The story of an incredible trans girl and her family as told by another mediocre book by a cisgender author
My thoughts on Becoming Nicole: The transformation of an American Family
I was pleasantly surprised at the prison meal window on Friday, when an advance copy of a book was delivered to me. The book, Becoming Nicole: The transformation of an American Family, was sent to me directly from the publisher. In the letter, the book was billed as the story of the Maines family — two parents and their identical twin children — and their struggles during the transition of the twin sister, Nicole.
The book is a relatively short and light read at about 250 widely-spaced pages. I read the book in about four to five hours on Saturday evening. The story of the Maines family is actually pretty inspiring and impressive. Despite their flaws (who’s perfect anyway?) these people are basically amazing. They navigated through tough circumstances that, looking at myself and the trans women that I see today, could have ended pretty awfully for this young woman. I don’t know how different my life would have been if I had a family even remotely as determined to stick together and get through life as the Maines family.
Unfortunately, despite having a perfect story to write about, the author misses the mark. Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Amy Ellis Nutt — a cisgender woman — falls into the now worn and old-fashioned trap of all the other “experts” who write or talk about trans issues: trying to explain the “transgender phenomenon” using science and medicine. For instance, in several portions of the book — with such chapter titles as “Gender Dysphoria,” “The Xs and Ys of Sex,” “Transgender Brain,” and “Born This Way” — the author starts talking about medical facts regarding gender and sex, the administration of cross-sex hormones, and a disturbingly detailed description of bottom surgery for a trans woman barely out of high school. Is all of this really necessary to the story? Why can’t the Maines family just be awesome on their own? Do we need the power and magic of science and medicine to explain everything away and make life okay?
Basically, the tone of the book when not talking about the Maines family keeps coming off a bit preachy, even when it continues to box us trans people who are outside of the white, middle class, gender-conformist expectations just a little bit more. This brings up a question from deep inside my mind, yet again (and I’m tired of asking it in my head, so I’m saying it out loud as I write this): Why do we still need to be “explained” by a cisgender person with fancy titles, awards, and credentials?
I have read some pretty amazing books by trans authors this year. Fiction books like Nevada, by Imogen Binnie, and A Safe Girl To Love, by Casey Plett, perfectly capture the complex, beautiful, and horrific essence that is the diverse trans — and very human — experience of living life.
My message to Nicole, if she ever reads this: You are an amazing writer and you can be one hell of an inspiration to people like me. You should write your own story — fiction or nonfiction — in your own voice. We want to hear you.