Nicole knows that she is not defined by her anatomy, and that too often people focus on the surgical part of transitioning. But she also knows that her sex reassignment surgery is a necessary part of her transition. Her surgeon is Dr. Kathy Rumer, a transgender surgical specialist. Dr. Rumer explains the procedure to the family: Nicole will be losing her penis and testicles, but her sensitive parts will be retained to create a clitoris and tissue will be used to form a vagina. When Nicole is fully healed, it will be almost impossible to tell that she had been born with male anatomy.
Nicole has always been confident in her own gender identity and knows that it is other people who have to adjust their ideas of who she is. But at the same time, Nicole recognizes that much of the source of her insecurity comes from the fact that she feels she doesn’t belong in her body, and sex reassignment surgery serves as the final step for her to achieve that sense of belonging.
Nicole writes down some of her thoughts about the upcoming surgery, acknowledging that it isn’t going to be a “magic fix to everything.” She’ll still be unable to become pregnant, something she’ll have to make peace with. She concludes, however, that this is the only way to complete her transition, and that she feels like she needs to have the surgery for Wyatt, the little boy she used to be, so that all of the hardship he put up with could be worth it.
Nicole understands that she will always face some form of discrimination due to her transgender identity. But at the same time, she recognizes that her transformation had been crucial for her younger self to be able to be accepted as a girl, and so she want to make sure that she can fulfill that desire.
On July 28, 2015, the family arrives at Dr. Rumer’s hospital outside Philadelphia. Nicole is dizzy, having not eaten solid food for 48 hours and having had an enema that morning. She worries that the dysphoria might come back but insists to Kelly that she has to go through with the surgery.
Nicole understands that having a body that she feels comfortable in is worth the risk of feeling some insecurities about her transition, particularly due to the fact that she fought so hard to be recognized fully as a woman.
Nicole is wheeled into the operating room at 7:35 a.m. At 11:06 a.m. Dr. Rumer announces to the family that “She did great.” Nicole sleeps most of the day, and Jonas posts an update on Facebook thanking all of their friends for their support. Nicole’s friend Lexie texts her, asking how she’s feeling and then typing “YOU’RE LIKE ARIEL” from The Little Mermaid. Nicole’s transition is complete. She will need to take female hormones the rest of her life but wants to marry a man someday and adopt. There is no confusion when she looks in the mirror anymore.
Lexie’s comparison of Nicole to The Little Mermaid again shows the story’s parallel to Nicole’s own journey. Like the mermaid, Ariel, Nicole has always known where she was meant to be—she just had to transform her body in order to achieve a full sense of integration and belonging.