ORONO, Maine — Nicole Maines stood less than a mile from the elementary school where she was forced to use a staff bathroom rather than the girls restroom as she talked to the University of Maine community Tuesday about her experiences growing up transgender.
Nicole, now 18 and a first-year student at UMaine, and her father, Wayne Maines, director of safety and environmental management at the university, spoke at 11 a.m. to an overflow crowd in the lecture hall at the Donald P. Corbett Business Building.
They were scheduled to speak again at 7 p.m. Tuesday and sign copies of the book “Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of An American Family” by Amy Ellis Nutt, which tells their story.
“It was the first time that I’ve been able to say thank you to the people who supported us,” Nicole Maines said at an impromptu news conference after the lecture. “It was a kind of closure.”
Nicole and her family won a landmark ruling in January 2014 when the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled 5-1 that it is unlawful to force a transgender child to use the school bathroom designated for the sex he or she was born with rather than the one with which the child identifies.
The lawsuit was filed in November 2009 after administrators in the Orono School Department told Nicole, then in fifth grade, that she no longer could use the girls bathroom at Asa Adams Elementary School. That policy continued when she moved the next year to Orono Middle School.
As a result of their conflicts in the Orono schools, Nicole, her twin brother, Jonas, and their mother, Kelly Maines, moved to Portland, where the children attended King Middle School. Wayne remained in Orono.
Nicole refers to her time at the Portland middle school as “going stealth,” because only the adults at the school knew she was transgender. She said Tuesday that being “out” at the university is not a big deal.
“Over those two years in middle school, when I really had to be stealth, I kind of forgot how to come out to people and over high school, I sort of learned how to do that,” said Nicole, who graduated with her brother in May from Waynflete School, a private school in Portland. “So, here I felt kind of like a pro.”
Nicole said that she does not announce that she is transgender.
“I sort of weave it into conversations or I’ll make a joke or something referencing it and people will just pick up on it,” she said. “So, I don’t have to make this big thing out of it. And nobody else seems like they need to either. So, it’s sort of said, accepted and we can move on about it.”
“This generation is totally different,” Wayne, who at first had difficulty accepting that his son Wyatt identified as a girl, said of how his daughter is accepted by her peers.
“My generation it feels like — why are we still talking about it,” Nicole said. “I think that’s the right attitude. People are just people.”
Nicole, who had sex reassignment surgery in July at a hospital outside Philadelphia, lives on campus. She is majoring in studio art. Her brother, Jonas, is attending the University of Maine at Farmington.
The surgery, which costs about $20,000 and was not covered by insurance, was paid for out of the $75,000 the Maines family received in damages from the settlement of the lawsuit, according to the book.
“Surgery was definitely a kind of closure,” she said Tuesday. “It felt like one of those fantasy novels where the hero group is on this quest and they’re on this big journey. That’s kind of what the drive down [to Philadelphia] felt like. It was really cool.”
Wayne, who has spent much of the fall promoting the book, said that he will attend a conference later this month in Washington, D.C., with Nutt, who wrote the book. About 350 policy leaders from around the country are expected to attend.
“My role now is to really help our leaders understand and reach out in that way,” he said Tuesday. “If they can read the book, I think they really will get to understand who we are — just an average family with a little bit of a twist.”