As the Trump administration considers eradicating federal recognition for transgender people, we’ll meet a young woman who's been fighting the government — and public perception — for her rights since she was a teenager. Nicole Maines is now an actress, starring on “Supergirl,” but as a teenager she took her case all the way to the Maine Supreme Court, where she ultimately won the right to use the female bathroom at her school. Along the way, she changed the minds of many who didn’t believe transgender people really existed or deserved to have equal rights, including her own father, Wayne Maines.
Nicole and Wayne Maines are visiting Sacramento as part of Sac State’s One Book program. They join Beth Ruyak in studio to talk about their lives then and now, and how the current political climate is impacting them. Here are highlights from their conversation:
On the draft Trump administration proposal to rollback protections for transgender people:
Nicole Maines: Of course my initial reaction is a combination of fear and anger. Anger because it makes you realize how fragile the progress we've made is. And how easy it is for a group of hateful individuals to backtrack all the progress that we've made. And it makes me fearful for all of the younger trans youth who are growing up seeing the people in power work against them, they're seeing them actively try to erase and invalidate their identities, and I've heard so many heartbreaking stories on social media, people reaching out.
On our country's leaders facing their fears:
Wayne Maines: I was actually fearful of my child at age 5. You know, why does my son want to wear a dress? And of course, she's an amazingly strong — I was losing those battles at age 5, the discussions I had with her. If they're going to go research this, I hope they do, and I hope they do it with no agenda. Because we researched it for five years all the way through our state Supreme Court, and these are smart people. They understood finally that yes, gender identity is truly what it is. These kids, they're innocent. They have no influence. They know who they are. That's No. 1. There isn't just gender based on biological sex, so that's part of it. But I would like to challenge any leader in the country to sit down and talk to me and tell me what they're afraid of, because I had to do that. And you shouldn't be a leader in this nation if you haven't faced your own fears. You shouldn't have the ability and the power to make those decisions unless you have the courage to not just listen to your base but to listen to all Americans and make sure we're all treated equally. And I mean that's why you're there. And we got to get there.
On what it was like growing up transgender with a cisgender twin brother:
Natalie Maines: The thing with twins is we're always comparing ourselves to the other, in every aspect of life — sports, grades, talents, anything. And so watching Jonas be comfortable in his body and feel validated in his gender really made me realize that I wasn't. And so watching him, I was like, I don't feel as comfortable as he does. And I just from the jump kind of expected that I was just going to be a girl someday. I just knew it was going to happen. And I thought it was the most natural thing in the world, and it was through people's reactions that I realized that this was not "normal."
On the pace of progress:
Nicole Maines: I'm so surprised with how fast progress happens. Especially with the implementation of social media. Today messages and voices are able to be shared, stories are shared, in an instant. And so even in the past 10 years we've seen such a dramatic shift in how we talk about gender and how we talk about trans individuals. We have seen queer identities really come into the mainstream in the past few years. And I mean, we have a trans superhero. And so I am hopeful that we will see that open horizon really come into full effect in my lifetime. I would like to see that. That's my goal. And if it doesn't happen, I hope that I will have been able to help get closer so that the next generation will see it in their lifetime.
On what they’d want people to take away from their story:
Wayne Maines: I'd just like to remind all the young people out there: don't give up on your parents. No. 1, you've had a lot of time to think about it. Just give them a little chance to adjust. They love you. And for the parents, you can learn a lot from your 4-year-olds, but you've got to be willing to open up your mind and not be a know it all. And if you do that, everybody's going to be better. And please, as our leaders and as a voter, vote with your heart, not with your party.
Nicole Maines: The biggest thing that I've learned throughout all of this is the power that we have in our voices and in our stories. A lot of folks it goes back to that, ‘You're too young to understand your gender, you're too young to understand that complexities of biology and sex and queer identities’ and all of this. And that's not true. I think that young people are so much smarter and intuitive than we give them credit for. And so I would urge young people to share their stories and use their voice because throughout all of this I've really discovered the power in my own voice and I hope others do the same.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire interview.