"Becoming Nicole" was chosen by students as this year's One Book Day selection. Key subjects of that book, Nicole Maines and her father, Wayne Maines, spoke at Sac State on Oct. 25. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone) | More photos

Nicole Maines made history earlier this month as the first trans actress to play a trans superhero on television. Her character is Nia Nal, aka “the Dreamer,” on the CW Network series Supergirl.

But some would say she has been heroic all of her life.

Maines and her father, Wayne, headlined Sacramento State’s One Book Day on Thursday, Oct. 25, in the University Ballroom. They shared their personal and life-altering story in conversations with Tristan Josephson, assistant professor of Women’s Studies.

More than 500 students, faculty, and staff gathered for the noon presentation. Another appearance was to follow at 7 p.m.

The Maines family was the subject of the 2016 bestseller Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt, which is Sac State’s One Book for 2018-19.

Nicole, 21, was assigned male at birth and named Wyatt. He and his identical twin brother, Jonas, were adopted at birth by Kelly and Wayne Maines, a conservative, middle-class couple living in Orono, Maine.

“I came out to my parents as ‘different’ when I was 3 or 4,” Nicole said as her dad nodded. “I knew I would be a girl one day. It was the most natural thing in the world. I asked my parents, ‘When do I get to be a girl?’ ”

Her dad recalled how thrilled he was when he learned he and his wife were adopting twin boys. He dreamed of the day he would buy them footballs and deer rifles.

It took him years to come to terms with Nicole’s transformation.

“If I could tell politicians that when I needed help, it wasn’t the conservatives who came to our aid, it was people with purple hair and tattoos,” he said.

This is the first time in the 10-year history of One Book that Sac State students selected a title for the campus community to read. The selection committee, made up of faculty, staff, and students, presented a list of candidate books to the First Year Experience (FYE) program’s First Year Seminar class. Becoming Nicole was chosen overwhelmingly.

“Our goal with One Book is to broaden understanding and give our campus community new insights,” said Hellen Lee, professor of English and faculty coordinator of the One Book Program. “We respect the dignity of each individual, and we use that as a guiding principle when choosing our books.”

Nutt, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, spent four years researching and writing Becoming Nicole, which chronicles the challenges faced by an ordinary couple with a child growing up transgender.

The family challenged local school district administrators who wouldn’t allow their female-identifying child to use the girls’ bathrooms. In 2014, after a seven-year legal battle, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court agreed that Nicole’s rights had been violated. It was the first state Supreme Court ruling in the nation that declared equal access to public restrooms for transgender individuals.

Nicole and Jonas Maines graduated from high school in June 2015, and she underwent sex-reassignment surgery the following month. Nicole now lives in Vancouver, B.C., and advocates for trans rights, while pursuing her acting career.

In addition to the two “Conversations with Nicole and Wayne Maines,” Sac State’s One Book Day activities included:

  • A panel discussion about trans and queer identity and lived experiences. Hosted by the PRIDE Center.
  • One Book special exhibit grand opening, 4:30-5:30 p.m. on the University Library mezzanine: Hosted by University Library, Special Collections and University Archives, and the Centers for Diversity and Inclusion (Women’s Resource Center, Multi-Cultural Center and PRIDE Center.)

All One Book Day events were free and open to the public. Go to the One Book Day website for more information and to download a free parking pass for the 7 p.m. event.

“This year’s One Book speaks to the ways in which we as a campus honor and respect identity,” said Melissa Muganzo, PRIDE Center coordinator. “In recognition of both International Pronouns Day (Oct. 17) and Transgender Day of Remembrance (Nov. 20), the PRIDE Center is excited to host the Maines family and looks forward to the continued efforts to make Sac State a more inclusive campus.”

The discussion of Becoming Nicole marks the first time that subjects of the selected One Book, rather than a chosen book’s author, addressed the campus community.

Sac State launched the One Book program to introduce the campus community and others to authors who explore contemporary issues in a compelling way. The first One Book Author Day, in 2008, featured Firoozeh Dumas talking about her book Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America.

One Book moved to FYE in 2017 after nine years as an independent program in Academic Affairs. – Dixie Reid