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Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family - Amy Ellis Nutt

This is a story of a remarkable family. Wayne and Kelly thought their lives were complete when, after years of infertility, they were able to adopt her teenage cousin’s newborn twins. Though identical, from a young age the boys were very different: Jonas was a typical boy, while Wyatt loved pink, princesses, and makeup, and insisted that he was a girl. Wyatt, of course, ultimately became Nicole, and this book follows the family’s journey – through conflict with the schools, a landmark court case, the kids’ growing up, Nicole’s medical transition, and Wayne’s finally coming to terms with having a transgender daughter.

It is quite an interesting story, written in a clear journalistic style; while the vast majority of Americans know someone who is LGB, only a small minority (not including myself) know someone who is transgender, and this is an excellent book for raising awareness. It is also a hopeful story, and many people will relate to it because the Maineses are such an all-American family; both parents pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, and while the family isn’t always united (Wayne takes ten or twelve years to accept that he has a daughter), they ultimately pull together and do everything they can for their kids.

My reservation about this book is that, although it’s primarily a story about the family, with a few chapters about science and history included for context, we don’t get to know them – and especially Nicole – quite as well as I expected. If this were to protect the teenagers’ privacy, I would understand: Nicole and Jonas turned 18 only two weeks before this book’s release, and the final chapters take place only months before that. But I don’t get that impression: there’s a lot of sensitive information about the twins in here (who’s contemplating self-harm, who has anger issues, etc.), and this family seems to have decided years ago to sacrifice their privacy in order to make a difference. (You can read one of many articles about them here.) Which is an impressive step – I just don’t feel Nutt fully captured the personalities involved.

Still, I am glad I read this book. It’s an inspiring story, it’s quite informative, and it’s likely to make you think about gender in ways you haven’t before. It’s notable to me that Nicole is extremely girly from a young age, and I wonder if this is typical of transgender women, and the reverse of transgender men. How many of us would have felt we were born in the wrong bodies if we’d been assigned the other gender, and how many could have gone either way? Gender is complicated and we can’t yet answer that question. At any rate, though easy and quick to read, this book raises complicated issues and develops them as well as is possible within its relatively short page count. It is certainly worth a read.