Girl in Action: Nicole Maines Brings Voice to Transgender People
At four years old, Wyatt Maines asked his mother when he would get to be a girl. Born into a pair of male twins, Maines knew he was living in the wrong body. By the time the twins reached elementary school, Maines told people he was a “girl-boy.” As years progressed, Maines began going by the name Nicole, and living life as a girl. At age 11, Nicole underwent puberty suppression (which blocks male hormones and puberty changes from occurring) at Children’s Hospital’s new Gender Management Services Clinic, in Boston.
Fast forward to today: Nicole, 14, and her family are activists for transgender rights. After a student complained about Nicole using the women’s bathroom, the family took a stand by filing a Maine Human Rights Commission complaint. They also successfully lobbied to defeat a bill introduced in Maine legislature that would have repealed protections for transgender people in public restrooms. For their advocacy and courage, the Maines family received the 2011 Roger Baldwin Award from the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) of Maine.
Nicole bravely told the world about her transition from boy to girl in a two-hour interview with Boston Globe reporter Bella English; the story was published in December 2011 on the front page of the Boston Sunday Globe. Publicity around Nicole and her transition has grown exponentially, and we are honored that Nicole has selected Teen Voices as her last public interview. Read on to learn more about her activism in advancing the rights of transgender individuals.
Teen Voices (TV): Do you remember when you first realized you were a girl in a boy’s body and what was that like for you?
Nicole Maines (NM): Well, there wasn’t really like this big “aha moment” for me. It was more that I always drawn to girl characters and clothes, and toys, and stuff like that. So I guess I always knew.
TV: What sparked the decision for you to grow out your hair and live as Nicole?
NM: Well, when I was five and four, I was really into Barbie and so I guess I had that kind of girl influence. You don’t see Barbie with a pixie cut so I was like, “Ooh, long hair.” It’s kind of a stereotypical girl thing, but I wanted it. And long hair is fun.
TV: Do you see yourself as a stereotypical girl?
NM: Oh my gosh, no. Back then I was like, “Ooh I should totally be the norm,” but now I’m anything but. . . Stereotypical girls, I would say, are probably into pink, cute fuzzy animals, like rainbows and things like that, and I’m into kind of darker colors like navy and black. I mean, I wear bright colors too, but they’re not my favorite colors. . . And I grew up with all boy neighbors, so I kind of adjusted to being in a masculine environment regardless of the fact that I was a girl. I would always play with boy things, but I always had my own little way of twisting them to be feminine.
TV: Who have your biggest supporters been, and what has that support meant for you?
NM: My family has probably been the biggest support for me. All they’ve done for me and how much they help me has meant the world. But also, my friends are some of my biggest supporters because they help me through the really tough times, like school. My parents can’t always be in school with me. They’re not going to, like, take my math class with me. But my friends did. And ones who understood were always with me, and I thank them for that.
TV: Tell me about your relationship with [your twin brother] Jonas. How important has his support been to you?
NM: My brother is totally awesome. He’s always with me. He always supports me, although he’s a lot more cautious than I am. He’s a lot more careful when it comes to things like interviews and parties. He kind of has that over-the-shoulder kind of attitude. But you know, in some cases that’s helpful because I’m reckless. I jump right in there and see what happens.
TV: Have your peers in school treated you differently because you’re transgender?
NM: Well, there are mean kids and there are nice kids. Mean kids would definitely take advantage of the fact that I was transgender and use that against me, and be really mean. And then there are other kids who were my friends and they would treat me just like anybody else. We had sleepovers with microwave s’mores and it was fun. They just made me feel like I wasn’t trans, and that I wasn’t that much more different.
TV: Did being treated differently ever make you reconsider your decision to come out as transgender and live as a girl?
NM: Sometimes. It never made me feel like I wanted to be boy, but it did make me feel like I was different—and that being different wasn’t a good thing, and that I was a freak, and stuff like that. But now I’m just like, everybody has their quirks and that’s what makes up people. We’d all be gray blobs who looked exactly the same if we weren’t a little bit different.
TV: You’re involved with a number of organizations, like GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders) and Trans Youth Equality Foundation. How have these organizations helped you and other transgender youth?
NM: They have helped me in so many ways. They have backed me up on school-related issues, and they’ve just been there for me so that I knew that there were other people out there who have been through what I’ve been through. And, I can talk to them. They do so much for youth and the LGBTQ [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning] community that it’s astonishing, and you can’t help but just say thank you for what they’ve done.
TV: So how did you become active in the fight for transgender equality?
NM: I think it started when my parents and I questioned the school system about the bathroom issue, and then after that, it kind of took off to helping other people. Like, you can’t not go to the bathroom, and issues like that are something that I think need to be dealt with. So I have been in league with the Trans Youth Equality Foundation and GLAD and some other organizations like Equality Maine.
We’ve lobbied at the statehouse against the transgender bathroom bill that would make it so that transgender people would have to use the bathroom that corresponds with their biological sex. I feel like that would be more dangerous than using the bathroom that is that person’s gender identity. We did some lobbying, and we won. I volunteered at EqualityMaine during the summer, and we’ve been doing everything we can to fight for justice.
TV: What’s been the most rewarding experience you’ve had in your work to secure equal rights for LGBQ and transgender youth?
NM: I think the lobbying is amazing, and knowing that I was part of defeating that bill made me feel great. It took my breath away. It was great. I got to go up to the statehouse where there are important people going around, and then try tug on their arm, saying, “Hey, can I talk to you for a second?” It was challenging, but it was so worth it and it was so rewarding.
TV: That’s really great to hear. What has been the greatest challenge in your work as an activist?
NM: Like I said, approaching really important people and then trying to talk to them and ask them, “Hey, can you try to defeat this? Can you help us defeat this bill?” is sort of a lot to ask from somebody. When you don’t know what they’re going to say, it’s kind of nerve wracking. And then when they say, “Thank you. I’d love to help you,” it’s like, “Oh, my goodness! Thank you so much!”
TV: How did you come to decide to speak publicly about your experience? Talking to the media is a whole different ballgame.
NM: Yeah. It can be dangerous. I mean, you don’t know who’s reading or listening. But also, you know, you’ve got to say something because if you don’t, maybe nobody else will. People could say, “Oh well, somebody else will.” And the next person could say, “Well somebody else will.” If that cycle starts… Somebody’s got to do it. And I feel like, why not? It could be helpful to some people, and it has made all the difference.
People have read, and they said, “Oh, thank you very much.” I’d just be like, “I’m just doing my thing.” It’s just a way of getting my story out there and letting people know that [these are] the kind of things that happen, and there are also things people need to know so that we can avoid them happening again.
TV: Were you surprised that the story The Boston Globe did was on the front page above the fold, with that huge picture?
NM: I was thinking, “Oh, my goodness! This is amazing! Like, front page Boston Globe, that’s pretty groovy.” Then when I turned to that page, I’m like, “There are two pages of it. This is a really big article!”
I took it into my school’s GSTA [Gay Straight Transgender Alliance], and one of the people [said], “This is more than Obama gets.” And I was like, “I know, right? This is a really big article. This is breathtaking.” I was—ohhh, I was so astounded. It took me forever to read it though...It’s like the big mac of newspaper articles.
TV: How was the reaction in school?
NM: Some people. . .were like, “This is a good article. This is amazing!” And some people, when they read the article, they would just give me a hug. They were like, “You’re amazing. Thank you very much.” . . . It has made me really happy to know that people are happy about what I’ve been doing.
TV: What advice do you have for transgender teens who are struggling to acceptance from their family or their peers?
NM: I’m going to say first off: It will get better. Second off: If people can’t accept you for who you are, that’s their problem. Because there are always going to be those people. You can’t expect everybody to love you, and if your family can’t love you, then there is going to be someone else who will. What I have found is [that] for every mean person out there, there [are] at least five more who will love you for who you are. You’ve just got to keep looking.
TV: What can Teen Voices readers do to support the movement for transgender equality?
NM: If you see a flier or something for activism or a Remembrance Day, you can take part in that. Join your school’s GSTA or GSA [Gay Straight Alliance]. If your school doesn’t have one, talk to school administration about starting one. And just do whatever you find out there. There is so much you can do. Just go online and see how many “It Gets Better” videos there are. Then you can make an “It Gets Better” video [of your own]. And if you see problems at your school regarding LGBTQ youth, talk to your guidance counselor or your principal about it. You can get them to help you. That is definitely where I started―trying to get the school’s help.
TV: Wow. That’s pretty awesome. What do you hope the world will be like for transgender youth in future generations?
Well, what I always think back to is the 1960s, when we had civil rights issues regarding African Americans and you know and then I look today and we’re – most people are like completely cool with having different races walking on our streets. So that’s what I want to happen with, not just trans youth, but the LGBTQ community as a whole – that we can be accepted. I think on the track we’re going, I think that it will happen. We’ve just got to keep going.
TV: What are your personal goals for the future?
NM: Regarding my activism, I want to keep going. I want to see the LGBTQ community be accepted completely one day. Like, being able to just not have to worry about using bathrooms and being able to get married.
But also on a more personal note: You people will see me on the red carpet one day. That’s where I’m going.
TV: What are you going to be on the red carpet for?
NM: Acting. That is what I want to be. I just want to act so much. I love it. I like taking on different personas and seeing what I can do with them. . . It’s like a big game of dress up, which is what my favorite game was when I was little. I would play dress up, and now I’m just like, “I can play dress up as a profession.” It’s awesome.
To learn more about LGBTQ issues, look into joining your school’s GSTA or GSA. To do more, check out these organizations:
Trans Youth Equality Foundation (TYEF) works to inform and educate others about the transgender community, as well as supports and advocates for the rights of transgender youth and their families.
Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) works to end discrimination based on sexual and gender orientation through legal rights advocacy.
For additional information, be sure to check out our article on transgender awareness in the Spring/Summer issue of our print magazine, Teen Voices.
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