Platform Book Club: Becoming Nicole – The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt

Platform’s own editor in chief Faith Pring shares her next recommendation on her reading list in our second Book club post of the week.

I first became aware of Nicole Maines after watching Supergirl. She was cast as the first ever on-screen transgender superhero, and to me that was a great step towards inclusivity in some of the most popular television shows.

However, I knew very little of Nicole’s history and when I realised there was a book detailing the trauma she went through as a child, the struggles her parents went through coming to terms with her identity, and her transition – I very quickly set about reading it.

Becoming Nicole tells the story of Nicole’s journey towards transition, from a male (born Wyatt) into a female (now Nicole). The book follows her family as they adapt to Nicole’s identity and how their community responds to the news.

We are first introduced to the Maines family through Nicole’s parents – Kelly and Wayne – who adopted both Jonas and Wyatt (who would eventually transition to Nicole). To make Nicole’s case even more outstanding, she had an identical twin brother Jonas. This made Nicole’s case a lot more interesting, but also a lot easier for doctors.

Author Amy Ellis Nutt details how because of Jonas, doctors could accurately identify when Nicole (then Wyatt) was going to start puberty, and therefore start the transitioning process.

Nicole knew she was different from as young as two years old, choosing to play with Barbie dolls instead of cars, dressing in pink tutus instead of shirts and preferring her hair long rather than short like her brother Jonas’.

Whilst having Jonas was beneficial to doctors, Amy describes how this had an adverse effect on Wyatt, who would often take out her frustrations on her brother, claiming “he gets to be who he is, and I don’t.”

Wayne and Kelly Maines – their parents – came to terms with Nicole’s identity in very different ways. Wayne came from a very conservative background and couldn’t understand why his wife was encouraging his son’s behaviour. He didn’t want his son to be wearing pink or playing with dolls.

Arguably, this is one of the more thought-provoking elements of the book, watching Wayne struggle with the identity of his child, before eventually campaigning and making speeches about transgender rights.

Kelly, on the other hand, is from a more liberal background. Therefore she is more comfortable with accepting her daughter’s true identity. She works with the local store to try and ensure Nicole’s safety, and helps Nicole feel comfortable wearing pink dresses and growing her hair longer.

Whilst the book itself is rather academic and some chapters read like an academic journal, the story of the Maines family and the issues they’ve faced in fighting for Nicole’s freedom of expression and identity is truly heart-wrenching. Amy does a brilliant job in describing their turmoil in detail, but also does not frequently get caught up in the emotional side of the story. This book is largely fact based – a detailed account of Nicole’s journey towards her transition – and it works well. The facts often hit you hard when you realise how little rights transgender people have in the United States of America, and the steps that need to be taken in order to maintain equality.

I had previously studied gender at university, so I was familiar with a lot of the language, medical terms and a few of the academic studies, but I still learnt an awful lot about transgender identity and gender dysphoria.

As a result, I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in learning more about the struggles that the transgender community face on a daily basis.

By Faith Pring

Feature image: The Times

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