Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt

Posted January 21, 2016 by Taryn in Reviews / 0 Comments

Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis NuttBecoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt
Published by Random House Publishing Group on October 20th 2015
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Family & Relationships, Gender Studies, General, LGBT, Parenting, Social Science
Pages: 320
Format: eBook

Extremely accessible introduction to gender identity issues. This heartwarming story of an ordinary family fighting to make a safer world for their transgender daughter is both engaging and informative. While the Maines family is central to the book, there is also a ton of information on the science behind gender development. This is one of the few non-fiction books that I have stayed up way too late reading!

Lesson number one: “Sexual orientation is who you go to bed with,” he told Spack. “Gender identity is who you go to bed as.”

Kelly and Wayne Maines are thrilled to start their family when they adopt, by all appearances, twin boys. Wayne can’t wait to share his knowledge with his two little guys. But almost as soon as the twins are verbal, one of the them makes it clear that she identifies as a girl. As the years go on, it is obvious this is not just a phase. Becoming Nicole tells us about Nicole’s journey, but it is just as much about Wayne’s “transition” to acceptance, Kelly’s fierce determination to support and protect her daughter, and her twin brother Jonas’s struggle to find his own role in the world and in his family.

Nicole’s story had started before she was even born. So had Jonas’s—in atoms and molecules, in liquid beginnings. One DNA, two souls, and a billion possibilities.

I was especially curious about this book because of current issues in my area: an uproar over a transgender substitute teacher in my hometown and Houston’s recently failed equal rights ordinance. The twin aspect was also intriguing: (1) Identical twins from the same egg, the same DNA, and eventually the same environment. (2) The twin’s interaction with each other, both Nicole’s frustrations that her twin is allowed to express himself in a way she can’t and Jonas feeling like he is a supporting character in his own life. I was also very interested in the parents, who had two very different reactions. Wayne has a difficult time handling it all and deals by pulling away from the family. Kelly doesn’t really know much about gender identity, but she throws herself into research and does the best she can for Nicole. (Jonas was never in any question. Nicole was always his sister.) The author begins the book with the family backgrounds of Wayne and Kelly and it really helps illuminate why they each react to their unexpected circumstances the way they do. Wayne comes a long way and eventually becomes Nicole’s biggest champion.

Sometimes it all made Kelly and Wayne’s heads spin. But just because they didn’t understand it all didn’t make it any less true.

The book is written in a detached journalistic writing style, with the occasional literary flourish. It reads like a long magazine article. It is a fantastic mix of human interest, science, history and psychology. I learned the most with the chapters on the brain and fetal development. The complex processes that make us who we are are fascinating.

Recognizing that the sexual differentiation of a fetus’s brain happens later in pregnancy than genital differentiation and that both are complex biological processes, the fact that variations in gender identity exist should ultimately come as no surprise.

The hardest part to read was the bullying of Nicole, which began when an adult actively encouraged his grandson to intimidate her at elementary school. This eventually becomes the impetus for the discrimination lawsuit the Maines file against the school district, which is a central focus of the book. The landmark case “marked the first time a state’s highest court ruled that a transgender person has the right to use the restroom of the gender with which they identify.” (TIME).

Ultimately gender identity is the result of biological processes and is a function of the interplay between sex hormones and the developing brain, and because it is a process that takes place over time, in utero, it can be influenced by any number of environmental effects…Beyond chromosomes, any kind of mutation, or change, in the balance of hormones will tip the sexual development of the fetus toward one side or the other independently of what the chromosomes “say.”

Since I have seen complaints about this on other forums, I will say that for historical clarity there is a very clear shift in the names and pronouns used, which occurs at the time of the official name change. It appears that the Maines family was extremely involved with this book and Nicole has been supporting the book heavily on Twitter, so I assume that this was okay with her.

The book ends after Nicole’s gender confirmation surgery, right before she heads off to college. Nicole is extremely confident and happy, which is probably in no small part due to a loving and supportive family. Becoming Nicole is both inspiring and informative. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in knowing more about gender identity issues or is looking for a book about an ordinary family dealing with extraordinary circumstances.

For so long Wayne had tried to analyze kids, including his own child, looking for the right descriptions, the right terms, to explain it all, but here in Machias, in this dormitory suite, he finally gave up. It didn’t matter to these kids whether someone was called gay, transgender, genderqueer or whatever, so why should it matter to him?


Leave a Reply