“The only dependable test for gender is the truth of a person’s life, the lives we live each day. Surely the best judge of a person’s gender is not a degrading, questionable, examination. The best judge of a person’s gender is what lies within his or her heart. How do we test for the gender of the heart. . . ?” Quote by Jennifer Finney Boylan in Becoming Nicole
This morning, before heading off to Westminster Pres., I finished reading Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt. A few months ago, this book was recommended to me as an educational resource to understand the growing interest and issues related to transgender people. Becoming Nicole provides a clinical, sociological and psychological perspective on what it means to be a transgender man or woman growing up in America. And yet, Nutt’s book is so much more than these words imply.
In essence, this is a book about family. It’s about the people who are touched and transformed by a son or daughter’s personal struggle to come to terms with his/her/their identity.
It’s a book about a father who, in the beginning, resisted and reacted poorly to his son’s realization that he could no longer continue to live in the body from his birth. It’s a story about how, despite his own personal struggles, this same father never stopped loving his child. Indeed, Nicole’s father now travels across the country speaking out on Nicole’s behalf. He has become his daughter’s strongest advocate and admirer. He is, and always will be, Nicole’s dad.
It’s about a mother who fought for her child’s right to be herself in the public schools. Over the years, while others thought she was somehow mistaken or used poor parenting judgment, Nicole’s mother was convinced that, from an early age, Nicole was unique and deserving of dignity and respect. To me, her commitment to her daughter demonstrates, once again, that a mother’s unconditional love is stronger than another person’s lack of understanding.
It’s also a story about Nicole’s twin brother, Jonas. It’s about a brother’s steadfast love and support through good times and bad. “I never had a brother,” Jonas once said to Nicole, “You were always a sister to me.”
This book is as informative as it is simply beautiful. In some chapters, the reader will find him/her/themself immersed in pronouns, medical realities, and transgender politics. But in other chapters, a tear will come to the reader’s eye.
As Nicole once said, “Stories move the walls that need to be moved.” I wholeheartedly agree. If this issue has become a “wall” in your family or you want to know more about families facing this particular situation, put Becoming Nicole on your summer reading list. My prayer for all of us is that such earthy and personal stories will “move the walls that need to be moved” whether they exist in a cultural context or in our hearts.
FYI, Westminster Presbyterian Church will be hosting a pastoral care conference for pastors, chaplains, and spiritual caregivers, October 21-23. The conference will focus on how churches and pastors care for transgender persons and their families.