Arlington Reads Together: Becoming Nicole

Last fall, I was on the selection committee that chose Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt as the 2017 Arlington Reads Together book. Last Saturday, I got to be in the audience to hear Nicole herself, and her father Wayne, speak to the Arlington community for the A.R.T. kickoff event in our beautiful old Town Hall building.

In the weeks leading up to this event, as we have had library displays announcing the book and the related programs this month, I have been pleasantly surprised how many people have shown so much enthusiasm for the book and for the topic. (Transgender issues, unfortunately, have been in the news again lately as the federal government has just revoked protections for transgender students in public schools to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity.)

I encourage everyone to read Becoming Nicole, if you haven’t already. My brief review and quotes from the book from when I read it last year are on LibraryThing; I’ll use this space to recap the event.

Nicole’s talk emphasized the need to educate people on transgender issues. When kids know what “transgender” means, they are less likely to bully other trans students; when adults know, they are more likely to support trans people’s rights. She called the recent rollback of federal protections for trans students an “unnecessary backward step” because “people don’t put a face to the trans movement. Who actually is this affecting?” In the Q&A after the talk, Nicole said, “It’s harder to marginalize a human being than a foreign idea.”

Nicole also emphasized the importance of education because “kids know their gender identity early….Parents need to get on board early so kids can get medical treatment.” She spoke about “the importance of having adults support you”; her mother Kelly supported her from the beginning, and her father Wayne eventually got on board as well. Her elementary school supported her at first, but later things deteriorated to the point where the Maines family had to move. Nicole also mentioned Camp Aranu’tiq as a wonderful, inclusive summer camp experience for trans kids.

Though Nicole and Wayne appreciated the supportive Arlington audience, Nicole said, “We can’t keep preaching to the choir”; we have to have conversations with people who don’t understand. “The people in power don’t get it, and they need to.”

During the Q&A, one preschool teacher and one middle school teacher asked for advice. For the preschool teacher, Nicole suggested specific books (including I Am Jazz; there is also Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen), and suggested not enforcing a gender binary (e.g. allowing children to play with any toys in the classroom, not identifying some as “girls’ toys” and some as “boys’ toys”). She mentioned the need to educate parents as well, though she acknowledged the balancing act that might take. For the high school teacher, she said that being available for students to come talk to is important.

This was a wonderful event, and we were so lucky to hear directly from Wayne and Nicole, who were both well-prepared, entertaining, sympathetic, and humorous speakers. You can see photos of the event (taken by librarian/photographer Rob Lorino) on the library blog.

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