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Sex change life saver could be Britain’s first transgender paramedic

A 21-year-old is believed to be Britain’s first transgender paramedic.

Cole Pickering, a student paramedic with West Midlands Ambulance Service, said for most of his life he “just tried to fit in to what seemed normal”.

Pic by Michael Scott/Caters News

But the former climbing instructor was always more comfortable wearing his beloved West Bromwich Albion football shirt and tracksuit than girly dresses, and began hormone therapy in June 2018 after officially changing his name this April. 

And Cole, from Willenhall, West Midlands, said that his experiences have given him a unique perspective on saving lives and his openness has even persuaded other paramedics to consider sharing their sex change stories. 

Cole, who is currently studying at Staffordshire University and will fully qualify as a paramedic in two months’ time, said: “Being transgender in the ambulance service is pretty amazing. 

“A lot of transgender people find it difficult to find jobs and experience negativity in the work place.

“I think it makes me more understanding when meeting patients. 

“I’ve experienced some negativity on social media but apart from that nothing else really.

Pic by Cole Pickering/Caters News: Before transition

“My experiences have made me more confident but also not judgemental of other people or what they’re going through.

“At the end of the day, my gender doesn’t affect my ability to save lives, so why should it be an issue?

 “It was really nerve wracking at first but everyone has been really, really supportive. The service is like one big family. 

“I just feel blessed to have a job where my colleagues are so understanding. 

“When I decided to begin my journey, I changed my name on everything and let all my managers know. 

“We agreed the best course of action would be to put it in our staff weekly briefing, so I wrote my story and shared some photos there. 

“Despite my nerves, the support from colleagues and staff was unreal.

 “All of my friends were really supportive and I’ve made everyone aware it’s OK for them to ask me questions.

Pic by Michael Scott/Caters News: Cole Pickering, with his partner, Gemma Smallman from Wolverhampton.

“I think since my story went out at work there have been other people who’ve come forward.

“I think a lot of people don’t know how to approach the subject and people don’t understand it.

“I think a lot of trans people get worried and anxious, but I think if I can help educate people to understand a little bit more it will let them understand how others feel.”

Cole, who is currently undergoing hormone therapy and raising money for a double mastectomy operation, said he always knew he was different.

But he first started to realise that changing sexes was possible only after he saw a video on the internet.

 Cole, who joined the ambulance service in 2016 and is believed to be the first service member nationally to transition from female to male, said: “When I was younger, mum would put me in dresses up until the age where I could dress myself but then I never got out of a football kit.

“When I was at school I was never a girly girl, I never wore make up. 

Pic by Michael Scott/Caters News: Cole Pickering, with his partner, Gemma Smallman

“I’ve always known I was different. I wasn’t unhappy but I knew I was different and that I didn’t feel right.

“When I was 17 I came across a YouTube video of somebody that had transitioned from female to male,” he said. 

“From there, I started to realise that it was possible and that was how I felt and that I was more comfortable being male and wished that I’d been born as a male.” 

Nervous about how people would react, in 2015 Cole finally decided to tell his parents about how he had been feeling when he was 18.

 He said: “When I first told my mum and dad my thoughts when I was 18, I explained I felt I was in the wrong body.

“I think it was difficult for them, we talked and said maybe I should wait a few years.

“It was all sort of confusing because I knew that was how I felt but I didn’t know how to do it.

Pic by Michael Scott/Caters News: Cole Pickering, from Wolverhampton, is a transgender Student Paramedic with the West Midlands Ambulance Service

 In March last year he faced the daunting task of telling his parents that he not only was he going to change genders but also that he was in a relationship with a woman – girlfriend Gemma.

The pair got together in February 2017, before Cole began transitioning. 

“I was still living at home when I was 19 and then joined the student paramedic programme.

“I was still climbing on the side, and met my girlfriend Gemma. 

“We got on really, really well and I moved in with her.

“After a month I broached the subject of me being trans and she was really supportive.

 “That was when I knew I was going transition for definite.

Pic by Cole Pickering/Caters News: Cole Pickering (left) with his partner, Gemma Smallman at Birmingham Pride

“When I told my mum and dad it wasn’t just me coming out to them as gay first but also bringing them back to the conversation we’d had when I was 18 and explain that I’d transition from female to male.

“They were supportive but they found it difficult, which I think any parent is going to.”

Cole has also chosen to share photos of himself before his transition, when he used his birth name, Chloe.

He said he chose to do so because his former name is still a part of his life.

 And when he turned 21 May 2018, he even decided to put his old name on his birthday cake.

Cole said: “My old name is still part of who I am.  

“I had a lot of friends as Chloe who have followed me from Chloe to Cole now.

“Chloe was a big part of who I am today.

 “On my 21st my mum was really lovely and asked me what I wanted on my cake.

Pic by Cole Pickering/Caters News: Cole Pickering before he transitioned.

 “I put Chloe on my birthday cake as it gave me and my mum and dad the closure that we all needed.

“It’s still a big part of me but I know I’m so much happier as Cole now.”

A spokesman for West Midlands Ambulance Service said: “We are fully committed to supporting our staff and in Cole’s case, fully acknowledge the bravery he has shown to tell his story.

“Since informing the service about his intended transition, Cole has received advice and guidance from the Trust’s LGBT Network as well as from senior management.

 “By sharing his experiences, Cole has given hope and encouragement to others who find themselves in a similar position that support is available.

“This is something he deserves great credit for and we have nothing but admiration for him.” 

Cole is raising money for his operation: https://www.gofundme.com/mc6eh-top-surgery

Do you, or someone you know, have a similar story to tell? Get in touch today to earn £££ and raise awareness.

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