Jennifer Savage

Of all the hateful bills that have wound their way through the Montana legislature this session, SB99, the bill denying gender affirming care to transgender, nonbinary and two spirit youth, is the most hateful of all.

Denying children access to healthcare is particularly cruel, and, for me, denying transgender, nonbinary and two spirit children access to healthcare is personal. Rep. Zooey Zephyr stood up for so many kids when she told legislators they’d have blood on their hands if they passed this bill.

She was right, and she was, of course, referring to the data that show that transgender youth attempt and die by suicide at an alarmingly higher rate than cisgender youth because they don’t feel seen or supported or worse because they are dehumanized by things like erasure legislation. That blood she was referring to could have been my kid’s blood so this bill struck me in that primal, protective, defensive place that all mothers pass through when our children are in danger.

I have two children, both assigned female at birth. But for most of my older child’s life she’s lived in a netherworld somewhere between boy and girl. As soon as she was old enough to have an opinion she traded pigtails for caps, skirts for nylon shorts and sparkly shoes for light-up Spiderman shoes.

She was never interested in playing fairies with the girls, instead she wanted to snowboard, play hockey and learn how to drop in at the skatepark. As a child she was the prince, the King, the dad, the older brother in any imaginary game. For the better part of kindergarten, she wore camo cargo pants with skull patches on the ripped knees and a black short-sleeved shirt that read “I do my own stunts.”

“Boy,” she told her classmates every time and without hesitation when they asked if she was a boy or a girl. She signed her name Cooper for most of that year and beamed when she received a valentine that said, “You are a nice boy.”

This was a decade ago and the conversation around pronouns was just emerging in our collective consciousness. We asked then if she wanted to change her pronouns or change her name to something other than Eliza.

“No, mama, I’m Eliza,” she said. “I’m half, half. Half girl, half boy.” Half half was her simple, beautiful six-year-old expression and, while language has evolved since then, Eliza’s always stuck with half half.

We told our families and community: Eliza is who she is. We love who she is. And so does she. Support her unequivocally, we said. For us, there is no other acceptable position on the matter.

We found other kids like her, we lost sleep, we worried, we found a school that allowed her to be and grow into exactly who she is. Meanwhile, Eliza just kept on being an amazing human. We found healthcare providers in Montana who supported her. We were so relieved that we didn’t have to travel to Seattle or LA or Boston to find gender affirming care because we found it right here in Missoula.

I remember sitting in one doctor’s appointment when Eliza was about 10 years old. She spoke about her assigned gender at birth and what it was like to live in a half half body. Watching her so knowingly and at such a young age articulate clearly her gender identity wasn’t something I’ll ever forget. She was strong, she was proud and she was met with love, respect and compassion from her doctor who walked her through the possibility of hormone blockers.

“The choice is yours,” the doctor said. “And most kids know what they want. You just have to let us know.”

And a few years later when puberty came along, Eliza did know what she wanted, in part, because she had options and access. Those two things made all the difference. With the passage of the bill to ban gender-affirming care, kids lost that in Montana last week.

Eliza will turn 17 this summer. She is fierce with a tender heart and a quick smile. She goes to school in New York so on Friday I texted her to tell her about the bill and Missoula’s march for queer joy.

“Do you mind if I wear a button with your picture on it,” I said.

“Yes, of course,” she said. “Go fight those assholes, Mom. And thank you.”

Walking through the streets of Missoula shouting “Let her Speak” and “We Won’t be Silenced,” I saw other moms like me marching for our queer kids. It occurred to me then that one of the greatest legacies of Generation X, and something we could only have imagined on all those latch key afternoons so long ago, is that we gave birth to the inclusive, joyful revolution that is Gen Z. I couldn’t be more proud.

I will never stop fighting for my kid and I will never stop fighting for all the other transgender, nonbinary and two spirit kids in Montana. I see you. I hear you. I honor you for being your beautiful, perfect selves. You belong in Montana and you deserve more from this state’s lawmakers. You deserve more from all of us.