Wayne Maines raised TV’s first trans superhero. Now, he’s fighting for trans kids everywhere
Wayne Maines’ daughter Nicole broke ground as TV’s first trans superhero in The CW’s Supergirl. As anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment intensifies in the US, he’s now fighting to help trans youth live their truth.
There was a time not so long ago where the so-called trans debate seemed confined to the bathroom.
Throughout the 2010s, trans people and their families in states from North Carolina to Virginia headed to court with one simple request: to be able to use the toilet in peace.
Wayne Maines was one such parent standing on the frontline of that battle.
In 2009, Wayne and his family sued the Orono school district in their home state of Maine, with help from the Maine Human Rights Commission. Maines’ trans daughter Nicole Maines, then age 11 and one of twins, had spent two years being prevented from using the school bathroom that aligned with her gender. Wayne had had enough.
“When we started this journey, we were pretty much the first in the country,” he tells PinkNews. “They started to attack my babies, and then I got really angry. I started fighting back.”
The fight was not an easy one. In 2012, a Superior Court judge sided with Nicole’s school, arguing that it had “acted within the bounds of its authority”.
It would take another two years and an appeal for Nicole and her family to claim victory, marking the first time a US court had ever ruled it unlawful to deny trans students access to the bathroom matching their gender identity.
Almost ten years since the Maine family won their case, and there has been some positive progress. Now an actor, Nicole became the first trans superhero on television in 2018 when she took on the role of Nia Nal in CW’s Supergirl.
Despite the victory, the experience was scarring. Maines was branded a ‘child abuser’ for testifying and supporting his trans child, while his family had to quit their jobs and go into hiding.
“I think I have post-traumatic stress. It was a warzone,” he says. “It was one of the hardest things I ever did, but one of the proudest. I’ve been on board ever since trying to help other people do the same thing.”
Yet over the past few years, the pushback against trans children’s right to affirm their gender identity has spilled from the bathroom onto sports grounds and into classrooms, libraries and healthcare systems across the US.
“Now, I don’t know what’s happened in this country. There’s so much hate. I never thought it would be possible that we make that much ground and then go back,” says Maines.
Maines is speaking via Zoom. Behind him people are shuffling around and there is loud chatter. The thrum of jubilant voices makes it sound like he is in a bar; in fact, he’s at the Texas State Capitol, minutes away from joining a rally.
“It just breaks my heart to see kids come here to ask legislators: ‘let me be who I need to be'”
Later, he will testify against Texas’s Senate Bill 14 which, if passed, will block access to gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth. “It just breaks my heart to see these kids come here and put themselves at risk to testify, to ask legislators ‘let me be who I need to be’.”
As part of his ongoing advocacy, Maines is featured in Luchina Fisher’s powerful new documentary The Dads.
Concise yet compelling, The Dads sees five fathers of trans children head to rural Oklahoma on a weekend fishing trip. They are joined by Dennis Shepard – the father of Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in a notorious homophobic hate crime in 1998 – to discuss the world they find themselves in as parents of LGBTQ+ children as anti-LGBTQ+ hate intensifies across the US.
The focus on fathers is intentional. Fisher, who has a trans child herself, wanted to put men at the centre of the narrative. She feels that women and mothers are more visible in standing up for LGBTQ+ rights.
“When you have a child who transitions, everybody in the family is going through a transition,” she explains. “Dads are, I think, increasingly understanding that they have an important role to play.
“A lot of these bills and the hateful rhetoric is coming from men. It’s coming particularly from white men, who are trying to maintain some kind of control. You need the counterbalance of these men speaking out, and these dads are in such a unique position.”
Fisher also wanted The Dads to tell the “real” story of what it’s like for parents of trans children; the fear, the uncertainty, the shortcomings.
At first, Maines couldn’t face navigating Nicole’s gender identity journey with her. “I had this kid telling me every day that she wasn’t a boy, she was a girl, and I struggled with that,” he says, explaining how a near-death experience, where a falling tree branch narrowly missed his head, forced him to reckon with his fear.
“I started talking to other dads about it, and I said ‘Listen, what are you afraid of?'”
“I finally had to wrap my head around why I was afraid of my own child.”
That simple question was a catalyst not only for Maines, but for the countless dads he has spoken to since who are in a similar position. “I started talking to other dads about it and I said ‘Listen, what are you afraid of?’ Once they could verbalise what they were afraid of, then we could have the real conversations we needed to have.”
He hopes The Dads helps people to confront and understand the fears they have about trans children. He also hopes it showcases that he, like the other dads in the film, love their children “just as much as everybody else”.
Maines holds up a photo of Nicole to his webcam, and begins to reflect on what path her life might have taken had she not received the gender-affirming medical care she did as she grew up.
“She has an identical twin brother. If she knew she was gonna look like him, she might not be here today,” he says. “If they take that care away from these kids…” He pauses. “Some of them aren’t going to be here.”
“So what the hell are you doing? It’s unfathomable how far they’re using our kids as political pawns. This is just heartbreaking. It’s evil.”
Maines stood up to testify against Senate Bill 14 in Texas knowing he had just a few minutes to try to change the Senate committee members’ minds. As it stands, the bill is still advancing, like so many others across the US.
But Maines won’t stop trying. “If we can reach their hearts, then we can reach their minds, because that’s where it starts.”
The Dads will be shown at London’s LGBTQ+ film festival BFI Flare on 25 March.
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