NICOLE MAINES IS NO ORDINARY SUPERHERO
BY TOMÁS ROMERO / PHOTOGRAPHS BY ELISABETH CAREN /
YOU KNOW, PEOPLE ARE SAYING TRANS KIDS DON’T EXIST. I’M LIKE, WELL, I KNOW THAT CAN’T BE TRUE BECAUSE I’M PRETTY SURE THAT I EXIST!
Whether you know her from her groundbreaking work as TV’s first trans superhero, Nia Nal, on Supergirl and D.C.’s Legends of Tomorrow; the queer vampire comedy, Bit; or her hugely impactful TED talk in 2021, Nicole Maines has been kicking ass and taking names since she was in high school.
A pioneering trans activist and award-winning actress – Maines took home Best Actress honors at the Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival in 2021 for Bit – Maines first made headlines as the “anonymous plaintiff” in the landmark 2014 lawsuit, Doe v. Regional School Unit 26, in which she argued her school district could not deny her access to the female bathroom for being trans.
The court later ruled in Maine’s favor, agreeing that barring transgender students from school restrooms consistent with their gender identity is, indeed, unlawful.
Currently shooting a “top secret” project in Vancouver, the very busy Maines also writes comic books and graphic novels in her spare time. And though she hasn’t had much spare time to speak of since her breakout role as the Arrowverse’s already iconic, Nia Nal, Maines sat down with Ebby Magazine’s Arts & Culture Editor, Tomás Romero, after a photo shoot at the historic Culver Hotel, for a lively chat about queer superheroes, trans acceptance, and the enduring impact of Whitney Houston.
Tomás Romero: Thanks for chatting with me today; I know you were just down here for the cover photo shoot, but where are you now?
Nicole Maines: I’m actually in Vancouver right now.
TR: Oh, OK, what are you working on? Is it a new movie or…?
NM: Oh, it’s all very top secret right now. But I can tell you it’s exciting. [laughs] We all love a little bit of mystery, right?
TR: Of course! OK. So, let’s just dive in. What is your personal mantra? You know, the thing you say to yourself when you’re facing a challenge or need to really push through something?
NM: Actually, it’s something that my acting coach has been trying to drill into me and that I keep trying to remind myself. It’s that in any given moment, you do the best you can. So the mantra is, do your best. If you could do better, you would.
R: That’s great.
NM: And of course, my problem is I hear that, recognize that, believe that to be true, and then my sick brain says: ‘Well, that would be all well and good if your best wasn’t terrible garbage.’ [laughs] So then I’m back where I started and I’m like, well, this was not helpful.
TR: [laughs] Exactly!
NM: It’s a mantra that works in theory.
TR: So, how do you silence that voice then?
NM: Honestly, I just try to remind myself that, you know, my best can fluctuate. And that every day is different. Every day is a new opportunity to try your best to be better and sometimes your best isn’t going to be as good as your best was yesterday or as good as your best is going to be tomorrow. So, I’m just really trying to hold myself with kindness and understanding and know that at any given time, I’m doing my best. And if, you know, today is a little worse than yesterday, that’s OK. Because I’m still doing the best that I can. And it’s OK that that fluctuates. That’s normal.
I think it’s important for people to know their own worth too, you know? Pat yourself on the back when you deserve it and sometimes even when you don’t deserve it, because you’re trying your best and you should be your own biggest fan. Not your biggest enemy.
TR: Definitely. So, I’m curious, do you have like a self-luxury, and could it be anything really? I mean, some people do yoga, some people do ice cream. [laughs] What do you do to feed your soul?
NM: Feed my soul? Oh, geez, what a question! Well, I mean, I really love sleep. Just taking a nap is something that I really enjoy. I also love losing myself in a good TV show and I recently got myself an iPad because I wanted to learn Procreate.
TR: That’s the painting app, right?
NM: Yeah. I’m a big fan of digital art. I’ve always loved drawing and painting and all that. So recently, I’ve been keeping myself up till four in the morning, doodling away in bed. I’m also staying in a hotel right now, so I’m watching hotel television — which means a lot of Forensic Files!
TR: Oh man, the best. Total hotel TV!
NM: I’m obsessed. And I knew I had a problem because I started recognizing the cases before they even got into them. I’m like: ‘Oh, I know this case, I know where we’re going with this!’
TR: Wow. You are a true fan!
NM: Oh, yeah.
TR: So, you’re kind of crazy busy right now; how do you nourish your mind, body and spirit?
NM: I try to maintain some sort of balance but I really do have a problem on that front too. My mom likens me to a boa constrictor, you know, one big meal and then I fast for days. [laughs] So, I’m trying to get better at keeping myself on a regular schedule. But it’s hard, you know, with my work schedule and flying everywhere. I try to make healthy choices while also not shaming myself if I don’t.
NM: I mean, if I want to have something disgusting because I worked really hard then I think I deserve it. My rule recently has been, you know, if I cry today, I get McDonald’s.
TR: Oh, I could get behind that rule.
NM: Yeah, but then I ended up eating too much McDonald’s because I set the bar too low. [laughs] So I had to adjust it. Now if I cry three times a day I get McDonald’s.
TR: Wait, if you’re up in Canada have you tried Poutine?
NM: The McPoutine?
TR: Whoa, there’s a McPoutine?
NM: Oh yeah, absolutely! McDonald’s has a McPoutine and it is dangerous! Just imagine Poutine made with McDonald’s french fries.
TR: Sounds amazing!
NM: It is; I mean, in the grand ranking of the best fast food french fries, McDonald’s takes the gold crown … for about two minutes! There’s this small window where they’re the best and then they just as quickly become the worst.
TR: [laughs] Exactly!
NM: McDonald’s fries burn fast, but they burn bright! [laughs] I actually haven’t ordered a McPoutine since I’ve been up here this time though because it really is a slippery slope for me. But, I love it!
TR: If you could hold onto one memory from your life forever, what would it be?
NM: Geez, just one? Does that mean I have to forget everything else?
TR: No, no. Think of it as more like one really significant memory, you know? And it can be more than one; it could be a bunch of things.
NM: OK, good. Because I have a lot of favorites. When I was growing up as a kid, I’d have sleepovers with my grandma. She lived in a duplex with us and I’d go over there and stay in her apartment. We’d put on The Little Mermaid and we would brush all my Barbie’s hair and we would dress them up really nice just sitting there on the couch. I have a lot of really great memories with my grandma.
You know, people are saying trans kids don’t exist. I’m like, well, I know that can’t be true because I’m pretty sure that I exist!
For more from our cover celebrity, Nicole Maines, check out our beautiful magazine here