Our English department book club at work decided to read Amy Ellis Nutt's Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family for a variety of reasons. First of all, we like to interject a nonfiction selection every school year. We also thought it would evoke some good conversation and thought it was important to educate ourselves on the issue, since as educators our classrooms are diverse and we have the responsibility to at least attempt to understand our different types of students.
The text is a about a young woman named Nicole Maines, who was born as a baby boy named Wyatt. She was raised alongside her twin brother in Maine by her adoptive parents, two educated, kind people. As young as two-years-old, she started showing signs of not being comfortable in her male body and as she grew older became increasingly unhappy being forced to be a boy. Her mother, Kelly, caught on to her then son's differences and started researching similar cases. She worked diligently throughout Nicole's youth to ensure she was treated fairly, that she received an education, that her emotional state was tended to, and that she felt comfortable being herself. This proved challenging, of course. Meanwhile, Wayne Maines, Nicole's father, struggled to accept that his son was actually a daughter. He persevered and grew, though, eventually working publicly to ensure rights for those who are transgendered or have gender identity issues.
So many obstacles arose for the Maines family, from people causing trouble over bathroom facilities at school, to finding the best medical team to work with Nichole, to making sure their son Jonas wasn't ignored. The family was forced to move at one point, due to the bigotry in their community and the frustration they faced with working with the school district. There are many moments of heartbreak, although there are many of victory as well.
Personally, I've been lobbying for gay-rights since I was in middle school, when I remember fighting with a family friend about how ridiculous it was that gay marriage wasn't allowed at the time. Transgender issues, or anything regarding sexual identity or orientation, are no different to me. Love who you want, be who you want- just be true to yourself and kind to others. So the fact that so many people were so angry about Nicole's situation frustrated me. I hear the perspective of those who thought she was too young to determine her gender identity, and that her parents shouldn't encourage it, but it's not like her parents forced her to be a female. In fact, the opposite. They feared for her safety, emotionally and physically. For years she wasn't even allowed to dress like a girl outside the home.
The message behind this book is important and I think that everyone, in a sense, should read about Nicole. I don't necessarily think that this is a wonderfully written book, though. There's something about Nutt's tone and level of attachment (or, detachment) that just didn't work for me- perhaps this wasn't the best writer for this story. The flow of text just wasn't always natural, made worse by her sometimes awkward interjections of data, case studies, and other research. I think that sort of context is important to include, but the pieces just weren't fit perfectly together.
More than anything, I think this book is a good reminder to everyone to not discount how kids and teenagers feel just because they're young. So quickly adults forget what it's like to grow up and quickly invalidate feelings of those still maturing. Not to say our youthful counterparts aren't drama-free, but it's important to just remember that if we're supposed to be raising well-adjusted adults we have to make sure that they are just that... well-adjusted. And part of that is feeling respected and heard.