To Kelly, Wyatt isn’t strange or sick; he’s just different. Wayne starts to distance himself from the situation, purposefully ignoring Wyatt when he skips around the house in his friend Leah’s tutu. Kelly recognizes that wearing masculine clothing is torturous for Wyatt, so much so that he prefers to go bare-chested. So, Kelly starts to buy pink and purple clothes for Wyatt without Wayne’s input. She is nervous about shopping in the girls’ department but decides that what other people might think is their problem.
Nutt shows a few developments as Wyatt grows older: first, Wyatt’s growing adamance that he wants to choose how he expresses himself. Second, Wayne and Kelly’s reactions: while Wayne is concerned what people will believe about Wyatt, Kelly is more concerned for her son’s well-being than the opinions or social expectations of others.
Wayne doesn’t approve of Kelly’s actions, which he feels are indulgent, but doesn’t stop her. All he wants to do is have a “normal” family like everyone else. She insists that she never had a normal family, and so she has no expectations of what that means. Wayne feels that Wyatt is making a “mockery” of his idea of family, and often fights with Wyatt about wearing girls’ clothes and wanting to be a girl.
Nutt continues to highlight the difference between Kelly and Wayne’s reactions. For Wayne, who grew up with a traditional childhood, all he wants is the same for his son. But for Kelly, who did not have a normal childhood, all she wants is to make sure Wyatt feels cared for.
One evening, Kelly sits down and starts to look up info about “boys who like girls’ toys.” She reads for hours through info on homosexuality, transsexualism, and being transgender. Transgender, she learns, is defined as “of or relating to people who have a sexual identity that is not clearly male or clearly female.” She thinks this description somewhat matches Wyatt.
Kelly’s ignorance concerning what her son might be experiencing demonstrates how there is a fundamental lack of understanding and knowledge about what it means to be transgender. But, as Kelly tries to find out more, Nutt shows how the more knowledge a person has on the subject, the better he or she can support others.
Kelly continues to read, learning that gender is one’s belief that one is male or female. It is innate, and not something that a person has to think about or tell others about, unless a person feels like one gender and is treated like another. Kelly keeps coming back to this word, transgender, learning that some people express dissatisfaction with their birth anatomy (a mental state called gender dysphoria) as early as two years old.
Kelly continues to try to remedy her lack of knowledge, knowing that this is the only way she will be able to help Wyatt fully understand who he is. Nutt also takes the reader on Kelly’s journey so that they, too, can gain the knowledge that Kelly has accumulated over time.
Gender dysphoria (at the time known as gender identity disorder) is described as the “state of unease” that results when a person’s sexual anatomy doesn’t match with their sense of gender. The criteria for this diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) includes a strong desire to be of the other gender, a strong preference for crossdressing in biological males, a preference for cross-gender roles and activities, a dislike of one’s sexual anatomy, and “clinically significant distress” due to a person’s mismatched anatomy.
It is important to recognize two concepts from the DSM-V. First, that gender is just as innate as sex, and that the two can be different. The second is that the state of unease is not from an individual’s doubt about their gender; rather, it stems from the frustration of being treated like one gender while feeling like another. It is not the transgender person’s idea of themselves that has to change to clear this unease, it is the minds of others that have to be adjusted.
Kelly recognizes a lot of these traits in Wyatt, who refers to himself as a “boy-girl” and sometimes asks questions like “When will my penis fall off?” as if he expects to develop into a girl. Wayne, on the other hand, finds it difficult to accept Wyatt’s gender-bending behavior. He retreats to the woods to cut down trees or take long swims. He doesn’t know how to deal with the situation.
Wyatt’s questions demonstrate how his feelings that he is a girl are so innate and natural to him that he believes it would be equally natural for him to simply become a girl.
In 2003, after Jonas and Wyatt complete kindergarten, Wayne and Kelly decide to move to Orono, Maine, after Wayne gets a job at the University of Maine. Kelly isn’t thrilled at uprooting the family but hopes that the university town will be more inclusive. Kelly also continues to think about gender, seeing a story on the news where a couple in New York City had had their child temporarily taken away from them when they let their young son go to school as a girl. She worries the same could happen to her.
This first news story provides a primary example of the discrimination that transgender people (or even people who don’t fit squarely into gender stereotypes) face. Nutt recognizes that this discrimination, particularly at this time in the early 2000s, makes it very difficult for transgender people to be out and proud.
Kelly lets Wyatt grow his hair out and wear feminine shirts. Wayne, meanwhile, feels uncomfortable whenever they are in public and awkward situations arise as a result. People would get confused and call Wyatt their daughter; when they are forced to correct these mistakes, Wayne feels judged. He asks a friend what to do about Wyatt’s proclivity for dressing as a girl and wearing makeup, but his friend isn’t sure either. Wayne’s “pain and confusion [are] palpable.”
Wyatt’s understanding of himself continues to be very clear as he starts to present more and more as a girl in public. The awkward situations that arise demonstrate how it is not Wyatt who has to change: the transformation is a mental one that must be undertaken by others.