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  • Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt
  • Elizabeth Edington
Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family. By Amy Ellis Nutt. New York: Random House, 2015; pp. xv + 279, $27.00 cloth.

At the age of two, Wyatt Maines is able to verbalize the gender dysphoria she is feeling—the disconnect between her physical self and the gender in which she identifies. Wyatt’s confidence in her identity encourages a resounding persistence to present publicly her identity as Nicole, to stay true to her identity, and to interact with others through the lens of a girl and young woman. As Nicole’s presentation as female becomes more visible, she encounters a litany of people resolute in their understanding of a dichotomous world of male and female as understood and determined by genital assignment. Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family is the honest and audacious story of Nicole Maines, her identical twin brother, Jonas, and their parents Kelly and Wayne as they maneuver and interact with each other and a society often delayed in appreciating the spectrum of a diverse human experience.

The book begins with the journey of a young couple, Kelly and Wayne, who are in love and eager to begin a family. After several years with no children, Kelly and Wayne find an opportunity to adopt identical twin boys after several years with no children of their own. The Maineses are thrilled to have a family complete with all the dreams and hopes of having their entire future ahead of them. Without hesitation, the Maineses settle into their roles; they are, however, anything but a traditionally typical family.

Resolute in her identity, Wyatt encounters many who experience uncertainty and discomfort as she strives to present and interact with others as female. Wyatt encounters some of her most adamant opposition during her elementary years. One such encounter ensues over a question of bathroom usage with a local community member whose grandson attends the same school. The grandson is encouraged to harass Wyatt to keep her from using the girls’ restroom. School officials, lacking empathy for Wyatt, do little to protect her rights and instead allow for an unbearable experience. It will take litigation and the courts to eventually bring some resolution long after Nicole’s elementary school experience brings great financial and emotional distress to the Maineses. [End Page 142]

As the title indicates, Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family, the book discusses how Wyatt’s story affects and changes her family. With a conservative military background, Wayne grapples with Wyatt’s nonconforming identity and leaves most of the rearing decisions to Kelly. It is in the court setting in which Wayne finds himself avidly fighting for his daughter for the first time. After this pivotal moment, Wayne works publicly and without apology to gain protection of his daughter’s rights and decisions. Kelly Maines balances the needs and desires of her daughter to present as female through dress and play with the many implications this may have for her family. Jonas is as unwavering in his sister’s identity as Wyatt. Like all siblings, there is rivalry but the sometimes contentious relationship between Wyatt/Nicole and Jonas is more complex. The dynamics of being Jonas’s twin is a constant reminder to Nicole of a comparative expectation held by others to look, act, and even think as her brother does. This contention dissipates as the twins mature and Jonas’s support for his sister remains strong. These atypical dynamics do not define the Maineses as a family of exception but instead embody what family is—unconditionally devoted and loving.

Amy Ellis Nutt challenges the binary lens of humanity as viewed as simply pink and blue while she gently carries the reader through Nicole’s journey. Nutt uses the gift of the narrative to elicit empathy and appreciation for those who are in need of just that. The biographical narrative of Becoming Nicole is a friendly read with content appropriate for adolescents. The book is potentially important for those who need clarification or confirmation of their own story. Becoming Nicole is especially vital for those whose decisions affect...


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pp. 142-143
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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