“If your baby has two arms and two legs, what’re you complaining about?” exclaimed Nicole Maines in the small group discussion at Arcadia University. That is an amazing question, one that should have a simple answer. What are we complaining about in society today in regards to transgender people? They are just regular human beings, yet they are treated as if they’re a separate species. First Year Students at Arcadia, like myself, had to read the novel Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt. It talked about how Nicole transitioned from a man to a woman. Nicole’s visit was to teach us further about her life and what’s she dealt with. It’s so interesting too because she’s around the same age as we are yet she has been through so much and has so much to teach.
A few moments before Nicole had arrived for the small group discussion I got the chance to talk to a couple students about how they felt about Nicole and why they came to the event.
Alexie, First Year Student, said “I have friends who are transgender and I want to hear more about Nicole and the topic itself [in regards to being transgender and what that means]”
Kate, First Year Student, said “I am questioning my gender, so I want to hear outside perspectives about other transgender people.” She also said, “Nicole is perfect” and that she wanted to hear the personal accounts of Nicole, rather than her father Wayne.
Many students who were also there wore apparel that said things like “Trans*? No Problem” and “Make America Gay Again.” So, the atmosphere was very positive as many students exclaimed how excited they were to meet Nicole and learn more about her journey.
Once the discussion began you could see the smiling faces spread across the room. Nicole was humorous and had a lovable sassy attitude. She said that she had been “fighting people’s grandmas since I was little to look like this!” in response to her mother always saying she would stare at herself in any reflective surface. She claimed that everyone should be a little vain because we deserve to feel good about ourselves. These messages empowered the audience and, because they saw her as a source of advice, they asked many questions like: “Do you ever feel like the ‘token’ transgender person in your friend group?” and “When you’re transitioning, how does it affect your presence in the trans community because you have not fully changed yet?” Nicole answered these questions in a way that made the student feel like a close friend. She says to them, “No trans person is more trans than another and you don’t have to go through surgery to transition either.” She also says that she knows how it feels to be the “token” transgender friend because she couldn’t relate to the girl friend group she had in high school. She was different in the sense that she never had periods or dealt with reproductive rights, so she would make jokes about it to make herself feel better. When she said these things it made the students feel like they could confide in her and relate to her.
At the end of this discussion, many students got to personally talk to Nicole. They also got autographs and a few selfies. A photographer even took photos of Nicole and our small discussion group in front of the Grey Towers Castle. Nicole, with her sassy personality, jokingly posed by the pillars in her best America’s Next Top Model pose, making us laugh hysterically. Having gone to this event many people thought positively about Nicole as she was just like them – just a regular, young, carefree teenager.
Later on in the day I went to the big group discussion that almost every First Year Student had to go to. It was not as personal because there were hundreds of people in one room together. If you looked around you could tell that some people wanted to be there and some didn’t. However, despite how they may have they were respectful towards Nicole and her story. Nicole said that Arcadia set the bar high for the other college visits that she would attend in the future.
The big group discussion was structured like a talk show. The interviewer was also transgender, so they could relate to each other and in this discussion her father Wayne was included as well. Nicole answered questions from selected students in the crowd and made sure to, just like in the small discussion, answer everyone’s questions thoroughly. In addition to that, Wayne also answered questions from the crowd. In doing so, sometimes he would become teary eyed and his voice would crack a little. He’d say that he no longer cried for Nicole anymore, but instead cried for all the other suffering transgender children out there. He wanted to push the idea that more people need to get involved with this and not just say the right things, but do the right things as well. This was big because early on in the book he wasn’t portrayed in the nicest way. However, throughout the book the reader gains more respect for him as he becomes more accepting of Nicole.
To talk even more about the book, Nicole mentions that Amy Nutt, the author of the book, did a great job depicting the story of her life as well as her family’s. She said that Amy would just sit around as they were doing things like playing videos games and just take notes. Nicole found that fascinating. However, she also noted that over one hundred pages were cut from the book in the editing process. She said that many of the cut pages were from the perspective of Jonas, which isn’t that surprising as he was very much over looked. She acknowledged that Jonas was short changed in terms of representation, but she also said that during the process of her transitioning he did struggle to wrap his brain around what was truly happening.
The book Becoming Nicole was a great choice for First Year Students to read. Nicole was informative, determined, and left a very uplifting atmosphere at Arcadia University in terms of transgender acceptance. She was unapologetically honest and allowed the students first hand knowledge into what her life is like every day just being who she is. She hopes that with going to these schools she can be the voice that many other transgender may need – whether they make be black, white, male, female, or non-binary. She wants everyone to feel accepted and comfortable being exactly who they are.