Amanda and Zoe

Fits and starts. Mixed signals and at times an unspoken agreement to ignore signals being clearly sent. Like many romances, that is how Amanda and Zoe fell. Clumsily, with great hesitation, and then with everything they had.

Zoe remembers the first time she saw Amanda, and the second, and the third, but it wasn’t because it was love at first sight. Amanda leaves an impression, and nobody can dispute that. You may not know precisely what Amanda is bringing into a room on any given day but you can certainly feel it. It adds weight or lifts the air around them. Those first few times Zoe met Amanda they were carrying the heaviness of anger and sadness — in no small part because the relationship Amanda was in at the time was unhealthy and destructive.

Zoe is also unforgettable. She is frustrated with the state of the world and impassioned to make positive change happen, but somehow brings into the room a distinctive giggle. Amanda didn’t notice Zoe those first few times — not because she wasn’t a bright spot in the room, but because Amanda was in a black hole and light didn’t register. The night Amanda really noticed Zoe was at a Michigan State University academic mixer. The room was just pretentious enough to make genuine articles easy to spot, if only through the awkwardness of those who weren’t able to fake it. Amanda saw Zoe across the room and recognized Zoe as their partner’s employee and as somebody else at the gathering who wasn’t interested or even capable of putting on a show to impress or to fit in.

Zoe, similarly, wasn’t in the most positive place. She had only been out as trans for about a year, had just graduated from undergrad, was recovering from a bad breakup, and most of her friends had moved away. Zoe was feeling isolated in that room and in general. They were both islands in a sea of people. Zoe was Amanda’s relief. The bright spot, finally detectable.

Amanda sought her out.

They both can tell you, exactly, all the things they talked about that night. Identity, the intersections of trans identity and deafness, the book “Far From the Tree,” horizontal identity and vertical identity… When they left the event the conversations didn’t end. Amanda started Facebook messaging Zoe often. Zoe wasn’t accustomed to anyone expressing such a strong interest in getting to know her. When Amanda asks Zoe today if they were too aggressive Zoe laughs and says she was happy about it and that she needed somebody to come on that strong. Which is great, because strong is the only way Amanda comes on. After much more talking, a dinner that they now can see was really a first date because they closed down the restaurant with their talking (Zoe says they “time traveled”), a bad breakuprelapse-breakup for Amanda, and one deliciously torturous night of hanging out that turned into getting iced in for days together without power and with romance not yet on the table...We find them here, three years later, living together in a small two-bedroom apartment, co-parenting a child, trying to find work they believe in that will also pay the bills, fighting together for LGBTQ social justice, and debating who is truly responsible for the clean laundry regularly getting mixed into the dirty laundry over the course of the week. In the last three years Zoe has received her master’s in social work and is now looking for a full-time job doing what she does best: helping people. And Amanda has taken all the risks necessary to live their life on their own terms, juggling teaching yoga, sign language interpreting, and doing LGBTQ cultural competency trainings with Zoe. They are busy, together and on their own.

Amanda and Zoe are also planning a wedding. I asked them how they arrived at that place. Marriage was not on Amanda’s list and for a time they felt the battle for marriage equality was imposed on them. I have always considered Zoe the romantic in the pair. It turns out Zoe and Amanda are, for the most part, on the same page with this one. They value radical honesty and don’t make promises they think might be impossible to keep, they don’t see the logic of the law dictating the legitimacy of their relationship. But for each other they were game changers. They couldn’t see a future that didn’t include the other. They also know that until LGBTQ people are seen as fully human and treated as equal under the law and in every respect, single or otherwise, getting married is as much protection as we might be able to get for our partners and families. Marriage attaches a legitimacy to the relationship that, of course, doesn’t actually come from any government sanctioning the union but is treated as such. For Amanda, who is genderqueer, and Zoe, who is a trans woman, and who are both read by the world as feminine, as much protection as possible must be secured.

If you ask Zoe and Amanda what love is they will agree with Zoe’s assessment that “love is an emotion and an action, an affection and genuine caring about another person.” Amanda contends that “Love is something that you make inside yourself.” Zoe suggests that the way they both define and put love into action has allowed her to grow and give saying to Amanda, “The love that I have received from my family and from you has helped me love myself. Knowing what it feels like to be loved has helped make it clearer to me that I deserve that kind of love and has made it easier for me to love myself which in turn makes it easier for me to love others. One of the things that is so weird about love is that it can create more of itself.”

When asked what is different about what they found together, between these two forces of nature who often work in such very different ways, that made them want to commit to choosing each other every day until and unless something makes that impossible, Zoe, who I contend is the romantic, responds, “I’ve had friends and lovers who became my chosen family but Amanda and Jo became not just my family but also my home where I felt like I always belonged and wanted to be. I wanted my home base to always be with them.”

In response Amanda smiles at Zoe, tearing up, and whispers uncharacteristically shyly, “Shut up.”