A Review of Becoming Nicole, by Amy Ellis Nutt

On April 14, 2017, Minnesota Public Radio reported that a group of parents in Virginia, MN had dropped a lawsuit against their school district. They had been trying to prevent students from using bathrooms appropriate to their gender identity. A few weeks earlier, the North Carolina legislature had overturned their own law that had stated that students must use the bathroom appropriate to the sex listed on their birth certificates. Money had prevailed over bigotry, the state having lost a great deal of money from corporations withdrawing business from North Carolina because of that law.  

Nicole’s earlier struggle for equality was heard by Maine Supreme Court in January, 2014. Becoming Nicole takes us to the late 90s when Wyatt, an identical twin who had identified as female from age two, encountered harassment when he used the girls’ restroom. His school, which had been supportive of him until a multiple stall bathroom for fifth graders raised this issue for the first time, failed to support him. Many years later, by the time a lawsuit against the school had been resolved, a boy who had bullied Nicole/Wyatt, wondered whether her identical twin was disappointed about losing a brother. Jonas never was, and once said to Nicole, “I never had a brother. You were always a sister to me.”

Becoming Nicole starts when the identical twins were toddlers. It is a fast-paced, engrossing tale of a family under enormous stress, and inserts two chapters on scientific findings on transgenderism, almost all of which was new information to me. This fascinating book is as much Nicole’s family’s story as hers. Whereas her mother and brother accepted that Nicole was transgender early on, her father resisted the concept until Nicole was bullied in the fifth grade, propelling the family to file a lawsuit against the school for failing to protect her. A father’s love for and determination to protect his child evolved into his eventual understanding that she could only be happy if recognized as the girl she knew herself to be. Three years later, in 2011, Nicole’s father testified before the Maine legislature that he was “the proud father of identical twins. One is a boy and one is a girl.”

Anyone who may feel a little uncomfortable around transgender people is likely to find this book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Amy Ellis Nutt transformative. Others will find their compassion stirred.

Becoming Nicole, the Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt. New York: Random House, 2015.

Linda Muldoon, Ph.D., LP, is a member of the MPA Diversity Committee. She is a graduate of the clinical psychology training program at the University of Minnesota.

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