NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK • NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY PEOPLE AND ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY MEN’S JOURNAL • A STONEWALL HONOR BOOK IN NONFICTION • FINALIST FOR THE LAMBDA LITERARY AWARD FOR TRANSGENDER NONFICTION
The inspiring true story of a transgender girl, her identical twin brother, and an ordinary American family’s extraordinary journey to understand, nurture, and celebrate the uniqueness in us all, from the Pulitzer Prize–winning science reporter for The Washington Post
When Wayne and Kelly Maines adopted identical twin boys, they thought their lives were complete. But it wasn’t long before they noticed a marked difference between Jonas and his brother, Wyatt. Jonas preferred sports and trucks and many of the things little boys were “supposed” to like; but Wyatt liked princess dolls and dress-up and playing Little Mermaid. By the time the twins were toddlers, confusion over Wyatt’s insistence that he was female began to tear the family apart. In the years that followed, the Maineses came to question their long-held views on gender and identity, to accept and embrace Wyatt’s transition to Nicole, and to undergo an emotionally wrenching transformation of their own that would change all their lives forever.
Becoming Nicole chronicles a journey that could have destroyed a family but instead brought it closer together. It’s the story of a mother whose instincts told her that her child needed love and acceptance, not ostracism and disapproval; of a Republican, Air Force veteran father who overcame his deepest fears to become a vocal advocate for trans rights; of a loving brother who bravely stuck up for his twin sister; and of a town forced to confront its prejudices, a school compelled to rewrite its rules, and a courageous community of transgender activists determined to make their voices heard. Ultimately, Becoming Nicole is the story of an extraordinary girl who fought for the right to be herself.
Granted wide-ranging access to personal diaries, home videos, clinical journals, legal documents, medical records, and the Maineses themselves, Amy Ellis Nutt spent almost four years reporting this immersive account of an American family confronting an issue that is at the center of today’s cultural debate. Becoming Nicole will resonate with anyone who’s ever raised a child, felt at odds with society’s conventions and norms, or had to embrace life when it plays out unexpectedly. It’s a story of standing up for your beliefs and yourself—and it will inspire all of us to do the same.
Praise for Becoming Nicole
“A profoundly moving true story about one remarkable family’s evolution.”—People
“Fascinating and enlightening.”—Cheryl Strayed
“Exceptional . . . ‘Stories move the walls that need to be moved,’ Nicole told her father last year. In telling Nicole’s story and those of her brother and parents luminously, and with great compassion and intelligence, that is exactly what Amy Ellis Nutt has done.”—The Washington Post
“If you aren’t moved by Becoming Nicole, I’d suggest there’s a lump of dark matter where your heart should be.”—Jennifer Senior, The New York Times
“Extraordinary . . . a wonderful and inspiring story.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A downright necessary book—and a remarkable act of generosity by the Maines family.”—BuzzFeed
From the Hardcover edition.
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About the Author
From the Hardcover edition.
Read an Excerpt
The child is mesmerized. Tapping his toes and shuffling his small sandaled feet in a kind of awkward dance, he swirls and twirls, not in front of the camera, but in front of the window in the shiny black oven door. It’s just the right height for a two--year--old. Wyatt is bare chested and wears a floppy hat on the back of his head. A string of colorful Mardi Gras beads swings around his neck. But what has really caught his attention, what has made this moment magical, are the shimmering sequins on his pink tutu. With every twist and turn, slivers of light briefly illuminate the face of the little boy entranced by his own image.
“This is one of Wyatt’s favorite pastimes—-dancing in front of the window of the stove,” says the disembodied voice behind the video camera. “He’s got his new skirt on and his bohemian chain and his hat and he’s going at it. . . . Wave to the camera, Wy.”
Maybe Wyatt doesn’t hear his father. Maybe he’s only half--listening, but for whatever reason he ignores him and instead sways back and forth, his eyes never leaving his own twinkling reflection. Finally, the little boy does what he’s asked—-sort of. He twists his head around slightly and gazes shyly up at his father, then lets out a small squeal of delight. It is a child’s expression of intense happiness, but Wayne Maines wants something else.
“Show me your muscles, Wy. Can I see your muscles?” he prompts the son.
Suddenly Wyatt seems self--conscious. His eyes slide slowly from his father’s face and settle on something—-or nothing—-on the other side of the kitchen, just out of camera range. He hesitates, not sure what to do, then, ignoring his father again, turns back to the oven window and strikes a pose. It’s a halfhearted pose, really: With his two little fists propped under his chin, he flexes his nonexistent muscles. He knows he’s not giving his father what he wants, but he also can’t seem to break the spell of his reflection.
“Show me your muscles. Over here. Show them to me.”
Wayne is getting frustrated.
“Show Daddy your muscles, like this. Over here. Wyatt. Show me your muscles.”
At last, the appeals have their desired effect. Wyatt turns again toward his father, hands still under his chin, arms still against his sides, and looks up at him. But that’s it. That’s all Wayne Maines is going to get. With a look of part defiance, part apology, the little boy turns back to the oven window.
“All right. That’s enough,” the disappointed father says and clicks the camera off.
Before love, before loss, before we ever yearn to be something we are not, we are bodies breathing in space—-“turbulent, fleshy, sensual,” Walt Whitman once wrote. We are inescapably physical, drawn to the inescapably human. But if we are defined by our own bodies, we are entwined by the bodies of others. An upright, moving human being is endlessly more fascinating to an infant than any rattle or plaything. At six months, babies can barely babble, but they can tell the difference between a male and a female. When a feverish infant rests its head on its mother’s chest, her body cools to compensate and brings the child’s temperature down. Place the ear of a preemie against its mother’s heart and the baby’s irregular heartbeat finds its right rhythm.
As we grow and mature and become self--conscious, we are taught that appearances—-who we are on the outside—-aren’t nearly as important as who we are on the inside. And yet beauty beguiles us. Human beings are unconsciously drawn to the symmetrical and the aesthetic. We are, in short, uncompromisingly physical, even self--absorbed. The philosopher and psychologist William James once wrote that man’s “most palpable selfishness” is “bodily selfishness; and his most palpable self is the body.” But man does not love his body because he identifies himself with it; rather, “He identifies himself with this body because he loves it.”
And if he does not love his body, what then? How can you occupy a physical space, be a body in space, and yet be alienated from it at the same time?
There are dozens of videos of Wyatt Maines and his identical twin brother, Jonas, in the first years of their lives, growing up in the Adirondacks of New York and then in rural Maine. Adopted at birth, they are the only children of Kelly and Wayne Maines, and they are lavished with love and attention, the video camera catching everything from the ordinary to the momentous. They splash at each other in the bathtub, plop in rain puddles together, and unwrap presents side by side on Christmas morning. Kelly never wanted the boys to fight over their presents. Anything one gets, the other gets, too, right down to the candles on their shared birthday cake. When they turn one year old there are two candles, one for each boy. When they turn two, four candles. Kelly also believed in exposing them to traditional playthings as well as atypical toys. So at birthdays and Christmases both receive big yellow dump trucks, roller--skating Barbie dolls, and motorized Dalmatian puppies.
In the beginning, with their bowl--cut hairstyles, dungarees, and flannel shirts, it was virtually impossible to tell them apart, except that Wyatt’s face was ever so slightly rounder. But there were differences, and Kelly and Wayne noticed them soon enough. Wyatt was the one who every morning, in his diaper and with a pacifier in his mouth, stood next to his mother in front of the TV and imitated her Pilates moves. Usually he’d do the exercises while holding a Barbie doll, often giving it a shake so its long blond hair swished this way and that, sparkling in the morning sunlight. At other times, he’d unsnap his onesie, letting the sides hang down, as if it were a kind of skirt.
Kelly and Wayne could tell Wyatt was moodier than Jonas; he would occasionally lash out at his brother as if frustrated just by his presence. There was something else, too. At night, when she bathed the boys, Kelly would catch Wyatt staring into the long mirror hanging on the inside of the bathroom door. As she pulled off Jonas’s clothes and plunked him into the tub, she’d notice Wyatt standing naked and transfixed in front of the mirror. What did the two--year--old see? Himself? His identical twin brother? It was impossible to know, and impossible to ask Wyatt, of course. But often it seemed as if the little boy was puzzled by his reflection, unsure of the image staring back. There was some inscrutable pain behind his eyes. He seemed tense and anxious, as if his heart was in knots and he didn’t know how to untie them.
We are all born with traits, characteristics, and physical markers that allow others to identify us, to say, “He’s a boy” or “She’s a girl.” None of us, however, is born with a sense of self. By the age of two, children recognize themselves in a mirror, but so do chimpanzees and dolphins. Even the humble roundworm can distinguish its body from the rest of its environment via a single neuron. But of our “who--ness” or “what--ness”—-our essence—-there is no single place in the brain, no clump of gray matter, no nexus of electrical activity we can point to and say, Aha, here it is, here is my self, here is my soul.
All those questions about who and what we are: They were still in the future when Kelly and Wayne first brought their boys home from the hospital. The parents looked on their identical twin sons as wholly unexpected gifts. Unable to have biological children, they felt they were living out their own version of the American dream, courtesy of two perfect little specimens of male Homo sapiens. Wayne, in particular, yearned for the day when he could buy his boys their first hunting rifles, their first fishing rods, their first baseball gloves. That was the way it had always been done in his family, and he would continue the tradition.
Who we are is inseparable not only from who we think we are, but from who others think we are. We are touched and loved, we are appreciated or dismissed, praised or scorned, comforted or wounded. But before all else, we are seen. We are identified by others through the contours and colors and movements of our bodies. In his 1903 treatise The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois, the African American author and intellectual, wrote about a double consciousness, a two--ness, of the “Negro” race, “this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” He believed the history of African Americans in the United States was the history of a kind of “strife,—-this longing to attain self--conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. . . . He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows.”
Dignity, self--respect, the right to be treated as an equal, that’s what everyone wants. But Du Bois knew that those who are alienated from the community of man because of color (or, one might add, because of sexual orientation or gender) have a much harder path, because the alienated, the differentiated, the misfits of society must bear the burden of a single unspoken question on the lips of even the most polite members of society:
“What does it feel like to be a problem?”
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height. . . . The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
—-1 Samuel 16:7
At six months in utero, Wyatt and Jonas Maines are fully formed. In a sonogram performed in a medical office near Northville, New York, on the afternoon of July 7, 1997, one of them is hunched over, the individual vertebrae visible in the shadow of the fetus’s arched spine. The imaging technician uses an arrow to point out the head, then the trunk, then the legs. A tiny hand hovers in space, relaxed in the amniotic fluid, its minuscule fingers moving ever so slightly, as if practicing a piano piece. Forty--five seconds into the video, the technician points to the vaguely outlined shadow of one of the twin’s genitalia and types onto the screen “Still a boy!!!” It’s the tech being funny, of course. Both fetuses emerged from a single egg, they have the exact same DNA, and they’re identical male twins. How could one of them not still be a boy?
By the time Wayne and Kelly finally held their newborn sons in their arms three months later, the couple had been married five years. For three of those years Kelly suffered through multiple miscarriages as well as months of tedious and painful fertility treatments. Everything changed in early 1997, though, when she got a phone call from her cousin Sarah, a sixteen--year--old she barely knew. The teenager said she was “in trouble” and didn’t want to have an abortion. But she was also too young to raise a child on her own. Would Wayne and Kelly consider a private adoption?
Kelly’s own upbringing in the Midwest was anything but traditional. The roots of her family, as much as she knew them, began on the limestone bluffs on the north bank of the Ohio River in the town of Madison, Indiana. Founded in 1809, about halfway between Louisville, Kentucky, and Cincinnati, Ohio, Madison had its heyday as a river town in the mid--nineteenth century. It was also an important first stop on the Underground Railroad and as early as the 1820s was home to a thriving community of free blacks. In 1958 it was the fictional location for author James Jones’s quaint Midwestern hometown when Hollywood filmed his autobiographical novel, Some Came Running, there. According to legend, the star of the film, Frank Sinatra, was so worried about being stuck in a “hick” town during shooting he persuaded his buddy Dean Martin to take a supporting role.
Kelly’s grandfather was a paddleboat captain in Madison at a time when steamboats still plied the waters, delivering goods to towns up and down the Ohio. He took his first wife there, but divorced her to marry Kelly’s grandmother, the oldest of nine and barely a teenager when her own father abandoned the family. A short time later she began working in a glove factory to help support her mother and siblings, and at age nineteen married Kelly’s grandfather, partly out of love, partly as an escape from the drudgery of caring for so many children. The couple soon moved to Indianapolis, where Kelly’s grandfather got a job with the Mayflower Moving Company, and Kelly’s grandmother raised three girls and a boy. Her grandparents were both of German descent and their values and mannerisms reflected their heritage. They were matter--of--fact, honest to a fault, and no--nonsense. Kelly grew up learning expressions such as “There are no pockets in a shroud,” meaning you can’t take your money with you, and “It beats hens pecking on a rock,” used when she saw something she could barely believe.
None of the women in the family cottoned to the popular notion that men were superior, or that “ladies” should follow certain rules or behave in socially acceptable sorts of ways. Which may be why Kelly and others in her family could be so frank about their origins, saying they’d come into the world in what some people once called the “bastard way.” For Kelly and her relatives, it was just the way it was. Roxanne, her biological mother, told Kelly her father was likely a one--night--stand. Kelly was only two in 1963 when Roxanne asked her sister Donna to adopt her baby girl.
For Donna, a woman with a quick mind and aspirations of a career, life was largely one of frustration. Under other circumstances she would likely have become a doctor or lawyer. When she was growing up, college was not something many parents wanted, or cared about, for their daughters. Donna worked for a time at a travel agency and, years later, after the kids were out of the house, enrolled in nursing school and earned straight As. If you want something bad enough and work hard at it, you can get it—-that was a lesson Kelly learned from Donna. Motherhood was not the role that fit Donna best. Still, despite the fact she already had a daughter, she took in Roxanne’s baby girl. “I’m like the second dog you get when the first one is driving you crazy,” Kelly would say, laughing. The house was always clean and there was always food on the table. Dinner was at five o’clock sharp and you’d better be there on time.
Donna loved her children—-two boys eventually joined the two girls—-but she also worked long hours and didn’t have much time, or energy, for affection. It didn’t seem to matter to Kelly and her siblings. They knew they had a place to lay their heads every night, and for the most part that was enough. When Kelly was in her twenties and thirties Roxanne would occasionally call and apologize for giving her up for adoption, but Kelly, without rancor and in all honesty, told her she didn’t need to say she was sorry. She’d done the right thing, Kelly told her. The children Roxanne had tried to raise all had difficult lives at best.
Kelly left home at seventeen, the summer before her senior year of high school. She surfed couches for a while in Indiana and lived for a bit with her grandmother, where she graduated from high school early. But she had no idea what to do next. Like her mother before her, Kelly didn’t think college was possible. Kelly ended up living for a time with her father, whom Donna had divorced when Kelly was eleven. She made a few friends, worked different jobs, and generally had a good time. For the next few years she traveled around the country, earning her way as she went, ending up in California when she was in her early twenties. Kelly kept thinking there was more she wanted from her life than simply working blue--collar jobs and living paycheck to paycheck.
She picked up her education where she’d left off and began to take a few courses at Golden West, a community college in Huntington Beach. She wasn’t in a rush, until one Saturday night, the boyfriend of one of Kelly’s friends hatched a plan to steal some drugs from a local dealer. Afterward, when Kelly learned what he’d done, she was furious. It was a watershed moment for the twenty--four--year--old. Sharing an apartment, working low--earning jobs, partying on the weekends—-she’d never thought of this as her life, really. It was always a stage, a phase, something she knew she’d grow out of. And she did. Fast.
The meandering was over. She needed to think beyond the present and plan for the future. Concentrating on her college courses, she received enough credits for an associate’s degree in art from Golden West, though she never formally graduated. A short time later she followed up on an ad for a full--time position at an environmental consulting firm. During her interview she admitted she had no experience in cartography—- a prerequisite—-but, she added, there was nothing she couldn’t draw. She got the job and before long was pulling down $30,000 a year.
The firm had a small branch in Chicago, and eventually Kelly found herself at another crossroads. She could go on for her bachelor’s degree in Southern California, or she could move back to the Midwest and be nearer to her family without giving up her job. There was so much she’d already learned from her colleagues, not only about the environmental business, but about what it meant to be a professional. The decision was made: She would head east.
Not long after the move, her bosses, recognizing her intelligence and capabilities, asked her to learn more about underwater wells and waste management. That’s what led her to attend a five--day educational enhancement event in Findlay, Ohio, in July 1989—-and to Wayne Maines.
The seminar was held at the local community college and was taught by a former fireman who had been badly burned years earlier in a chemical fire. The days were excruciatingly long and included donning full hazmat suits. There were only about a dozen students taking the course, and at the end of each day they stumbled, exhausted, into the nearest watering hole to kick back, cool off, and relax. On one of those evenings, Kelly and Wayne, who was director of the Institute for Safety and Health Training (now the Safety and Health Extension) at West Virginia University, found themselves playing pool and talking late into the night about business, politics, and the course they were taking. They were both products of small towns, and they felt unusually comfortable with each other. She liked that he was talkative, sweet natured, and self--assured. He liked her blue eyes, her easy laughter, and her honesty. By the end of the week, when Wayne headed back to West Virginia and Kelly to Chicago, they agreed to get together again as soon as possible. Thus began a year of weekend traveling for both of them, at the end of which Kelly moved into a two--bedroom duplex in Morgantown, West Virginia, with Wayne.
There was no mistaking Wayne Maines for anything but pure American boy. He was born in 1958 and grew up in the village of Hagaman, New York, about forty miles northwest of Albany.
According to the 1840 state Gazetteer, Hagaman’s Mills (the name it was founded under in the late 1700s) was home to one church, one tavern, one store, one gristmill, one sawmill, one carpet factory, and “about 25 dwelling houses.” Today the village is slightly more populated—-about twelve hundred people sprinkled over a mile--and--a--half slice of land—-but the habits and values remain old--fashioned and rural. Not until Wayne was five did the Maines family have running water. They had a well for freshwater and an outhouse. In the winter their heat came courtesy of a kerosene stove. Wayne’s bedroom was above the living room, and the grate on his floor looked directly down onto the stove and the television right next to it. All Wayne had to do was make a subtle adjustment to the TV’s position before he went to bed and he could lie on the floor of his room and peek through the heating grate to watch Rowan & Martin’s Laugh--In, without his parents knowing.
Wayne’s father, Bill, worked in a carpet mill in Amsterdam, New York, and later commuted thirty miles each way to Saratoga for a job at General Foods. He also liked to frequent the local taverns and racetracks. Tall and slender, Bill Maines briefly played semipro baseball but a heart attack at age forty--four curtailed his ability to work full--time for the rest of his life.
Wayne’s mother, Betty, worked different jobs over the years to keep the family fed. She cleaned an upscale beauty shop on weekends, waited tables, and sold Avon products. For a couple of years she worked the second shift at a leather mill that made Spalding footballs. Every day after school, on his way home, Wayne would take a path that dipped behind the factory where his mother would have just begun the second shift. Usually he’d call up to her and ask, “Mom, what do you want me to fix for dinner?” More often than not she’d yell back that she’d already made something and left it on the counter. All he needed to do, she said, was put it in the oven and fix a vegetable for himself, his brother, and his sister. The conversation always ended the same way, with Betty Maines smiling down at Wayne and saying, “I love you. See you in the morning.”
As a product of small--town America, Wayne grew up with small--town values, especially devotion to family and respect for country. For Wayne, the lessons learned from his father were simple and, he figured, sturdy enough to last a lifetime: Make your first punch count, don’t ever quit on your team, never point a gun at someone unless you’re prepared to use it, try to return things in better condition than when you borrowed them (cleaned, oiled, and tuned up), and never, ever drink while playing cards.
While growing up, for several summers Wayne worked as a barker for a traveling carnival along with his brother, Bill, and toured up and down the Northeast. At one stop in Huntington, New York, when he was fifteen, Wayne was working a game booth beside a ride called the Zipper. A simple cable on an oval boom pulled about a dozen cars around the largely vertical ride. One night, a bolt attached to the door of one of the cars came loose, and as the boom whipped the cars up, the door with the loose bolt blew open and two teenage girls were flung from their seats. Hearing the screams, Wayne rushed to try and catch one of the girls as her body sailed through the air, but she hit the ground hard and broke her neck, dead on impact. The other teenager landed in a sand pit and was badly injured but survived.
Wayne had seen death before. He was a hunter. But he’d never witnessed someone killed in an accident, and especially someone so young and in such a senseless way. He’d always felt he had control over the world immediately around him, and when he didn’t like something or felt it wasn’t right for him, he was able to change it or move on. But the helplessness he felt in not being able to do anything for that girl was new to him. He knew he couldn’t have run faster or gotten to her any sooner. Sometimes things happened and there was no questioning why or what if. Still, for many years afterward he couldn’t get the image of that girl’s mangled body out of his mind.
Wayne’s only identity crisis occurred when he graduated from high school and enlisted in the air force. Joining the military was an honorable tradition in the Maines family. It was also practical. No one in the family had a college degree. In the air force he could learn a trade, so he signed up to be trained as a dental assistant. While stationed in Fairbanks, Alaska, Wayne worked for an oral surgeon. The man was an officer, voluble and opinionated. He was also a snob. One day he stopped in the hallway where Wayne and several other technicians and nurses were hanging out on break. The doctor said he had a question for Wayne.
“Who’s the vice president of the United States?”
Wayne paused, embarrassed, then told the doctor he didn’t know. The surgeon turned to the physician beside him and said, loud enough for everyone to hear: “See, I told you so.”
Told him what? Wayne wondered. That he was some kind of dumbass who probably didn’t even know the name of the vice president of the United States? Well, he didn’t. So what? He didn’t know what the two doctors had been talking about before they’d stopped, and at nineteen years old he was too young—-and too low in rank—-to ask. But he probably blushed down to his boots. He was humiliated in front of a half dozen people for no other reason than for some arrogant surgeon’s amusement. At that moment Wayne promised himself he’d never again be caught in a position where someone could make fun of him because of something he didn’t know. He’d always felt confident being a good ole boy from a blue--collar family. The Maineses never tried to make themselves appear to be something they weren’t. But Wayne was no longer satisfied just being a kid from rural upstate New York. Before his four--year hitch in the air force was up, he’d decided when he got out he would enroll in college on the GI Bill.
Pragmatic, like the woman he would later marry, Wayne first studied for his associate’s degree at a community college near home, then made a huge leap into the unknown when he applied to, and was accepted at, Cornell University. He was in his midtwenties, and it wasn’t easy being older than everyone else in college, or being just about the only promilitary conservative on a liberal Ivy League campus in the 1980s, but by the time Wayne was awarded his bachelor of science degree in natural resources in 1985, he was ready for more. Five years later, he’d earned a master’s degree and doctorate, both in safety management, from West Virginia University. That’s where he was living when he met and fell in love with his future wife.
Not quite three years later, Wayne and Kelly were married in Bloomington, Indiana, in a small ceremony at the Fourwinds Lakeside Inn. Kelly wore a white tea--length dress and a wide--brimmed hat. Wayne wore a tuxedo. He was so relaxed the day of the wedding he played a round of golf and took a nap beforehand. They honeymooned in Georgia, first at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, where they camped out at the headwaters of the Suwannee and St. Mary’s rivers, then spent a few days on Jekyll Island before finishing their trip in Savannah. When they returned, they briefly settled back into life in West Virginia, then decided to move to Northville, New York, to be closer to Wayne’s parents and the rural life he loved.
Kelly hadn’t seen her cousin Sarah since she was a baby. She was the daughter of Kelly’s cousin Janis, whose mother, Donna, raised Kelly and Janis under the same roof. When a teenage Janis got pregnant (Sarah was her second child), the pattern of family dysfunction looked to be a harsh hereditary burden. Like Roxanne, Janis had multiple husbands and boyfriends and didn’t raise her own children. Sarah was brought up by her biological father and grandmother in Montana and later, as a teenager, lived with her mother in Tennessee. She was smart and artistic, but also stubborn and reckless. Still, she imagined going to college, perhaps even becoming a veterinarian. Getting pregnant at sixteen had not been part of the plan, but dashed expectations were a familiar family trope.
Wayne and Kelly had transformed their lives through sheer force of will, and both had already achieved more than their parents had. They’d been willing to accept the risks that came from moving outside their cultural comfort zones, not to mention others’ expectations. So if Sarah’s unexpected phone call gave them the chance to have a family, well, then, they would take it. Maybe there was a kind of cosmic logic to Kelly not being able to bear children of her own. Maybe this was a balancing of the scales. She’d been ready to move on with her life when the fertility treatments didn’t work. Then came Sarah’s phone call. Kelly believed in fate. Maybe she was the right person at the right time to usher a child into the world who otherwise would have been set adrift in a family with a legacy of chaos.
It didn’t take long for Wayne and Kelly to decide they wanted the baby. Part of Kelly also identified with Sarah, and she knew better than anyone the importance of getting the teenager and her unborn baby out of her family’s toxic environment as soon as possible. So when it was clear Sarah would bear their child, Kelly and Wayne asked her to come live with them until it was time to give birth. She was four months pregnant when she moved into the house in Northville in April 1997. Kelly and Wayne wanted to make sure Sarah was comfortable and had the right food and medical attention, but Kelly also wanted to help Sarah get her life together. She encouraged her to apply for her driver’s license and study for a general education diploma.
By this time, Wayne was commuting fifty miles every day to a job as the corporate director of health, safety, and training at a chemical company in Schenectady, and he often daydreamed about the baby that was soon to be his. A sonogram had revealed it was going to be a boy, and Wayne imagined all the things he’d be doing with his first male child—-playing catch, shooting baskets, firing deer rifles.
That’s pretty much what Wayne was thinking about when his cellphone rang one spring afternoon as he was driving home from work. It was Kelly, and she was shouting. He could hear Sarah yelling in the background. Oh my God, what’s wrong? he immediately thought.
“It’s two! It’s two!”
“Twins!” Kelly screamed. “We’re having twins!”
It almost seemed too good to be true. Kelly, who’d had multiple miscarriages, had always wanted two children, and now they were getting their instant family. After the initial shock and wonderment wore off, Wayne thought: Oh, no, two college freshmen at the same time! He was thrilled about having a baby, even two babies, but he also knew all the concerns about being an expectant father had just doubled. As a safety expert, he didn’t like surprises. He liked plans, analyzing a situation, and assessing all the risks and consequences. Now everything had to be rethought.
For months they had been preparing for one infant. How much harder, Wayne wondered, would it be to take care of two? Everything was swirling around in his head as he found himself swept up in a kind of giddy anxiety. He took a deep breath and pushed the worries to the back of his mind. 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!
Reading Group Guide
Fresh Air’s Terry Gross in Conversation with Amy Ellis Nutt and Wayne and Kelly Maines
Fresh Air with Terry Gross is produced at WHYY in Philadelphia and distributed by NPR. Podcasts are available at npr.org/podcasts and at iTunes.
Terry Gross: Amy, I want to start with you. Why did you want to write this book?
Amy Ellis Nutt: Well, when I first sat down with the Maines family nearly four years ago, my first thought was, “Wow, a book about a transgender child, I wonder what the audience is for that?” And frankly, within a couple of minutes I realized that this was an ordinary family in an extraordinary situation and that there was nothing offputting, nothing odd, nothing secretive or furtive about this family, that they were incredibly warm and thoughtful, and they had a child that they knew they needed to nurture and protect. And I realized that it was going to be a biography not so much of Nicole as much as of the family.
TG: So, Kelly and Wayne, what were the earliest signs that your daughter, who you thought was your son when your child was born—-what were the early signs that she identified as female?
Kelly Maines: She always wanted to be the girl characters when she was playing. She always wanted to wear girls’ clothes. She would put a shirt on her head that would make her feel like she had long hair. Mostly those kinds of things. Then she actually started voicing that she was a girl.
TG: And Wayne, she told you at one point, “Daddy, I hate my penis.” How did you respond to that?
Wayne Maines: I was scared. I picked Nicole up and put her in my arms, and I said everything’s going to be okay. And I knew in my mind, everything’s not okay.
TG: My impression from the book, Wayne, was that at first you were very understandably upset at this confusion that you thought your daughter was having about who she was. Did you try to talk Nicole out of being Nicole—-to try to say, “You’re a boy, you’re Wyatt. You have to act like a boy. You can’t walk around in a tutu. You can’t play with -Barbies.”
WM: I didn’t say that. I tried to influence it in other ways. You meet Nicole—-even at that age, extremely strong personality. I would say to her, you don’t want to be a girl, and she’d say, yes, I do. I’m a fortyyearold guy having this debate with this little kid, and I’m losing. It was hard. You have this vision of what you think the American dream is, and your family. I’ve learned more from my two children and Kelly than I ever thought possible. And I learned that everybody needs to be who they need to be.
TG: Well, let me just ask you, did you fear that somehow this reflected badly on your masculinity? That somehow it was a statement about who you were?
WM: Absolutely. And, you know, what are the neighbors going to think? I really struggled with that. And then, you know what? When people start coming after your kid, you get your head right. This is my baby. Don’t mess with my kids. That’s probably when I turned the corner.
TG: Kelly, it sounds like you took the lead in the family in saying our daughter knows she’s a daughter and not a son, that she’s a girl and not a boy, and we have to honor that. We have to respect that.
KM: It didn’t go quite that quickly. And it wasn’t that easy. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was going on. Is she gay? Is she transvestite? Is she transgender? I honestly had no experience in understanding what any of that meant, so I ended up surrounding us with professionals who could help us make sure that we were doing the right thing by her. Back then, the popular way of proceeding was genderneutral—-try to keep her genderneutral. But Nicole did not like that at all. I think it was about when she was seven, we had a birthday party for her and Jonas. And we gave her all the boy’s toys that Jonas would like to have and gave Jonas all the boy’s toys that Jonas would like to have, and she was very unhappy. I looked at Wayne, and I said, “That’s it. I’m not doing this anymore. It’s not working. She’s angry. She’s doubting herself. This is not healthy. She has to have a safe place here.” So we took the toys back and we got her some mermaid things and she was very, very happy with that. After that, I was like, “I just got to do what’s going to make this kid the best person she can be.”
TG: What was it like as a married couple, during the period when Wayne was more resistant and Kelly, you were more sheiswhatsheis? What kind of tension did that create between the two of you?
WM: I checked out, Terry. I didn’t know how to handle it, so I went to work. I cut a lot of trees. I road a lot of bike miles, and I did what guys do. That’s really one of the things that I’m willing to talk about it because so many other people, men especially—-we check out. I know I’m generalizing a little bit, but I put it all on Kelly’s shoulders, and it was hard.
TG: Kelly, did you feel a little abandoned during that period?
KM: Well, I was so busy and so worried that I did not spend a lot of time worrying about whether he was going to get onboard or not. I think my biggest fear then was that Wayne was going to be like a lot of men and try to divorce me and take the kids away. And then Nicole wouldn’t get the things that she needed. That was the scariest part for me, because I didn’t know what he was thinking. He never told me. We had very few conversations then.
TG: Amy, I want to ask you about a medical and science question. You’ve written about how the medical profession came to change its view of gender, and in 2013, the Psychological Diagnostic Manual changed Gender Identity Disorder to Gender Dysphoria. What’s the importance of that change from Gender Identity Disorder to Gender Dysphoria?
AEN: I think the most important thing is that it changes the view of an anomalous gender identity as being somehow abnormal. It’s not a disorder. The problem for transgender people isn’t within, it’s without. Nicole, for instance, even as Wyatt, always described herself as a boygirl or a girlboy. She was completely confident in who she was. She knew that she was a girl, but she also knew that people referred to her as a boy, and that she had a boy’s anatomy. This was a child who was never unsure of who she was, but she knew there was a problem with how other people and the rest of the world viewed her. That’s where the dysphoria comes in—-when there’s a mismatch between what we expect and what perhaps the sexual anatomy says, and what the brain is telling us.
TG: You report in your book that scientists are finding that 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. How are they different?
AEN: Essentially, we all begin life asexual, and then certain genes and hormones kick in and our sexual anatomy is determined to either be male genitalia and male reproductive organs, or female. However, scientists are learning that while that happens at six weeks, it’s not until six months that the brain masculinizes or feminizes—-that is, that the hormones in the brain determine, is this the brain of a girl or is this the brain of a boy? And sexual orientation, they’re also discovering, is a third process. Typically, prenatally, we develop along the same lines; our sexual anatomy matches up with our gender identity. But we know that many things can influence the environment of the womb, and the environment of the womb influences the level of hormones and the chemicals that go into the development of a fetus. And so there are many things that can happen between the time that a fetus’s sexual anatomy is set and its gender identity is set.
TG: And so gender identity, you say, rests not in anatomy but in the brain.
AEN: That’s right. That’s right.
TG: So Nicole and Jonas are identical twins. They were both born with male anatomy, but Nicole immediately identified as female and has subsequently had gender reassignment surgery. How does the science explain that identical twins would have different gender identification?
AEN: It’s a good question. Identical twins obviously have the exact same DNA. What they don’t have is the exact same epigenome, which means not all of the genetic switches are turned off and on in identical ways. The explanation scientists give is that in the womb, identical twins have separate amniotic sacs and umbilical cords. Therefore, they get various and different amounts of hormones and nourishment. They’ve discovered that even your placement in the womb can affect the ratio of hormones and nutrients that you get. And therefore it is a different environment. The environment affects who we are, our gender identity, even in identical twins.
TG: So do you think, and do scientists think, that this is happening more frequently now to people, or is it just that more people are feeling comfortable expressing the true nature of their identity?
AEN: To some extent, I think that’s impossible to know. Certainly, the degree to which it’s become more accepted to talk about has encouraged people to come out. But I think the science of it is also moving this discussion along very significantly. And what scientists are now telling us is that gender isn’t something that’s necessarily fixed—-that it’s dynamic, that it’s fluid. I remember Dr. Norman Spack, who’s the wonderful doctor at the gender clinic at Children’s Hospital in Boston and Nicole’s first doctor to help her make her transition, said to me, there are very few people that are 100 percent totally masculine or 100 percent totally feminine. We have traits of both. I think people are more comfortable now saying, “Yeah, I’ve never felt 100 percent masculine, but I’m mostly masculine.” I think it’s become a more comfortable society to say that in. But I think it’s also because the science is now supporting that.
KG: Kelly and Wayne, explaining the socalled facts of life to children is always a difficult turning point for parents. How did you handle that with Nicole?
KM: With facts of life, I always went with the rule of thumb of, if you can ask me the question, then you’re probably ready for the answer. I mean, I wouldn’t go into serious detail (laughter). Interestingly, the school that Nicole was going to at the time in Orono would not allow their class to have sex education because they did not know how to answer questions that might come up about Nicole, which is pretty sad. Nicole went through a mourning period when she realized that she would not be able to have children. We can freeze sperm, but that’s not what she wanted to do. It was that feeling, like any woman who was not able to have children, that you got cheated out of something. We spent a lot of time talking about that. And luckily for us, we had adopted the twins. So it’s easy for me to say, “I’m not less of a person because I didn’t have children. I’m more of a person because I got to adopt you. “
TG: Because our time together is limited, I’m focusing on your relationship with Nicole as opposed to her identical twin, Jonas. But I want to talk a little bit about Jonas, because this story’s had a huge impact on his life. I know there was a period when he was feeling like his main identity was being the identical twin brother of a transgender girl. And he took it upon himself to be her protector. This identity was limiting, in a way, for him because I think it was maybe harder for him to figure out who he was independent of being the brother of his sister. But it sounds like he’s done really well.
KM: Yeah, I think he would’ve struggled with that either way, because she’s the alpha twin. She’s very strong, very bossy. But as he got older and wanted to claim his own space—-and on top of that, now she’s famous, and we’ve got all this going on. It was hard for him. I think anytime you have a kid that has a special need that you have to do extra things for, it’s hard for the other kids, because you want to try not to leave them behind, but you still got to put that extra time into the kid that needs the special services.
TG: Jonas is quoted in the book as saying, imagine what it’s like when kids, teachers, adults ask you about your sister being transgender, and you’re trying to explain it all with a sixth-grade vocabulary. That really made me feel for him.
KM: Yeah, and that was the period of time when the school wasn’t helping. People would tease both of them. He was so angry that he even attacked the kid that caused all the issues. He was trying to protect her, but how? “I’m just a kid. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”
TG: Kelly, did you find yourself asking what it meant to you to be female, watching your daughter define her own sense of gender? I don’t know how you dress, but Nicole, when she was growing up, she wanted tutus and very girlish, feminine things. I don’t think you doubt that you’re a woman, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you like, you know, frilly dresses or high heels or some of the things that your daughter probably likes.
KM: Right. Well, that’s true, I don’t (laughter). In fact, I can remember when I first started school—-this is how old I am. I grew up in Indiana. And the girls had to wear dresses to school. When I started kindergarten, I was so mad. How am I going to get on those monkey bars with that skirt going over my head? I was always very active, and I liked to move around, and I liked to wear sneakers, and I liked to wear comfortable clothes. And that’s how Nicole and Jonas know me. So I’m like, where’s she learning this stuff? (laughter)
TG: Amy, having written the book, Becoming Nicole, about Nicole and her family, when you think of your own identity, do you see your own self more on a sliding scale than you did before, now that you think of gender as not being binary?
AEN: Yes, absolutely. I’m someone who was the typical tomboy growing up and someone who both loves sports but identifies as female. And there were times in my life when I was uncomfortable in my own skin. Now I realize that it may not be so allimportant that I feel 100 percent female. It’s a sense of relief and relaxation when you realize that the identity part of it, what we call ourselves, is maybe not as important as feeling free inside of ourselves.
Listen to the full interview at npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/10/19/449937765/becoming-nicole-recounts-one-familys-acceptance-of-their-transgender-child.
What’s It Like to Have a Book Written About Your Family?
Five years ago, if you’d told me there would be a book written about my family, I probably would have laughed. Even once the book was in the works, I never predicted that it would be as successful as it is, not because our story isn’t powerful, but because, having lived with my family for all my life, I don’t think of us as particularly interesting people. Perhaps that is part of Becoming Nicole’s strength: our normalcy. We are as ordinary as any other family, and we have struggles just like everyone else. I could go on like this forever, saying all the usual phrases of humility and gratitude, which I truly mean, talking about everything that this story has given to me and to the world, which I truly believe, but I’d much rather look ahead than spend any more time reflecting.
As I write this, I’m entering my second semester of college. College is an opportunity to start a new chapter in my life, apart from my family. For the first time, I am not associated with my twin on a daily basis. For the first time, I have an identity that is not immediately determined by who my family is. People don’t look at me as “Nicole’s brother” or “Wayne’s son,” but simply as “Jonas.”
I am planning to double major in psychology and theater arts. Writing plays has allowed me to express my ideas and values in a way that I sometimes have trouble doing out loud. In my first play, based on the poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen, I tried to write a piece that would humanize soldiers, who too often during wartime are denied that humanity. Similarly, Amy humanized my family and our experiences. She saw our normalcy and our strength. She saw Wayne. She saw Kelly. She saw Nicole. She saw Jonas.
Becoming Nicole has something, I think, for everyone, and I’m not just saying that because it’s about me. This book is more than a story about a transgender girl. It is a story about that girl, her family, and what they have gone through as a unit, which is a much bigger narrative than one person’s gender identity. That’s what’s so important to know about transgender people: We are not just trans, and our lives don’t operate in a vacuum. That is the true nature of the Transgender Experience. I do not go through life thinking, “I’m trans, I’m trans, I’m trans,” on repeat. I love bingeing on Netflix, I’m obsessed with food and video games, and I can’t stand weather below freezing. I don’t want to say my life is just like any other eighteenyearold girl’s, though. It comes with an extraordinary community of transgender individuals who have shared experiences, both good and bad, which few others can understand: the combat arena that is public bathrooms and other people’s fixations on what’s going on in there, the cartwheel experience of being young and feeling perfectly normal until adults tell us we’re not, the alltoofamiliar question “When do I tell them?,” the decision to come out, and the few seconds when you can’t breathe before they respond to you.
Becoming Nicole showcases the experiences of just one family in that community. There are so many stories out there that capture different journeys. I highly recommend that you go out and look for some of them. At the top of my list would be the novels Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher and Luna by Julie Anne Peters. I had to go stealth for my last two years of middle school, and that’s when I read these transgender comingofage books. They helped me so much through that time in my life. They reminded me that even though I had to temporarily hide who I was, it was still okay to be transgender. I hope this book has done the same for some of you.
Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher
Luna by Julie Anne Peters
Four years ago, we let Amy become a member of our small inner circle. The inner circle that, for fourteen years, had kept Nicole and Jonas safe from physical harm, strangers with agendas, and unwelcome feedback from people who fear the unknown.
The easy part was handing over hundreds of family heirlooms to Amy and enjoying each visit as she learned more about our family. It is simple to like Amy: She is kind, a great listener, and sincere in every way. I never really thought of her as a journalist or writer, just a good friend who oddly carried a small note pad, scribbling in semishorthand, attempting to capture the Maines family in our natural habitat. She became more than a friend: she is a cherished family member, an adopted aunt for Jonas and Nicole.
The hard part stemmed from the fact that, from 2007 to today, my family has been in the press. In the early years, we were able to hide most of the negative impact, especially disturbing Internet comments, from Jonas and Nicole. But doing so also kept the positives from being recognized. They didn’t know that they were helping to teach their state and nation that gender identity and gender expression are formed at an early age. They didn’t know that they were helping to define what equality means in Maine and setting the stage for change nationwide. Because of this, when we were approached about a book project, I welcomed the opportunity to see my children recognized for their hard work and struggles.
But as we moved closer to publication date and the book became real, I started to doubt my yes vote to publish our family story. The world was going to read about our most private moments and many of my most humbling failures. As Amy, our agent, Wendy, Kelly, and I sat at a large table overlooking the mouth of the Damariscotta River in Newcastle, Maine, editing and debating what to cut and what to leave in the book, I stared out the bank of windows, wishing I could just dive into the bay and swim my anxiety away, as I had done so often when the kids were younger.
When we were finally finished, we went for walk down to the water’s edge. As we passed through the pine forest, Wendy asked, “Are you guys ready for this?” I paused and said, “I think so,” all while knowing that once again our family was going to be placed in the limelight, where we would be judged, ridiculed, and possibly targeted by a small group of people for whom fear still clouds their minds.
Were we ready for this? Yes, because we do not want other families, schools, and leaders to experience the pain and fear that our family and others have to endure. We want all children to feel special, to be loved and be safe. The change we hope to foster is not just about bathrooms; it is about eliminating a fundamental inequality. We want to halt the behavior that allows transgender people be denied housing, jobs, and medical benefits. Unfortunately, many of our nation’s leaders have the power but not the courage to do so. In my heart, I feel they are capable of changing their positions, but in my mind, I know many are bound by longheld family values and political platforms that are not easily changed. It will require wisdom and bravery to help Nicole and her friends to obtain a safe education, a good job, or a place to live.
People tell my family how courageous we are for what we have done. The truth is that we just wanted to protect our children; when we were backed into a corner, we had to fight. There are thousands of families just like ours around the world, but they do not have the resources or support that we had to make our stand for equality. Each one of their letters, emails, and blog posts, from Maine to New Zealand, reminds me that we did the right thing. I am hopeful that Becoming Nicole has started a discussion that will help the transgender community live in peace and harmony, with full equality.
What does Becoming Nicole mean to my family? I think its creation was a sort of healing process for Wayne, and a source of validation for Jonas and Nicole, something that made the hard times worth it. I did not expect that it would be so well received, and I am very pleased that there are so many people that gained healing and enlightenment through Amy’s words and our experience.
And for me? In the years since I realized that my sweet baby was “not like the other,” there has been continuous change that has allowed so many people to live their authentic lives. This book, and the incredible response to it, has helped me realize that. I thank all of you who hoped beyond hope and put yourselves out there, with no protection or safety net, causing change and paving a road for my sweet Nicole.
1. The subtitle of Becoming Nicole is “The Transformation of an American Family.” In what ways do you think the members of the Maines family transformed themselves over the course of the book? How has the definition of the “average” American family transformed over time?
2. Along the same lines, Amy Ellis Nutt asserts that “the definition, the descriptive behaviors, the look and feel and experience of gender have all changed over time.” Do you agree or disagree? If you agree, how would you say these things have shifted over your lifetime?
3. How did Kelly’s upbringing affect her expectations for her own children? How did Wayne’s? Discuss how parental expectations can help or hurt children.
4. What was it about The Little Mermaid that made Wyatt/Nicole identify with the character? Were there fictional characters who particularly resonated with you as a child?
5. Discuss the power of clothes and other external gender markers. What aspects of your own appearance do you feel are most important to your identity?
6. What challenges did Jonas face in having a transgender sister? How were those similar to and different from the challenges any twin would face?
7. Nicole and Jonas went into “stealth mode” for two years of middle school. Do you think this was ultimately the right decision for the family? Can you think of other examples of “stealth mode” or “passing” in history?
8. What was the turning point for Wayne in accepting his daughter? Why do you think it was harder for him than it was for Kelly?
9. As part of his campaign to defeat Maine’s bathroom bill, LD 1046, Wayne wrote, “We have tried to live our lives privately, but the stakes are now too high to sit on the sidelines.” In what ways do you think an individual can make a difference politically?
10. The author shows that our knowledge of gender and sexuality has come a long way in the past fifty years. What surprised you most to learn? What questions do you still have?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a touching, sensitive, and caring story of the journey of a young woman growing up and her remarkable family. While the author reviews the substantial medical research on transgender people, she never lets the technical details get in the way of the story of Nicole, her identical twin brother Jonas, and her supportive parents as they come to terms with Nicole's gender and the discrimination that they faced. The author is careful to depict all parties fairly and shows their good and not so good points instead of taking the easy way out and painting cardboard cut-outs of good and evil. While you may feel, as I do, that some of the school officials and certain others acted callously and ignorantly, it is important to remember, as the author does, that these people often acted on deeply held sincere beliefs. I hope every school administrator in the country reads this book and takes to heart Nicole's eloquent story of how she and her classmates had no problems until adults jumped in with their rigid, pre-conceived notions and the pain she suffered as a result. Even people who have no interest in transgender issues will enjoy the story of determination and of a close-knit family's love and support for each other. Highest recommendation.
Great read! I completely agree with everything "anonymous" below said by beginning with "This is a touching, sensitive, and caring story...." That reader took the words right out of my mouth and there's no way I could've said it better. Bravo, fellow reader and a shout out to all the friends and family members of the Maines family that supported them through thick and thin. They are very fortunate to have you in their lives!
I learn a lot about life
This is an absorbing story of transformation and redemption on many levels. It is personal, yet takes into account family, community and cultural issues. It is narrative, and also explains the latest science on gender and gender expression. Members of the LGBTQ community and their supporters will find it inspirational. Others will find it the same, and it has the power to open minds and hearts. For the curious, this family's story will answer questions and give new insight. It is well-written and researched. I recommend it for all!
I am a 61 year old wife, mother, grandmother, and a hair stylist for the past 32 years. I already knew a lot about transgender, gay, bisexual, Etc. I have always embraced anyone that was different from me. This book added to my knowledge and made me even more open-minded. I love the whole Maine's family! I respect you all and Hope that I hear wonderful things happening for all of you in the future:-)
When I saw the picture of Nicole on the cover of this book, I remembered seeing her in a documentary I watched a few years back regarding transgenders. I immediately knew it was a book I wanted to read. I don’t know any transgenders personally (that I know of) but I do know there are a couple at my daughters’ high school and that our county is one of those currently struggling to provide equal rights to those children in our school system. I am very supportive of that cause and hope they do the right thing, but wanted to read more about Nicole’s journey to get a better understanding of what these children go through and the effects it has on them and their families. This book definitely delivered. Some people think a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is a choice….it’s not. It is not something you just change….you are born that way. It’s a matter of accepting it and adjusting life to embrace one’s true self. I believe this book can help people understand that. Maybe open some doors and windows to those living close-minded lives, to become more accepting of others that aren’t like them, that might go against their religious beliefs. Knowledge is the key – this book can provide some of that. Whatever your beliefs, I hope you will take the time to read this book. If nothing else, it will let you know what it’s like to be a little boy that wants nothing to do with being a boy. He’s a “girl-boy” and prefers it that way until he can realize his dream of truly becoming a girl – to then dress how she wants, act how she wants, and be accepted as one of the girls. Because truly, that is what she is. The innocent minds of children can accept her as she is, it’s those darn close minded adults that get in the way. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars, not because it’s beautifully written or a great literary piece. I give it 5 stars because it is a wonderful story of love and commitment, finding one’s self, supporting others, diversity, and acceptance. It’s not preachy or critical, it’s honest and educational (without feeling educational). It is truly moving.