By the time Wayne reached home and embraced Kelly, he was smiling, thinking not about the added expenses but about the double joy: two baseball gloves, two basketballs, two rifles for his two baby boys!
Part human, part fish, Ariel, with her shiny green scales, is decidedly a mermaid below the waist. But above it, with her long hair and luscious red lips, she is all girl.
Ariel’s problem, however, is that she lives in one world, under the sea, even as she yearns to be in another, on land. As she gazes at her image in a mirror beneath the waves, she feels comforted by the top half of her reflection. It’s the bottom that doesn’t make sense.
“Daddy, I hate my penis.”
Jolted out of his reverie, Wayne tried to take in the words his precious son had just uttered. Then he reached down, scooped up the young boy, and hugged him fiercely. He kissed away the tears in Wyatt’s eyes. He kissed the tip of his nose, his cheeks, his lips, all the while fighting back his own tears.
Kelly was learning to do things pretty much on her own for both boys, but especially Wyatt. He clamored to wear the same colorful clothes as Leah, and rather than wear the flannel shirt his mother bought him to match Jonas’s, he would go bare chested. Kelly felt it was cruel to keep dressing Wyatt in clothes he hated, so she made the decision, without Wayne’s input, to shop every now and then for something less masculine for Wyatt to wear.
One evening, when the twins were about three years old and had been tucked in for the night, Kelly sat down at the computer in the living room and typed five words into the search engine:
“Boys who like girls’ toys.”
It was both a question and a statement of fact. For Kelly, it was also a beginning. She scrolled through science articles, online forums, and medical sites. She read about homosexuality, transsexualism—wasn’t that what drag queens were?—and something called transgender. She read for hours.
“Are you going to let him wear that?” Wayne asked.
Kelly didn’t answer. Instead, she raced up to Wyatt, hot tears now streaking his face, took him by the hand, and led him back into his bedroom. It was, she knew right then and there, the worst moment of her life. It wasn’t so much the reaction of the people at the party, who were mostly stunned into silence—that was Wayne’s issue—but rather the hurt her son was experiencing, and for no good reason other than that he wanted to wear his princess dress to the family’s party.
Wayne was also trying to make sense of Wyatt, in his own way, but mostly he was hoping these were all things his son would simply outgrow. He didn’t want to think about his son being gay. It was fine if the sons of other fathers were gay, because he had no problem working with gay people or his children having gay friends. He just didn’t want that for his son. It would be too hard his whole life, and Wayne was afraid he wouldn’t know how to be the kind of father Wyatt would want—or need.
You think you are the only person in the world that has this. In fact, we now know that there are tens and tens of thousands of people in this country alone who have this. One scholar says that it’s as common as multiple sclerosis, it’s as common as a cleft palate. It’s something that many people in the country and across the world have, but these people are living in silence and shame because they are afraid to speak the truth.
Wyatt was flooded with relief, knowing there was someone out there just like him. Wayne couldn’t believe it. Wyatt, he realized, had all the same anger issues, and he and Kelly all the same anxieties, but Jazz’s parents were openly discussing them on national TV. Wayne fought back tears for the rest of the hour.
In other words, our genitals and our gender identity are not the same. Sexual anatomy and gender identity are the products of two different processes, occurring at distinctly different times and along different neural pathways before we are even born. Both are functions of genes as well as hormones, and while sexual anatomy and gender identity usually match, there are dozens of biological events that can affect the outcome of the latter and cause an incongruence between the two.
The plea to hold off on surgery is based on the belief that sex assignment is a cultural pressure, not a biological one. Being intersex. Chase said, shouldn’t be likened to being malformed or abnormal or freakish, and so surgical remedy shouldn’t be the first thing doctors recommend.
For Wayne, this was the first time he’d shown any kind of public support for Wyatt being transgender. His instincts as a father had been tested without his even realizing it, and he’d responded to the challenge. The petition was granted, and in a matter of days Wyatt Benjamin Maines would officially and legally become Nicole Amber Maines.
There was Jacob, staring her down. She knew exactly what was about to happen. The moment the door of the girls’ restroom closed behind her, it opened again and there he was. Later, in the principal’s office, Nicole was told she shouldn’t have been using the girls’ bathroom in the first place, which only made her feel like the school was pointing out: Here are all the normal kids, and here are you.
Their receptor gene for the male sex hormone testosterone was longer than in gender-conforming males and appeared to be less efficient at signaling the uptake of male hormones in utero, resulting in a more “feminized” brain.
Researchers in epigenetics seek to explain the no-man’s-land between nature and nurture where environment influences a person’s genetic makeup. This happens when changes in the environment trigger some genes to activate and others to deactivate. Identical twins may have the exact same DNA, but not the exact same molecular switches. Those switches often depend not only on environmental influences outside the womb—what the mother does, how she feels, what she eats, drinks, or smokes—but inside the womb as well.
“The only dependable test for gender is the truth of a person’s life, the lives we live each day,” Jennifer Finney Boylan once wrote. “Surely the best judge of a person’s gender is not a degrading, questionable examination. The best judge of a person’s gender is what lies within her, or his, heart. How do we test for the gender of the heart, then?”
Kelly and the kids would move to Portland, and Wayne would commute on weekends and holidays to be with them. They’d always thought they were on an upward trajectory in their lives, with success and promotions at work fueling an increasingly better lifestyle, but Jacob and his grandfather Paul Melanson had bizarrely changed all that. Suddenly, Wayne and Kelly were downsizing and their lives were in reverse.
The hardest times were keeping her mouth shut when she’d hear someone say “Oh, that’s so gay,” which kids often did. She knew if she tried to object, the other person would only say, “Why do you care? Are you gay?” And then she’d be stuck. She had good reason to challenge others’ prejudices, but she couldn’t because they hit too close to home. So she kept her mouth shut, buttoned down her anger, and sealed off her sense of self-righteousness.
It was impossible for the Maineses not to feel the importance of their case among these hardworking people, and they realized that their lawsuit wasn’t just about Nicole or their family. It wasn’t even just their story anymore. The lawsuit, even though it was just a state case, had meaning and significance for many others. And now Wayne, Kelly, Nicole, and Jonas would carry the hopes of those others with them as they sought affirmation from the courts.
Jonas said, “Dad, should 1go get her?” It was always his instinct to shepherd his sister. Wayne and Kelly had asked a lot of their only son, and sometimes they forgot the sacrifices he’d had to make being Nicole’s brother. Wayne hugged him and told him how proud he was of him for looking out for Nicole all these years, for worrying about her, and for stepping up whenever and wherever he was needed.
He always remembered that there was something to be gained from putting up with everyone else’s nonsense—he was going to have the body that he always felt like he deserved and was meant to have. And that made it all—the harassment and the bad feelings and the discomfort and the awkwardness—worth it.
I feel like I need to have surgery because I promised him.
Her good friend Lexie texted, “HOW U FEELIN?” And then, “YOU’RE LIKE ARIEL,” the little mermaid who emerged from the sea in the form she’d always longed for.
Nicole’s transition was now complete. She would still need to take female hormones the rest of her life, and she would never be able to have her own children, but she knew she wanted to marry a man some day and adopt.