From my earliest memories I struggled in a society delineated by sex. The rules were different for boys and girls, from what we could wear to how we related to society. Certainly, the expectations placed on me, as a three-year-old boy, were very different to those experienced by three-year-old girls.
Some of this was external – I was told that I would grow up to be big and strong – but we are all curious combinations of nurture and nature, and much was driven from within. I longed to be a girl from before I could speak in full sentences; without the capacity to explain my reasons, even to myself. But, at the same time, the taboo against wearing clothes marketed at girls was already hardwired into my mind.
The struggle waxed and waned over the years but imperceptibly the bad times became worse and, as it consumed my mental health, I learned to call it gender dysphoria. Four decades after those early memories I transitioned socially, medically and surgically to find relief, and I now describe myself as transsexual.
Transition certainly worked, but why it worked is not so clear. Initially, I clung to the rather simplistic idea that I really had been a girl who had had the misfortune to have been born in the wrong body.
Layla Moran MP espoused this theory in Parliament when she was asked if she would be happy sharing a changing room with someone who was born male and had a male body. She told her colleagues that she saw ‘someone in their soul and as a person’ and did not care whether they have a male body.
However as the physicist and Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman said: ‘It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.’
The born-in-the-wrong-body concept wasn’t even a theory: it was a metaphor that became a diagnosis. Supposedly it describes the situation where someone’s gender identity differs from their biological sex. Gender identity, however, introduces further problems because it cannot be defined without resorting to circular reasoning or sexist stereotypes.
Even legislators have failed to avoid those traps. The State of Massachusetts fell at both hurdles when they defined gender identity as: ‘a person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behaviour, whether or not that gender-related identity or behaviour is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth.’
Gender identity has become ingrained in our thinking and in policy, but just because people believe in something does not make it true. We need look no further than astrology and homeopathy for proof of that.
Current ideology insists that everyone has a gender identity and it trumps biological sex, so people are the gender they feel they are and not the sex that was ‘assigned to them at birth’. Trans people are those whose gender identity is inconsistent with their assigned sex. This ‘gender incongruence’ – as it is called – is the supposed cause of gender dysphoria.
That might be a neat theory but it is based purely on feelings. Trans people following it are therefore forced to build their lives on a fantasy, and not only must they believe it but everyone else must believe it or at least pretend to believe it.
Unsurprisingly, the experiment is failing horribly. The law can regulate actions and even compel speech but, short of an Orwellian-type dystopia, it can never force people to believe that a person born with male sex organs is any sort of woman. Increasing numbers of people are expressing disbelief but, because feelings cannot be verified, disputes can never be resolved objectively. Arguably the current toxic and divisive debate around trans rights is not only regrettable, it was inevitable.
Trans people need better than this; we need to build our lives on facts, evidence and objective truth. Some people do suffer gender dysphoria, and gender reassignment (or gender transition) can bring palliative relief. However, the causes of gender dysphoria need to be understood, and that starts with trans people being honest with ourselves and our therapists.
The American-Canadian sexologist Ray Blanchard hypothesised that male transsexuals (including me) could be divided into two groups according to their sexual orientation. Homosexual male transsexuals – those attracted to men – changed their social presentation to make themselves attractive to men. The others, he suggested, were autogynephilic – they had an erotic desire to be women themselves.
But if there are two causes of gender dysphoria, there could easily be more. Recent research by Lisa Littman catalogued the phenomenon of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria, which is affecting mainly adolescent girls who are coming forwards in huge numbers and overwhelming Child and Adolescent Gender Services in the UK and elsewhere.
Justice cannot be done to this work in any essay: research needs to be conducted by clinicians, free from political lobbying by vested interests. Both Blanchard and Littman have suffered dreadfully from trans activists fearful, presumably, that their research shows that we do not need to be born in the wrong body to be dissatisfied with the bodies we were given.
If born-in-the-wrong-body ideology is unnecessary as well as unprovable, it can never offer a solution and it needs to be jettisoned – painful that may be for those trying to cling on to the notion that they are really the opposite sex.
Only when we as trans people accept that truth can we hope to find reconciliation with ourselves and with society. Adults may decide after counselling that they really do need to change their bodies in order to make themselves more attractive to their own sex, find relief from autogynephilia, or for other reasons.
But the fact remains we have a sex and – apart from a vanishingly small number of intersex cases – it was the one that was observed when we were born. That is the truth and to paraphrase 2000-year-old wisdom, it is the truth that will set us free.
Dr Debbie Hayton, a physics teacher in the UK, transitioned male-to-female in 2012.
* This article was first published by Psychreg on 11 January 2020: As Transgender People, We Need to Be Honest with Ourselves and Our Therapists.