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This is one of the many lessons I learned from my interview with Nicole Maines, the high-heeled, quick-humored, stressed but well-dressed college student. Oh, and also the subject of the New York Times bestseller Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family, by Amy Ellis Nutt, who just happened to stop by Arcadia for a quick talk with the whole campus. Fortunately for me, Nicole found a few minutes between Q&As and meet-and-greets to sit down with me for a chat about her inspiring story, the LGTBQ+ community, college life, and, of course, those super-cute pumps.
Nicole greeted me with a sweet smile and a warm handshake. As soon as we got to talking, all of my nerves subsided amid her warm spirit and genuine sense of comfortability. Between her witty humor and her gentle nature, I felt right at home, as though I was talking with a friend.
Despite our lighthearted greeting, I wanted to jump right in. Nicole immediately matched my pace and was ready to offer her expertise and insight regarding the needs of the LGBTQ+ community and the task at hand for allies of the group. Whether it’s using our voices and privilege to volunteer at/give to nonprofits and LGBTQ+ organizations, or reaching out to our schools and communities to advocate for the rights of all, there are innumerable ways to get involved.
As she spoke, I quickly became mesmerized with her maturity and intelligence about each matter we discussed. But as I nodded along, Nicole gave me the reality check I needed. “We should already be there. It’s 2017. The information is there. There is no reason we shouldn’t be educating ourselves.” That’s it. That’s the answer, clear as can be. We can express it a thousand different ways, we can argue politics and opinions, but after all is said and done, it will come back to that one simple statement.
No more excuses. Information is everywhere: on the internet, in public libraries, and in the media. If we choose to turn a blind eye to the what is happening all around us, it is exactly that: a choice. Enough of choosing to be uninformed. No more cliches recited. Ignorance is not bliss. LGBTQ+ rights are not to be ignored or stepped on. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t be educating ourselves.”
Despite the abundance of information at our fingertips, there remain communities where ignorance and prejudice thrive. Luckily for us, Arcadia University is not one of those places. Differences are celebrated, and even more importantly, they are fed. There are on-campus organizations for institutional diversity, multicultural appreciation, and spiritual growth.
By all accounts, we meet Nicole’s standards of a university to a T. When I asked her what colleges could be doing to promote the mental health of all its students, she spoke of the importance of maintaining open communication between individual students and faculty, the prioritization of self-care, and the responsibility of staff and faculty to maintain an open-door policy, provide safe spaces where all students are valued, and acknowledge that “no one’s journey is the same; no one has the same needs.”
If Nicole is anything, she is passionate. I cannot imagine the number of times she has sat in the same chair, signed the same book, and recounted her story with patience and grace. It is because of this that I was shocked and delighted to hear the emphatic tone with which she spoke about the issues she has faced head-on since the age of seven. She shared memories from her days at Camp Aranu’tic, a summer camp for transgender youth, and her thoughts on the state of our nation and its leaders: “Whoever the president is, whatever your target is, it doesn't matter. You have a responsibility as Commander-in-Chief to protect the people who put you in office. You have a responsibility to recognize their needs, to recognize when something's wrong. Situations like [the hurricane aftermath in] Puerto Rico show that American citizens aren’t being valued. That needs to change.”
It wasn’t until I asked her to revisit her younger self, baby Wyatt dancing around in a pink tutu in front of an oven-door audience, that I saw a change in her demeanor. She looked away thoughtfully and after a moment, smirked, “First I would say, “Girl, that hat with that skirt. That outfit is… it’s okay, Mommy’s gonna get you dressed up, Mommy’s going to get you ready for the ball. I’ll help you.” She laughed about the questionable fashion choices of her younger self, and carried on: “You just have to remember that people do not know you as well as you know you.”Nicole advised LGBTQ+ youth to be open and honest with those around them and to lean on family support as much as possible. She spoke about her past self as though Wyatt was a different person entirely, but for whom she had the utmost love and respect. Lastly, she instructed young Wyatt to go easy on her parents: “Just because they don't get it, that doesn't mean they hate you.”
When speaking to Nicole’s father, Wayne Maines, he echoed this sentiment. He recounted stories that members of the LGBTQ+ community shared in which their parents simply could not accept them for who they were. As hard as it is, both Nicole and Wayne stressed the importance of not giving up hope and marking these parents, family members, and friends as a lost cause. People who love you will come around, even if it takes some time to adjust.
Wayne spent a lot of time feeling confused and frightened by the unexpected curveball that Nicole was to his fatherhood. This, as well as the countless other tribulations the family faced, seemed impossible to overcome, but with time and the tools they needed to educate themselves, they have surpassed their own expectations. Despite all of the hardships, Nicole appeared to reminisce on her childhood with the fondness and nostalgia of an All-American girl— exactly who she has always been.