Cole Paress is living an entirely different life from the frightened preteen struggling to piece together his identity just a decade ago. “I was 10 or 11 years old trying to figure out why I absolutely hated looking in the mirror and stuff like that. I was unhappy all the time and projecting it onto everyone else. I thought I was just insecure. Obviously, growing up as anyone in a minority and being different is tough. It’s shocking to look back on how sad I was as a kid and how badly I wanted to give up. My parents told me, ‘Just keep going. You’ll be okay. We’ll figure everything out.’ Looking back on my 11 year old self coming out, I was so scared. I was just thinking, ‘I don’t know what this world’s gonna do to me.’ My dad was very hesitant towards it, but he just didn’t want me to get hurt. He was okay with it, but scared for me to face the world. Then I remember finding Wesley Tucker, who was one of the few trans creators at the time. He helped me a lot. But yeah, my younger self would be absolutely mind blown to see who I am now,” he laughs.
Unlike the unfortunate reality for many trans youth, Cole’s family went above and beyond to support him.“I was beyond blessed beyond words with my parents. I understand a lot of LGBT people have struggles with parents and it’s so sad because I look at my parents and they literally would move mountains for me. They didn’t bat an eye. When I told them I was trans, they chose to go to therapy to understand being trans because they obviously didn’t know. It was a whole different time for them. My parents are divorced and it was really nice to see them come together to help me as a person. That was kind of a really big eye opener for me. So they went to therapy and learned how to push me along in my journey. I just wish every parent was like that. I hate seeing young trans guys coming to me saying ‘I really want to come out, but my parents will kick me out.’ Why? You’re still their child. You’re just going by a different name and different gender. You’re still who they raised. I still have the morals my parents raised me with. I’m just not a girl.” He wishes that parents would stop focusing on the child they’re supposedly “losing” and pay more attention to their well being and the content of their character. “As soon as they hear that you’re making a big change. I think the first thing they think of is you’re going to be a completely different person. Sure, I’ll have a different haircut and a different smile probably because it’s going to be more authentic, but I’m still going to be your child and I’m still going to follow the roles that you taught me how to follow. I’m still going to respect people. I’m still going to love people unconditionally like you taught me, I’m just going to do it as a male.”
Though Cole initially chose to keep his personal life private, he decided to come out on TikTok to set an example to the trans kids craving a role model. “I was stealth my whole life (meaning I didn’t tell anyone I was trans) unless you knew me from being in my town or friends of mine.I started TikTok again after a few years of being stealth online.I didn’t have much of a big following, but something just clicked to me. I had a certain group of people from my town that would reach out to me, younger trans guys and younger trans girls that were trying to figure out what they were doing. And I thought, ‘Why don’t I just rip the bandaid off? This platform is me, but it’s not authentically me. No one knows who I am.’ So I made one TikTok and it was a funny one about how my dad finally got a girl to walk down the aisle and then me coming out as trans because I have three brothers.” The response was…not what he was expecting. “Surprisingly, I got a ton of backlash from it, but not in a sense where people were hating that I was trans. I lost 20,000 followers because people thought I was joking and making fun of trans people. That was weird. I even went live and had my mom on the live trying to convince people I wasn’t lying.”
Eventually, after being cajoled into “proving” he was trans (be better, TikTok gatekeepers), the reception was much warmer. “So I took a break from TikTok after that, but then I came back in full swing and I just completely ripped the bandaid off. I showed pictures from before I transitioned and after I got my top surgery. It blew up and got the recognition my younger self was hoping for too. I wanted to help people because all I had was YouTube videos. I feel like TikTok is a lot more personal. I can answer DMs. I can answer Instagram DMs. I talk to at least a hundred people a day constantly just trying to help them figure out what they need to do, which is beautiful. I love helping people and I love people. It’s a win-win,” Cole beams. He knows not to sweat the negativity. “When someone’s giving you hate, that’s something within themselves that they’re projecting onto you. I remember when I was that age, I did the same thing. That was something within myself that I was projecting. I didn’t know any better. I was young. I was immature. I don’t take hate personally. Every content creator can say you get hate no matter where you go on social media, but it’s all about how you handle it as a creator and how you handle it offline as well. People only know me from online. They don’t know what I do offline, which I like because everyone’s human. They deserve to have their own time and their own privacy. But I have a lot of support on this app, which I never thought was going to happen. I’ve met a lot of great people through it.”
This support helps buoy him through moments of self-doubt. Being a heartthrob and having legions of admirers does little to quiet his inner critic. Even surgeries can’t fully erase his insecurities. “Although I post a lot of thirst traps, it’s still a very hard battle within yourself every day. I have my top surgery, I have my deep voice. I have my Adam’s apple. I have all these things that make me who I am. But then there’s also a piece of you that wishes you were cis or wishes you were taller. You’ll find something every day that you kind of have to battle yourself within over. It’s a mind game. Just because you have all these gender affirming surgeries does not mean that your gender dysphoria goes away. You’re still going to have some. Some people may be blessed without it, but I for one still deal with it. Whenever I get really down on myself, I’ll take a step back and realize all the people I’m helping and all the nice comments I get every day and how many compliments I get every day. And I decide, instead of listening to my own head, I’m going to listen to other people who are looking from the outside in and say, ‘There’s a reason why these people are supporting me. There’s a reason why I have these people behind me. And there’s a reason why they commented a nice thing. They wouldn’t comment that if they didn’t think it.’ My followers and my TikTok have helped me a lot with my transition and opened my eyes about how important it is to be open about it.”
He takes his role as mentor very seriously, wanting to shepherd others through moments of uncertainty. “Everyone needs something. Whether it’s a friend, whether it’s a creator, whether it’s a parent, whether it’s an aunt and uncle, if you have someone that has gone through it and understands it full circle and you can talk to them, it makes it so much easier. Like I said, Wesley Tucker was a YouTuber, but I couldn’t text him to ask ‘Hey, I’m going through this, this and that with testosterone (T) can you help me?’ I couldn’t do that. But my followers could do that with me if they’re concerned. Obviously if it’s a big deal, you should really consult your doctor and definitely talk to him more about it. I’m not a doctor, but I’ve been on T long enough to know that if you’re breaking out, you have to understand you’re going through another puberty. It’s not like you just take T, you become a man. You’re going through another whole puberty. You’re going through all these things. It’s different for everyone.”
While the vast majority of his family is overwhelmingly supportive, certain rejections still sting. “My dad’s parents are my grandparents that just don’t support my transition and don’t understand it, which is fine. I’m not going to force them to. In contrast, my maternal grandmother didn’t understand it, but she chose to figure it out and understand it on her own so she could understand me better. I hate the excuse that they grew up in a different time, but they did. It’s a lot different. My dad’s dad is Italian and extremely Catholic. He’s very by the books. So is my dad, but my dad decided to take a step back and realize what he needed to do for his child. It wasn’t about religion for him. That’s just an excuse. He said, ‘You’re my kid, let’s figure out what we can do for you. If you’re going to be a male, then I need you to be the man that I raised you to be. I raised you with all these morals and respect for others.’ I wish my grandparents would do that. My grandma still tries to reach out, but I take it with the grain of salt. I do love my grandparents and I wish we could have a relationship, but there’s a reason why we don’t and I’ve come to terms with that. I’ve accepted it. Like I said, I have my grandma on my mom’s side and I have my grandma on my step side and they are absolutely unbelievable. So it makes up for the missing piece I have in my heart for my dad’s parents. They mended it from day one. It was hard, but if they don’t want to support me and understand me, then they don’t deserve to know me.”
Cole wants to reaffirm that above all else, he will be there to support any of his followers who are experiencing gender dysphoria or questioning their gender identity. “I wish I could hug every single one because it sucks. It truly is the worst thing ever. But I think for myself, if I could give them a piece of advice, it would be to stay authentic. Don’t ever, ever, ever think for two seconds that you have to not transition for another human being. Even if it’s your parents, I know that it’s the hardest thing. Because that’s what keeps a lot of kids from transitioning because they think their parents and family are going to disown them and stuff like that. Just stay true to yourself. If you transition to be your most authentic self and they don’t want to get to know you or support you, you will find someone who wants to love you. Every single piece of you, whether you are non-binary or gender fluid, you will find someone that supports you wholeheartedly. I have a lot of people who say that they don’t know if they want to transition because of their family. This is about you. This is your story. You are your narrator of this book. This is your life. You need to do what you need to do. Don’t think about all these other people, because if they’re meant to be in your life, they’ll stay in your life. Just because they’re blood doesn’t mean they have to stick around forever, which is another thing that I had to come to terms with. But that’s okay. Just because they’re here now, if they decide to leave, will you take that next step? You become more you and you do it for you. I know it’s hard when you don’t have the backbone of your family. But it’s really just staying true to yourself and remembering this is for you. Not for anybody else – do it for you. Don’t do it for your best friend. Don’t do it for your parents. Don’t not do it for these people. It’s not their book. It’s not their life. If they want to be a part of it, they can, but if they don’t want to, that’s okay. Next chapter.”
He remains dedicated to portraying his true self online. “A lot of creators don’t show the negative side. They just share the uplifting, happy side with their followers. But like I said earlier, I still deal with gender dysphoria and stuff like that. I’m still going to show that raw side of me because every raw side comes growth and experience and understanding within yourself. And I’m just staying true to myself and doing it for me, not doing it for anyone else. I’m going to stay true to me. I try to remember that there’s a reason why I’m here. The road’s paved in front of me for a reason. I just have to fill it out, figure out which step to take and when to take it. I’ll always embrace myself. My mom would kick my butt if I didn’t. That’s the one thing she’s always told me to do. Just be authentic, be you and the people who want to get to know you will.” As always, mom knows best.
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Cole Paress Embraces Authenticity as a Trans Creator. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Cole Paress.