(NewsNation) — As the number of young people identifying as transgender or gender-diverse increases each year, some are now coming forward with stories of regret and caution after they feel they transitioned at too young an age.
There are about 1.3 million adults and 300,000 teens who identify as transgender in the U.S., and this group makes up about 0.05% of the population.
Medical transitions have come under increasing scrutiny, particularly as it relates to children and teens diagnosed with gender dysphoria — in which a person feels distressed identifying as the gender assigned to them at birth — whose numbers have tripled since 2017.
An October survey found about 8% of responding transgender and gender-diverse adults have detransitioned, though most (62%) say they went back to being trans. However, there are virtually no studies or data on the detransition rates among teens.
Though it’s a small group, those who have chosen to detransition — reversing or stopping medical treatments or socially/legally reverting to their gender assigned at birth — are starting to voice concerns. NewsNation spoke with three young people who chose a different path after transitioning in their teen years.
“Every single part of my transition was a mistake, and I didn’t want to be going down that path anymore,” said 18-year-old Chloe Cole, whose medical transition began when she was 13.
Cole told NewsNation she always felt like a tomboy, but she really started thinking about transitioning to a boy after she created an Instagram account.
“Very quickly the algorithm of Instagram actually started recommending me a bunch of, like, a lot of LGBTQ content, particularly, like trans-identified females who were on my age, like trans boys,” Cole said.
Cole began seeing a therapist, but when her parents raised questions, her therapist warned them against discouraging her from transitioning.
“They basically said (there are) the high suicide rates amongst like, trans-identified adolescents,” Cole said. “And they basically said, ‘Would you rather have a dead daughter or a live son?’”
Cole said she had not expressed suicidal ideations to anyone before her first gender-affirming treatments began.
At age 13, Cole said she received her first estrogen blocker and shots of testosterone. Two years later, at age 15, she decided to get a mastectomy and a year after that, at 16, she got a double mastectomy.
“I was convinced that I was actually a boy even if I wasn’t, even if my body was female and nobody really questioned this belief at all,” Cole said.
But after that, she said she felt regret creep in.
“I told my mom — I kind of just broke down crying to her one night about how this was the biggest mistake in my life,” Cole said.
Feeling she had been wronged by her health care providers, Cole is now suing three doctors and the medical group that oversaw her hormone therapy and surgery.
“I mean, my breasts are gone permanently,” Cole said. “And I have no idea about whether I’ll be able to have kids.”
A recent survey shows that of the 8% of respondents who chose to detransition either temporarily or permanently, many cited external pressures for their decision. They felt pressure from loved ones, had a hard time finding a job or said the transition process was too much for them. The researchers noted that detransitioning was not synonymous with regret, though they said the two overlapped in some people.
Two people who told NewsNation they regretted their transitions and have since detransitioned are 24-year-old Helena Kerschner and 20-year-old Luka, who asked only to be identified by her first name.
Kerschner said she “fantasized” about getting a double mastectomy and was told by other transgender people that she would feel better once she got gender-affirming surgeries to become a man.
“But that it didn’t feel right. And eventually, I just stopped the testosterone,” she said.
After stopping, Kerschner said, “All of these crazy symptoms that were happening to me that wound me up in the hospital completely stopped. I haven’t experienced any of those things since stopping the testosterone. I also felt just incredibly lost because this was the way that I had been interpreting myself for about five years.”
Meanwhile, Luka began medically transitioning at 16 and “got a double mastectomy before I was on hormones.” Luka too has opted to detransition, saying, “At this point, there’s no really going all the way back. And I don’t know what to do.”
The testimonials of people like Cole, Kershner and Luka are getting the attention of prominent members of the medical community, who previously advocated for children to medically transition. Dr. Laura Edwards-Leeper is one such doctor, who was one of the first clinical psychologists at the first gender clinic in the country.
“One thing we absolutely have to do is start learning from the detransitioners. There are more and more every day,” Edwards-Leeper said.
She said the health care community is starting to conduct clinical research on the phenomenon, but more needs to be done.
“There are slowly studies being done, but those researchers are terrified to put their research out there,” Edwards-Leeper said. “They are attacked unbelievably for even discussing that this is a possibility. But we can’t do good clinical work if we don’t understand and learn from them to know what did we do wrong?”
Cole, Luka and Kerschner feel that it’s important for them to come forward with their stories and say it’s OK for young people to wait to transition.
“I don’t know any other mental health condition where the first step is, ‘Oh, you’re suicidal, we’re gonna give you surgery,’” Luka said. “As opposed to, ‘Oh you’re suicidal, we’re gonna give you mental health treatment and therapy and make sure that your life is maybe stable or that everything’s OK at home.’”
“We as a society have seriously failed the youngest generation, and we can’t blame them for that because they didn’t choose to feel this way at 14, 15 years old,” Kerschner said. “But the medical model that we kind of funnel the troubled kids into just has no way of really addressing this on a deep level.”
“There’s just no defending this,” Cole said. “You cannot possibly defend sterilizing and then mutilating children.”
NewsNation’s Marty Hobe and Tulsi Kamath contributed to this report.