Growing Up Trans in Small Town Montana

One of the best parts about my job is hearing stories from LGBTQ and allied people who daily exhibit brilliance, humor, grace, and resiliency in our collective struggle to build safer and more welcoming schools, workplaces, and communities. Shay’s story is one of the most poignant I’ve come across in the past year and a half of working for Pride Foundation.

By Shay

Hello, my name is Shay. I am a 12-year-old transgender girl living in a small town in Western Montana. My journey began as a small child. I have always known I was different and felt I was living in the wrong body. In the first grade, I was taking karate classes and remember feeling awkward changing in the boys’ dressing room because I felt I didn’t belong in there. I remember also feeling awkward in the boys’ gymnastics class.

As early as I can remember I was drawn to girl things. I wanted to wear girl’s clothing starting in the 3rd grade. I had a pair of white capris that I wanted to wear all the time. In the 4th grade, I began to tell people that I wanted to live as a girl, and by 5th grade I was obsessed with shoes and Lady Gaga. My family saw Lady Gaga in concert in Las Vegas last year, and my parents let me wear feminine clothing and make-up. I wore a great pair of high heels that I spent all of my savings on!!

Growing up, there were problems within my family, mainly because my dad felt like I needed to be a boy. He blamed my mom, my grandma, my aunt, and my cousin for my gender differences. When I wanted to wear nail polish at 4 or 5 years old, my mom would always defend me when my dad got upset. I felt confused, angry, sad, and overwhelmed because I wasn’t able to be who I was without causing arguments and hard feelings in my family. My mom finally made an appointment with a family counselor in February 2011, and we have been going to counseling as a family ever since. The counselor told my parents that I am “gender non-conforming,” and that is the place we began working from.

Last year, when I was 11, the counselor suggested my family attend a conference in Seattle for families with transgender and gender non-conforming kids called Gender Odyssey. I attended several teen workshops with my mom. My dad went to mostly dads’ groups. That weekend I decided to transition and began living as a girl full time. My dad was transformed at Gender Odyssey by the information he learned and the other parents. He was so affected that now he is one of my greatest supporters. My mom, who has always supported me, had a more difficult time because we were so close. She had a more difficult time than my dad did grieving the loss of her son. My mom remains one of my best friends and greatest supporters.

When we returned home from the conference, we had a lot to do to organize my new life in terms of school, my acting class, and telling family, friends, and others about my decision to transition. We had a gathering at our house of family and friends to discuss my decision and ask them to call me by my new name and gender pronouns. My parents met with my school, and the staff was worried but supportive. The bullying I have experienced has been difficult, overwhelming, and hard. I try to focus on school work instead of what people are saying about me.

On the bright side, I have a wonderful group of friends who are very supportive and defend me. I have one friend who is bullied just as much as me, but for other differences like her weight. We try to be there for each other and it is nice to have a good friend in the same class.

I hope to continue blogging occasionally, so stay tuned to follow my journey.

A note from Caitlin: Shay came to our Zootown Soiree–the first Pride Foundation event new Executive Director Kris Hermanns attended in Montana–along with her father, sister, and grandmother. It was incredible to see three generations of family members supporting Shay through her transition and struggles with being bullied at school. I’m honored that Shay and her family decided to tell their story to a wider audience in hopes of inspiring more people to join Pride Foundation’s efforts to support leaders, organizations and students who are building the Northwest’s equality movement. Thank you, Shay.

If you would like to write a guest blog for Pride Foundation, please contact Montana Regional Development Organizer Caitlin Copple at

Stay Informed

Join our email list for LGBTQ+ news and updates.
Newsletter Signup