Tuesday 7 June 2016

Book Review: Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt

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 dressing 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.

Becoming Nicole is the heart-wrenching story of a mother whose instincts told her that her child needed love and not disapproval; of a conservative, army-veteran father who overcame his deepest fears to embrace his new daughter; of a loving brother who never gave up supporting his twin sister; and of a town forced to confront its own prejudices. More than that, however, Becoming Nicole is the story of an extraordinary girl who fought for the right to be herself.

I read Becoming Nicole as part of the Nonfiction Reading Challenge. Cheryl Strayed recommended this book on her Facebook page and I was immediately drawn to the subject matter. I've always respected the transgender community and I hold a strong belief that everybody on this planet deserves to live as their authentic self. But I'm not ashamed to admit that I knew very little about what it means to be transgender. That's why I decided to read this book - to learn.

Amy Ellis Nutt's book tells of the fight the Maines family had to pursue after Nicole was bullied at school for being transgender. As a result of prejudice and fear, Nicole was not allowed to use the female restroom, even though it is the gender to which she identifies. Reading about this fight, I was struck by just how brave Nicole is. She was only a young girl when the bullying started, too young to fully understand why adults were making her face humiliation every day at school - a place where she'd always felt safe and accepted. But through it all Nicole kept her head held high. She knew she'd done nothing wrong. She was simply stuck in the wrong body. Nicole continued to be herself, unapologetically. Such courage is very inspiring. And it just goes to show that a lot of the time children are more enlightened than adults!

While I thoroughly enjoyed reading the Maines' story, the most intriguing part of the book for me was learning all about gender identity. It is actually a process that happens in the brain during development in the womb. Brains have certain structures that differ in size depending on whether it is a male or female brain. A person's gender identity is the product of prenatal hormones, genetics, and environmental effects. Separate to this, the growth of the genitals is a physical process resulting from the presence of male or female hormones. Usually the two align, but for a transgender person their gender identity and their genitals are opposite.

Understanding how a transgender person finds themselves stuck in the wrong body has only increased my respect and admiration for the trans community, and for Nicole Maines. While Nicole has faced some prejudice in her life, Becoming Nicole is full of many who support and love Nicole just as she is. Nicole and her family are committed to helping to dispel myths surrounding transgender people, and to fight for trans equality. They encourage others to learn about gender identity in the hope of ridding the world of ignorance, hatred and fear. I feel blessed to have read Nicole's story, to have opened my mind to new knowledge, and to have witnessed on the page how powerful it can be when a family stands up for what they believe in to show the world what love really means.       

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