The twins have a difficult time in their new middle school. It is large and unfriendly, and they feel they don’t belong. Nicole is acutely aware of leading a “double life” due to her inability to reveal that she is transgender. Two months into the seventh grade, a boy asks her out on a date. She is taken aback and says that she can’t, knowing that the boy would likely find out she is trans and expose her secret. She is frustrated that she has fought so long for her transgender identity, yet she is still unable to fully live as a girl Portland.
Nicole is clearly proud of her identity, having been on a long journey in order to be recognized by her family and friends as a transgender girl. But at the same time, she knows that being out could lead to further hardship, and that it seems to be what prevents her from beginning or maintaining a romantic relationship.
Jonas has an equally hard time, withdrawing into his room and into playing music. He is frequently mocked by other students and sometimes gets into physical fights with others, something he is hesitant to tell his parents about. Wayne counsels him not to fight, but instead to tell him and Kelly.
Jonas’s and Nicole’s difficulties in middle school only heighten the pain of what they faced in elementary school. Although they have escaped the abuse Nicole faced at their old school, it’s clear that Nicole having to keep her identity a secret in Portland is having a detrimental impact not only on her, but on the Maines family as a whole.
Nicole has problems with other students, too. The hardest times are when students say things like “that’s so gay.” She knows that if she objected, she could be outed. She can’t challenge others’ prejudices because they hit too close to home. She and Jonas also feel acutely that they can’t become too close with anyone because they might find out too much.
Jonas becomes depressed and unengaged, admitting to Kelly that he thinks about cutting himself. He starts seeing a therapist, but also retreats further into his own head. Nicole isolates herself, too, particularly after two incidents in which she is nearly outed. In one incident, a girl asks her point blank if she is transgender, which she denies. Another girl asks her why she always dresses in a stall for gym but doesn’t wait for a reply.
The more that Nicole and Jonas feel they aren’t meeting the social expectations of their peers, the more isolated and depressed they feel. This worsens to the point where it seems like they can’t even rely on or support each other because they are each having such a difficult time. The family is undergoing an enormous amount of strain—one that is potentially worse than it was at Asa C. Adams.
Eighth grade is not much better for the twins. Nicole had been miserable for the last two years at Asa Adams Elementary but was also miserable for the first two years at King Middle School. She begs her mother to be able to tell one person that she is transgender, but Kelly is steadfast. She says that if it goes downhill, they may all have to move again. Eventually, Nicole and Jonas develop a small group of friends, but they always feel emotionally distant. When conversations veer toward more intimate topics, Nicole always holds herself back. People know her, and yet they don’t.
Nicole’s desire to tell others about her transgender identity, despite the fact that she knows the risk involved, illustrates just how torturous it is to feel like one can’t be proud of who they are. For Kelly’s part, even though she wants to do right by her daughter, she also wants to make sure that she is supporting the family as a whole and that they can all be safe.
In February 2010, the Maineses are at a breaking point. The cost of living in two different places exceeds $105,000. They also owe $33,800 in fees to their first attorney, whom they have just dropped because he wasn’t on top of the case and his son had made disparaging comments about Nicole. Kelly is also worn-down with worry. But a bit of good news arrives in March 2010, when Kelly and Wayne receive word that GLAD will represent them in their legal battles.
GLAD’s presence becomes particularly helpful to the Maineses because the organization (which specifically takes on legal battles for the LGBT community) understands the importance of the cases to the community as a whole, and they recognize that Nicole’s particular case can have far-reaching consequences for other students.