Published February 27, 2023
The battle against transgender ideology will be won by the wounded.
Chloe Cole’s recent discussion at the Heritage Foundation shows that the victims of the transgender movement are the ones who will defeat it. The eighteen-year-old is a flesh-and-blood refutation of the supposed medical authority and scientific expertise of the trans movement. The wounded bodies and psyches of detransitioners rebut the trans movement’s claims to compassion and expertise. Their scars are marks of its fallibility, and their existence shows that the science is not settled. They are living proof that the affirmation-only approach is hurting people.
But sending them to the frontlines of the fight against transgender ideology—and against the medical-pharmaceutical complex that profits from it—is asking a lot from those who are already hurt. The courage of Chloe’s testimony is evident in the vulnerability it requires to share intimate details about her body, her mental health, and her social and family life. The cost of telling the truth about transition is surrendering a lot of privacy. For example, Chloe related that “after about a year or so being on testosterone I started experiencing some urinary tract side effects. I was more prone to getting UTIs [urinary tract infections] and sometimes I would even get blood clots in my urine.” Few adults would want talk about this on a national stage, especially as part of a heated culture-war debate. Yet she is doing this while still a teenage girl.
This youthful courage in turn highlights how very young she was when the medical profession endorsed her internet-induced trans identity and began altering her body through puberty blockers, testosterone, and surgery.
She was only fifteen when they amputated her breasts. This surgery was done on the theory that children can know themselves to be born in the wrong body, and that in such cases total affirmation, including medical transition, is the best treatment. Indeed, activists, including doctors and therapists, often present transition as necessary to prevent suicide—transition the kids before they kill themselves. This was the line given to Chloe’s parents, who were reluctant about her transition. But as Chloe said, “they were told that if I wasn’t allowed to transition as I pleased I would have been at risk of suicide.”
Her worried parents were right to be reluctant, and the supposed experts were wrong. Chloe’s transgender identity was not the product of an innate, immutable gender identity, but the result of being an awkward young girl under the influence of the internet. As she explained,
I didn’t really get along with the other girls and I started to wonder what exactly was setting me apart from them. I started to become a little bit insecure about this and I also started developing some body issues. . . . I started using social media after I got my first phone at eleven; the first platforms I used were primarily Instagram and Snapchat. Both of those are very image-oriented, and I would see a lot of very, you could say, idealized or sexualized images of adult women and young women on there . . . that I didn’t really match up to. . . . [C]ompared to other girls I felt like I looked like a boy and it just felt like I couldn’t really match up to other women.
But there is a way out of the unrealistic expectations that our toxic culture pushes on girls: stop being one. The social media algorithms helped send this message to Chloe, pushing a torrent of pro-trans content at her.
This dynamic, in which a poisonous environment for young women makes transition more appealing, was also present offline. Chloe related how, after she had begun transitioning, there was a bully who “one day towards the end of the school year, he actually sexually assaulted me; he groped my chest. . . . I never really thought that anybody would notice that part of me, but he did, and he took advantage of me and I wanted to hide that part of me for the rest of my life. I didn’t want anything to do with it, and I didn’t want the attention that I thought it would bring me.” She tried to ignore the assault, but the trauma of it pushed her further toward having her breasts amputated, which was done within two years of the incident.
Chloe’s experience illuminates why there has been an enormous increase in adolescent girls claiming to be transgender. This surge ought to raise red flags even among those who otherwise accept the claims of gender ideology, but it has been largely brushed off. Chloe’s story shows how gender ideology offers these girls an explanation for, and a way out of, the awkwardness and discomfort of female adolescence—difficult times that are being made much worse by the internet. Social media ensure constant comparison to, and judgment by, what seems like the entire rest of the world. And, as in Chloe’s case, there are the sexual abuses and assaults that many young women suffer. No wonder these girls don’t want to be themselves anymore.
Furthermore, there is very weak evidence to support the claim that the psychological distress of gender dysphoria should be treated with permanent chemical and surgical bodily modification. That this idea has organizational backing from medical associations just provides a perfect example of how professional groups can be captured by a determined band of activists whom no one wants to offend. Other than activists or the ambitious (or academics, who tend to be both), most doctors are too busy to bother much with the groups that represent and regulate their profession. And so transgender activists and their allies have had it all their own way, and are now insisting that the science is settled. They are even trying, with success in some states, to ban any alternative to the affirmation-only model of treating children who claim to be transgender.
But the science isn’t settled, as Chloe Cole and a multitude of other detransitioners prove. In her case, though she didn’t realize it at the time, “it was actually my transition that was worsening issues that were going unaddressed, or even creating new issues.” For instance, though she could now pass as male, she was still attracted to boys, which meant that “my dating pool was pretty restricted and this was a major point of distress for me over the years . . . I was really insecure about this since I had a lot of shame and I felt lonely.” Transitioning had not solved her social or emotional problems, and she began realizing that it had been a mistake. She began to privately experiment with living as a young woman again: “I didn’t live as a girl and I didn’t have breasts anymore but in the comfort of my room or whenever nobody was home I would—I bought some skirts and dresses and my old girl clothes in secret and my feelings about this just got worse over time and I never really talked to anybody about it.”
But she found her courage, first to tell her family, and then to tell the world. The stories of Chloe and other detransitioners are the ultimate rebuke to the arrogant claims of activists and the medical groups they have captured. It is, of course, also important to point out all the flaws in the studies trans activists cite, from poor design to small sample sizes to follow-up loss to short time frames. We should also note that many studies are inapplicable to our situation; studies of carefully screened European adults are unlikely to predict much about American adolescents who are getting cross-sex hormones after a single telehealth appointment. But no intellectual critique can match the condemnation of transgender ideology that is presented through the wounded bodies of patients who have been mutilated by their own doctors. Claims of compassionate expertise wither before their scars and stories.
It is not just that the transition regime of surgery and chemicals has left Chloe with “complications years after the fact, some of which have popped up just last year,” though the high rate of complications and side effects from medical transition is a scandal. Rather, it is also that transitioning took things from her that she, as a child, was utterly unable to give informed consent to. She related how painful it was to learn that “breastfeeding is a major part of building the bond between mother and child and that that bond will later affect a child’s social and emotional and cognitive development and I realized that when I got my breasts taken away there was so much more that was taken away. . . . I felt like a monster.”
But Chloe is not the monster. The monsters are those who are encouraging children to chemically sterilize themselves; the monsters are those who are profiting from amputating the healthy breasts of confused adolescent girls. And by showing everyone who the real monsters are, detransitioners provide support for the many additional victims of transgender ideology. The supposed urgency of affirmation been used to dismiss the claims of other victims, especially women and girls who have lost rights and opportunities as trans-identified men push into female spaces. Female athletes have had to compete against men; female prisoners have had to share cells with men—including violent rapists—and girls and women across America can no longer assume that their locker rooms, bathrooms, and changing rooms are for women only.
Additionally, there are the parents who have had their rights violated or lost their children to this ideology. There are the many people who have been punished or threatened for questioning gender ideology in their workplace. And there are many more, from the academy to Wall Street to the union hall who have been intimidated into silence as gender ideology has swept through American culture and institutions.
Transgenderism is culturally powerful and financially lucrative—every troubled teenage girl who identifies as trans is worth a fortune to the medical–pharmaceutical complex. Greed and ideology are a potent combination, so it is no wonder that almost all safeguards have been abandoned when it comes to transitioning children.
But this greed may be their undoing. Just as the stories of those who have detransitioned disrupt the transgender narrative, their lawsuits may bring down the medical and pharmaceutical cartels that profited from hurting them. The transgender monolith will fall as its victims stand up to it.
Nathanael Blake is a postdoctoral fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
Nathanael Blake, Ph.D. is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His primary research interests are American political theory, Christian political thought, and the intersection of natural law and philosophical hermeneutics. His published scholarship has included work on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Alasdair MacIntyre, Russell Kirk and J.R.R. Tolkien. He is currently working on a study of Kierkegaard and labor. As a cultural observer and commentator, he is also fascinated at how our secularizing culture develops substitutes for the loss of religious symbols, meaning and order.