“We should get married again,” I had said to Zoë on one of our nature walks a few months before her surgery. Fall was coming to Ottawa and we were trying to make the most of the warm weather before the snow and frigid temperatures arrived.
“Like a vow renewal?” she asked.
“Yeah. For our twentieth anniversary.”
“Okay,” she said, mulling the idea over. “What would that look like?”
“Whatever we want it to look like,” I replied. “That seems to be the running theme of our relationship anyway.”
“Hey, I’d get to wear a dress,” she said.
“Yes, you would!”
When we got married in 1997, she had stuffed herself into a rented tuxedo and spent the next 18 years trying to be my husband. It ended up being a painful experience for both of us. That pain came out in some obvious ways, and some less obvious ones. Case in point: never once in those 18 years did we display a wedding photo. They had always been tucked away in a box and a half-finished wedding album. We took them out from time to time to show the kids, but they were otherwise neglected.
We also never wore our wedding rings. Because we were living below the poverty line at the time, we had bought them, mismatched, from a pawnshop. Those were sitting in a box too. I know how special wedding rings are for some people; they’re worn with a sense of pride. We never had that.
It’s easy to blame an unhappy marriage on the obvious. In this case, Zoë’s need to transition was the glaring culprit. I can pinpoint many times when her sullen moods and angry outbursts took a toll on our relationship. But there’s more to this story. There’s a less obvious but just as damaging culprit. Zoë and our middle child Alexis, who came out as trans at age 11, weren’t the only ones in dark closets for too long.
Here’s the reality I denied myself for 40 years: I’m gay. A big ol’ lesbian. Dykeville, USA (well, Canada).
I should have figured this out ages ago. The biggest indicator was that I was instantly and solely attracted to girls and women from a young age. The edgy punk chicks at my school. Daisy Duke and her short shorts from The Dukes of Hazard. Wonder Woman and that whip of hers. Basically the entire cast of Charlie’s Angels. Sure, I could recognize a good-looking guy, but he didn’t do it for me in the same way.
Maybe I would have admitted this sooner if I hadn’t thrown myself into the closet and slammed it shut with a dozen locks after one terrible incident. In my early teen years, I fooled around with a female friend and we got caught in the act. Her mom pulled us into the kitchen, sat us down and laid a heap of guilt on us.
“What you did was wrong,” she said, incensed. “It’s disgusting and I’m disappointed. You’re both good girls raised in good homes. Why would you do something like that? Do you want to go to hell?”
I glanced over at the cross hanging above the door frame. Years of Catholic school teachings and the odd Sunday school lesson had taught me this too. Man does not lie with man. Woman does not lie with woman. This is not how it’s done. Except it sure felt damn good to do it.
I could hear my friend sniffling quietly as her mom chastised us. We couldn’t look at each other.
“I understand being curious at your age. But I never want you to do that again,” she said to her daughter with absolute assertion. Then she turned to me. “Amanda, look at me.”
I looked up hesitantly and met her eyes.
“I don’t want to get you in trouble over one mistake. If you promise me this won’t happen again, I won’t tell your parents.”
“I promise,” I said right away. “I’m sorry. It definitely won’t happen again.” I meant every word.
“Good,” her mother replied. “Then we’ll keep this to ourselves.”
That was the last time I ever set foot in that kitchen or spent time with that friend. I left quickly, feeling like I had dodged a sizable bullet. I couldn’t imagine my mom getting a phone call like that, or the conversation that would have ensued. My mind played through various scenarios. None of them were good.
My friend went on to marry a man and have children. I went on to marry someone I thought was a man and have children too. My guess is our little tryst was nothing more than some experimenting for her—lots of teens do that. But it was more than that for me. I was attracted to her, and everything about our time together felt right. Everything about my time with guys afterward felt wrong. But it was easy to ignore those urges and convince myself I was straight—at least for a while. Society is built on straightness. Every movie, every TV show and our terribly limited sex-ed curriculum in the late ’80s and early ’90s taught me I was supposed to fall for guys, marry one of them and have his babies. It was expected of me. To do anything else would make me stand out. That was the last thing I wanted.
I dated guys who showed interest in me, however unhealthily, and the intoxicating attention they gave me filled the void where attraction should be. I was intimate with some of them to keep them from leaving me because being left was a blow to my already cracked foundation. I married Zoë because that was the closest to a serious attraction I had experienced with someone I thought was a guy. I thought that was what being in love felt like.
Over time, I realized I wasn’t happy, but it was easy for me to blame her unhappiness for my own. She was miserable trying to live that life, and I fell into the role of victim. Poor Amanda, raising three kids with someone who wasn’t buying in. Poor Amanda, who would be so much happier if she was with a guy who wanted what they had.
Poor Amanda, who developed crushes exclusively on women, fantasized about them and admitted to a friend when things were rocky that should she ever find herself single again, she would only date women. After the look my friend gave me, I remember wishing I could take the words back. I had revealed too much.
After Zoë came out, I didn’t think our relationship would survive. But it wasn’t because she was a woman. It was because of the long history of struggle between us and my worry, deep down, that I might not be attracted to her. Attraction between two people is an imperfect science, after all. When she lived as a man, I could appreciate that she was good-looking. But what would she look like with more feminine features?
As it turns out, massively hot. She simply glows. The further down the path of transition she went, the more my attraction grew. Not only is she more physically beautiful, with a body I appreciate on a level I never could in a more masculine form, but she smiles more, laughs more and is very funny. I love everything about her, from the gentle way she holds me to the softness of her skin. I love my wife.
I am in love with my wife in every way. I can’t take my eyes off her when she walks down the stairs looking ready for a night out. My heart skips a beat when she kisses me. I can’t wait to see her at the end of a long day, to spend time with her and make her laugh. That is what I had missed out on in our previous incarnation.
When people started speculating about my sexuality online after our story broke, I kept quiet about where I stood, not only to make a point about respecting people’s sexual orientations but also to protect myself from shame. I couldn’t admit I was a lesbian—the mere thought sent me back to that kitchen, and I could almost feel the disapproving look from my friend’s mother. Instead, I hid that reality and played a role to make society happy.
The truth is, if Zoë hadn’t come out, our marriage would have either hobbled along for a lifetime with neither of us feeling good in it or ended when I admitted to myself I was gay. I was getting close to doing that—she just pushed me out of the closet a little sooner than expected.
Because Zoë’s living her truth, I’m finally able to live mine. This is the life I should have had all along. I’m a lesbian. Being able to say it, to own it and to be proud of it only makes my foundation stronger.
Excerpted from Love Lives Here by Amanda Jetté Knox. Copyright © 2019 by Amanda Jetté Knox. Published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.