In the days leading up to the release of their new book, Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family, Wayne Maines, his wife, Kelly, and their children had been much in the public eye. They were on Good Morning America, Nightline and NPR’s Fresh Air. Their family was written up in People magazine, The Washington Post and other publications.
On the day the book became available, Oct. 20, Wayne Maines was at Bowdoin, telling his remarkable, personal story to a small gathering in the Beam Classroom. “It’s not just about Nicole Maines, it’s about a family, a blue-collar family that tried to do better,” Maines said, speaking about the book that was written by Pulitzer-prize winning health and science journalist Amy Ellis Nutt.
Wayne and Kelly Maines are the parents of adopted identical twins — a boy and a girl. By the time the twins were just toddlers, one of them — born a Wyatt, now a Nicole — knew, very clearly, she was a girl. As Nicole grew older, she became adamant that her parents let her grow her hair long, wear dresses and sparkly accoutrements, and play with barbies and dollhouses. Meanwhile, Nicole’s brother, Jonas, acted like a typical boy.
“In the third or fourth grade, she would say, ‘I’m a girl!’ And I’d say, ‘No, you’re not,’” Maines recounted. “She was seven; I was 40. And I lost the battle every time.” An Air Force veteran and a self-described “reserved and conservative man,” Maines said that when the twins were babies, he had dreamed of playing baseball and football with them and taking them deer hunting.
In the early years of Nicole’s development, Wayne resisted his little child’s will. But by the time the twins were in fifth grade, the family had changed Wyatt’s name to Nicole. “Listen to your kids — they’ll tell you who they are,” Maines said.
As a pre-teen, Nicole took puberty suppressants. When she got a little older, she took female hormones. This summer, she had gender reassignment surgery.
Frequently throughout his talk at Bowdoin, Maines’ eyes glistened with tears. “I’m willing to get up here, tell stories and cry,” he said, adding that he does it to try to diminish the hate and discrimination that transgender people face. Maines shared statistics about the high rate of attempted suicide by transgender teenagers, and he showed a map that marked the 28 states where anti-LGBT legislation is in place or pending.
When Nicole and Jonas were in the 5th grade at a public school in Orono, Maine, the school told the Maines that Nicole would have to use the staff bathroom. This set off a protracted legal battle — one that ended up reinforcing state law to give transgender people the right to use the bathroom of their choice. But it also left the family exposed to bullying and harassment from people in their school and community.
Some days, Nicole would come home despairing. Maines would comfort her and say, “’I love you, you’re going to be fine.’ Then I’d run and find Kelly and say, ‘Holy crap, what are we going to do?'” He said their “whole world turned upside down because good, honest Mainers fear things that they don’t understand.” He marveled about how bitterly people could fight over bathrooms and locker rooms.
When the children were in middle school, the Maines left Orono for Portland, where Wayne said he felt as if they were living in hiding, afraid to tell anyone about Nicole’s identity. But eventually they found a private school, Waynflete, that would accept their kids as they are. The twins graduated from high school last spring and are now studying at the University of Maine, Orono, and the University of Maine, Farmington.
Although Waynflete was unusually accommodating, any school can welcome transgender kids, Maines said. “You just need to have an administration that has been trained, and the policies and coaching skills to help every student grow,” he added.
Today, Maines said his children are flourishing. “My kids are beautiful, beautiful inside and out, and confident,” he said. “Nicole’s edgy, tough as nails. Jonas is sensitive and a critical thinker. I look forward to watching them grow.”
The event was sponsored by Counseling Services, BQSA, Resource Center for Sexual & Gender Diversity, Human Resources, Education Department, and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies.