Becoming Nicole Summary & Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 79-page guide for “Becoming Nicole” by Amy Ellis Nutt includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 42 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Subversion of Expectations and Being a Problem.
Becoming Nicole, a nonfiction book by Washington Post journalist Amy Ellis Nutt, tells the story of Nicole Maines, a transgender girl who fights for acceptance in her family, at her school, and beyond. Published in 2015, the book chronicles Nicole’s early years as a boy named Wyatt, her adoption of a female name, a lawsuit involving her right to use the girls’ restroom at school, and her relationships with family and friends. Nutt also shows how Nicole becomes an activist and discusses some important findings about gender identity from the world of science.
The book contains forty-two chapters, plus a prologue and an epilogue. Nutt divides this content into four distinct parts, each of which is introduced by a quote that sets the tone for the content to come. Part 1 introduces the reader to Nicole when she is a 2-year-old boy named Wyatt. He first appears in the Prologue, where he is dancing in front of the reflective window in the oven door. His father encourages him to flex his muscles like a bodybuilder. Wyatt struggles to do this in a manly way. He just wants to dance and admire his reflection. In Chapter 1, we learn that Wyatt is the identical twin brother of a boy named Jonas. Kelly and Wayne Maines, a couple who share a love of small-town life and culture, adopted the twins at birth. We also learn that Wayne feels uncomfortable about the prospect of twins because he and Kelly had only prepared for one child. He is able to adjust, however, after he identifies some of the benefits of having two boys.
Chapter 2 shares some information about the twins’ birthmother, who is a teenage relative of Kelly’s, and shows how devoted Kelly is to her new babies. It also reveals how much value Wayne places on traditionally masculine activities such as hunting, fishing, and baseball—and how he longs to share these pastimes with his sons. Chapter 3 contains several dramatic moments, including a relative indicating that she wants to take one of the twins and raise him herself. In Chapter 4, it becomes clearer than ever that Wyatt wants to be a girl. Kelly adjusts quickly to this information and tries to find ways for Wyatt to express himself and find happiness without putting himself in danger or raising too many suspicions in public. Wayne has trouble accepting that a boy would think he is a girl or would want to be one.
In Chapter 5 the family moves to a rural college town. At a party the Maineses throw to get acquainted with their new neighbors, Wayne reacts harshly when Wyatt tries to wear a princess dress to the event. In Chapter 6, Kelly realizes that the family must take extra steps to guard Wyatt’s safety since Wyatt is likely to be the target of harassment. We also learn that Wyatt lashes out at his twin, Jonas, because in Jonas, Wyatt sees someone who looks just like him but doesn’t face the same internal struggle.
Kelly dives into learning about transgender identity and sex reassignment surgery in chapter 7. Meanwhile, Wayne continues to believe that Wyatt will outgrow his yearning to be female. Chapter 8 discusses Kelly’s battle with thyroid cancer and her determination to stay alive until her children finish high school. In Chapter 9, Wyatt starts seeing a therapist and we learn that his anxiety about his gender identity is causing him to pull his eyebrows and fantasize about choking himself.
In Chapter 10, Wyatt tells Kelly that he wants to wear a two-piece bathing suit to the pool. She eventually lets him do this as long as the suit meets certain guidelines. This goes against the advice of Wyatt’s therapist, who recommends proceeding slowly when it comes to letting Wyatt express his femininity in public. The kids struggle for acceptance on sports teams and in Cub Scouts in Chapter 11. Wyatt also expresses fears that Jonas won’t fully accept him as they grow older. In Chapter 12, Wyatt draws a picture of a girl when his teacher asks him to create a self-portrait, which leads her to consult school counselor Lisa Erhardt. Wyatt also tells his classmates to call him a “boy-girl,” which they do willingly.
In Chapter 13, Wayne and Kelly watch Barbara Walters interview Jazz Jennings, a transgender girl who is about Wyatt’s age. Wayne sees that the struggle his son is going through is not an isolated case. Nutt turns to scientific information about the development of sexual anatomy and gender identity in Chapter 14. She notes how these two things develop through distinct processes. Nutt then explains in Chapter 15 how categories such as sex and gender have become more important, and perhaps more rigid, as the population has grown, and people in power have sought to retain their power and influence.
Chapter 16 centers on Dr. Norman Spack, one of the first pediatric endocrinologists in America to specialize in treating transgender teens. In Chapter 17, Kelly and Wyatt agree that Wyatt should use the girls’ bathroom when Wyatt enters fifth grade. In Chapter 18, the family agrees that Wyatt should choose a girl’s name now that he is living as a girl in a number of other ways. He chooses Nicole and begins using female pronouns. The Maineses petition a judge to keep the name change from being announced in the local newspapers. They worry that such a public statement about the switch might bring trouble from groups such as the Christian Civic League, a right-wing religious organization trying to curb LGBT rights.
In Chapter 19, Wayne is surprised when his father and brother readily accept that Wyatt now goes by Nicole. Paul Melanson, the grandfather of Nicole’s classmate Jacob, isn’t so accepting, however. He tells Jacob that it’s wrong for a boy to think he’s a girl, and for a boy like this to use a girls’ bathroom. At the urging of his grandfather, Jacob starts causing trouble for Nicole at school in Chapter 20. He follows Nicole into the girls’ bathroom and refers to her using offensive, homophobic language. The school scolds Jacob but ultimately makes Nicole stop using the girls’ bathroom. In Chapter 21, communication between the school and the Maines breaks down even more.
The Christian Civic League joins Melanson’s fight to keep Nicole out of the girls’ bathroom in Chapter 22. In Chapter 23, Kelly files a complaint about the school with the state’s human rights commission. Wayne takes Nicole to a father-daughter dance, another step toward acceptance of her gender identity. Melanson holds a press conference with the Christian Civic League in Chapter 24, and a poll in the regional newspaper shows that most people don’t support letting a boy who identifies as a girl use the girls’ bathroom at school. In Chapter 25, the school institutes an “eyes-on” policy that involves a staff member watching everything Nicole does during the school day.
In Chapter 26, Nutt explains how epigenetics researchers have been questioning if there are only two genders, and Nicole expresses that she wouldn’t know how to live like a boy because she has never felt like one. In Chapter 27, Nutt shares some examples of how entrenched stereotypes can lead to school policies and legal decisions that tell children it’s inappropriate to even experiment with different gender identities. In Chapter 28, Kelly starts to seriously consider moving the family to another community after Lucy refuses to discuss Nicole’s safety in a meaningful way.
Chapters 29 and 30 focus on Jonas and Nicole’s experiences at their new middle school. The Maineses have decided to keep Nicole’s transgender identity a secret from everyone but a few school staff members, which makes friendships hard to establish and leads to feelings of isolation. Chapter 31 shares Nicole’s sense of relief when she gets to start estrogen therapy at age 13. The Maineses meet some lawyers from the advocacy organization GLAD who will be helping them with their case against the school district in Orono, the town where they used to live.
In Chapter 32, Nicole attends a summer camp for transgender youth. In Chapter 33, Wayne, a veteran and ardent supporter of the military, gets angry at the way LGBT soldiers have been treated. In Chapter 34, Wayne gives a speech opposing LD 1046, a bill that would curb transgender people’s rights, to state legislators.
Nicole is surprised when a boy kisses her in Chapter 35, and she worries that no boy will love her once he discovers that she has a boy’s body. LD 1046 is defeated, a new bill designed to standardize anti-bullying policies is introduced, and a major Boston Globe story thrusts the Maineses into the public eye in Chapter 36. In Chapter 37, Jonas struggles to find meaning while Nicole receives so much attention, and the Maineses get invited to the White House for LGBT Pride Month.
In Chapter 38, a court decides that the Orono School District has not violated the State of Maine’s human rights act by denying Nicole access to the girls’ bathroom. Chapter 39 shows how Jonas uses acting to cope with the frustration of feeling like a minor player in the story of his own life. The Maineses win their lawsuit against the school district in Chapter 40, though Nutt makes it clear that the fight for transgender rights is far from over.
Nicole lands a television role portraying a transgender teen, and Wayne tries to convince the family’s insurance company to cover her sex reassignment surgery in Chapter 41. In Chapter 42, Nicole feels nervous about sex reassignment surgery and worries that it won’t solve her problems, but she ultimately goes through with it to make good on a promise she made to herself when she was still a little boy named Wyatt. Nutt then uses the Epilogue to discuss the extent to which the rights and acceptance of transgender people have expanded, both during the writing of the book and over the last half-century.