while also recognizing that the differences aren’t that big of a deal in the end. That we are still the same family on the same street with the same friends, more or less, and the same life. I now speak all over the country, sometimes with my family members, sometimes on my own. And I write about our experiences just to sort of bridge the gap and bring people in.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
Brilliant.

Marianne Oakes:
Wow. The thing that just stuck in my mind when you were talking there is how ordinary you kind of perceive your life. It’s special, but ordinary at the same time that nothing’s changed in the street, except maybe there are two extra females. And I spend all my time talking to people and saying whatever they’ve read in the newspaper when they meet me, I think they just struggle to equate the two things, what they’ve read and what they’re talking to. I’m not bigging myself up there. It’s just the fact that it disarms them, and I am thinking that this is probably what you are doing with your family.

Amanda Jette Knox:
That’s what we’re trying to do. I mean, I think that for people who don’t know that they know any trans people, because I think we’ve all probably met at least one or two trans people in our lives, possibly more, it can seem so different. And I had so many misconceptions when my daughter came out. And as much as I’ve learned, I’ve also had to unlearn a lot of those misconceptions that had been taught to me in the media, through movies and television shows, and early media portrayals of trans people, and sadly, sometimes still current portrayals of trans people, and their lives. So, I think by having this family piece around it, by saying, “Yes, we’re just a couple of parents. We have some children. We have a mortgage. We have jobs, and we have a glass of wine and watch Netflix like everyone else.” That really brings it home for people in a relatable and nonthreatening way.

Marianne Oakes:
Yeah.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
I’m interested that your daughter—and I know a lot of people are I won’t be the first—that your daughter came out to you by email. And the reason why I am interested is because I have no idea how long your daughter spent crafting that email. But the way that our system works is that people who want to access any advice or support or medical care access that by email. And what I’ve seen from people is that sometimes people will just go—it’s almost scary to get their fingers on the keyboard and whatever and then click send. And it’s done. And I can also see that some other people spend days literally crafting that email and putting those words on paper for the first time. So, I am interested that your daughter did it that way, as well. I don’t know if you have any kind of anything to share on that.

Amanda Jette Knox:
So, the story around that is kind of sweet, actually. We have something in Canada called Pink Shirt Day. And it’s a day in schools where you will wear pink to show your support for people dealing with bullying, homophobia, transphobia, et cetera. And so, I was super organised, and I took my two youngest children out for shirts the night before, you know, because that’s what put-together parents do, right? And we were having a hard time finding anything, this is not surprising. But also, because we were shopping in the boys’ department, it was especially hard in 2014 to find shirts. So, our littlest, our youngest, Jackson, he was seven at the time, he was getting really worked up about it, like, “I don’t understand. Pink is just a colour. Well, I like pink. Why can’t we find anything? I just want to wear it.” And I said, “Well, buddy, you’re right. This should not be an issue. You should be able to wear what you want, express yourself the way you want, et cetera.” I gave a really good talk about expression. And I felt, when we went home, after finding a couple of shirts, that I was a really good mum to him. And I didn’t realise that our eleven-year-old was really taking this in, and when she got to her room, finally figured out that this was the time. That if she was going to do it, then it was going to be now. That conversation, meant for another child, ended up being the catalyst. She wrote that email. It took her a while. She said it took her a couple of hours, at least. And she struggled over the wording. But the wording was beautiful. And we ended up using that wording, we ended up using that email to access care here in Canada as well. We sent that email to the gender diversity clinic at our local children’s hospital. But the nice thing about emails is that it gives somebody the freedom to express themselves, it also gives the recipients time to react. So, all of my shock, anything that may have been on my face, any concern, any apprehension was something she didn’t have to deal with, which made it so much better. And it’s the way a lot of people come out, I think, for that reason. By the time we went into her room, which was very shortly after receiving the email, all we had were words of love and support. It was very easy to get in there. And she was in her bed, crying. And we got in, one on each side of her, and we rubbed her back, and we told her we love her and that we were going to figure this out together. I’m so glad that she gave us the space to internalize it.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
That’s lovely. That’s really lovely. Lovely for her, and lovely for you two, as well.

Marianne Oakes:
How mature. That’s the—you know, for a young person to do that and to be able to write something that said everything it had to say.

Amanda Jette Knox:
Yeah, she’s a very insightful kid. She’s seventeen now. But even at eleven, she put right in her email, “Please take some time with this.” You know, essentially, she said, “Please don’t come into my room until you’ve given this some thought, and you’ve had time to think about it.” And I am like, how genius to be able to do that? But that was a really good point. It gave us a second to sort of breathe and take it in before we went in. Very smart.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
Did she lay down any ground rules? Like, I need you to believe me, I need you to understand this. Do you know what I mean?

Amanda Jette Knox:
Yeah, well I mean, in the email, she said, “Please don’t be mad. Please try to understand.” And again, this is eleven-year-old language in 2014. But she said, “I am a girl trapped in a boy’s body. More than anything else, I need to be a girl. This is who I am. This is who I have always been.” She really talked about it that way. Later on, I remember I really struggled with the idea initially. I believed her. But I think there was a part of me that wanted to be absolutely sure, and that’s not her fault. I’m an anxious person. I like to disaster-proof everything. So, the next day, I was on the phone with everyone, you know, getting her appointments, seeing everything set up, and learning to advocate with her and for her. But, there was a time when I started to test the waters, and I didn’t come right out and say, “SO hey, is this a phase?” But I sort of pushed back a little bit. And again, she’s a very bright kid, she’s very insightful. And she flat out turned back to me and said, “Mum, it’s not a phase. It’s not a fad. This isn’t something that I am trying on. This is who I am. And I understand that it’s new to you, but it isn’t new to me.” So, she made it very clear early on that this was going to be her path and that we had to catch up and respect her. And I thought that that was a wonderful thing to put forth.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
I think, I don’t know about you Marianne, but you know, when I’ve worked with children in the past, I’ve been shocked and surprised and enthused at how educated they are, how smart they are, how eloquent they are. And sometimes I wonder whether those are the ones that manage to access what it is that they need because they are not pushed back by questioning adults or rules that are too difficult to navigate, do you know what I mean? Because certainly, I mean I’ve never looked at the research, but I would say that our younger cohort, they are all high achievers in school and educated—a lot of them are high achievers in school and education. And it makes me wonder about those—I mean, I don’t believe there’s a link between education and intelligence or ability on being transgender, but is it that they are more able to access what it is that is needed, you know, unwavering belief and support? I don’t know, Marianne, is that something that you ever come across?

Marianne Oakes:
The question that was going through my mind is what was your family dynamic before this event? So, did your daughter grow up in a very liberal, easy environment? Because a lot of the children I work with, even when the parents are being supportive, they’ll talk about how they heard them say homophobic statements and are racist, or show some elements of bigotry and that. I don’t know. But even if it was that only tiny and kind of unnoticed by the parents, it had kept them from speaking sooner. So, I am wondering what kind of environment—not that you’d have said anything quite so bad—but—

Amanda Jette Knox:
Yeah, we were pretty open. We’ve always tried to be as open-minded as possible and to learn. I very early on had a good friend who is a woman of colour in the US, and she sat with me, online, mind you, but she really took the time to explain privilege to me. And so, learning that twenty years ago, and what privilege is, and the different types and how it’s multilayered and complicated, that is something that we always talked about with our children. The benefits of privilege and the drawbacks for other people and how we need to lift everyone up. So that was a big conversation in our house. No, homophobia was definitely not something that we—we have always said that we would love our children no matter who they are, who they love. I think it did give her an environment to express herself. Her biggest fear, though, was that when she was looking for examples out there of kids who were affirmed, a lot of kids were saying, “I thought my parents would be accepting, my parents are very liberal people, my parents are very open-minded people, so I thought that. and I tell them that I am trans, and now I am kicked out of the house, or they won’t let me access medical care.” Or whatever it might be. So, she thought that might happen to her. She thought that her parents, whom she perceived to be really open-minded, wouldn’t be open-minded when it came to this.

Marianne Oakes:
Right. That idea. What we’re looking for is security. And I think as children, we do pick up on everything, every nuance. And I think I can remember, I’ve seen stories in the newspaper, and watching my dad read them, and even if he didn’t say anything, his body language told me everything. So, I’d like to think we are all living in more open-minded times. But I still think that children are picking up on that, and that can make things difficult. You have to forgive me here as well, because, in the back of my mind, my family has been through a similar transformation, to yours, except both of my children are still cis, for want of a better description. The dynamic between Vicky and me is quite big, and people are always obsessed about our sexuality. And I am wondering about how you coped with that, because your identity is going to have changed, or the perception of your identity will have changed.

Amanda Jette Knox:
I think it goes back to privilege and how, for a long time, we were, to the world, we looked like a cis-het couple. So, cisgender heterosexual couple that could blend in anywhere. And one of the things that I said about moving out to the suburbs, and this particular suburb where I used to live before when we were much younger and really felt out of place because we were starving students and just didn’t really fit in with everyone else around here. So, we wanted to move back here. And I thought, “Well, okay, I mean at least if we live here we will just fit in with everybody.” Because at the time, if you had asked me to describe my family, I would have told you that we were a mom and a dad and three boys. And I mean, you can find that all over the place. So, when people started to come out in the family, at first, we found that we had a daughter. A lot of people have daughters. But then when Zoe came out, now, suddenly, we were two women, right? I mean, to the world, we were a household with two women, two mums. I was really worried about that. But in our day to day life, it’s not a factor. It’s only online. Online, people have so many questions. My own sexuality is an interesting part of the story, because I have known, for a really long time, and I came to realise over the last few years, even before Zoe came out, that I am a lesbian. And I grew up in an environment—my parents are lovely people, but I grew up, and I went to a catholic school, and it was more or less a loosely catholic upbringing and a lot of expectations. And the expectation was that I was going to grow up and marry a man, you know? And because I was bullied so badly when I was younger, I hid that part. I just wanted to fit in with everybody. And so, I married someone who I thought was a man, who oddly enough, was the only “man,” and I am using quotes here, because she’s not one, that I was ever even somewhat attracted to. So, I thought well, this works. When she came out and really blossomed as herself, and she’s a beautiful, beautiful person inside and out—worlds away from the miserable person she was before, so much happier, and more engaged and she’s gorgeous—that really helped me come to terms with my own sexuality. So that was, you could say that an email from an eleven-year-old helped two other people in the family find themselves, and live more authentic lives, which is really fantastic. But yeah, the world around us, at least in Canada, and in our particular area, it is relatively accepting of who we are. But you still get a lot of people who are really hung up on the fact that she is a trans woman. So, if she is a trans woman, I can’t possibly be gay, right? And so, first of all, that is completely inaccurate. She is definitely a woman. But secondly, who you are with does not dictate your sexuality. That belongs to us. It’s funny. I’ve learned a lot about myself through this.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
That is amazing. It’s such a beautiful story. And I have to say, you tell your story so beautifully. I know everyone listening will be so warmed by that love. And I hope people get to see the expression on your face like I can see it now. Because all I can see is happiness and love, and honestly, it is so beautiful. What a lovely story. And your boys, we must not forget your beautiful sons, how have they navigated the journey that they’ve been on?

Amanda Jette Knox:
I am really proud of our sons. They are currently thirteen and almost twenty-three. And they are the most resilient and kind, compassionate souls. So, taking to having a sister took no time at all. The first time that we sat them down, we sat them down and told them that it was Alexis and me, we sat them down together, and we told them and Eric, our eldest, he said, “Okay, that’s great. I love you, and I’ve got you, and you’re my sister.” And Jackson, who again, was seven at the time, he pauses for a minute, and he gives this face and says, “Okay, so let me get this straight. Everyone thinks you’re a boy, but actually, you’re a girl?” And Alexis said, “Yeah, that’s about right.” And he said, “Okay, that’s cool. I always wanted a sister, anyway.” So that was it. It was very simple. And he internalized it, I think, faster than anyone else and went on about his life. It was a little harder when Zoe came out. I think that, in our society, a big part of our identity is who our parents are, for a lot of us. So, the boys, as accepting and as loving as they were since the moment they found out, I think they struggled a little with what that meant for them. So, if I don’t have a dad—because she definitely doesn’t see herself as their dad—they absolutely could tell you that they don’t see her as their dad, but they thought, “If I don’t have a dad then what does that mean for me as a man? How does that work?” And they didn’t have that opportunity of knowing, say, if you’re a boy who was raised by two women and you know this from the start, well then, you’ve always grown up with that knowledge. But they had to sort of rework it in their minds. But very quickly, I think, it became like a no big deal. And they learned that you can be, you can learn all the things about being a great man from anybody. It doesn’t have to be a father. It doesn’t have to be a father figure. And so, they could learn those things from Zoe, even though Zoe is a woman. So, I think that that was a real healing point for them. But they’ve never been anything but kind and supportive. I’ve never seen them do or say anything that hasn’t been completely affirming of either one of the trans people in our family. It’s incredible. More than me, more than anybody, I think they are an example of how to do this right.

Marianne Oakes:
The interesting thing there, and I think this is something that I have gone through, is I’ve had, for my own peace of mind, I’ve had to reestablish the role I play with my children. I say children, they’re in their thirties now, but I still have a role to play with them. And it was a lot of incongruence with that. When I was still exploring my gender in a meaningful way. As I’ve come through that, as I’ve gone on the journey, as I’ve started to transition, then that role has become clearer again. And actually, very little’s changed. It was me adjusting to who I was, and the roles I played didn’t invalidate my gender identity. So, I think that is just part of the process of parenthood because we change as parents as we grow older anyway, don’t we?

Amanda Jette Knox:
Absolutely. We all take on different roles. I mean, it’s funny, I found a while ago, did you find your roles changed as a couple when you realised you had a wife and not a husband? And it was actually Zoe who brought it up to me at one point. She said, “You know, and I am not saying this in a bad way, this is actually a really good thing, but you expect a lot more of me now.” And I always thought that I am a feminist, I believe in equal distribution of labour in a relationship, et cetera. But it is true. It was like I would just assume that of course, she’s going to do half of everything because we are in an equal partnership. Whereas before, I think we sort of stereotypically took on roles, too. And it was never really discussed. It just kind of happened. So, I have learned so much about myself and just the way society works and all of the things that I never thought about before. It’s been a really neat journey.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
So, we talked about the way society works. I am imagining, well I don’t know, I’ve never met anyone who has had some hills and vales like you’re describing to have a completely unimpinged journey. So, I don’t want to lead you in any way, but I am imagining things like school, things like employment, things like the environment around you, and things like healthcare—were there any particular challenges that you faced that you had to come out from and succeed or partially succeed? And is there any way that you could share how you succeeded so that people listening can feel empowered to take on this journey and get to the other side?

Amanda Jette Knox:
As a parent, it was—I don’t want to say we did a lot of pioneering. I don’t think that’s fair, because a lot of the work had been done for trans kids before we got there. But a lot of work was still happening. We had an issue with the school, for example. Alexis was eleven, she was in her final year of elementary school in grade six, and she was going to go off to middle school for grade seven and eight the following year. This was February. A couple of weeks after she came out, I went into the school and tried to talk to one of the administrative staff, and was met with a lot of resistance. There was a lot of thinking out loud. What would the other parents think? Well, she can’t possibly use the bathroom that the girls use, because, you know—and a lot of misgendering, and a lot of using her old name even though I was telling her what name to use. I remember leaving feeling so defeated. So, this is where having support comes in. In my case, I called my mum, sobbing, from the car in the parking lot, because I was crying so hard after that terrible meeting that I couldn’t drive. My youngest brother has Down’s syndrome. And mum taught me to advocate, just through example, for him. She has always been a good advocate for him. And so, she really helped me calm down and get refocused. And reminded me that Alexis had rights. I just had to look for those rights and present them in a factual way. I think facts are the biggest thing when you are trying to get stuff done. And we were trying to advocate alongside a trans child, or as a trans person probably, just having that, you know, “Here are the basic human rights that I am allowed. And I am allowed to access healthcare. And I am allowed to have these services in school.” And so, I used that, but I said, my child. Healthcare was—we were able to access a gender diversity clinic. Not everybody else has that opportunity, which is too bad because it was lifesaving for her. And we are wrapping that up this year, and we are going on to adult healthcare. That will be a whole new navigation. But thankfully, my wife Zoe has done a lot of that. So, we sort of know where to go and what to do. The most frustrating thing was to get doctors to listen, to get people to listen, and to really understand that she wasn’t going to change her mind. This is who she is. This is who she will always be, very likely. This is who she has been all along. And so, there is a lot of trepidation around moving things too quickly and that sort of thing. We are talking a lot with practitioners in Canada about that right now. The other thing is dealing with healthcare outside gender-specific stuff can be really tough, because if we go to access mental health services or something like that, it sort of immediately becomes, “Oh, you’re trans? Are all your problems centred around you being trans?” And it’s like, “No, I’m stressed about school.” Right? Or, “I’m having friendship problems.” Or something like that. So, I just think that learning your facts and knowing exactly what to say to people, having to plan—again, I am a disaster-proofer—that helped so much when dealing with people who may not have as much experience.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
So, I think that’s really good advice. And having those facts is really important, isn’t it? Sometimes they’re not there because that rule book hasn’t been made yet. And obviously, this causes difficulties. But we do have the experience, don’t we? We have the basic facts in place now. And we have the experience. One of the difficulties we have in the UK is younger people accessing blockers on time to prevent puberty, and then accessing gender-affirming hormones in time to access puberty with their friends. Because, as you say, everyone is saying, “Don’t go too quickly.” And the young person is saying, “I want to go quickly. I want to go quickly. I want to be the same as all the people in my class. They’re all doing puberty. Why can’t I do puberty?” And although those rule books, the doctors who are in charge of that haven’t been brave enough to say, “Yes, this is the right thing to do.” So those rule books are not in place yet. But we do have the experience of so many people who have gone on this journey before. And I guess that is some of the work that you do, isn’t it? It’s showing. Being so open worth your family, and saying, “Look at my family, look at our experience.” And I noticed when you were talking then, you said that this is likely what she is going to be for the rest of her life. There is always that tiny caveat in these, just in case there is a small chance that this journey changes in some way. But yes, I couldn’t agree with you more. Having those facts, even if that rule book isn’t there written down yet, and making that plan. And I was kind of thinking when you were talking about the administrator you went to see, and I wonder if we’d sent that email, the warning email before you went in, I don’t know whether you did or not because that helped you so much, didn’t it, with your daughter? So, maybe that is another piece of advice for people, isn’t it? Send that warning. I am going to be coming in to see you, and I am going to be discussing this, and this is the kind of outcome that I am hoping we are going to be able to negotiate together. I don’t know, Marianne, whether you have any sort of thoughts on that.

Marianne Oakes:
I don’t think we can put a value on having a good advocate. Because, if I am honest with you, as a trans person, I think I am reasonably strong. But I am quite easily brow-beaten by people when they come back at you. I had a situation today where I am being told that I can’t change my name at the gender clinic, of all places. And quite quickly, I am beaten down. And then I speak to Helen, and she said have you thought about this? And, no, I haven’t. So, having good advocacy feels so great. We could do with more people going into schools. If you leave it to the trans person, we’re going in in a position of vulnerability, at the very least. And I know that many trans people will accept less just to get out of the room safe if that makes sense.

Amanda Jette Knox:
Well, I don’t like the idea that every person from a marginalized group automatically has to educate everybody. I mean, how exhausting is that, to always have to be the person to say, “Okay, well, let me teach you a few things about who I am.” It would be really nice if a lot of that groundwork was already done so that you can live. And I think, you know, going back to the “This is likely who she is always going to be,” I always leave open the direction to be navigated by my daughter, because I think that at the end of the day, I am a cisgender person. I don’t know what it’s like to be trans. I could give it my best guess, and I could give it my best shot, but she knows herself better than anyone else. So, she knows herself to know that this is the course that she needs to take. I don’t have to fully understand it to be supportive of her. I am very comfortable in the gender that I was assigned at birth. And I don’t foresee that ever-changing. So, to me, the best thing that I can do is just listen to her. Listen to her, listen to my wife, listen to the people who actually live it. If we all spent more time listening, and less time trying to give out experiences we’ve never lived, the world would be so much better. I really like to leave that door open, and then whatever I get taught, I just try to pass it on in a way that makes it accessible so that other people don’t have to do that, like you were saying, Marianne. I can’t imagine having to live your life where there is already so much discrimination and already so much misunderstanding and then on top of that, in every single space you go to, have to be the poster child. That is not fair to you, and it is not fair to anyone who is just trying to live.

Marianne Oakes:
I think the most powerful message, as well, and I am not sure if people would agree with this, but to see, dare I say, a cis person who really gets it, this advocating makes it really difficult for other cis people to just dismiss this as something that is crazy. That actually, here is somebody that is mirroring my sense of gender, arguing for these people that are different, and I think that in itself is really powerful.

Amanda Jette Knox:
Well, there are a lot of cis people who want to give a lot of opinions on trans issues. And yet, a lot of them haven’t taken the time to kind of sit down and get to know what the issues really are. I had a thread on twitter this morning, and it was about the fixation in UK media right now over the de-transitioning people. I mean, yes, we do know that some people discontinue transition. We do know that some people do that. And that voice needs to be heard. But there is such a fixation on it. And I was just arguing that given that we know that the rate is so low, I mean, it’s one per cent or less in terms of de-transition or regret in virtually every study—so if the media is going to cover one person’s story on de-transition, they should cover ninety-nine stories of people who have transitioned who are living their best lives, right? That’s balanced representation.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
I so agree with you. I mean, I have done my learning by listening to people, by listening to their stories, by trying to understand what it might be like for them to be living with their identity. And actually, it’s so much more exciting listening to those people than to seek out the one or two that have, for whatever reason, not continued on that journey. And I notice that all of us are deliberately saying, “Because they weren’t trans,” because I’ve ever met anybody who has gone through however long this journey took them and then goes, “Do you know what? I’ve just woken up this morning, and I’ve realised that I am not trans at all.” And I’ve never heard anyone ever say that, ever. I’ve heard lots of people say, “I can’t do this right now. I’ve got to move away from this journey that I thought I was going to go on, for this reason, that reason, or another reason.” But I’ve never heard anyone say, “Do you know what? I made a complete mistake. I am not trans at all.” I’ve just never heard it. And the thing is, anybody who has that story that they want to share, we would love to talk to you and put a proper representation of what the public wants to hear. And you know, I’m not going to mention the program that was on last night, it was talking again about de-transitioning, and again, that one story. Where were the other ninety-nine stories? Because they are so much more exciting. I’ve loved getting to know all of the trans people that I’ve met, and learning from them has been amazing. And actually, I don’t know what it’s like to be trans. I don’t know what it’s like to have diabetes. I don’t know what it’s like to have cancer. Because I’ve never personally had those things. But I am a doctor, and I have talked to lots of people who have had cancer, I’ve talked to lots of people who have had diabetes, so I kind of get a feeling of what it might be like to live that way. And that is what we as doctors, and as humans, should do. We have a brain, and we have two very good ears, mostly. So, listen, and try and understand what it might be like.

Marianne Oakes:
I was just going to say, this idea of, I think you said it earlier, Helen, about when an adult or a child goes into the GP’s practice to talk to the GP, there is almost a paralysis from the GP to be able to just listen and learn. That they feel that they’ve got to be the expert, and because the expert status is being challenged, that they want to do nothing. I think the doctor wants to get the people out of the surgery, or not always, but more often than not, get them out of surgery because actually, I am being challenged here. My view, and what I have been taught doesn’t prepare me for this.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
Well, I am loving this idea of this email. This warning shot email. Anyone who’s listening who’s got an appointment with their GP in two weeks’ time to discuss this very thing, how about popping an email or a little letter in the reception to just say, “Please show this to the doctor ten days before my appointment,” to give that doctor a chance to go through what you went through, Amanda, in the few minutes that you allowed yourself before you went back in to cuddle your daughter, to have that shock, dismay, oh-my-goodness, imagining all of your life in the next three seconds on how it is going to be like or how it might change, and you know, give your doctor that chance to go through a little bit of that, so they are not caught in the headlights, as you say, Marianne, which is what is the worst, isn’t it? You tell your doctor something really important, and their face drops, you know?

Marianne Oakes:
And, it takes away from them the excuse to say, “I don’t know anything about this.” You’ve had every opportunity to do every little bit of research. And actually, more crucially, I want to experience here, to actually say the words to the doctor is really difficult. And I said everything but “transgender.” I think I might be questioning my gender. You know, I couldn’t say anything in the affirmative, because I wasn’t sure of the reaction. Having a letter or an email go ahead of you would actually pave the way. You wouldn’t actually—it wouldn’t be such a struggle to be actually able to say the words.

Amanda Jette Knox:
I think we sometimes forget that doctors are human, and everybody who works with the public is human. Everyone whose face we’re going to read is human. So, it is good if you don’t think that there is necessarily going to be a full onboard positive reaction to send that email. What a wonderful idea. It is something that I would never have thought of. I remember talking to our dentist’s office over the phone, and what an awkward conversation that was. I think just because I felt so vulnerable at the time. I felt so raw. I was just waving for somebody to say something awful about my child. All I wanted to do in the whole world was to protect her. And I knew that these steps were necessary, but wow, they were hard. The option of sending an email to them would be really big. So, I can’t imagine what it’s like for a trans person to be sitting in the doctor’s office trying to explain that to a doctor, because I am one removed, and it was hard for me. So, that must have been really hard, Marianne.

Marianne Oakes:
I keep putting it down to trauma if I am honest. I think we’ve learned to hold it in all or lives, to say nothing, through fear. That even when we are given—you’d think, given the sanctity of a doctor’s surgery, it would be one of the safest places to talk, and really, it should be. But the truth of the matter is, actually getting the words out—I’ve worked with people in therapy working with me, six, seven, eight sessions, and they’ve never said the word transgender. They’ve talked, they’ve inferred, they’ve walked around it. I’ve tried to take them there. What is it that you are trying to say? To actually say that word and admit it and say it out loud can be really, really difficult.

Amanda Jette Knox:
Words are so powerful. I remember even just sitting down with Zoe, and for the first time saying the words, “I’m a lesbian.” And I felt all these different feelings. I mean, on the one hand, I felt the wave of shame that came from never saying those words out loud before. I felt intense fear, even though this would have—I didn’t think—any bearing on our relationship. Our relationship is fine, really. She’s a woman, I’m a lesbian, I love her, she loves me. This should not be a problem. But I think, also so much relief, too, when I finally said those words. And this weight was off my shoulders. And I felt on top of the world for a couple of days. And I would go, “Yeah, yeah, I’m gay.” And that is about as close as I think I can get to the experience that you are describing. But those words, it’s like once you say them, too, you can’t take them back. So, there is a lot of vulnerability in that to be able to finally go, “Blaaah,” and just let it out. You’re not putting that back in the bottle, though, that’s it.

Marianne Oakes:
I think once you unblocked that passage, as well, everything starts coming out then. Everything you have wanted to say. So, somebody said too much, could it be careful you don’t bang on too much? No, I would like to say this, and whether you want to hear it or not, you’re going to get it now. It just kept following, you know? I wanted, before we go too much further, I was going to say that a lot of people come to me and they’re about to come out to their partner, and one of their biggest fears is, “I’m going to lose my relationship.” And I actually wonder—my experience is I’ve got lots of friends whose marriages have survived transition. And actually, I would say probably 80 per cent survival rate. Yet I think the notion is that it’s unsurvivable, but I just wondered what your thoughts were about that.

Amanda Jette Knox:
When Zoe came out to me, I did a web search. And I was told, since, by the way, that that web search is not complete, because were stories out there about positive, successful relationships, but I didn’t find any. What I found a lot of was my partner came out as trans, and it destroyed our marriage, and this is not survivable, it is too much trauma for a family. And all sorts of things. And that just made me really mad. It made me want to try even harder. Because I didn’t know where our relationship was going to go at times. But I was like, you know what, I am not going to read all of this bad news and decide that this is our story, that’s not it, because I know that she loves me I know that she wants to work this out, I know that I love her, and I know that I want to work this out. So, it can be messy. And I think that is something that we don’t necessarily talk about. For some people, I know some people whose partners have come out, and they’ve said, “Great, honey, I support you.” And it is not a big deal. I would say, though, for a lot of people, again, our identities are so tied into how the world sees us. And so even though what I had before didn’t necessarily fit me, it was something I was comfortable with because it meant that the world saw me a certain way. And when Zoe came out, I think the biggest stress for me was how the world was going to perceive us afterwards, and that also included things like if she were to lose her job, even though that that is not something that could legally happen, we all know that it still happens. And another reason will be given, but really, it’s because people don’t want the trans person at that job anymore. And I thought if she loses her job and has a hard time finding another job, that’s going to possibly impact us. There are so many other factors that can lead to people struggling in a relationship after trans people come out. But ultimately, what I want people to know is that it is very survivable. I mean, if your sexual orientations align, I think that the trans partner’s, or rather, the cis partner’s sexual orientation is also just as valid as the trans person’s gender. So, I mean, if your partner comes out and you just don’t find that connection in an intimate way at that point, you know, that can be problematic. But I think for a lot of people, you know, we love the person, and the person is the same, except, you know, better, right? Like, Zoe is the same. She is the same person. But an upgrade in so many ways. In her joy, in her smile, in everything. She just glows now. And so, it’s not only survivable but also thrivable because we are thriving, and so are other people.

Marianne Oakes:
Yeah, I think the reason you don’t find the stories that you are probably looking for on a google search is because the ones that get on with it aren’t writing about it, they’re just getting on with it. It’s the ones that are angry, who are—I don’t know—angry at the world and want to share that pain that they are going through. I’ve worked with some couples in therapy, and I remember one couple in particular. They used to come in, and they used to sit opposite. And I did very little. I just kept them apart. But the wife, going at the trans partner, God, all this stuff had to come out. This anger. And they came week after week. But always, ten minutes before the session was about to finish, would bring it back down, and they sat for the last ten minutes and held hands. And I’ve never had a doubt that it was going to survive at all. You knew that, yes, she’s got to get this stuff out, but genuinely, the love was still there. And the fact that you still hold hands would fill me with hope.

Amanda Jette Knox:
In my book, I remember writing about the two Amandas, and I would call them the logical Amanda and the emotional Amanda. And logical Amanda, thankfully, had the experience of having a child whom she loves unconditionally, come out as trans. That got all the learning stuff out of the way. So at this point, I knew who she is isn’t up for debate. This is who she is. And so when Zoe came out, I didn’t have to learn Trans 101. I already knew it. I also knew that this was not a choice. This was not a lifestyle. This is not something that she was doing to anyone. She was really just trying to be herself, finally. And that it was not being done to me. It was not a betrayal. And that there was really nothing to be angry about. So that was logical side. But then there was emotional side. And emotional side had been married to this person for eighteen years and was shell shocked in so many ways that this was happening. And I had all these feelings. And she would, unfortunately, come out to play at times. But I’m glad. Zoe really gave me the space to work through that. She let me feel my feelings, and she let me have my bad days, and she let me have my good days. She gave me a lot of room to decide what was best for me. I think having that compassion—I was trying to be very compassionate with her and she was also trying to be very compassionate with me—helped us so much to get to this incredible place that we are now. I think it is just having the room to really feel all our feelings. It was a gift that I am really glad she gave me.

Marianne Oakes:
I think a lot of the people I’ve talked to, as well, as soon as one partner comes out as trans, the other partner tries to put a lot of boundaries in. And I think that that can be something that causes a lot of frustration because you might agree to the boundaries, but you already know, before you agree, that you are going to struggle with them, and then the repression or the frustration. So trying to set boundaries, I think, within a relationship, about whether somebody can go out dressed or wear makeup or I don’t know, wherever the boundaries are, they can actually be quite toxic. And I think the ones where you can actually just go on the journey together. And at any time, exit with good conscience if you need to. You know, that you took it as far you could, and this isn’t working. And it could be either of you that thinks so for whatever reason.

Amanda Jette Knox:
I think with Zoe, I knew that it was not my place to put any boundaries, just as I don’t place any boundaries on Alexis’s journey. It’s not mine, right? And that’s why I leave it wide open. You are who you are, and I have got your back, who you are. And I believe you, and I trust you. And so I did the same with Zoe, and I celebrated all of the different things, all the different milestones that were important to her. And initially, like early on, I think I struggled with the idea of letting go of who I thought she was, of the ideas around our marriage, and the ideas around our life. But very very quickly, turned into I remember the day that she got her hormone prescription, and I just burst into tears and hugged her at the door when she came with it. I was so happy for her. And I remember this part of me behind me thinking, “Wow, did you ever think that you were going to get here?” But that’s the thing about giving things time and listening to people and learning. It ended up being this incredible experience for both of us, seeing her finally live her truth.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
Well, I’ve been really inspired by the stories that you’ve told us today. Thank you for sharing them with us from such a long way away. I hope that your stories will inspire other people who have listened. I am sure that they will. You’ve certainly had a really exciting gender and sexuality journey. You and your family. And I just want to say thank you so much for sharing that with us. And, you know, we will put the details of your book underneath, because you say it more and more and explain it in your book. And the way that you explain, it is passionate and lovely and thank you. So thank you for being with us. It’s been a real pleasure to talk to you. Once again, I learned new things which I always love. So thank you so much.

Amanda Jette Knox:
Well, thank you for having me. It’s been a wonderful conversation.

Marianne Oakes:
Lovely meeting you, Amanda.

 

Thank you. We hope you enjoyed our program. Do go ahead and subscribe if you haven’t done so already. If you or anyone else is affected by any of the topics discussed on our podcast and would like to contact us, please drop us a line at doctor@gendergp.co.uk. We’re very happy to accept ideas for future episodes and guests, or if there is something specific you would like us to cover. You can also visit our website, www.gendergp.co.uk. You can follow us on social media @gendergp, and you can sign up to our monthly newsletter. Full details can be found in our show notes on the podcast page. Thanks for listening.