At the heart of Nicole Maines’s story is the Maines family. Part of the difficulties the family finds with Nicole growing up transgender is the fact that this disrupts her father Wayne’s idea of what a “normal” family looks like. But what her mother Kelly understands innately, and what Wayne eventually comes to realize, is that family is less about living up to social norms and more about unconditional love, support, and even sacrifice.
Wayne’s traditional upbringing, and the relationship that he has had with his own family and his father, make it difficult for him to reconcile Wyatt’s transition, which he views as the loss of a son. However, when he realizes that the wellbeing of his child is at risk, he puts his love for his son over any desire to be a “normal” family. Wayne grows up with “small-town values, especially devotion to family and respect for country.” He grew up hunting with his brother and father. When Wayne learns that they are having two baby boys, he thinks about the joys of “two baseball gloves, two basketballs, two rifles for his two baby boys!” What Wayne views initially as “normal” to him means fitting into his stereotypical mold of what it means be a man. Not having a typical son is distressing, because it means that he won’t then have a typical family. Part of Wayne’s distress at Wyatt comes from an idea he expresses early on: “Wayne was afraid he wouldn’t know how to be the kind of father Wyatt would want—or need.” In this, Wayne reveals a secondary worry: that he won’t be able to be a supportive father. This secondary fear of Wayne’s proves to be unfounded. When Wyatt starts to express dissatisfaction with his sexual identity—particularly during an incident in which he tells Wayne that he hates his penis—Wayne’s reflex is still to comfort his child, even though Wayne is upset at what is happening, too. His instinct to love his child overcomes his uncertainty about Wyatt’s identity. When a judge questions the family’s decision to change Wyatt’s name, however, Wayne’s fatherly instincts kick in. Nutt writes, “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.” His love for his child is what makes his family strong, not a stereotypical idea of what constitutes a “normal” family.
Unlike Wayne, Kelly never had a “typical” family growing up, and thus she understands that family bonds are more about love and support than seeming “normal.” She, too, prioritizes supporting her child, even if it means that to others, Wyatt’s behavior is strange. Kelly’s biological mother, Roxanne, became pregnant with Kelly following a one-night stand, and asked her sister Donna to adopt Kelly two days after she was born. Donna divorced Kelly’s adoptive father when Kelly was 11 and raised her alone. Thus, Kelly knows from her own childhood that families are formed by bonds of love and care, not necessarily by biology. Kelly went on to have trouble conceiving a child in adulthood, and so when her 16-year-old cousin, Sara, tells her she is pregnant and doesn’t want to have an abortion, Kelly is thrilled to be able to adopt Sara’s twin baby boys. This affirms again that families are built on love and support, and don’t have to fit a typical mold of two biological parents and children that fit into rigid gender expectations. Kelly, too, tries to proceed with Wyatt cautiously, encouraging him to wear gender-neutral instead of feminine clothing. But when she realizes by the time Wyatt is seven that he isn’t outgrowing his rejection of masculine clothes, she changes her outlook. She knows he is different, but that doesn’t mean he’s strange. Kelly allows Wyatt to be as feminine as he wants, permitting him to wear dresses and paint his nails, and buys him all the dolls he wants. “In truth, she didn’t care if he outgrew it,” Nutt writes, “All she wanted was to do right by her son.” Kelly simply wants to support Wyatt in whatever way she can, unconcerned about the judgments that others might have of her family.
Jonas, too, struggles with how to fit into his family in a normal way; he is sometimes insecure about Nicole’s difference and being known as the “twin brother of a transgender sister.” He feels as though his life revolves around Nicole. But this fear is overpowered by his supportive instinct, knowing the struggles Nicole has to face. He takes on the role of a protector at school, taking it perhaps too far when he gets in a fight with Jacob, who has been stalking her into the bathroom. Jonas stays with Nicole through her sex reassignment surgery, posting updates for their friends to know how she is doing. Through all this, Wayne and Kelly see how the twins’ bond is the true heart of their family. When they are invited to the White House in 2012 by President Obama to celebrate LGBT Pride Month, Wayne sees how much Jonas is helping to shepherd his sister. Wayne hugs Jonas and admits “how proud he [is] of him for looking out for Nicole all these years, for worrying about her, and for stepping up whenever and wherever he was needed.” Jonas makes his own sacrifices for their family, knowing that their love and support of each other is more important than anything else.
Becoming Nicole is subtitled “The Transformation of an American Family,” and it is an apt description of the Maineses’ journey. While at first, perhaps, Kelly and Wayne wanted to seem “normal” or have a more typical family, gradually they undergo a change. They recognize that the love their family has for one other, and their instincts to care for one other, are more important than any outward social pressure. These bonds are truly what constitute a family—not the belief of what a “normal” family should look like.
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Family, Love, and Social Expectations Quotes in Becoming Nicole
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!
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.