When I heard the library I work for was hosting a Summer Spotlight event about this book and that Wayne Maines, the father of the eponymous Nicole, would be speaking, I knew I had to read it. It’s akin to the “I need to read the book before I see the movie” mentality: if I’m going to hear someone speak about their book, I feel I owe it to them to have some insight into what they will be discussing.
Becoming Nicole is the true story of a family coming to terms with – and ultimately embracing – the fact that one of their twins, born with “boy parts”, was actually a transgender girl. Nicole Maines, born Wyatt, knew from a very early age she was a girl trapped in a boy’s body. Nicole, her parents, Wayne and Kelly, and her twin brother, Jonas, undertake an emotional and gripping journey towards acceptance. The story also delves into the various court cases that the Maines family eventually won, blazing a trail for transgender rights not only in the state of Maine (their legal plight with the Orono school district made national headlines), but throughout the entire country.
Amy Ellis Nutt spent a great deal of time with the Maines family, and this firsthand knowledge of them as individuals really shines through in the writing. In my experience, nonfiction sometimes falls flat when it comes to revealing the personalities of persons within those stories. Nutt does a phenomenal job of making Wayne, Kelly, Nicole, and Jonas feel as familiar as your own family, friends, or neighbors. This ease of connecting to the characters enables readers to empathize with the legal, personal, and emotional struggles each member of the Maines family faces on Nicole’s journey to becoming her real self.
Having read the book before attending Wayne’s talk, I was able to identify with him on an even deeper level as he shared more personal anecdotes the book did not convey. When reading any book, it is up to the reader (and to the writer’s abilities, of course) to feel the emotions brought out by the text. But it’s not until you actually hear that story firsthand by someone involved in it that you get the chance to truly empathize with that person’s feelings and experiences.
Watching Wayne smile as he bragged about his kids’ accomplishments and seeing him get choked up when he described the fears he has for Nicole and the intolerance she has faced and will encounter brought the experience of Becoming Nicole full-circle. Wayne does a lot of these speaking events, and I highly recommend going to one. He is an engaging, entertaining, and likable person, and his own transformation from denial to acceptance of his daughter’s condition is truly inspiring.
Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family is a great book to read right now, at a time when our country is under a constant barrage of negativity, prejudice, and intolerance. This book illuminates the devastating effects of bullying and bigotry – and it gives the reader hope that people are capable of opening their minds to realities previously not even imagined.
One closing thought: We are confronted daily with headlines about transgender bathrooms and the “controversy” or “legitimacy” of transgenderism. It has become a national conversation – though not always a productive or positive one. How about this? The next time someone leans to you and asks you in a hushed tone if that person across the room with the masculine face in the mini-skirt is a man or woman, borrow a phrase from Wayne Maines: “It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter.”