Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Becoming Nicole

Becoming Nicole

Adult nonfiction
"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?"
I remember back when Veazie (where I am on school committee) and
Orono constituted Union 87, each town operating independently but
getting together once a year to agree on the payment of shared
administration. One night after a meeting people were chatting.
Someone mentioned our sister town was having difficulties because a
boy who believed "him"self to be a girl was using a girls' restroom
and a man who objected to this was having his grandson protest by
using the same bathroom. My colleagues breathed "better them than us"
sighs of relief. Probably because I had grown up with a sibling who
seemed to be suffocated by a female body and society's expectations, I
saw a revolution whose time had come. I realized it was only a matter
of time before we would encounter it. I started learning all I could
about transgender people. At first this was by book and Internet
research. Then I began spending time at UMaine's Rainbow Resource
Room, a haven for LGBTQ people and allies. Seeing how policies
affected people I came to care about made me realize how important
changing them or creating new ones was. By then Veazie and Orono had
joined Glenburn as RSU 26 and gone separate ways in a three way
withdrawal. I was vice chair of the now stand alone Veazie School
Committee. In a policies subcommittee meeting I announced that I
would create a policy that would center on making the Veazie Community
School as welcoming, affirming, and safe for transgender students as
it was for all other children. At one point I talked by phone with
Wayne Maines, the father of the girl who had been the topic of that
long ago conversation and learned that a book was coming out about his
family's experiences. I could hardly wait for my library to get a copy.
Amy Ellis Nutt's Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an
American Family, source of the above quote, was well worth waiting
for. Nutt, a Pulitzer Prize winning author, spent years talking to
the Maines Family and studying primary sources ranging from legal
documents and medical records to videotapes and journals. She gives
readers an intimate portrait of a family, much like any of ours, who,
when forced to confront limitations on one of their members imposed by
society's prejudices, went way out of their comfort zone to fight
back. What they have achieved has made the world better for so many
people. If you want an inspiring true story of justice winning out
over prejudice you simply have to read this fine book.
Wayne and Kelly Maines, unable to have children, adopted the
twin sons of one of Kelly's cousins. The children, taken into their
home after birth, thrived. They were tightly bonded but highly
distinct individuals. Wyatt loved Barbie and Ariel from The Little
Mermaid while Jonas gravitated to Star Wars and Power Rangers.
Wyatt felt uncomfortable with his male anatomy, but believed he
would evolve into girlhood in much the same way that a caterpillar
becomes a butterfly. He wanted to wear frilly, feminine clothes.
Kelly searched the Internet to learn more about children like him,
starting by searching "boys who like girls' toys". Wayne retreated.
Kelly's life became a balancing act. How far could she allow
Wyatt to go in expressing himself? How much should she give in to
conform to community expectations? She had learned about a couple who
were arrested and had their child taken away for letting him go to
school in girls' clothes.
She had reason for concern. Even Orono, a fairly liberal town
and the home of the flagship university of the UMaine system,
contained individuals who felt threatened by what they considered
deviance. One of them was Paul Melanson who was strongly opposed to
gay and lesbian rights. He had his grandson, a fellow student at the
school the twins attending, start using the girls' bathroom Nicole,
formerly Wyatt, used as a protest. The actions its administration
took seemed to place the school's image above the needs and safety of
individual students. The Maines family was sent on a challenging
course of advocacy and action that would touch every aspect of their
lives and having them take their case to the highest court in the
State of Maine.
Becoming Nicole would be a must read for just the story line.
Only there's a whole lot more. Interwoven throughout the narrative
are highly thought provoking discussions of sex and gender issues.
They promote an active engagement with the book. I can generally get
through a volume this size in one evening. I lingered over Becoming
Nicole for three.
As to who should read the book, I believe the inside cover blurb
says it best. "...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."
That's for sure!
On a very personal note, when I started visiting Rainbow Resource Room
I had no clue how much they had to offer me. For most of my life
gender has been presented as a binary. I was never a girly girl or a
womanly woman. Growing up, I let my Barbie dolls gathered dust,
prayed for my breasts to stay small, and refused to subordinate my
interests to his as teen magazines advised. I was surely at odds with
society's conventions and norms. But it goes even beyond having
interests and talents in both camps. It's how I gesture, move, and
take up space every waking moment that people have tried to make more
ladylike as far back as I can remember. In Rainbow Resource Room I
learned that I have the right to act in a way that makes me feel
authentic. One of the most powerful days of my life was my very first
drag show last year when I was reborn on stage. I had chosen Grease
with it's affirmations that "Conventionality belongs to yesterday" and
"We can be who we are." I guess one could say I was becoming Jules.
I can never remember relating to the feminine name Julia or its
nickname version Julie. The androgynous Jules, which I first took as
a stage name, feels perfect. This revue is the first of many I will
sign as my authentic self.
A great big shout out goes out to the Maines family and all who helped
them to achieve victory.
Jules Hathaway

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