BkRev #1754. Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of the American Family. (2015). Amy Ellis Nutt. New York City: Random House, 296 pp. Price $22.00. ISBN: 978-0-8129-9543-5
Director, Gender Identity/Expression and Sexual Orientation Resource Center
Washington State University-Pullman
In Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family, author Amy Ellis Nutt details the gender transition experience of a young woman, Nicole Maines. Nicole was assigned male at birth, but early on knew that she was not a boy. Becoming Nicole recounts the struggles experienced as a transgender child, as well as the experiences of her family who fought for Nicole’s right to use the bathroom aligned with her gender identity.
The Maines family includes Nicole’s father Wayne, mother Kelly, and Nicole’s twin brother, Jonas. It was clear that Nicole was different from her brother Jonas, as Nicole preferred the color pink and liked to play with ‘girl’ toys while Jonas preferred traditional ‘boy’ activities. Wayne struggled with Nicole’s lack of interest in ‘boy’ activities and spent a lot of time by himself. In contrast, Kelly spent a lot of time researching why Nicole exhibited different behavior than her brother. After years of research, Kelly got Nicole into counseling, which helped Nicole process her thoughts. While attending school in Orono, Maine, Nicole began transitioning from a boy to a girl.
Unfortunately, when Nicole reached fifth grade, there were no longer single stall restrooms; rather, there were separate, multistall bathrooms for boys and girls. Nicole and Kelly wanted Nicole to be able to use the girls’ restroom. This was not an issue until a boy told his grandfather that a “boy was using the girls’ restroom.” At this point, the grandfather argued against the school district’s decision and the school district required Nicole to use the single-stall restroom designated for teachers and staff. Kelly and Wayne decided to oppose this decision by filing a complaint with Maine’s human rights commission. The case made its way through the Maine Supreme Court where the Maineses won.
Becoming Nicole gives advisors a personal narrative of the difficulties of being transgender before students arrive to college. This book is a great reminder for advisors that if possible, they should go to an Ally training or Safe Zone training to become more adept at the nuances of the LGBTQ+ community. Additionally, at the end of Becoming Nicole, the author included a glossary of most common terms used when discussing transitioning, and also delineates the differences between sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, which are often conflated or misused.
I highly recommend Becoming Nicole to all advisors. Many people do not understand how gender functions, but in this book, the author provides insight for individuals and advisors, alike, showing how gender perceptions begin early and can impact all facets of a child’s life. In addition, Nicole’s narrative demonstrates that gender is engrained into children and also, how children know early on that they do not align with the sex and gender that they were assigned at birth.