“Social media introduced this idea that I could be a boy,” Chloe Cole says.
Cole began telling her friends and family that she was a boy when she was 12 years old after she was introduced to gender-identity ideology through social media. She started taking testosterone and puberty blockers at 13 and had a double mastectomy at 15.
At 16, she detransitioned.
“I decided to stop transitioning entirely,” Cole says. “It was too much for me, and I knew that I couldn’t keep lying to myself.”
Cole joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to explain how she became involved in the transgender movement—and why she ultimately decided to walk away. Today, Cole is working to prevent other young people from making the same irreversible mistake she did.
Listen to the conversation with Cole below, or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: It is my honor today to welcome to the show former trans kid Chloe Cole. Chloe, thanks so much for being here.
Chloe Cole: Thank you for having me.
Allen: Chloe, you’re 18 years old. Where did you grow up?
Cole: I grew up in the Central Valley, California.
Allen: As we’re jumping in talking about your story, your life, this whole process in the transgender movement, do you remember the first time that you heard that word, “transgender,” or started to think, “Maybe that’s me, maybe I identify as someone who’s male”?
Cole: I mean, the first time I heard the word, I must have been 8 or 9. I just overheard it from the adults, but I never really thought about it because I was just a kid. I didn’t know anything about it. It wasn’t until I was about 11 and I started using social media that I started to learn more about it and started to apply that information to myself and wonder about my identity and things like that.
Allen: So it was through social media you kind of start questioning your own identity. What were you feeling at that point when you were 11, 12, 13, you’re scrolling through social media and you’re starting to kind of think about gender identity?
Cole: I would say before that I was already kind of vulnerable because growing up, it actually turns out that I’m on the spectrum, but I didn’t get a proper diagnosis until I basically wasn’t a kid anymore. But my parents struggled a lot with—they’re basically constantly at odds with my school, my physicians.
At school, I was getting bullied a lot from a young age. I tended to struggle in my classes and with socialization. In fourth grade I finally managed to make a group of friends and that was kind of the first time that I ever really felt, I guess you could say, included with my peers. But then I had to move schools pretty quickly after that and I was basically back at square one.
The second elementary middle school that I went to, there was a lot of favoritism among students and I was not one of the favorite students. I was actually getting mistreated by both students and staff. So I was pretty lonely. I turned to the internet and I got my first phone when I was 11 because it was quite difficult for me to make friends.
My parents tried to get me diagnosed for autism because a lot of my teachers would tell them that they noticed that I had some pretty distinct signs of being on the spectrum, but when they tried to get me diagnosed, the physician just told them, “Oh, no, she’s too smart to be autistic. There’s no way she’s autistic.” When they tried to get a second opinion, my health care provider just said no. And then they got me a diagnosis for ADHD instead. And then they started medicating me at 10.
When I started using social media at 10, no, 11, by that point in time, I had some body image issues. I was kind of a tomboy from a young age. I wasn’t very developed, especially not in my chest area, but I did have slightly larger shoulders. I did have a bit more muscle in my body from being a little bit more on the athletic side.
I liked having my hair short, but I often felt like I couldn’t match up to other girls in terms of appearance. I had difficulty socializing with them and maintaining friendships with them, so I started to wonder if something was wrong with me. And I often felt like I would be better off as a boy.
Social media introduced this idea that I could be a boy. A lot of the feminist content I was seeing alongside the LGBT content that I was exposed to painted a very negative picture of being a woman, being feminine.
Despite being tomboy, I had a feminine side, but I was ashamed of it because a lot of cartoons and other children’s content I would consume growing up kind of was focused on boys and it kind of portrayed girls and especially feminine girls as stupid and not really contributing anything to the story and just being a nuisance. I wanted to be something more than that, you know?
But also, from other women and girls growing up, I would often hear about the negative parts of the female experience, like how painful periods and childbirth and pregnancy and menopause are. And nobody ever really talked about all the good things that come with those things.
Naturally, hearing all of those things about growing from a girl into a woman made me not want to do that. I also hit puberty from a young age. It kind of just hit me full force.
Allen: It’s a lot.
Cole: Yeah. My peers and sometimes even adults would make some really uncomfortable comments about my body. It was something that I really just wanted to escape. And like I said, the LGBT and especially the trans and queer content that I was seeing taught me that I didn’t have to be a girl, I didn’t have to deal with any of this, I could have a way out.
Learning about this gave me a sense of relief because it was like there was all these things that I thought was wrong with me and it all finally made sense after I learned about this. I thought it was the answer.
Before I decided that I was actually a boy, I kind of experimented with certain labels. I was like, “Maybe I’m bisexual or bi-gender or genderless.” And then eventually it just became, “I’m not a girl at all, I’m just a boy.”
Allen: How old were you when you started saying, “I’m a boy”?
Cole: I was 12.
I started cutting my hair shorter and wearing more boys’ clothes. I told some friends at school about this and some friends online, some of my siblings, and eventually I decided to come out to my parents because I decided that I wanted to medically transition. I knew that I would have to get them on board with that in order for that to happen.
They were pretty surprised. They knew I was a tomboy, but I don’t think any parent could really foresee that kind of thing, their kid saying that kind of thing. They wanted to support me, but they were also pretty cautious. They didn’t understand why I was pushing so much for medically transitioning until after I got the gender dysphoria diagnosis when somebody on my medical team had told them that. They never presented any options other than transitioning.
Allen: The doctors didn’t?
Cole: Mmm hmm, yeah. When my dad asked, he asked what the regret rate looked like, and they gave him a figure of around 1% to 2%, if not less. And they never talked about what would happen if I were to regret my transition and go back on that decision. They told them that if I wasn’t affirmed in my identity and allowed to transition as I wanted, then I would be at risk of suicide. So they were pretty much coerced into allowing this to happen.
Allen: So, you start taking a lot of different medicines, puberty blockers. Then it was at 15 that you had a double mastectomy, correct?
Allen: Do you remember what was going through your head when you’re coming out of surgery? You realize, “OK, I’ve just had a double mastectomy,” what were you feeling?
Cole: I felt great, actually. At the time, I was actually quite happy. I thought of myself to generally be a boy despite being in a female body. The justification was that I had a male gender identity that didn’t match my body. And I thought that this meant that I had the brain of the opposite sex. This is part of a theory called the brain-sex theory, which has been disproven.
Not only that, not only did I want to look like the boys my age because I thought I was one, but I also had been using a compression device called a binder to flatten the appearance of my breasts for about two years before my mastectomy. It was tiring. I got really sick of it quick.
I would wear this thing for about 8 to 12 hours a day sometimes. I would wear it basically whenever I was out of the house or whenever we had guests over. I’d wear it while I was on a run or working out or swimming. Sometimes I’d be walking home from school in 110 degrees in this thing.
Allen: Gosh. That sounds so uncomfortable.
Cole: Yeah, it was. I wanted to be free of it. This never really went addressed, partly because I had a lot of shame around it, but I was sexually assaulted in eighth grade.
Allen: I’m so sorry.
Cole: I had been groped by a male classmate who had been bullying me for over the course of that school year. I kind of just brushed it off in my head because this was when I was early in my transition. So I was like, “Well, I’m supposed to be a guy and it’s just boys being boys, so I should just be a man about it and not complain about it, not really bother with it.”
I knew that even if it did really bother me, I wouldn’t be able to speak out anyways because school would’ve definitely given the kid a slap on the wrist. I knew that if he came back in the school after that, he could have done something worse. So I couldn’t really speak out on it, and I didn’t really realize just how much it affected me.
Allen: Were you talking to any counselors or anything when you were saying, “I think I’m a man”? I mean, were people asking you questions, like, “Have you ever experienced sexual assault?”, or anything like that?
Cole: I can’t really remember that far back, but that happened, actually, after I started.
Allen: You started?
Cole: Medically transitioning. It’s also important to note that I didn’t recognize it as sexual assault because I was thinking of myself as a boy, as it just being a “boys being boys” type thing. So in a lot of ways, this is just one of many ways that I wasn’t really mentally competent enough to go through this kind of thing.
Allen: You were a child.
Allen: What made you then at 16 say, “I made a mistake. I don’t want to be a boy, I’m a girl”?
Cole: There were a few factors. After my mastectomy, I wouldn’t say I realized that the rut set in very quickly, it took nearly a year, but I started to miss being feminine, being able to look pretty and wear makeup and present myself in such a way. In secret, I would actually buy women’s clothes and wear some of my old girls’ clothes just whenever nobody was home and I was alone.
I was pretty ashamed about this because by this point in time, I was already medically transitioning for so long and I didn’t have breasts anymore. I didn’t really look like a woman. So it was something that I just kept to myself for a while. But these feelings just kept building up and it got worse. I just assumed that it was part of the post-op period, like you’re going to experience some depression, but it didn’t get any better.
About a year after my surgery, I started taking a class on psychology in my junior year. One of the chapters was focused on child development and parenting. I learned that breastfeeding is not only that, but it also plays a role in the bond between mother and child, and that bond goes on to affect that child’s later cognitive and emotional and social functioning.
Upon reading this, I felt like a monster. I realized that I took something novelly for myself, but also potentially from my future children. I think that’s when the realization really hit that I shouldn’t have been allowed to go through this.
Not only that, but also the lessons about cognitive and emotional development in kids and teenagers made me realize that at an age where everybody really naturally is prone to making some pretty rash decisions, I was allowed to make one that was permanent under the guidance of adults, medical professionals.
A few weeks later, I decided to stop transitioning entirely. It was too much for me, and I knew that I couldn’t keep lying to myself. I went cold turkey off of testosterone. The school year that followed was really tough.
Allen: What happened among your friends and the community that had been supporting you and really championing you in the transition? Were they supportive of you saying, “Hey, I’m no longer transgender”?
Cole: No. I was getting attacked online, actually. By this point in time, COVID hit, and so all the quarantine laws in my state were pretty strict. My relationships at school suffered because of it. I was mostly online by that point in time, and a lot of my support system was people online.
As soon as I started talking about my transition regret, I started getting harassed a lot. There are instances when I would try to connect with trans women because a lot of them, they already went through puberty. They had masculine features, but they were trying to represent themselves as women and trying to adjust socially into the role of a woman. So I felt like I could relate to them that way. I often tried to make friends with them, but I would get shut down. They would basically tell me to just shut up and stop interacting with them and that I was making them uncomfortable.
I got that a lot, actually. A lot of people told me that by talking about my experiences and how transitioning harmed me, I was harming a larger community of people who would benefit from transition and that I would scare them off from getting their—they call it lifesaving care.
I did give into the mob for a little bit, but I also started doing some research on detransitioning. I was in some communities online of other people who were in my situation. I realized that the information that I was given, not only by the medical professionals and all the stuff I was seeing online, but also from other transgender people, was all just crap basically. Just made up. And that I was being lied to.
I realized that I couldn’t stop speaking about it. I was talking to a lot of adults who had stopped transitioning, but I knew that there has to be a lot more kids who are in my situation. I think that’s really the biggest thing that prompted me to start speaking up again.
I started becoming more vocal about my experiences and how my views have been challenged and trying to challenge other people’s views online. I lost a lot of friends both online and from school. By this point in time, I also wasn’t the most emotionally stable and it did impact a lot of my interpersonal relationships.
But I basically spent my senior year alone because I didn’t really have any friends at school. I was kind of a freak. I looked like a boy by that point in time. I still had some pretty rough features, but I was growing my hair out, presenting myself femininely. And there was, I guess you could say, kind of an incongruence in my appearance, and it was very obvious. I got picked on for it sometimes.
It really did suck, but I managed to find new friends outside of school and reconnect a little bit with my family members. The support that I’ve been getting from them has really been what’s keeping me going.
Allen: That’s huge to have that support. Chloe, looking back, is there something that you think, whether it was a counselor or a doctor, a parent, some role model in your life, could have said to you or something they could have done that would’ve kept you from making that decision to start on hormones, to get a double mastectomy, to go on that full path of walking toward “becoming a man”?
Cole: It’s hard to say because I was so stubborn, especially toward the beginning and middle of my transition. Recently I had an interview with Jordan B. Peterson. It didn’t really feel like an interview. It felt like I was in a therapy session.
Allen: He’s pretty great at what he does.
Cole: I feel like if I had a psychologist like him back then, none of this would’ve happened. None of it.
Allen: Wow. That’s pretty incredible.
Cole: We need more people like him out there.
Allen: What was it about the way that he talked with you and the questions that he asked that can have you say today, “If I had someone like him in my life, I wouldn’t have transitioned”?
Cole: He probed pretty deep and he was very informative. That was one of the first interviews where I really feel like I learned something even.
Allen:Wow. That’s cool. That’s amazing.
Cole: Yeah, it was really cool.
Allen: Well, now you’re on this wild road of advocacy and you’re speaking out and you’re sharing your story and you’re even sharing your story with leaders in Congress. What ultimately is the end goal of all of this advocacy, of sharing your story, of being willing to be so vulnerable?
Cole: Well, I really want to stop transitioning from happening in children, in minors. And I want to reform in the affirmative care system in how we treat people who present with gender dysphoria or express the desire to transition to the opposite sex because, really, the model right now is very one-size-fits-all and it doesn’t take cases like mine into account.
I mean, a lot of people who are transgender or dysphoric have some sort of comorbid condition, either alongside their dysphoria or possibly even having led to the development of their dysphoria.
I mean, every young transgender person that I know personally has either been sexually assaulted or they have some sort of family trauma, or they’re on the spectrum, they have ADHD or depression. None of that is ever really taken into account, and I feel like that’s something you have to address before you allow somebody to make a life-changing decision.
Allen: With that, one of the actions that you’ve decided to take is to file a lawsuit against some of those people, some of those doctors who you feel like should have been giving you a bigger picture of what was happening. Talk just a little bit about that. What’s happening there?
Cole: Yeah. In November, my team sent out a letter of intent to sue addressed to my surgeon, my gender specialist who referred me to that surgeon, my endocrinologist who got me on hormones, and then the hospital that did it, and Kaiser as a whole. We’re still in the 90-day period, so not really any updates there, but we’re starting to near the end of it.
Allen: Wait and see what happens there. We’ll definitely be following that. Chloe, for those that want to follow your story, that want to keep up with your work, that want to support your work, how can they do that?
Cole: I’m most active on Twitter. My username is @ChoooCole.
Allen: Awesome. You can also just search for Chloe Cole in Google. A lot comes up when you search your name.
Cole: I’m also active on Instagram and YouTube. I’m not nearly as active as I should be on those platforms.
Allen: Well, we can only give so much time to social media. Well, Chloe, thank you. Really appreciate your willingness to share your story, your vulnerability. It takes an insane amount of courage. You’re 18 and you’re doing what most people at any age would be terrified to do, so thank you. Really appreciate it. And know that, from The Daily Signal team, we’re all cheering for you.
Cole: Thank you so much.
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