Friday, August 16, 2019

Love Lives Here - an important memoir of a transgender ally (Book Review)

Amanda Jette Knox
"Love Lives Here: A Story of Thriving in a Transgender Family" is the memoir of Amanda Jette Knox, the mother and wife of a transgender daughter and spouse. She has been active in the advocacy community for years and is an exceptional ally in so many ways. I was overjoyed when she finally published her memoir and eagerly devoured it. As with my reviews of other memoirs and personal stories, I will not do a critical review of the story because who am I to judge someone's real life. Instead, this review is just some thoughts to help you decide if this is a book that you too should read.

In brief, Amanda Jette Knox grew up with some severe mental health and substance abuse challenges despite a supportive family. Her journey to adulthood alone would make a highly compelling memoir and was an exceptional part of this one. As a 16-year-old she met her current spouse, who at the time was still presenting as male.

They built their life together, she working on completing high-school correspondence courses, her spouse working up through the IT industry. From houses to kids, they were building an ideal life. But her spouse was always chronically sad, grumpy, and frustrated.

In the midst of all this, their daughter comes out as trans (throughout this review I will only be using their self-identified pronouns and gender - so their daughter was assigned male at birth but is and always has been a girl). Amanda discusses what it was like to process this revelation when she hadn't known anything about transgender people before. From there, the advocacy, the support, the love that both parents give to support their daughter's transition is amazing. I was actively sobbing (like making noises and tears rolling down my cheeks - which never happens) when reading this part of the book.

But all the learning and love that went to supporting their daughter couldn't prepare Amanda for her spouse to also come out as trans. Supporting a trans child is very different than supporting a trans spouse. The cognitive dissonance Amanda experienced between being a strong ally and being so genuinely happy for her spouse was contrasted against the loss, confusion, and challenges of being faced with such changes in the person you chose to be with (as opposed to the unconditional love for a child). Would they survive this new revelation?

I won't spoil the outcomes, but for those familiar with this incredible family, you already know.

As a trans girl myself, my first feelings as I started reading this book was that it felt weird to have a cis ally telling the stories of two trans women. However, that really isn't what this book is about at all. This is a memoir of an ally's journey. While Amanda does talk somewhat about her daughter and wife's stories, we don't really get deep insight into their experience (she thoughtfully reminds us that only they should tell their stories, but that she did consult with them regularly to present her story with accuracy to their remembrance of situations). What we get in this book is insight into her experience as a mother, a wife, and an evolving ally of two transgender women.

The first half of the book, focused on her childhood and then the transition of their daughter was the most affecting for me. To watch this woman grow and learn, overcoming her own traumas, and doing everything in her power to give her daughter everything, was overwhelmingly emotional for me. It's incredible.

The second half of the book, with her wife's coming out and transition was a bit less affecting for some reason. The early period of time, right after her wife came out, with the challenges it introduced into their relationship as a couple, was very powerful and felt painfully familiar with what my wife and I have been and still are experiencing. But that section of the book wasn't as long as I would have liked: I basically wanted her to give me the guide to making things work for my own marriage! >_<

However, her wife's social transition is presented as occurring relatively fast and relatively smooth (whether it was or not) simply because that isn't the focus of this book. So from a textual standpoint, her wife's social transition process isn't given a lot of pages; Amanda had seemingly adjusted by that point and so there wasn't as much to say as earlier, more raw, moments in the book. Again, this is Amanda's memoir, not her wife's, so this isn't a criticism.

So as a trans girl, I would love to have heard from her daughter and wife and really get the inside experiences of their stories. But this book isn't for me. It isn't meant to be a mirror of my own experience. This is for the allies, the need-to-be-allies, and for all the other cis folks out there. They may benefit from this book far more than I did. Perhaps by being from an ally's point of view, it can open up their eyes to the experience in a less threatening way while also providing a roadmap on how to be a true ally. Where I wanted more trans mirrors for my own journey, this isn't that book.

The writing is strong, funny, witty, and charming. The story of her childhood is unbelievable and her life journey inspiring. Her growth and advocacy is exceptional. I would highly recommend this book for parents and maybe spouses of trans folks. It may also have emotional value to trans people (it certainly made me cry a lot) but don't mistake it for a trans memoir, this is an ally's memoir and is an exceptional one at that. I am so glad to know people and families like this exist.

We will probably be giving copies of this to our parents when I come out later this year. Thank you Amanda for sharing your story and your family's journey.

ps. hat tip to whomever did the cover design, it's amazing!


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