May 9, 2024

Should We Trans Children?

Inside This Episode

Soon after 12-year-old Chloe Cole discovered transgender ideology on social media, she began telling her friends and family that she was a boy. At age 13, she began taking testosterone and puberty blockers; two years later, she underwent a double mastectomy. Almost immediately after the mastectomy, regret set in and Chloe became one of many remorseful transitioners unable to reverse the damage done to their bodies. Now, despite the vitriol and hate she faces from the transgender community, Chloe is committed to warning kids and their parents about the dangers of gender-affirming care in minors. In this episode, Chloe explains how she became involved in the transgender movement, why she ultimately decided to walk away, and how this experience led her to believe in a higher power.

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Transcript

 Eric Huffman: Today on Maybe God.

Chloe Cole: My name is Chloe Cole and I am a detransitioner. Another way to put that would be I used to believe that I was born in the wrong body and the adults in my life whom I trusted affirmed my belief and this caused me lifelong irreversible harm. I speak to you today as a victim of one of the biggest medical scandals in the history of the United States of America.

Eric Huffman: Do you remember a time when the thinking shifted for you from feeling maybe I'm bisexual to maybe "I'm in the wrong body"?

Chloe Cole: Really, it was just based on these feelings that I wasn't feminine enough or that I didn't fit into the mold of what a girl was supposed to be.

Eric Huffman: Her parents were told by healthcare professionals that the best way to keep their teenage daughter alive was to allow her to transition from female to male. Were you 15 when you had the surgery?

Chloe Cole: Yeah, I was 15 years old. I started to wake up and realize it wasn't quite the experience that I anticipated it to be. I was incredibly just depressed. For the first time in my life, like, I was severely suicidal. It was destroying me, but I couldn't even fathom, like, going back. How could I stop being transgender when I've already gone this far, you know? How could I go back to everybody in my life and tell them, this was wrong? I'm still a girl. I'm still Chloe.

Eric Huffman: At 19 years old, Chloe Cole now leads the fight to restrict gender-affirming care for minors. Why does her story matter? And where is God in this heated political debate over gender ideology? That's today on Maybe God.

[00:01:38] <music>

Eric Huffman:  You're listening to Maybe God. I'm Eric Huffman. Gender-affirming care. It's a term that almost no one used 20 years ago, but suddenly it's everywhere, from the mainstream media to middle school curricula, and even the floor of the U.S. Senate.

Man 1: The question is a very specific one. Should minors be making these momentous decisions? For most of the history of medicine, we wouldn't let you have a cut sewn up in the ER, but you're willing to let a minor take things that prevent their puberty, and you think they get that back? You give a woman testosterone enough that she grows a beard. You think she's going to go back looking like a woman when you stop the testosterone? You have permanently changed them.

Infertility is another problem. None of these drugs have been approved for this. They're all being used off-label.

Man 2: There is a substantial body of research that shows these treatments work. They improve mental health outcomes, quality of life, social relationships, family relationships. They dramatically reduce suicidality. Medical standards for these treatments, as has been noted, have been endorsed by every major medical association in this country.

Eric Huffman: No matter who you're talking to, anytime gender-affirming care comes up, tensions rise and people get defensive. Some people say that providing such care is the most loving thing to do because it's a matter of life and death. They'll often point to the alarming suicide rate within the trans population as evidence for their position.

Others vehemently disagree, especially where minor children are concerned. In their view, offering irreversible, life-altering drugs and surgeries to kids is anything but loving. In fact, they might say that the best way to love children who are questioning their gender is by shielding them from making choices now that they might grow to regret later in life.

Because I'm a pastor in Texas, it might not surprise you to learn that I am opposed to the idea of medically transitioning kids. However, there was a time, about 10 years ago, when I would have been the first to stand up and defend the rights of trans kids against what I believed back then were the bigoted backward lunatics of the religious right.

In fact, back in those days, I encouraged folks in my liberal congregation who were depressed and questioning their gender identity to consider the possibility of transitioning. And some of them did. Vince became Sarah, Steve, Stephanie; Ashley, Asher; and so on. I have to acknowledge that some of them found some healing through that process, while others spiraled deeper into despair and isolation.

I would have been quick back then to cast aside those who disagreed with me, and I wouldn't have given a story like today's a minute of my time. But now, while I don't claim to understand all of the intricacies of gender-affirming care, and I certainly can't imagine what it's like to feel every day as though you're living in the wrong body, I do believe it's important for us to listen to each other, and to have better conversations about something as critical as this, especially where children are concerned. Children like Chloe Cole.

Chloe Cole: I'm the youngest of five. I've got two sisters and two brothers. Being the baby was kind of difficult at times, especially because there is kind of a significant difference in age between me and the rest of my siblings. I didn't always relate to everybody and they didn't always relate to me and they didn't always want me around because I was in elementary school and they already were finishing up high school. That was something that was hard for me, especially because outside of the family at school, I didn't really have like a whole lot of friends.

Eric Huffman: So you were kind of... they call the kids like that loners, but I hate to use that word because it feels a little derogatory or whatever.

Chloe Cole: I mean, loner kind of gives the idea that it was by choice. But the thing was, I wanted to have friends and I had like a few friends, but I found it difficult to get along with the kids my age, especially with other girls. I felt like we just weren't really interested in the same things.

I always felt like I was different. I have always kind of been a little bit eccentric and just thought differently from the people around me. I was a target for bullying when I was younger. I didn't really feel like I had anywhere, a whole lot of places in the world to really call home where I could feel like I could have an established identity.

Eric Huffman: What were you into? I know you say you weren't into the stereotypical feminine things as a child, but what were you drawn to?

Chloe Cole: I'd always been an artist. I've been illustrating for pretty much as long as I can remember. And I liked playing video games. I liked exploring, being outdoors. I mean, I was actually a pretty stereotypically feminine kid. I'd say like between like the ages of four to about seven or eight years old. But the older I got, as I started to hit puberty, I started to reject, at that time, more stereotypically feminine things like dolls, the toys that I used to play with, little things like wearing pink dresses, purses, makeup.

I preferred having my hair short. And I felt like, in a lot of ways, I just related more to the men and the boys in my life, more so than even at times like my own older sister and mothers.

Eric Huffman: Sure. I think everybody listening and watching right now probably knows or knew a kid like you, or maybe they were a kid like you and you just don't fit into either sort of gender stereotype completely growing up and you're called a tomboy or I'm sure there's other similar phrases for boys that have more effeminate interests.

Chloe Cole: Yeah. Those are pretty normal feelings growing up. Nothing was really out of the ordinary. I mean, other than the fact that I'm very likely on the spectrum.

Eric Huffman: Did you and your family practice any sort of religion when you were young?

Chloe Cole: Well, my mother was raised Catholic and my dad Mormon, and they took me to church up until I was roughly about like four or five years old. But I wasn't really raised with any Christian ideals. My dad and my mom have told me that they didn't want to feel like they were really forcing any sort of beliefs on me. They wanted me to be able to develop my own views about the world. But I feel like in a way because of that, I lacked stability in terms of my beliefs and convictions and building my identity growing up. I feel like that was a major part of my identity struggle.

Eric Huffman: I think it's pretty normal these days for parents to take that sort of tack with their kids. "I don't want to impose any old religion or tradition on my kid. I want my kid to figure it out for themselves." That seems to be the most virtuous way in the eyes of this world to raise kids. And while I understand it, as you've clearly eloquently stated here, there's a downside to that for sure, because it opens kids up to being indoctrinated elsewhere.

You've talked about feeling rejected early in life. Everybody can relate to that, but your rejection seems to have been more wholesale and deeply felt. Did you feel acceptable and beautiful as a girl when you were really young? Do you remember feeling pretty?

Chloe Cole: There were times when I did, and there were other times when I really scrutinized every part of myself. A big part of it was that I started to go through puberty fairly early, which today is actually pretty standard. Personally, like, my breasts started to develop when I was about eight or nine years old. And it was tough having that kind of attention on me.

In the environment that I was growing up in, a lot of my peers were very precocious. They were talking about things that, at the age that we were, we really should not have known anything about. Things that they would see, like, on their phones, whatever devices their parents were letting them use. Just completely unrestricted. And I also had unrestricted internet access from a pretty young age as well.

So I had a lot of exposure to a lot of ideas that were just too adult. It was just too early. And I felt like a lot of my worth as a woman was going to come from my looks, from my body and my sexuality. And if I didn't have much to provide in terms of that, I didn't know where my identity as a woman would really come from.

Eric Huffman: Sure, I can see how that could happen. Do you directly attribute that to access to the internet and social media before you were ready?

Chloe Cole: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I got my first personal computer, I think at 9 or 10 years old, and then I got my first phone right before my 12th birthday. And now I was using social media apps that everybody else my age was using.

Eric Huffman: Like which ones?

Chloe Cole: Instagram and Snapchat were some of the main ones, but Instagram was kind of like my platform of choice, just because I had a lot of people that I knew from school on there. I wanted to see what they were doing on there. I wanted to see what they were up to, because these are my peers. I already feel kind of disconnected from them, so I wanted to see if this is another way to get to them.

Also, it was a way to explore communities around some of my own personal interests outside of school. I browsed a lot of those communities that were mainly around video games, illustration, artwork, anime, shows that I watched. That's actually how I got sucked into the transgender community.

Gage: Hey, guys. It's Gage, and today, we're going to be talking about questioning your gender, because who isn't questioning their gender during quarantine?

Woman 1: I met this guy who happened to be transitioning from female to male, and I realized, "Whoa. Being trans is a thing. Like, I could transition and I could feel more comfortable in this body."

Chloe Cole: It was through those communities because a lot of the people within those communities were girls and boys who identified with LGBT. Many of them were... they called themselves gay or bisexual or lesbian. And a lot of them were kids my age who called themselves transgender and overwhelmingly female.

I think the overlap between those two things is that a lot of people who identify with LGBT in my generation are very artistic. Many of them are a little bit more on the nerdy side. Many of them are very socially awkward, and they struggle to find a community, like at school or in person, so they turn to the internet, and that was what I did.

It was something that intrigued me quite a bit. With all these novel concepts to me, these new terms with which you could describe yourself and explore your identity and explain it to other people, and like all the colorful flags and the way that they talked about this, like a journey of self-discovery and finding your own niche, a community. It seemed so tightly knit. It seemed so loving and happy, and these people were funny and relatable. I mean, it just sucked me in. I had never really related to a group of people so much in my entire life up until that point.

Eric Huffman: Chloe admits that while she always imagined herself getting married to a man and having children one day, there were times in her childhood when she developed crushes on female celebrities and female classmates. So when her new community on social media introduced her to different terms surrounding sexuality and identity, it made a lot of sense to her.

Chloe Cole: So at first I thought, well, maybe I feel like I relate because I'm bisexual. Maybe I'm going to experiment with these different labels like pansexual or I don't know what it means to feel like a woman. I don't really relate to the girls around me. I don't feel like I'm 100% feminine so I don't feel like I even think like a girl. Maybe I'm non-binary. Maybe I'm genderless.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought, well, does being a girl feel right? Was I even supposed to be one? Because I don't exactly feel happy about the way that I was made or the changes that I'm seeing as I'm going through puberty. It's something that makes me uncomfortable and I don't know if I want that kind of attention. I don't know if I even want that for myself. Maybe all along I was supposed to be a boy.

These were thoughts I was having independently of interacting with people within this community because I wasn't really talking to anybody in these circles. It was just like the sheer influence, all these new ideas coming to me and kind of being in isolation that started to get me questioning all of this.

Eric Huffman: I've heard you describe your experience early on in social media, and I think it was also in gaming sort of platforms and different kinds of access points to that community. I've heard you describe it as a grooming experience, but it sounds like it wasn't like a situation where you were actively groomed by individuals. It likely would pull you aside in some dark corner. That sort of creepy grooming, it was more of a cultural grooming process that happened by being sort of inundated with these messages and themes.

Chloe Cole: Yes. And it was definitely more of like a cultural and ideological kind of thing.

Eric Huffman: Right. Yeah. But it was real and it gave you a real sense of community and belonging that everyone knows what it feels like to hunger for that exactly.

Chloe Cole: And it gave me a convenient explanation for why I was different.

Eric Huffman: Yeah. Do you remember a time when the thinking shifted for you from feeling maybe I'm bisexual to maybe I'm in the wrong body?

Chloe Cole: Yeah. It was actually a very quick matter of time, a matter of months even. Really it was just based on these feelings that I wasn't feminine enough or that I didn't fit into the mold of what a girl was supposed to be. I felt like, even in terms of my appearance, I liked having my hair short. My features were a little boyish. I had some muscle in my body. My shoulders have always been the main focal point of my body. They've always been wider than, say, my bust or my hips.

That was something that was a big insecurity for me growing up, actually. I grew up in an age where the ideal body type is like the hyper-curvy hourglass pear shape, bottom-heavy, thick. That was something that I fixated on quite a bit because I just felt like if I wasn't like that, if I didn't have curves, if I was too skinny or too muscular, then I just wouldn't be good or pretty enough as a woman. And I was scared. I was scared of the responsibility of being a woman, of being feminine. I never thought that I'd be able to match up.

Eric Huffman: I appreciate that added insight, honestly. The specificity with which you just described that helps people who haven't been in that position. We hear stories like young girls, young women saying, "I just felt like I didn't measure up or I wasn't the right kind of woman." And a lot of us, especially guys, I think probably just don't know what that means.

But you're looking in a mirror on the one hand and you're looking at your phone in the other and you see specific things that aren't right in your mind or that aren't as they should be.

Chloe Cole: We live in a world that now is very image-oriented. I mean, plastic surgery is something that's become really common in my generation. Even getting nose job or getting fillers in your cheeks, in your lips, getting Botox for your jawline or around your neck to reduce the muscle mass there. It's crazy.

Eric Huffman: While Chloe quickly determined that she might be in the wrong body, her transition was more gradual. First, she changed her display name on social media and started asking her friends online to refer to her as a boy. Then she tried on a few masculine names, eventually settling on Leo. By 12 years old, she was cutting her hair shorter and shorter and swapping out clothes in her closet with boys' clothes. That's when she started telling people at her school about her new identity.

Chloe Cole: A lot of them actually were like, what do you mean you're a boy? These are people who had known me since elementary school, right? I wasn't fooling anybody. They didn't think I was a boy. A lot of them actually took a very negative reaction to it, which I feel kind of propelled me further into my transition.

It was like, "I'm going to prove them wrong. I really believe that I am a boy. And they are going to understand that one day. I'm going to look and sound just like a boy. And that's how they're going to know me." This kind of put some tension on me about telling my family about it.

Eric Huffman: So Chloe wrote a letter to her parents stating that she was no longer their daughter but was instead now their son, and she wanted to be called Leo, not Chloe.

Chloe Cole: To my surprise at the time, my mom and dad, they were very supportive and they didn't want to push back a whole lot. They wanted to show their support for me and help me feel comfortable during this time. Although they kind of suspected that it might have to do with some of my mental health and my social issues at the time with trying to fit in and not really feeling like I had somewhere to belong. This was something that was completely new to them.

Eric Huffman: What year was this?

Chloe Cole: About 2017.

Eric Huffman: 2017. I mean, that feels like yesterday in some ways, but so much has happened on this front culturally and socially.

Chloe Cole: Yeah, it was very different back then. There weren't any whistleblowers on this. There was nobody like me really out there talking about transition regrets. or coming back from transitioning. My dad once told me that if he knew that there was another kid like me out there who had been through this and regretted it, he and mom never would have let me go through this.

But my mom and dad, they started looking online for resources on this, like how to deal with this. I think if the resources then had given them the understanding that this is something that I was very likely to grow out of, I think we would have been okay without that. But everything that they saw pointed them in the direction of affirmation, of affirming these feelings for me, of pushing forward with this. And eventually, they found something that recommended our health care provider at the time as the top choice in the state of California for care for youth who experience gender dysphoria or identify as transgender.

And to them, they thought that that care would just mean like, Oh, she's going to get mental health resources. They're going to help her through this time. They're going to encourage her to explore herself within boundaries. And that was not what happened at all.

[00:20:09] <music>

Chloe Cole: When they started sending me to therapy, they were not allowed to partake in these sessions with me.

Eric Huffman: Your parents?

Chloe Cole: Yeah. Yeah.

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Chloe Cole: And they were never followed up with about what was discussed during these appointments. They didn't know what was going on with me. I was having some issues at home, I was having some issues socially at school. And I would talk about these issues with the first therapist I had. I would talk about all this and he'd just be like, "Oh, well, I'm sorry to hear that." Like, Okay, I'm in therapy. I'm supposed to be learning how to deal with this, right? I'm supposed to be getting better, and I'm not.

He would, like, call me by my preferred name and pronouns and such, but nothing of value was being done. So I started becoming more stressed about what was going on. Eventually, that's led to me becoming more distressed about my identity, about my body, my body image issues. Eventually, I had a second therapist and she was the one who really started to get things rolling.

Eric Huffman: When Chloe was in the 8th grade and undergoing therapy for gender dysphoria, the conversation with her therapist began centering around medical interventions, the next steps to a complete transition.

Chloe Cole: There were a few appointments that I think my mom and dad, or just my mom actually, where she started to push back, like, "I'm worried about why she wants to do this so bad and so young. I don't think now is the time for her to be doing this kind of thing. She's a kid, she's still growing, she's still got some time to develop and decide whether this is something that she wants."

The pushback was immediate. The psychologist told her, "No, now is the time because that's what she wants. And what she wants is what she needs because she knows at this age exactly what she needs. Because gender identity is something that is innate, something that children understand from a very young age. And you have to understand this is a part of her identity. And if you don't affirm her and her identity and her decision to do this..." She brought up the suicide statistics to my mom and basically used it to tell her, like, "If you don't allow her to do this, it could be life or death for her. It was emotional manipulation."

Eric Huffman: You could have an alive son or a dead daughter or something along those lines. I've heard that. It's so abusive.

Chloe Cole: That's the ultimate that they give these parents. It's abusive in every single way.

Eric Huffman: There's no way your mom was prepared to refute that. I mean, no normal person would be like under the circumstances, especially in 2017 before this really blew up.

Chloe Cole: Yeah. When you're a parent and you hear that your child can die, what else do you do but follow the advice of your doctors, of the people who you're supposed to trust with caring for your child?

Eric Huffman: Sure. What was the proposed treatment plan initially?

Chloe Cole: Basically following whatever I wanted. So we started with a referral to an endocrinologist for Lupron to stop my puberty, right? The first one actually said no. He was hesitant to put me on these treatments until I was 14, which would be about a year's difference.

Eric Huffman: Lupron is the drug that is also used for chemical castration. Is that what I remember?

Chloe Cole: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: It's pretty serious business.

Chloe Cole: Yes. We didn't know this at the time. But eventually we were just referred very quickly to another endocrinologist who said yes. After my first shot was when I signed the waivers for testosterone. I was on the Lupron for maybe two or three months. During this time, my body was in early menopause, essentially.

So by stopping the production of all the sex hormones in my body and the function of my ovaries, I was starting to experience hot flashes, these other weird sensations like itching, tingling in my limbs, and all over my body. I became very lethargic. It's nothing that a 13-year-old girl should be going through.

When I started on the testosterone eventually, I was incredible because I was led to believe that something that was like an integral part of my body that would lead me closer to my real identity as a boy. So there was the excitement of that and looking forward to the effects of it.

And then there was the immediate psychological effects that were in a way sort of stimulant-like because I finally had my energy back. It was a huge boost to my energy and my mood in general. I started becoming very confident, even a little bit competitive. And I had like a super huge boost in my sex drive. I mean, it was just crazy being on that. Eventually, I started going through some of the physical changes after only about a few weeks.

My voice started to drop pretty quickly, pretty deep. It was, like, deeper than the teenage boys that I was friends with for the longest time. It's a miracle that my voice is as high as it is now. That wasn't supposed to happen.

Eric Huffman: What other physical changes did you notice?

Chloe Cole: I was still growing, so I started having changes to my bone structure as well. Those are permanent. My shoulders are quite a bit wider, so is the rest of my upper body. I do have a bit of an Adam's apple still, actually. My nose, my brow bone, my jaw bone, my cheekbones are more prominent and my hips are not super developed. I started to develop quite a bit of muscle while I was on it, which is like a huge confidence booster, right? Because I had body image issues. I wanted to be able to change my body and to be able to see those changes so soon. It felt like I had power. I had control over myself. My hair everywhere just started getting thicker. On my head, my eyebrows, my eyelashes, started developing like facial hair, more hair on my arms and legs, and such.

I was still in eighth grade by this point in time. I was still surrounded by people who had known me from a very early age. So it was like, what's going on here? It's like she is reversing course and starting to go through like a male puberty. So that must have been like a very jarring thing for my classmates to watch.

Eric Huffman: How was that for you? Sometimes kids welcome attention, and sometimes attention is unwanted and dreaded. How was it for you?

Chloe Cole: I mean, it was kind of entertaining, but it was also a little bit scary. Most of the girls were pretty nice to me, but there was one particular boy who had always been kind of mean about it. He would spit on me. Sometimes he would trip me in class.

Eventually, one day, the bullying became something more than that. Much worse than that. It was no longer bullying. It became an assault. He had this just threatening, dead look on his face. He came up to me, and he squeezed one of my breasts. And in that moment, I was just frozen in fear. I didn't know how to respond to this. He walked away... I looked around me. Nobody said anything. Nobody came up to me asking me if I was okay, if I felt safe. Nobody went up to him asking, why would you do that? What is wrong with you?

It felt like I was just so small and so insignificant. I was already in the mentality of trying to become a boy. So it was like, I think I'm just going to have to toughen up. I got to be a man about it. I mean, it was embarrassing. Just even thinking about telling somebody about that because if I want to be a boy, how can I talk about having had this very female part of my body assaulted? How could I bring that up to anybody? Am I even going to be taken seriously? Very soon afterward was when I decided I'm going to start hiding my breasts now.

Eric Huffman: That involved binding to hide that part of your body. And everything you're saying, again, it should not be that difficult for us to at least have compassion and empathize with your situation in that point in time as a child, feeling defenseless and alone. And your feeling there is that the best way to defend yourself is as a male, as you know, who you, quote-unquote, really are. And once you do that, you'll be less unsafe.

Chloe Cole: Yes.

Eric Huffman: And so that drove you further into this world of medical transition. At what point did the conversation shift from just the hormones and things to something like surgery?

Chloe Cole: That wasn't until I was in my second year of high school. Once I went to high school, I think like a week before my freshman year was when my mom and dad and I went in. We had like my name and sex marker changed in the school files. By this point in time, I was on hormones for a while. I just looked like a rather short 14-year-old boy. I started making friends with groups of boys. It was like a little crash course on the socialization of teenage boys. It was a learning experience.

Eric Huffman: I bet.

Chloe Cole: It was interesting. I still look back fondly on some of the times that I had in those friends groups, being seen as one of them.

Eric Huffman: Were you Leo to them?

Chloe Cole: Yes, I was Leo to them. Many of them didn't even know that I was a girl. There were a few instances when I was outed behind my back to people at school, which could have been pretty bad. That was something that I was very wary of, actually, because I was using the male restroom and locker room facilities. It's kind of ironic that my fear of being assaulted or being seen as a girl pushed me further into my transition because I was even subconsciously aware that I was potentially putting myself into further danger. Because I knew that if somebody malicious knew that I was female and they like caught me alone in one of those facilities, it could have been dangerous.

Eric Huffman: Over time, the novelty of being a teenage boy wore off. Chloe says Leo wasn't able to develop close, intimate friendships the way that she would have as a girl. Leo started to feel lonelier than ever before.

Chloe Cole: I started to wake up and realize it wasn't quite the experience that I anticipated it to be. And the testosterone made my emotions very difficult for me to deal with. I would have outbursts, I was prone to getting angry. It was something that started to affect my relationships. My sex drive became really difficult for me to deal with, especially as my dose was being raised. It's not natural that just that sudden spike, like boys going through puberty. It's like a gradual increase in their sex drive and their hormone levels.

For me, it was just one day, all of a sudden, like, it was there. So I didn't really have any male guidance on how to deal with the feelings that come with going through like a male puberty. And the combination of the loneliness, the distress, and the steroids led to some pretty dark places for me.

After a while, once the transition was just my new normal and the affirmation that comes with it went away, I started to seek a new source of validation. I was easy prey for some bad actors on the internet. And there were a few times when actually I had been groomed by adult men. Some within the transgender community, some within the broader LGBT, and some outside of it.

Eric Huffman: For their sexual ends?

Chloe Cole: Yes. I understood that these people didn't actually love me. But I didn't think that I was a person who was deserving of love because I was so lonely. I thought that that was just how I was supposed to be. But I still sought it out because it was something that gave me at least some sort of purpose to somebody in that way.

Eric Huffman: Sure. Validation, attention, even negative attention can be better than no attention or no validation at all.

Chloe Cole: Yeah. all of this was just destroying me. Eventually, I started experimenting with substances. I was failing out of my classes. It was really destroying me in every single part of my life. I eventually was called to the office at school one day and they're reporting me home because I was experiencing suicidal ideation. This is after years of not seeing a therapist. Because after I started the testosterone I seemed so happy. And I thought that I was happy because of the excitement of starting my transition.

Eventually, that went away and the honeymoon period went away and I was incredibly just depressed. For the first time in my life, like I was severely suicidal. There were weeks when waking up, when doing anything was just a battle.

Eric Huffman: How were your parents through all of this? Were they consistently supportive?

Chloe Cole: Yeah, because they didn't think that there was any other option. They kept being told by my doctors that, Oh, like, if you don't allow her to do this, she'll become incredibly suicidal, even though this was making me not want to live. I never once was suicidal until I had been on these interventions, until I was going through this course. My mom and dad, they were sensible. They didn't want me to go through this, but they felt like their hand was forced.

Eric Huffman: Even though life was hard for Chloe and for her parents, the further she got into her transition, the more they all believed there was no going back. As difficult as it was, Chloe still wasn't feeling any regrets. In fact, she still believed that she was meant to be a boy.

Chloe Cole: I started becoming more distressed about my body, particularly about my breasts, because I was sick of binding every day. I was sick of wearing this tight thing that would sometimes poke out from my shirt collar, and it was hot and sweaty. It sucked. I hated it. I wanted to be free of it. I had this fantasy in my head of just being able to take off my shirt in the locker room or even just go out to a beach without my shirt on and just be free and have... that was my idea of freedom, not having breasts, being able to expose my bare chest to the sun.

Eric Huffman: So when Chloe was 15 years old, during the spring of 2020 when most Americans were still quarantining, her family sought out a surgeon to perform a double mastectomy.

Chloe Cole: I recently looked back over my records and talked to my mom and dad about some of this and apparently the process for being referred to surgery was actually very quick.

They'd seen like the psychiatrist called a gender specialist. I think that basically means just like a psychologist who's trained specifically to deal with gender dysphoria and refer people between different services for that. They saw her for like maybe like a good 20-ish minutes before they got the letter, a referral to my surgeon. They saw this woman for one appointment and then I was off to the surgeon.

Eric Huffman: Wow. That's shocking, Chloe.

Chloe Cole: This is a doctor who I'd never had before, who knew absolutely nothing about me. It was just like, oh you've been on testosterone for this long time and you've been identified as trans for... whatever. Yeah, yeah, go on. You're cleared. You're cleared for surgery. Even though I was in, at that time, just a horrific mental state.

Eric Huffman: Sure. And when you got to the surgeon, I mean, the surgeon's probably not going to tap the brakes because that surgeon has gotten the okay from the mental health people. And so it's just, All right, here we go.

Chloe Cole: It's funny that you say that, because that's exactly what he said to me when I reported my regrets and some of the complications to him after my surgery.

Eric Huffman: Really?

Chloe Cole: It was like, "Oh, well, I think it's okay because they gave me the letter of referral. They assessed you, so it's fine, because that was their decision, not mine."

Eric Huffman: Yeah. "Anything the neck up is not my responsibility. They take care of the mind, and I take care of the body." But that's a dangerous precedent we're setting where there's so much financial incentive for these medical health professionals to do this and pass kids along one to the other until you make these life-altering decisions.

Chloe Cole: Yeah, they say like, Oh, well, we use like multidisciplinary teams before children can undergo these procedures. But it's like, It really is just a straight pipeline.

Eric Huffman: So were you 15 when you had the surgery?

Chloe Cole: Yeah, I was 15 years old and it was the summer right after my sophomore year of high school. I was just a little baby, really. It was a very interesting time in my life because this was like mid-2020, so like mid-pandemic. All the measures for quarantines and such were still in place and still going pretty strong, and yet I was still allowed to go through surgery at that point in time.

It's kind of interesting because a lot of elective procedures, even things that could potentially be huge improvements to certain patients' well-being and life quality, they weren't allowed to go through those because they were considered elective. And yet the removal of my perfectly healthy breasts was something that was allowed to happen during this time when a lot of patients were being denied actual care.

Eric Huffman: Like, cancer screenings were being denied. I mean... and this was okayed. It's wild. It's absolutely wild.

Chloe Cole: Yeah. It was a pretty rough year after that. The first few months, I was, like, basically disabled because, like, it was a major surgery in the upper half of my body, where there's a lot of connective tissue there. I couldn't lift up my arms above my head till the two, three-month mark. I had to have my mom stay at home with me, take a few weeks off of work to help me around the house.

On one hand, the moment I woke up from surgery, I was exhilarated. Like, wow, I'm finally at... the last step of this. I can finally just be myself. And once I'm all healed up, I'll look just all the other boys and nobody's gonna know. This is my new me. This is what I was always supposed to be." And I was looking forward to being able to fully heal and I never really did.

The type of surgery that I got was called a double mastectomy with nipple grafts, meaning that they excised the areolas, the skin around them, and put them into a higher position on my chest to basically simulate a more masculine appearance of the chest. I won't get into severe detail here, but just looking at that part of my body every night, before every bath, before every shower, and having to dress the wounds and take care of them, it's like I walked straight out of a battlefield. It was hard for me to look at.

Eric Huffman: The scarring and...

Chloe Cole: Yeah, I felt like a Frankenstein's monster. There were times when I thought like, Oh my gosh, if I look like this, how am I going to get into a relationship? How could anybody like this? The regret came very, very soon afterward. But I couldn't really put a name to what that feeling was yet because I was so deep into it and I was just so fresh out of surgery.

Because of the quarantine, I was spending a lot of time online, a lot of time on social media. There were a lot of girls during this point in time who were posting photos, videos of themselves on their personal social media. So I had a lot to compare myself to. And I hadn't felt like that in the longest time, because I was thinking, like, well, I'm a guy, so why would I care? But those feelings came back. They rushed back. "I wish I was curvy. I wish I was pretty. I wish I was soft and feminine-looking. But I've been on hormones for years, and I just lost my breasts. So how could I even think about that?"

It was destroying me. But I couldn't even fathom, like, going back. I try to justify it in my head as, like, I could just be an effeminate man. Because, you know, there's some boys who grow up to be very feminine, right? Maybe I'm non-binary. Maybe I'm just not good enough as a boy or a girl. Maybe I just shouldn't be either. Because how could I stop being transgender when I've already gone this far? How could I go back to everybody in my life and tell them, "This was wrong. I'm still a girl. I'm still Chloe"?

I didn't think that was possible. I thought that I would never look like or sound like or be a woman ever again. But these feelings just got so much worse over time. And I had to face it eventually.

Eric Huffman: When Chloe was a junior in high school, she started taking psychology classes that focused on families and children, at which point she started grappling with her own future and the possibility that she'd never be able to have children of her own.

Chloe Cole: That was briefly talked about, the potential loss of my fertility and the loss of my ability to breastfeed. That was at a time when I still was very immature. I knew nothing about these things. I didn't value those things because I was still doing some growing up myself. How could I know anything about any of that? How could I make a decision around that?

So once I started learning about these things in such detail, it was like, Wow, this is so fascinating. I learned something about myself in those classes, that I wanted to become a mother, that I wanted to have children of my own, that I wanted to do it naturally, the way that I was made to. I wanted to get married, get pregnant, give birth. I wished that I could breastfeed my children, but now I wouldn't even have that option. That would never be an option for me because of this decision that I was enabled to make by irresponsible adults when I was still a child. And that crushed me. I didn't know how to feel about that.

Eric Huffman: Oh, that's devastating.

Chloe Cole: I grieved. I was devastated. For months, that epiphany, I didn't know what to do with myself. There was a several-week period when I just gave up on all my assignments. I just stayed in my bedroom all day. I couldn't function. Eventually, one night, I just broke down crying to my mom and a friend of mine about how much I regretted my transition, how much I could just dial back the clock and just grow up without any of the interventions, just be allowed to be a woman.

Eric Huffman: Did you know at that point that detransitioning was an option?

Chloe Cole: I didn't. I mean, I was naturally starting to orient more towards femininity by this point in time. Like, I'd been growing out my hair for probably about like a year, so it was just above my jawline. I was wearing my old girl clothes and secretly buying some girls' clothing off the internet or at Target or something.

It took me a few weeks to really process what was happening at that time. Eventually, the word detransition just kind of popped into my head out of nowhere. It was like, I went through a transition and then I stopped. So it was like, one plus one equals two, right? It's a detransition. I wonder if that's a real word. I wonder if that's a thing.

So I Googled it and I found that there is an entire community online, like an entire live section on the Reddit website just dedicated to detransition, to transition regrets, to people's experiences of going through this. I started making some friends in those communities. I started talking with other people who had experiences that were not too dissimilar from mine. And it was just incredible. It brought me a new understanding of every single part of this, from the transition to my feelings around it to the end of it.

Eric Huffman: Chloe started opening up publicly about her regrets and her detransition. That's when she began to experience a hateful backlash on social media.

Chloe Cole: People who I thought I loved, people who I thought loved me were now turning their backs on me just because I stopped because I wasn't like them anymore. People who were blaming me for what happened, telling me that I shouldn't be talking about it because I could be hurting other people, right, by talking about my own pain. Eventually, I just stopped talking about it because the response was so cruel.

Eric Huffman: And now they're saying you're the one who's causing people to kill themselves, basically. I looked through your Twitter feed, Chloe, just before our interview just to see what you've been up to, and it just keeps coming. Even now, whoever ChristiansAreGroomers is on Twitter, it's like they say some of the most awful things to you and tell you to go to hell, you little c-word.

Chloe Cole: That was the kind of response that I've been receiving since the very end of my transition. Frankly, it prepared me for what was to come once I started speaking out publicly. When I talked with these other detransitioners and these other people who had regretted their transitions, all those narratives that I was harming the trans community or that I was rare, that I wasn't significant, completely destroyed.

Most of these people who I was speaking to at the time were all adults. They transitioned and de-transitioned as adults, but I was different because I was a kid. And it pained me enough to know that these friends of mine went through what they did. But I knew that there had to be God knows how many other kids out there who've been through the very same thing.

I've always kind of been the person to put myself out there and not really care about what other people think. But not everybody is like that. If I got the kind of response that I got from the transgender community, how are these other kids doing? I felt like I had this responsibility to get myself together and to start speaking up, however that looked like. [00:45:57]

My name is Chloe Cole, and I am a detransitioner. Another way to put that would be I used to believe that I was born in the wrong body, and the adults in my life whom I trusted affirmed my belief, and this caused me lifelong irreversible harm.

Eric Huffman: Today, Chloe is leading the fight to restrict gender-affirming care for minors. Not as some militant right-winger, as some might suggest, but as a young woman trying to prevent other young people from suffering like she has.

This is her testimony at a June 2023 meeting of the House Judiciary Committee.

Chloe Cole: So what message do I want to bring to American teenagers and their families? I didn't need to be lied to. I needed compassion. I needed to be loved. I needed to be given therapy to help me work through my issues, not affirm to my delusion that by transforming into a boy it would solve all my problems. We need to stop telling 12-year-olds that they were born wrong, that they are right to reject their own bodies and feel uncomfortable with their own skin. We need to stop telling children that puberty is an option, that they can choose what kind of puberty they will go through, just as they can choose what clothes to wear or what music to listen to. Puberty is a rite of passage to adulthood, not a disease to be mitigated.

Today, I should be at home with my family celebrating my 19th birthday, and instead, I'm making a desperate plea to my elected representatives. Learn the lessons from other medical scandals like the opioid crisis. To recognize that doctors are human too, and sometimes they are wrong.

My childhood was ruined along with thousands of detransitioners that I know through our networks. This needs to stop. You alone can stop it. Enough children have already been victimized by this barbaric pseudoscience. Please let me be your final warning.

Eric Huffman: You're a threat. You're an inherent threat to something held dear by many people. And yet, you felt, I would say, called by some higher being or force that just compelled you to speak up. And I don't know what your personal sort of faith perspective is at this point. I'm not imposing mine onto you, but...

Chloe Cole: That's how I feel. That's absolutely how I feel. When I stopped transitioning for about a year, maybe even years, I was still agnostic, not quite an atheist because once I started getting to my mid-teens, I started feeling as though there had to be some sort of higher power because humanity is just so imperfect and there's so many things that we just can't explain about the world around us. There's just no way that we are the highest, most intelligent beings out there.

I didn't really consider myself religious at all until after I started speaking out, actually. There were a few times when during my transition and afterward when it got incredibly rough for me, but I felt like I was being watched over and guided. And it was a feeling that I couldn't really explain for the longest time. But it wasn't until I started connecting with other Christians, and I think once I was invited out to speak at a church when I stepped in, I finally understood what that feeling meant.

Eric Huffman: It became personal for you, the connection to this higher being.

Chloe Cole: Absolutely. And I don't think that I could have gotten through everything that I have without that. I just don't think it would have been humanly possible.

Eric Huffman: Yeah. and I don't think it's possible to speak the truth to a hostile world without that personal understanding of God and knowing that there's more going on than the day-to-day like the resistance you face Chloe. And you're so young again, and you're just... You remind me of my daughter actually, which is why I get emotional a little. But the resistance from powerful forces in this world. Even the New York Times wrote an article saying you're just one of a few people like you that are making it difficult for the masses trans people that need this to live and not kill themselves and you're really problematic in the worst way imaginable and your poise in refuting that and standing up still is near divine.

Chloe Cole: Thank you.

Eric Huffman: I just encourage you to keep going in that and you carry yourself with grace and you're never hateful toward people who disagree with you. I encourage you to keep that up as well because that's what gives you your mandate. Really, that's why people listen. You're not nasty. You're telling your story.

Chloe Cole: I try not to be.

Eric Huffman: Chloe's story is so powerful, but it's one that takes courage to tell. Some might say that Chloe would be better off not telling her story, because every time she does, she puts herself in the crosshairs of the culture wars. Since the temperature around this topic is so high right now, it's easy for most people just to keep our heads in the sand and stay out of it.

Most of us don't fall into either extreme. We don't agree with those on our left who say that gender is merely a social construct or that it's always fluid, but we also don't like what we hear from those on our right who reduce this issue to some kind of political football to make those evil liberals look bad. Most of us know that somewhere behind all the nonsense and noise, there are real people with some real problems who really are crying out for help.

Though I no longer encourage folks in my church who are questioning their gender identity to pursue transition, I still feel as much compassion as ever for folks who are facing this particular struggle. One of the most fundamental ideas in the Bible is that loving God and loving my neighbor are inextricable. So the more that I grow to love God, the more He compels me to love the people around me, including those who are wrestling with gender dysphoria.

I'm convinced it's possible to fully love them without simply handing them over to trans ideology and the ever-expanding medical-industrial complex that's incentivized to push expensive, irreversible solutions onto already vulnerable people.

I've found this to be especially the case with children suffering from gender dysphoria. Recent data suggests that 4 out of 5 gender-questioning kids will eventually accept their bodies if they don't undergo medical interventions during their childhood. I don't believe that giving kids puberty blockers and putting them through life-altering surgeries is how we should be handling their questions and doubts about their bodies.

Instead, we can love them by teaching them that it's okay to have questions. It's alright to be different. Some boys will have more effeminate traits, and some girls will be tomboys, and that's okay. It doesn't change who we are. Every child needs to know that they were fearfully and wonderfully made by God. That God made them the way that they are on purpose and for a reason, and that God loves them just the way they are. That's the positive story we have to tell as Christians. All we need is the courage to tell it.

Julie  Mirlicourtois: If you were challenged by Chloe's interview and by this episode, we'd like to encourage you to please send us an email with your thoughts and questions to [email protected]. You can also engage with us on Instagram and watch and comment on our full-length interviews on Maybe God's YouTube channel.

Maybe God is produced by Julie Mirlicourtois and Eric and Geovanna Huffman. Our associate producer and social media manager is Adira Polite. This episode was edited by Stephen Jeffery and Bob Vance, and Donald Kilgore is the director of Maybe God's full-length YouTube videos. Thanks for listening, everyone.