Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Amy Ellis Nutt, is as much an illuminating novel on a transgender girl’s journey, as it is a testament to her strength and fortitude, and an ode to the amazing family that helped her to chart her path in life. Its every page speaks to the power of a parent's love to nurture and empower a child's sense of self to help them become who they were destined to be.

From the publisher: “When Wayne and Kelly Maines adopted identical twin boys, they thought their lives were complete. But it wasn’t long before they noticed a marked difference between Jonas and his brother, Wyatt. Jonas preferred sports and trucks and many of the things little boys were “supposed” to like; but Wyatt liked princess dolls and dress-up and playing Little Mermaid. By the time the twins were toddlers, confusion over Wyatt’s insistence that he was female began to tear the family apart. In the years that followed, the Maines came to question their long-held views on gender and identity, to accept and embrace Wyatt’s transition to Nicole, and to undergo an emotionally wrenching transformation of their own that would change all their lives forever.”

Becoming Nicole was an insightful, informative and emotional read. The author's unprecedented access to the family through journals, home videos, interviews, and medical records is evident in the honest and in-depth look at every obstacle, heartache and milestone, both large and small, which the Maines faced individually and as a family; from bullying at school, to facing their own fears and preconceived notions, to fighting and winning a landmark court battle. It’s a story of growth for child and parent alike, because while love came easy, acceptance of Nicole’s truth took a little longer for dad, Wayne, whom is now both her most ardent supporter and a public advocate for transgender rights.

As a science writer, the author offers an abundance of facts on the subject. Like the fact that genitals and gender identity develop differently before birth; that while genitals are an anatomical fact of nature, gender identity occurs in the brain and sometimes there is disconnect between the two. The most eye-opening statement for me, that led to a true moment of understanding, came from Dr. Norman Spack when he explained: “Sexual orientation is who you go to bed with. Gender identity is who you go to bed as." The book provides a sensitive peek into the inner turmoil and fear of many transgender people who face a future not as their truest self, where the person in their head doesn’t match what they see in the mirror, at times forced to live a lie to please the world around them.

More than the scientific facts or legal rights battles highlighted in Becoming Nicole, what drew me in was the truth of this normal American family and the love, compassion, understanding and acceptance with which they surrounded their child. The suicide rate amongst transgender youth is at a staggering 40+%; not surprising given the hardship and heartache faced by many in their day-to-day life, including rejection by friends and family, discrimination, and sometimes actual physical abuse and violence. Just think of the lives changed if every transgender child, youth and/or adult could armor themselves against the outside world with the love of a family that said you are loved totally and unconditionally as you are, not in spite of your sexual orientation or gender identity, but because of it, because that is just one of the million and one things that make you, YOU.

Becoming Nicole is a worthwhile read that as it educates also opens hearts and minds.