Discussion Guide

One Book, One Valley 2019

Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt

Discussion Guide by Alex Myers

  1. Lots of Nutt’s description of Nicole centers around hair, clothing, and outside appearance. These things are very superficial, but matter a lot to Nicole in expressing herself. Why do these external aspects relate to gender? How did you understand something so changeable as clothing carrying so much weight?
  2. In describing Nicole’s childhood Nutt depicts her as always having felt like (or wanting to be) a girl. Did this surprise you? In your own childhood, were you aware of gender? If you’ve raised kids, what have you observed about young children and gender?
  3. In contrast to the clothing and hair, biology is much more difficult to change. Nutt spends sections of several chapters describing sexual reassignment surgery and talking about people who have undergone these procedures. How do you understand the relationship between these biological (chromosomes, hormones, genitalia) aspects of gender and the cultural (hair, clothing, behavior)?
  4. Wayne, Nicole’s father, has a hard time coming to terms with Nicole’s transition. Why do you think so? What keeps him from being able to accept her? And what did you see as the turning point, the moment when he did become a supporter?
  5. Nutt describes how Nicole was bullied at her school in Orono in Chapter 22 by a boy named Jacob. Jacob seems to have been goaded into the bullying by his grandfather. What is the grandfather’s problem with Nicole? How does he justify his position? If you were to encounter someone with similar opinions, how might you respond to them or converse with them?
  6. The school comes up with solutions to the bullying (separate bathroom, “eyes-on” monitoring) that the Maines’ family finds unacceptable. If this were your child, would you feel similarly? What solution would you have advocated for, and why? 
  7. When Nicole leaves her school in Orono she goes “stealth.” How did you feel about this decision? Did it seem empowering? Or dangerous? How is going “stealth” different from simply “passing” at school? How did you understand Nicole’s decision to keep this part of herself secret?
  8. Laws across the country, and particularly in New England, have changed tremendously in recent years with regards to gender identity. There are more legal protections for transgender people in some states, as well as the ability to change birth certificates and drivers licenses more easily to reflect transitions. What work do you see that still needs to be done? What laws or protections have you found most important? Most confusing? Why do you think gaining these civil rights has been so difficult?
  9. If you had the chance to “check back in” with a member of the Maines family and ask them how things felt, or how their perspectives had shifted since the writing of the book, which family member would you want to talk to, and what would you want to ask?