My name is now Deborah Ashley Hayton, but that was not always the case. In 2012 I transitioned “male-to-female”. I didn’t really change sex – I know that now – but at the time I was convinced that I was some kind of woman. Otherwise, I can’t imagine that I would have gone through with it and caused so much distress to my wife and children.
I was born 44 years earlier in 1968 as David Ashley Hayton. As a boy, my interests were not atypical. I enjoyed my books – and I devoured encyclopaedias – but so did other boys. I did not struggle especially with the gender stereotypes; my problems were rooted in my sexuality. But for most of my life I had no understanding of the problem. Deeply ashamed, and unable to compare my experience with anyone else, I buried it as deep as I could.
The symptom was baffling and inexplicable: I desperately wanted to be a girl. It persisted into adulthood, and I developed coping strategies. I kept myself busy, studied hard and I did well in education and in my career. I knew I was heterosexual – I am attracted to females – but the target of my sexuality was also my own body, and that body was male.
It was an impossible problem but had it not been for the internet, I suspect that the second half of my life would have been pretty much the same as the first: a family man notable for things I had done in my career rather than things I did to my body. The crisis was precipitated by social media. When I learned that other people were transitioning – and seemingly finding peace and contentment as a result – I needed to do it too.
The compulsion became overwhelming as emotions took over my mind: envy of others and craving for myself. I was entranced by the illusion that I was some sort of woman. I transitioned to try and find my true self. But I had always been my true self. The hormone therapy and gender surgery changed my body but it did not change me. However, I was not prepared to listen to reason. Five years later the “pink mist” began to lift and I realised that transition is at best a palliative solution to psychological distress. It can never be a resolution because we can never change sex.
Roberta Cowell – a Spitfire pilot who transitioned in the 1950s – is reported to have said that “It’s easier to change a body than a mind.” That may be true, but surely it misses the point. Instead we need to reconcile the mind with the body. That is hard, but our bodies are more than mere perambulating devices; we are our bodies as much as we are our minds.
But if that nuance was lost on me in 2012, what hope is there for children who are being bombarded with messages from the internet. In cyberspace we can be whoever we want to be, so long as others play the game. But this spills into reality, and the messages are propagated by publicly funded groups. They have captured policy making and established the concept of gender identity as an innate quality which alone determines whether we are men, women or something else. It is pervasive but it is also unprovable, unfalsifiable and impossible to define without recourse to circular reasoning – “gender identity is the gender we identify with” – and sexist stereotypes.
These messages have been taken into schools by campaigning groups including Stonewall UK, Mermaids UK and Gendered Intelligence. These same lobbyists have inspired guidance for schools that has denied children their legal right to single sex toilets and washing facilities, encouraged name changes and pronoun changes without informing unsupportive parents.
In a world where heterosexual can be seen as boring, children desire to be special. Identity becomes everything when there are “100 genders or more” to choose from, according to the BBC.
As adults cheer them on, these children are heading for medical treatment that would change their bodies and possibly leave them infertile for life. Unlike my generation, where transsexualism still mainly comprises men who want to be women, these youngsters are mostly girls who want to be boys. They are the other sex, and their issues are different to anything I could have experienced. Indeed, while my problems were rooted in my sexuality, it seems to me that these teenage girls just don’t want to become women.
Policy may eventually be put right but it will be no consolation to children whose bodies have been changed permanently. Medical transition is a one-way ticket. The safeguarding of children from harm is at stake, and that task is the responsibility of everyone.
By Debbie Hayton
Debbie Hayton is a teacher, journalist and trade union officer based in the West Midlands.