Nicole and other transgender people face an immense amount of discrimination, to the point that Nicole and her family decide that it is better to “go stealth” and not reveal her gender identity to her peers when she moves to a new middle school. But not only does this hurt her ability to be fully open with her new friends, it also prevents her from being her own advocate and working to gain the rights she deserves. It is only by being out and proud as a transgender girl that Nicole is able to campaign for herself and others, suggesting that openness and advocacy for transgender people is crucial to help others feel more familiar and more comfortable with what it means to be transgender.
As Wyatt is growing up, a significant portion of the news and information surrounding transgender people is very negative. This allows readers to understand why Kelly does not want Wyatt to be fully “out” in school. When Wyatt is still very young, Kelly hears about a news story in which a couple in New York City allowed their young son to go to school dressed as a girl. The parents were reported to the police and arrested, and the child was temporarily taken away from them. This incident makes Kelly understandably anxious, as the discrimination against transgender children is so bad that Wyatt could possibly be taken from her, and thus him being out as trans would be more worrying than not. When Wyatt and Jonas are five, Kelly hears another story: that of a 17-year-old transgender woman named Gwen Araujo, who was strangled and beaten to death for being transgender. Having pride and engaging in advocacy around one’s identity, Nutt shows, are difficult when the prevailing prejudices can lead to so much danger.
Nicole faces her own experiences with discrimination, which ultimately force her to conceal her transgender identity. When the school and Kelly decide that Nicole should use the girls’ bathroom in fifth grade, another fifth-grade boy, Jacob, starts to follow Nicole into the bathroom, saying that if she can use it, he can too. Jacob calls Nicole a “faggot,” and for the first time, Nicole feels ashamed of who she is, sobbing when she tells Kelly later. The school makes little effort to punish Jacob, focusing more on Nicole’s behavior and what she is allowed to do, demonstrating their own complicity in this discrimination. The situation at school becomes so toxic (particularly when the Christian Civic League gets involved and criticizes the Maineses) that Kelly, Jonas, and Nicole move out of Orono, Maine, and Wayne is forced to commute 140 miles between Portland and Orono. Nicole then hides her transgender identity from her new classmates, knowing that coming out as transgender to her peers could potentially repeat this crisis. But not being able to fully share her identity with others proves to be torturous and upsetting to her as well.
Despite the dangers of being out, Wyatt and Kelly also see instances in which role models and advocates for transgender people can make a large impact. Again, when Wyatt is young, Kelly sees an interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show with Jennifer Finney Boylan, who is “a pretty, very normal-seeming woman, who just happened to have once been a man.” She talks about her own experiences as a transgender woman and how she no longer wanted to live in “silence and shame.” This gives Kelly the kind of affirmation she needs to allow Wyatt to do what makes him most comfortable. Having transgender visibility and representation gives Kelly and Wyatt confidence in knowing that he, too, could have the same success. When Wyatt is 10, he, Kelly, and Wayne sit down to watch a 20/20 special that focuses on a transgender girl named Jazz, who is about the same age as Wyatt and Jonas. Wyatt is relieved to know that there is someone like him, and Wayne is shocked to see Jazz’s parents speaking openly about their anxieties on national TV. The story allows not only Wyatt to feel more comfortable and prouder of his identity, but also for Kelly and Wayne to see that they can be more open about Wyatt as well.
Ultimately, Nicole and the rest of her family recognize the value of being proud of her identity and their subsequent ability to advocate for Nicole and other transgender people. The Maines family decides to sue the school for its discrimination against Nicole in terms of which bathroom she would be allowed to use. They recognize the importance of their position and the fact that it “had meaning and significance for many others.” They win the case in the state supreme court, setting a precedent not only in Maine, but also throughout the country. The victory illustrates how her fight is important not only to her own rights, but to the rights of others. The Maineses also speak out against a law that, if passed, would allow the owners of any business to decide who could use their restrooms and prevent transgender people from claiming discrimination under Maine’s Human Rights Act if forced to use a bathroom that did not match their gender identity. Wayne gives an impassioned speech imploring the Maine legislature not to pass the bill, and Nicole stops representatives in the hallway, asking for their support to defeat the bill. The bill is defeated, which is a significant victory for Maine and the Maines family. Nicole’s openness about her identity in these situations allows her to change the minds of other people—and in turn, support the rights of all transgender people.
Nutt recognizes that being out is not always possible or safe for transgender people. But she also highlights the power of a person being out and proud of their identity. By embracing this courageous sense of pride, they can subsequently affect the next generation in terms of being positive representation, as well as helping to change minds and discriminatory laws.
Discrimination, Advocacy, and Pride ThemeTracker
Discrimination, Advocacy, and Pride Quotes in Becoming Nicole
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.