I was attracted to Amy Ellis Nutt’s Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family because I can’t recall the last time I read a book written by a Pulitzer Prize winner. The critics’ review that “it’s the story of a family struggling with – and embracing – a transgender child” and “more than that, it’s about accepting one another, and ourselves, in all our messy, contradictory glory” also served as enticement for reading.
There is a quote at the beginning of the book from Michael Proust’s Time Required: “What we have not had to decipher, to elucidate by our own efforts, what was clear before we looked at it, is not ours. From ourselves comes only that which we drag forth from the obscurity which lies within us, that which to others is unknown.” And I’m further intrigued by Ommia mutantur (“All things are changed.”) from Ovid, Metamorphoses, which appears one page just before the Prologue, in which it is revealed how at two years old, Wyatt is mesmerized by the shimmering sequins on his pink tutu.
Identical twins Wyatt and Jonas were adopted by Wayne and Kelly Maines who thought their lives would now be complete. Wayne and Kelly had been married for five years, and for three of these years Kelly suffered through multiple miscarriages as well as months of tedious and painful fertility treatments. Kelly’s 16-year-old cousin was “in trouble” and didn’t want to have an abortion but was also too young to raise a child on her own. It wasn’t long before Wayne and Kelly noticed a marked difference between the twins: Wyatt loved everything Barbie while Jonas loved everything Star Wars, Power Rangers and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Wyatt was obsessed with Ariel and at three years old told Wayne that he hated his penis.
Wyatt turned out to be different so Kelly dressed him in girls’ clothes. Kelly searched online and found ‘transgender’ which sounded like Wyatt. Wyatt referred to himself as a “boy-girl”, and asked Kelly ‘when do I get to be a girl’ and ‘when will my penis fall off?’ Wayne didn’t know how to deal with the situation.
Wayne wouldn’t allow Wyatt to wear his favourite pink princess dress for the family party but Kelly was “allowing” Wyatt to act like a girl. Kelly didn’t know any other boy (than Wyatt) who so consistently thought and acted like he was a girl. Wyatt was seven years old when he saw a therapist; he said, “you know, I can have an operation that would fix me”.
Wayne didn’t want to deal with his feelings about Wyatt so he handed everything over to Kelly. Jonas told Wayne: “Face it, Dad, you have a son and a daughter”. Almost everyone else in Wyatt’s orbit accepted him for who he was – a boy who wants to be a girl – but sometimes people don’t understand. His greatest fear was going to high school looking like a guy. The closer he got to puberty, the more anxious and upset he was.
Wyatt had to undergo psychological tests before taking puberty-blocking drugs so that he would never have a visible Adam’s apple, no deepened voice, no accelerated height, thicker bones, or facial hair. Even before he legally became Nicole Amber Maines, Wyatt wore skirts to class, was elected class vice president, and signed up for choir and violin lessons. But he was bullied and experienced real depression.
It was decided that Kelly and the twins would move to another city for middle school. Wyatt attended camp for transgender girls. After Wyatt came out as Nicole, she became a minor celebrity. It was hard for Jonas, the other twin without the unusual story. He didn’t have his own story. His life revolved around Nicole’s; he’d had to make sacrifices being Nicole’s brother. Jonas found solace in music and poetry.
Nicole was scheduled to have her surgery in her senior year in high school when she was 17 years old. she would need to take female hormones the rest of her life and she would never be able to have her own children. Well, as long as she is happy…
It is a very enlightening book. I think everyone should read it, especially those who profess to be good Christians yet are biased against a LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender) person, for , quoted early in the book is a verse from 1 Samuel 16:7 — But the lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height… the lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the lord looks at the heart.”