Becoming Nicole

Becoming Nicole Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Amy Ellis Nutt's Becoming Nicole. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Amy Ellis Nutt

Nutt was born in Staten Island and grew up in Central New Jersey. She is the middle child of five children. She studied at Smith College, where she received a B.A. in English and Philosophy, before transferring to MIT, where she earned a Master of Science in Philosophy. She briefly worked as a philosophy professor at Tufts University the University of Massachusetts before switching to a career in journalism. She began as a fact-checker at Sport Illustrated before getting a Master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. She then wrote for the Newark Star-Ledger, where she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing in 2009 for “The Accidental Artist,” which eventually became her first book, Shadows Bright as Glass. In 2011, she won the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing for her series “The Wreck of the Lady Mary.” She also taught journalism at Harvard and Princeton during this period. In 2014 she moved to Washington, D.C. to write for The Washington Post as a science writer, and in 2015 she published Becoming Nicole.
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Historical Context of Becoming Nicole

As a part of the book, Nutt follows the evolution of transgender rights from the late 1990s (when Jonas and Nicole are born) through the present. Prior to the late 1990s, however, the rights and representation of transgender people was severely limited. Up until the 1950s there had been several examples of transgender people living as the gender with which they identified, such as New York City politician Murray Hall (1841-1901), California socialite Lucy Hicks Anderson (1886-1954), and American jazz musician Billy Tipton (1914-1989). These individuals largely kept their biological sex a secret until their deaths, even from close family members such as their children. It wasn’t until the 1950s and 60s the first transgender organizations and publications began to crop up. The fields of law and medicine did not have favorable responses to the growing awareness of transgender people, as homosexuality was still illegal and frequently viewed as a psychological disorder. Through the 1970s and 80s, transgender people were frequently discriminated against—even by the gay and lesbian communities. In 1980, transgender people were officially classified by the American Psychiatric Association as having gender identity disorder. It was not until the late 1990s that transgender visibility in the LGBT community gained force and organizations grew that were devoted to adding gender identity to non-discrimination policies.

Other Books Related to Becoming Nicole

In the last decade, a host of fiction and nonfiction literature focusing on the experiences of transgender youth has gained traction. Some of the nonfiction works include Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, which profiles six transgender teens; Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, which serves as a resource for transgender individuals to understand various medical and social topics affecting the transgender community; I Promised Not to Tell: Raising a transgender child, which is yet another resource for parents of transgender children and examines one transgender boy’s life from birth to age 18. Another memoir includes Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen, which focuses on a trans girl named Jazz whom the Maines family looked to as a role model for Nicole. Fictional novels on the same topics include If I Was Your Girl; Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen; The Art of Being Normal; and This Is How It Always Is.
Key Facts about Becoming Nicole
  • Full Title: Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family
  • When Written: 2011-2015
  • Where Written: New Jersey; Maine; Washington, D.C.
  • When Published: October 20, 2015
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Nonfiction; Memoir
  • Setting: Orono, Maine; Portland, Maine
  • Climax: Nicole undergoes her long-awaited sex reassignment surgery.
  • Antagonist: Prejudice; Paul and Jacob Melanson
  • Point of View: Third person

Extra Credit for Becoming Nicole

Real-Life Superhero. In addition to her activism, Nicole Maines is an actress. One of her recent roles was as a transgender superhero on the show Supergirl.

A Well-Documented Life. In addition to Becoming Nicole, Nicole’s experiences have been featured in two documentaries: Not Your Skin and The Trans List.