The two-year-old Wyatt is mesmerized as he twirls in front of the black oven door with Mardi Gras beads dangling from his neck and a sequined pink tutu around his waist. His father, Wayne, watches and films his son. He asks, “Show me your muscles, Wy. Can I see your muscles?” Suddenly Wyatt is self-conscious, not sure what to do. He ignores his father and continues to look at his reflection. Wayne is disappointed and turns off the camera.
Nutt provides immediate evidence that Wyatt, even at two years old, has a very distinct understanding of his gender identity as a girl. It is the social expectations of his family and those around him—particularly Wayne—that prompt his unease.
Nutt writes that before love and loss, humans are “bodies breathing in space,” and that we are defined by those bodies. Even though we are taught that appearances aren’t as important as who we are on the inside, humans are “uncompromisingly physical, even self-absorbed.” And if a person “does not love his body, what then?”
Nutt recognizes that much of a person’s experience in life (particularly regarding gender and sex) is delineated by that person’s physical characteristics, but she will come to demonstrate how gender and sexual identity are found in the brain. Even though one’s anatomy is a piece of that identity, it is not the only thing that constitutes one’s sex.
There are dozens of these videos of Wyatt and his identical twin brother, Jonas, who were adopted at birth by Kelly and Wayne Maines. Initially, they are nearly impossible to tell apart, but Kelly and Wayne quickly see differences. Wyatt is the one who stands next to his mother in front of the TV and imitate her Pilates moves, or who would unsnap his onesie to let the sides hang down like a skirt.
Nutt provides more examples of how Wyatt’s gender identity is expressing itself at an early age. Although Wyatt is biologically male, he mimics his mother rather than his father and aligns himself with fashion choices that more typically belong to women, suggesting that he feels like a girl.
Kelly also notices that Wyatt is moodier than Jonas and sometimes lashes out at his brother. She also sometimes catches Wyatt staring at himself in the long mirror during bath time. Though it is impossible to tell what he is thinking, he seems puzzled by his reflection, “tense and anxious.”
Nutt also introduces the unease that comes from Wyatt’s recognition of his sexual anatomy. Though his understanding of his gender identity is very strong, his discomfort with himself stems from an anatomy that doesn’t match that understanding.
Wayne and Kelly had adopted the boys just after they were born, having been unable to have children of their own. Wayne yearned for the day when he could buy his boys their first hunting rifles, fishing rods, and baseball gloves. That is the upbringing he’d had and he was excited to continue the tradition.
Nutt also introduces how societal expectations and gender stereotypes can also add to this unease. Wayne in particular will struggle with the fact that Wyatt (and also Jonas, to a degree) do not match his own traditional ideas of masculinity.
Nutt writes, “who we are is inseparable not only from who we think we are, but from who others think we are.” W.E.B. Du Bois wrote about a “double consciousness” of African Americans, the sense of seeing oneself through the eyes of others. Du Bois knew, she notes, that those who are alienated from the majority community have a harder path, because they must bear the burden of an unspoken question: “What does it feel like to be a problem?”
Nutt emphasizes with the quotes from Du Bois that even though Wyatt’s idea of who he is has always been strong, he constantly feels as though he is seeing himself the way others see him—that is, as a boy. This in and of itself is a form of prejudice, as he faces the struggle of having to push back against others’ expectations and become the person he is meant to be.