04/14/2016 01:53 EDT | Updated 04/14/2016 11:08 EDT

Transgender Ottawa Woman Overwhelmed By Kindness Of Her Co-Workers

"Needless to say, I cried."

After 15 years working at an Ottawa office being addressed as “Mr.,” Zoe sent an email to her co-workers in March to announce her transgender transition.

Unsure of what her colleagues’ reactions would be, she took time off, worked from home and after two weeks, returned to the office as a woman.

Zoe at home. (Photo: Amanda Jette Knox)

A flood of supported messages had been delivered to her inbox, but she was still nervous about her eventual return to work.

On a chilly April morning, she walked into the building like she had down countless times, bracing for the unknown. What greeted her was a “complete surprise.”

“And a really good one, at that,” Zoe tells The Huffington Post Canada.

Her co-workers threw her a welcome party

(Photo: Amanda Jette Knox)

Decorated her desk

(Photo: Amanda Jette Knox)

(Photo: Amanda Jette Knox)

And corrected her nameplate

(Photo: Amanda Jette Knox)

One of her co-workers handed her a small gift-wrapped package. Inside was a framed copy of Oscar Wilde’s famous words: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

The co-worker had done the calligraphy himself, she explained.

(Photo: Amanda Jette Knox)

Zoe was moved by the kindness and warmth her co-workers showed her. The 10 a.m. meeting scheduled that day turned out to be a coming out/welcome party organized by the office to celebrate her return to work as her true self.

Someone brought cupcakes.

“Needless to say, I cried,” Zoe said. “I never expected anything even remotely like the reception they gave me.”

Also crying was Zoe’s wife, Amanda, who accompanied her to the office that day.

Zoe and Amanda. (Photo: Amanda Jette Knox)

The pair met 23 years ago at a party. Amanda had been sitting at a table with her roommate when she got up to leave for a few minutes. When she came back, Zoe was there, sitting at the table.

“It truly was love at first sight,” Amanda told HuffPost Canada.

The pair talked for hours and made a date for the following day. Fast forward to today, the two women are proud parents to three children: 19 year-old Aerik, 13-year-old Alexis, nine-year-old Jackson.

It was eight months when their worlds changed, when Zoe came out to her wife in the family car.

“I didn't feel like I would be able to get over the feeling of betrayal,” Amanda explained. Logically, she said she understood why Zoe kept her secret to herself after all these years.

“I just put one foot in the front of the other.”

“But unfortunately, emotions aren't logical. I didn't know if I could come back from feeling like my entire life had been a lie,” she said.

Amanda, a vocal LGBTQ advocate, wrote in her blog about the feeling that swept over her at the time: “The life I knew – the life I had with my husband – died that night. There’s no other way to describe it.”

Her daughter Alexis had come out as transgender a year earlier, and now her spouse was doing the same.

“In the first few weeks, I just put one foot in the front of the other, took good care of myself, saw a therapist, and supported Zoe as much as I could while also honouring my emotions,” she said.

Zoe and Amanda. (Photo: Amanda Jette Knox)

Zoe credited their middle child Alexis — who came out to her parents as trans at age 11 in an email, saying she felt like a girl stuck in a boy’s body — as her inspiration.

“I had really given up on the idea of ever coming out because I thought it would be impossible - that I would lose everything,” she said. Watching her daughter “blossoming into the girl she was always meant to be” gave her hope.

Amanda with her daughter Alexis and son Jackson. (Photo: Amanda Jette Knox)

The dissonance between watching her daughter transition and the effort it took to keep her own secret secret eventually came to a head. It became “unthinkable to keep living a lie,” she said.

For those who secretly identify as trans, Zoe has some advice: yes, coming out can be a scary, but “there’s a huge sense of relief just to have the secret out.”

Now eight months later, Amanda and Zoe say their marriage is stronger than ever with the immense secret that once shrouded and separated them was lifted.

The couple wanted to share their story to counter the negative stories some people may read about transgender issues.

“It feels fantastic.”

“We want to show how positive it can be if a family and a community choose to support the trans people within it. We want to say, ‘Hey, world: this is how you do it right.’ Choose love. It's really not that hard.”

At the office, Zoe says there have been few slips with her name and proper pronoun use, but aside from that, her colleagues have handled the change “beautifully.”

“I'm back to my daily grind of meetings, budgets and tight schedules, but now I get to do it as the real me,” she said. “It feels fantastic.”

(Photo: Amanda Jette Knox)

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