Book Review - Becoming Nicole (the story of a transgender girl)

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family, by Amy Ellis Nutt.

Becoming Nicole is the true story of the Maines family and their experience having a transgender child. Kelly and Wayne Maines tried for years to become pregnant, but were unsuccessful. They had just about given up on their dream to be parents, when Kelly’s sixteen-year-old cousin Sarah approached Kelly about adopting her twins. Kelly and Wayne took Sarah in, supporting her during her pregnancy, and were eventually able to legally adopt the twins, Wyatt and Jonas. Life with the twins was a happy one if not exhausting, and Kelly loved being able to stay home with the boys.

It wasn’t long, however, before Kelly and Wayne started to notice some differences between Wyatt and Jonas. Where Jonas was very much the typical toddler boy, Wyatt preferred to play with dolls, identified with Ariel from "The Little Mermaid", and at one point commented to Wayne “Daddy, I hate my penis.” Kelly and Wayne struggled not only to understand what Wyatt was going through, but also how best to address the situation and support their child. They were confused, and torn between wanting to do right by their child, and not knowing how to do that.

The story follows Wyatt as he continues to assert his true self - a girl who was born in the wrong body. In elementary school, he grows his hair longer, starts to wear more feminine clothing, and eventually becomes Nicole. As Nicole, she is able to live an authentic life as the girl she always knew she was. But this transition was not without hardship, and the entire Maines family is affected by Nicole’s transition. One of the major struggles is the school's lack of support, particularly with Nicole using the girls restroom - a fight would eventually be heard at the state level. The restroom fight was just one of many ways in which Nicole and her family were able to help advocate for, and educate the public about, transgender youth.

I really liked that the story was told in such a way that the parents’ turmoil is clear. This is not the story of perfect parents who knew exactly what to do at each stage in Wyatt’s/Nicole's life. They struggle, are confused, and have very different approaches to the situation. And yet at all times, the story is honest. No one is right, or wrong, they just are. What is clear is that both parents love their children. As a parent, I can empathize with not always knowing how to best help my child, and how frustrating that can be. I really appreciated being able to sort of witness the learning curve for Kelly and Wayne. I did feel like the book got off on tangents periodically, giving more background information and history on some people/institutions than was really necessary, but overall, I really liked the book, and I thought that it was incredibly courageous of Nicole and her family to share their story. I’m grateful that I was able to learn from the experiences of this family. The book also references other trans stories - other people who have transitioned and their struggles. So while it is the story of Nicole and her family, it is also somewhat of a trans history.