By the time that Wayne and Kelly adopt their newborn sons, the couple has been married five years. Kelly had suffered multiple miscarriages and months of painful fertility treatments. But then she got a phone call from a 16-year-old cousin named Sarah whom she barely knew. Sarah was pregnant and didn’t want to have an abortion but was too young to raise a child. She asked if Wayne and Kelly would want to consider a private adoption.
Wayne, and to some degree Kelly, both spend a good deal of the book preoccupied with having a family that fits social expectations. But the irony is that their family is already unique, in that they adopt their two children at birth. This enables readers to see that families are built on love, not always on biology.
Kelly had grown up in the Midwest and but had come from a nontraditional family. Kelly’s biological mother, Roxanne, got pregnant with her from a one-night stand. Two days after Kelly was born, Roxanne asked her sister Donna to adopt her baby. Donna did so, for which Kelly was grateful, as Roxanne’s subsequent children had difficult lives.
Kelly’s family serves as another counterexample to the idea that families have to conform to some kind of social norm. This is why Kelly has a much easier time recognizing Wyatt as transgender, because she doesn’t feel the need to appear as though she has a “normal” family.
Kelly left home at 17, graduating from high school early. She took art courses at a community college and began working at an environmental consulting firm in Chicago. Once there, she attended a five-day education enhancement course about underwater wells and waste management in Ohio. There, she met Wayne Maines, who was at the time the director of Safety and Health Training at West Virginia University. They hit it off and spent a year dating long distance. After that year, Kelly moved to West Virginia to be with Wayne.
The foundation of Kelly and Wayne’s relationship is relatively typical and stokes Wayne’s expectations that they can build the kind of average American family that he had growing up, as Nutt later explains. But their family is built on clear bonds of love rather than social norms, which proves to be immensely important as they are forced to cope with difficult unconventional circumstances in the future.
Wayne, by contrast, was a “pure American boy.” He grew up in a rural area of upstate New York. After graduating from high school, Wayne enlisted in the Air Force. He could learn a trade while serving, and so while stationed in Alaska he worked for an oral surgeon. One day, the surgeon embarrassed him in front of several others by asking him who the vice president of the United States was, assuming Wayne didn’t know. Wayne vowed never to be made fun of again for not knowing something.
Wayne’s background contrasts with Kelly: the fact that Wayne comes from a more traditional family makes it difficult for him to accept Wyatt, as evidenced by his reaction in the prologue. Wayne likely feels that Wyatt favoring traditionally feminine behaviors and tastes constitutes a kind of abnormality that he doesn’t want to face.
After getting out of the Air Force, Wayne first attended community college before applying and being accepted to Cornell University. Wayne earned a B.S. in natural resources, and then spent five years at West Virginia University to earn a master’s degree and doctorate in safety management. He remained in West Virginia, and then met Kelly. Less than three years later they married in Indiana before moving to rural New York to be closer to Wayne’s parents.
Nutt makes an early reference to the importance of knowledge over ignorance. Spurred by his fear of being ignorant of something, Wayne spent the next several years in higher education in order to have a fuller picture of the jobs he would be taking on. This aspect of Wayne’s personality is important, since it provides additional clarity as to why he is so hesitant to accept Wyatt at first—Wayne clearly fears having his beliefs challenged or his ignorance exposed.
Kelly hadn’t seen her cousin Sarah since she was a baby, but she and Wayne decided quickly that they wanted the child. Kelly knew the importance of a stable environment, and so she invited Sarah to live with her and Wayne until she had the baby. Kelly also helped Sarah get her driver’s license and high school diploma. Soon Kelly and Wayne learned that Sara was having twin boys, which seemed almost too good to be true: an “instant family.” Wayne thought about the added expenses, but also the added joy: “two baseball gloves, two basketballs, two rifles for his two baby boys!”
Once again, Nutt highlights Wayne’s typical vision of what father-son relationships look like and what might become their mutual activities. This vision only adds to his disappointment when he realizes that Wyatt doesn’t want to engage in these activities, which Wayne views as a rejection of his values and his desired traditional family structure.