Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 502
Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family explores the workings of a family that had anticipated functioning in one way but found that one person’s identity-finding journey changed the whole family. It effectively tells the story of identical twins, adopted at birth in 1997 by the Maines family, focusing on the gender transformation of one twin, Nicole. The relationship between the siblings, Nicole and Jonas, is central, but the reader also gets to know their parents, Kelly and Wayne, very well.
When Nicole (formerly Wyatt) and Jonas were babies, everyone else thought of them as brothers. One of the “boys” continually contested this gender identity; instead, almost from the time she could speak, she realized that she was female. The book recounts the process of her social transition in gender expression. The first part of the book details numerous aspects of her young life and the ways she and her family interacted with her schools until she changed her name in grade school. Scientific information about the biology and psychology of sex and gender is also presented at numerous points in the book.
For Nicole, assessing every aspect of herself as it expressed her identity was a constant process. Because she knew what her gender was from such an early age, she aimed to move her physical presentation in that direction. Labeling her identity as “transgender” was one of the many adjustments she had to make. For her parents, who had been accustomed to think of gender as fixed at birth, this process brought many challenges. Acceptance of the reality of their situation did not happen overnight. Even though they realized that effective, loving parenting meant doing everything possible to understand and help their daughter, they had no idea what struggles lay ahead. Confronting their own prejudices as they internalized socially imposed values required multiple steps. The vast extent of prejudice and obstruction to Nicole’s achieving her goal meant that at first, her fully transitioning was unimaginable. The book effectively presents a range of actions and decisions proved incredibly complex.
Changing the child’s name to Nicole in elementary school was one such obstacle, as it involved a set of legal steps and guaranteed no privacy. This process placed Wayne, the father, into the legal system in unanticipated ways and set him on the path to transgender rights advocacy. Additionally, Nicole's brother Jonas often verbally and sometimes physically defended her. Coping with the school system involved finding schools that were open and accepting, as the family's original choices proved unworkable. The family had to sue their Maine hometown over Nicole’s right to use a bathroom.
This became a landmark case that changed public school policies statewide. Author Amy Ellis Nutt worked with the family for four years as they continued their journey and granted Nutt access not only to personal documents but also to legal and medical records. As the book was published in 2015, it leaves the twins in high school and does not follow Nicole through later surgery.