Becoming Nicole is the story of young Wyatt Maines and his journey to becoming Nicole, his transition to leading life as the girl he always felt himself to be inside. Jonas and Wyatt were identical twins born to a young relative of Kelly Maines in 1997. Kelly and her husband, Wayne, were unable to have children of their own, and they adopted the two boys in their infancy. The boys were toddlers when Kelly and Wayne began to notice a marked difference between the boys: Jonas liked sports, and toy trucks and the things a young boy was "supposed" to like. Wyatt liked princess dolls, and dress-up, and identified with the Little Mermaid. From early in his young life he wanted to dress like he saw girls dressing, and insisted that he was a “boy-girl.” Jonas, when asked years later about growing up with Wyatt, said that he had never really thought of Wyatt as a brother, but rather as a sister.
Becoming Nicole is the story of how Wyatt’s self-identification as a girl presented a crisis of understanding and adjustment to all the members of his family. Wyatt’s transition to Nicole, however, as we find out, became a public issue and precipitated a change in the law, contributing to a social transformation in understanding and attitudes about transgender children and adults.
|Wyatt (left) and his brother Jonas, age 10|
|The Maines family Kelly, Nicole, Jonas, and Wayne|
The story gives us an understanding of what it means to be a transgender child, and a family with a transgender child, in America today. The author discusses gender identity as being primarily a construct of the internal biology of the brain (citing the most recent research), and she explains the medical details of hormone treatments and surgery. Perhaps the most important understanding that will be taken away from Becoming Nicole is that being transgender is an issue that needs to be addressed--and is best addressed--in childhood and in adolescence. In spite of the current notoriety of adult transitions, a transition in adulthood or after puberty is more difficult because of both the social and physical challenges it poses.
|Jonas and Nicole Maines today|
Transgender youth experience alarming rates of bullying, violence, discrimination, exploitation, and homelessness in our society. Studies have shown, shockingly, that by the age of 20 half of transgender youth have made at least one suicide attempt. This tragic scenario changes radically in households where a transgender child has had affirming and supportive parents. Nicole’s story, and its positive outcome, is not necessarily representative of the experience of so many transgender youth in our society, but it shows us what it might be. Our understanding and support could make the experience of transgender youth so much less a hurtful and seemingly hopeless one.
Becoming Nicole includes a bibliography for further reading, and a fine resource list of organizations that support transgender youth and their parents. The Burbank Public Library is developing a collection of printed and DVD resources for parents of transgender children. A printed bibliography of that collection will be made available sometime in March.