Parents, how would you feel if one of your twins boys decided to become a girl?
When Wyatt and Jonas were born, their father was thrilled. Wayne looked forward to the day when he could hunt deer with his boys in the Maine woods. The family lived in Orono, near the University of Maine campus, where Wayne is the director of safety and environmental management. They had no preparation for what would come next. When Wyatt was 4, he asked his mother: “When do I get to be a girl?’’ He told his father that he hated his penis and asked when he could be rid of it. Both father and son cried. When first grade started, Wyatt carried a pink backpack and a Kim Possible lunchbox.
His parents had no idea what was going on. They had barely heard the term “transgender.’’ Baffled, they tried to deflect Wyatt’s girlish impulses by buying him action figures like his brother’s and steering him toward Cub Scouts, soccer, and baseball. When the boys were 5, Kelly and Wayne threw a “get-to-know-me’’ party for classmates and parents. Wyatt appeared beaming at the top of the stairs in a princess gown, a gift from his grandmother. Kelly whisked him off and made him put on pants. Though she and Wayne were accustomed to his girly antics, they were afraid of what others might think.
Kelly and Wayne didn’t look at it as a choice their child was making. “She really is a girl,’’ Kelly says, “a girl born with a birth defect. That’s how she looks at it.’’ After Wyatt began to openly object to being a boy, his mother started doing research on transgender children. There was little out there; it seemed they would have to find their way largely on their own. During those early years, while Kelly was doing her research, Wayne was hoping that this was no big deal, that this was a stage Wyatt just had to go through.
“I felt it had nothing to do with how they would grow up,’’ he says. But as they grew older, his concern grew. “I feared the unknown,’’ he says. In fourth grade, Wyatt started using “Nicole’’ as a name, and many classmates were calling him “Nikki.’’ The next year, the family went to court and had the name legally changed to Nicole.
To Kelly, it seemed the next logical step. Family discussions merely centered around what the name would be. In the end, Nicole chose it. “I believed in Nicole,’’ her mother says. “She always knew who she was.’’ Wayne was nervous. Could he call his son Nicole? As usual, he relied on his wife’s instincts. “I have to tell you, Kelly’s the leader in our family,’’ he says. “Both she and Nicole are extremely strong-willed, and I went with the flow.’’ At first, though, he couldn’t bring himself to use the new name. An Air Force veteran and former Republican, he realizes now he was grieving the loss of a son. “But once you get past that, I realize I never had a son,’’ he says.
Nicole’s final step on her journey to womanhood would be gender reassignment surgery. Doctors generally won’t perform it until the age of consent, which is 18. No hospitals in New England perform such surgery, says Spack. The nearest that do are in Montreal and Philadelphia.
Nicole says she’s excited about the idea of surgery, though a bit worried about the results – “and maybe the pain, too.’’ While she’s interested in boys, she has expressed fear that “nobody is ever going to love me.’’ She has gone on weekend retreats sponsored by the Trans Youth Equality Foundation and to summer camp for transgender children, where she developed her first crush on a boy.
Over the years, the family has become close to several adult transsexuals, and Nicole has seen that some have found happy marriages. “She says she does feel better about it,’’ Kelly says, “but still wonders if she ever met a boy who falls for her, and then found out that she was trans, if he would still like her, or say awful things as he skedaddled out the door.’’
Nicole knows there is a long road ahead, but she feels she’s on the right path. “Obviously my life is not going to be as easy as being gender-conforming, but there are perks like being able to get out there and do things that will benefit the [transgender] community,’’ she says. “I think everything’s going to turn out pretty well for me.’’ For now, at least, life feels more normal to the Maines family.
Hmmmm…well Nicole has 4 more years until she and can get her very own “virginia”…but we wonder what she’s gonna do before that. Thoughts?