Becoming Nicole Summary

Amy Ellis Nutt

Becoming Nicole

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Becoming Nicole Summary

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Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family (2015), a work of nonfiction by American Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Washington Post reporter Amy Ellis Nut, chronicles the story of Nicole Maines and her struggle with her gender identity, which began at a very young age. She identified as female from early childhood, leading her family down a winding path to cope with the American legal, medical, and education systems in order to help her legally become Nicole. Publishers Weekly says of the book, “This poignant account of a transgender girl’s transition offers a heartfelt snapshot of a family whose only objective is to protect their daughter. Tackling the subject from a biological, social, and psychological viewpoint, Nut weaves complex elements of what being transgender means into a compelling narrative about a young woman who has identified as female since early childhood…Nutt succeeds in placing Nicole’s individual story within the more general narrative of transgender rights in the United States and humanizes the issues currently at play.”

By the age of three, Nicole, who was born Wyatt, was questioning her gender identity. At that young age, she announced her hatred for her male genitalia. She displayed anger toward her twin brother, Jonas, who never doubted his identity because, in Wyatt/Nicole’s mind, he got to be himself while Nicole did not. The Maines had adopted the twins. While both parents were supportive, they did not necessarily reach acceptance of Nicole’s choice at the same time. The story of one young girl’s search for self, Becoming Nicole also chronicles the plight of a transgender girl and her success in a landmark courtroom discrimination case. In 2014, she was successful in suing the Orono, Maine school district when it attempted to prevent her from using the girls’ bathroom. This “public” storyline is juxtaposed with the private family storyline in which all four members of the Maines family deal with a challenging situation.

Kelly, Nicole’s mother, is the product of a broken home in the Midwest. Her husband, Wayne, is a small town conservative. Kelly seems to effortlessly accept Wyatt’s identifying himself as a female trapped in a male body. She willingly purchases girls’ clothing for the child and uses “she” in reference to her by her elementary school years. She even buys her special bras to help her present a female appearance. It takes more effort on Wayne’s part to achieve the same level of acceptance. He avoids dealing with it at times, but clearly, his love for his child never wavers as he lets Kelly address the more difficult situations. In time, Wayne is fully engulfed in Nicole’s journey and testifies in front of the Maine Legislature when it attempts to pass a bill that would keep transgender people from using the public bathroom they believe to be most appropriate.

Nicole’s twin, Jonas, is always steadfast in his support for her. He does feel jealous at times because he sees that his sister knows what she wants in life and knows who she is. Jonas is comfortable with his gender but does not feel the same confidence in other areas of life that Nicole does. This is not to suggest that everything was happy for Nicole all of the time. In adolescence, she felt lonely and feared that she would never be loved; there were many obstacles to overcome throughout the years. Her triumphs made a difference not only for herself but also for others like her as she spoke in the Maine statehouse, visited the White House, and was profiled in major newspapers. Eventually, she had gender reassignment surgery with the money she was awarded in her discrimination suit.

In addition to telling the story of a family, the author tackles the scientific side of sex and gender issues. She discusses the potential origins of transgender concerns and processes in the human brain that deal with physical development and sexual differentiation. Also included are statistical references, such as the fact that a small percentage of children, about twenty-five percent, continue to identify as transgender after they reach adolescence. In an interview with National Public Radio, Nutt said about gender identity, “Gender isn’t something that’s necessarily fixed, that it’s dynamic, that it’s fluid…There are very few people that are 100 percent totally masculine or 100 percent totally feminine. We have traits of both, and so, ordinarily, it’s something in between. I think, people are feeling more comfortable now saying, ‘Yeah, I’ve never felt 100 percent masculine, but I’m mostly masculine.’ And, I think, it has become a more comfortable society to say that in. But I think it’s also because the science is now supporting that.”

Kirkus Review calls Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family, “A timely, significant examination of the distinction between sexual affinity and sexual identity.”