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Why I became trans The psychological distress was so severe, I felt I had no choice

You even get a flag to make sure you feel special. (ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

You even get a flag to make sure you feel special. (ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)


August 24, 2021   5 mins

Transsexuals like me never asked to be at the centre of one of the most toxic debates in society; we just wanted to transition and get on with our lives. But what was once a niche medical condition has become a civil rights issue so big that it now challenges our understanding of what it means to be a man or woman.

Transgender ideologues tell us that everybody has a gender identity — an innate and immutable feeling of maleness and femaleness — that determines whether we are women or men, or perhaps something else. If that conflicts with the sex “assigned” to you at birth, then come join us under the transgender umbrella. We will even give you a flag to make sure you feel special.

But what if gender identity is bunkum? To the true faithful who dutifully chant “transwomen are women”, even asking the question is tantamount to blasphemy.

The term “gender identity” was coined by Robert Stoller in 1964. He described it as “a congenital, perhaps inherited biological force”. But evidence is lacking. As Alex Byrne, Professor of Philosophy at MIT, has observed: “If there is some kind of ‘gender identity’ that is universal in humans, and which causes dysphoria when mismatched with sex, it remains elusive.”

Rather like the “luminiferous ether” of the 19th century, a hypothetical substance used to explain the transmission of light, gender identity was invented rather than discovered. But when Einstein showed that ether was unnecessary to explain its existence, that idea was abandoned. Presumably, then, if transsexualism can be explained without a mysterious biological force, gender identity can join it in the history books.

Since the whole debate rests on the distinction between men and women, it makes sense to consider the differences between them. In humans, adult males tend to be taller, while females tend to have wider hips. But the crucial difference — which defines male and female in any species — is the production, or potential for production, of one of two gametes: ova in females and sperm in males.

Having fathered three children in the usual way, there can be no doubt which gametes I produced. I am male, and hence I am a man.

So why am I also transsexual? What could have caused psychological distress so severe that I felt I had no choice but to transition? At the time — nine years ago — the urge to change not only my social presentation but also my body was irresistible. But can this be explained by differences in psychology, rather than a mysterious force?

Male and female psychologies are not the same. The most obvious difference is sexual orientation. According to the Office of National Statistics, 93.4% of men are attracted to women, while 93.9% of women are attracted to men. But to attract partners, men and women also signal sexually in grooming, dress and presentation, and they tend to do it differently. No doubt some of this will be socially conditioned, but that cannot explain our observations of other species. Peacocks not only possess distinctive plumage, they show it off.

In her book, Testosterone: The Story of the Hormone that Dominates and Divides Us, Carole Hooven — currently the Co-Director of Undergraduate Studies in Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard — builds a persuasive case that testosterone in utero affects the psychology as well as the physiology of the developing embryo. She tells me, however, that unlike other species, “what particular [sexual] signals we use are heavily dependent on culture”.

Like sexual orientation, sexual signalling applies differently to the two sexes. But it is also overt and pervasive, extending far beyond clothes and makeup. Even the words man and woman evoke their sexual signals. When we hear “a real man”, we don’t picture an authentic producer of small gametes; we think of a man with sexually attractive, testosterone-driven male qualities: strong and tough, and probably not wearing a dress.

And so sexual signalling is more than mere gender expression. While gender is a poorly defined term and rooted in culture, sex is the reason our species is here. Sexual attraction involves two vectors: sexual orientation is the sex we are attracted to, and sexual signalling is how we make ourselves attractive. Neither can be disconnected from sex and the biological impetus to reproduce.

Just as people with an atypical sexual orientation can be labelled as gay, those driven to atypical sexual signalling can be labelled as trans. So isn’t sexual signalling just gender identity by another name? Yes and no.

Yes, it is an innate quality that is hard-wired into us: it is not something that we can choose, and it can lead to transsexualism if we are driven to signal in the way typical of the other sex rather than our own. But no, sexual signalling does not supplant biological sex. When transgender activists chant “transwomen are women”, they are in effect demanding that gender identity replaces biological sex when we demarcate men and women. The deleterious impact of that approach on female people — “birthing bodies”, according to one female health charity — is profound.

Sexual signalling is also an observable reality, and it is a starting point to understand why some people are trans. There may be multiple different reasons, but I will focus on the group I know most about: heterosexual males who transitioned in midlife.

Not only can our maleness not be wished away — we are members of the sex that produces sperm, after all — I would claim that the reason why this group wants to wear dresses and makeup, grow out our hair and develop breasts is linked inextricably to our maleness. To quote another transsexual, Anne A Lawrence, we are “men trapped in men’s bodies”. That was the title of Lawrence’s book that contained a series of narratives written by autogynephilic male-to female transsexuals.

Autogynephilia was a term introduced in 1989 by the American-Canadian sexologist Ray Blanchard. Blanchard told me that autogynephilia denotes “a natal male’s tendency to be sexually aroused by the thought or image of himself as a woman.” He added, “in the Western Hemisphere and English-speaking Commonwealth countries, the overwhelming majority of adult natal males presenting with gender dysphoria are of the autogynephilic type.”

It’s not difficult to conceive why autogynephilia can lead to severe psychological distress in heterosexual men attracted to their own bodies. Because their sexual and romantic interest is directed inwards — a target location error according to Blanchard  — they respond by sexually signalling to themselves. But while their interest is in females (they are heterosexual), their bodies are male. Clothing may help to create an illusion of femaleness but, for some, medical transition may seem to be the only way to square the circle.

This scientific approach to just one form of male-to-female transsexualism is a world away from a metaphysical claim that “transwomen are women”. But the concept of gender identity has been comforting and politically useful for autogynephilic transsexuals in a society that stigmatises unusual male sexuality. Unsurprisingly, Blanchard’s theory provokes a very strong reaction in some.

It should not, however, be ignored: gender identity has caused significant collateral damage to children and adolescents, women’s rights, biomedical science and Western political life. Moreover,  it is as unnecessary as the ether. Transsexuals — and other gender non-conforming people — do not need to invent an innate gender identity to understand ourselves.

We just have a need to communicate ourselves — sexually signal — as other human beings do, just in a way more typical of the opposite sex. There may be a host of reasons why that happens, of which autogynephilia is just one, but gender identity explains nothing. Worse, it hinders exploration into the conditions that make us the people we are.


Debbie Hayton is a teacher and a transgender campaigner.

DebbieHayton

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Sarah Johnson
Sarah Johnson
2 years ago

Thank you Debbie Hayton for being brave enough to write this article and to tell trans activists that their pet theory of gender identity is bunkum. Thank you for promoting scientific understanding over ideological slogans. I’m sure you will get a lot of hate for daring to speak out – please never think you deserve it.

Richard Riheed
Richard Riheed
2 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Johnson

Agree. This is an excellent article. Thank you Debbie, it cuts through so much BS (sorry, acronym, but think it’s pretty well known). I hope the article doesn’t generate too much vitriol for you: stay strong!

Debbie Hayton
Debbie Hayton
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Riheed

Thank you, Sarah and Richard. The piece was written to provoke discussion. Some of that will be negative but I am used to that.

Hosias Kermode
Hosias Kermode
2 years ago
Reply to  Debbie Hayton

I greatly respect you. I read anything you write with interest and attention. But I still don’t get it, I’m afraid. What you describe sounds to me more like transvestism (?is this a word?). I’ve known two straight men who were fairly compulsively into dressing in women’s clothing. But neither would have wanted to change their bodies as a result. Or to live as women. It was just a “kink”. (Is that word still politically correct?) And as a contributor below says, what these men – and you – seem to do is project a stereotype of what it is to be a sexually attractive woman, rather than the reality. As the contributor below says and as all women know, all you need to attract men is be young and be there. From the age of 12 you will be noticed and approached, almost whatever you look like and however you dress. And from the age of mid 30s or the point at which you have a child (whichever occurs first), the bulk of this attention will stop. It makes biological sense. Youth (to guarantee healthy babies and a mother capable of looking after them) and virginity (to guarantee the offspring are actually yours) are the key features of attraction, with looks simply refining the choice further.

Tim Dilke
Tim Dilke
2 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Johnson

I agree. So many people who are labelled as transphobic simply want a scientific basis to understand gender dysphoria and its consequences and are not prepared to accept an explanation which relies solely on faith. It is the same for sexual orientation.

Stuart Y
Stuart Y
2 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Johnson

Whatever has happened to “us” when an eminently sensible and compassionate article such as this rooted firmly in Science and reality “anticipates” the “hate” that will undoubtedly be forthcoming for the author?

Debbie Hayton
Debbie Hayton
2 years ago
Reply to  Stuart Y

I’m used to it, Stuart. Sadly.

Marco S
Marco S
2 years ago
Reply to  Debbie Hayton

Thanks very much Debbie for your honesty and Clarity. I attended a Doctorate presentation day on the subject and like many others present understood very little.

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
2 years ago

…… what if gender identity is bunkum? To the true faithful who dutifully chant “transwomen are women”, even asking the question is tantamount to blasphemy.

I wouldn’t presume to understand the “journey” you’ve been on, or the struggles – both personal and societal – you’ve faced, but I would suggest the situation is made many times worse by the so-called “Allies” who have rallied to the trans cause. Their insistence on everybody accepting their imposed orthodoxy, under the threat of cancellation for those who don’t comply, is much of the reason for any push-back.
For anyone who has previously campaigned for equality, the whole Self-ID issue seems a very strange hill to choose to die on – and wholly self-defeating.
If gender is merely a case of self-identification then, at a stroke, the concept of Feminism is dead. The Gender pay-gap argument, already on very thin ice, entirely falls through into the freezing waters below and women’s sport – that has made such advances in the last few years – ceases to be fairly competitive, and thus comes to an end.
The contradictory nature of the whole argument means it cannot survive scrutiny. It exists and perpetuates because anyone who dares gainsay it can be shouted down by activists as a mere bigot and thus someone who does not deserve an explanation or to be reasoned with. But if sensible, sober people try to man the barricades (person the barricades??) to defend and legitimise the concept of self-identification, then they have to be able to square all the various contradictory circles that dwell within the argument.
It cannot be done.
My (30 year old) dictionary defines Gender as “The quality of being Male or Female”. More recent online dictionaries have broadened the definition to include this idea of gender being on a spectrum. Can we not have a different word to describe this spectrum other than “Gender”?
This re-definition, surely, is where much of the argument derives from. Most people can, quite correctly, define gender in the way it has been used for all of our lifetimes, until its meaning was expanded-upon and changed very recently. They are now being told to deny that truth – or be denounced as a bigot.
If I meet a trans person and they ask me to call them a different name, or by different pronouns, I will acquiesce simply out of courtesy. They are entitled to their choices, their sense of self, they can do whatever makes them happy, and who am I to judge?
However, when activists that I haven’t met INSIST that I must fall into line with the new dogma – one that flies in the face of long-established meaning – then I don’t see why I should be forced, why anyone should be forced, to play along.
It doesn’t matter by what name you call yourself, or the life you choose to lead, even what you add to or subtract from your body through surgeries, you don’t change chromosomes. Individuals having two X chromosomes (XX) are female; individuals having one X chromosome and one Y chromosome (XY) are male.
Must we now deny science as well as twist the language to accommodate the new activist orthodoxy?
As I say, on an individual basis, I am perfectly willing to accept someone for who they are, however they choose to define themselves – to do otherwise seems unnecessarily rude or intolerant. But no one should be forced, on pain of public shaming and “cancellation”, to believe things that are not factually true.

Last edited 2 years ago by Paddy Taylor
Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

“Must we now deny science as well as twist the language to accommodate the new activist orthodoxy?”
In short, yes 😉
All in the name of compassion and inclusion, clearly.

Alan Tonkyn
Alan Tonkyn
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Thank you, Debbie, for a brave and illuminating article. While on the topic of language, raised by Andrea, I think that a cause – seemingly trivial – of the potentially damaging ‘gender vs sex’ distinction has been linguistic. As ‘sex’ has come to mean both a biological characteristic and sexual intercourse (eg ‘He had a lot of sex in his youth’), the term ‘gender’ has been promoted to distinguish the former from the latter. Paddy Taylor’s 30-year-old dictionary goes along with this, placing ‘gender’ where ‘sex’ used to be; my 56-year-old dictionary defines ‘gender’ as ‘Grammatical classification…of objects roughly corresponding to the two sexes and sexlessness (MASCULINE, FEMININE AND NEUTER)’. I wonder whether the ‘invention’ of ‘gender identity’, so helpfully skewered by Debbie, was given its initial push by this linguistic development?

Debbie Hayton
Debbie Hayton
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Tonkyn

I wonder if we would be better off without the word “gender”? It is poorly defined but then becomes conflated with sex, so the understanding of sex becomes poorly defined as well. I don’t think that’s helpful.

Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago
Reply to  Debbie Hayton

It sure isn’t, but this is all the trans lobby (as in the greens and Stonewall) are doing, aren’t they?

Alan Tonkyn
Alan Tonkyn
2 years ago
Reply to  Debbie Hayton

I do agree, Debbie. Or we could push ‘gender’ back into its purely grammatical box. However, that ship has probably sailed. You are so right about the poor definition of ‘gender’, however, and the confusion this has caused. Thanks, again, for your insightful article.

Natasha Felicia
Natasha Felicia
2 years ago

It’s true that AGP males want to “sexually signal” a male stereotype of female sexuality. It’s all about flipping hair, heels and a stereotype of female sexuality that often seems to be stuck in that individual male’s years of sexual awakening and early sexual relationships.

As a woman I have had to do precisely ZERO to attract male sexual attention, especially in my younger years. Just walking along wearing baggy gym clothes and no makeup, in fact often hoping to avoid male attention would be enough for men to approach.

It’s clear that AGP men can never actually know or experience the average woman’s experience of attracting men, because most of the time we aren’t trying to or even thinking about the opposite sex. Our biology is signaling loud and clear we are female, no artifice needed.

Last edited 2 years ago by Natasha Felicia
Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

Sorry, but I’m not very good at decoding acronyms. What does “AGP” mean?

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

I assumed “AutoGynePhilia”.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

You may be right. I wish people wouldn’t do this, though. It doesn’t make them look clever. It just means I struggle to understand whatever point they’re trying to make.

Last edited 2 years ago by Drahcir Nevarc
Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

It is mentioned more than once in the article… A quick scroll up was enough to check.
I don’t know if it is a recognised acronym, but it is certainly quicker than having to remember how to spell it. 😉
I use made up acronyms quite often when commenting if I think the context is clear enough.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

I take your point, but this is a relatively long article, and scrolling through it in order to work out what ‘AGP’ stands for can take the reader much longer than the second or two it would have taken N.Felicia to type ‘autogynephilia’. And now here we all are wasting even more time arguing about it!

Last edited 2 years ago by Drahcir Nevarc
Sue Ward
Sue Ward
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

To people who follow the trans debate, AGP is a very well known and accepted acronym.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Sue Ward

Perhaps so, but that hardly suits it for usage in non-specialist media with a readership not au fait with the jargon.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
2 years ago

Yet, as the article states, autogynephiles are not trying to attract males! They are were born straight males however they’re turned on by being/feeling that they’re female.

Natasha Felicia
Natasha Felicia
2 years ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

My point is they are “doing female” in a stereotypical way which has little to do with the lived experience of women.

Debbie Hayton
Debbie Hayton
2 years ago

It doesn’t. But what you do see might be how men would like women to “do female”.

Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago
Reply to  Debbie Hayton

Isn’t that misogynistic, in the sense that you box women in a very narrow way?
Women don’t have to prove they are such. They just are, and, as Natasha pointed out, the mere fact that you exist is enough to get you the male gaze.
Perhaps what you meant is that this is how SOME men (primarily of the transexual variety) “would like women do female”.
Perhaps like drag acts or panto villains portray some caricature of the female sex (I expect both will be banned soon…).

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrea X
Debbie Hayton
Debbie Hayton
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

My gut feeling on this is that the range of expression you see in AGP males mirrors the range of how men would like women to express themselves.

Andrew Salkeld
Andrew Salkeld
2 years ago
Reply to  Debbie Hayton

I like this response by Debbie. I saw written recently, “girly-boys are not gay. They are half-girls trying to be 200% feminine. They are often more feminine than biological women. And that is why so many men are attracted to them.” And then this, “The best part of being a girl is that I don’t have to pretend to be a boy anymore.” It’s almost as though the subconscious is saying, the more women become like, and dress like men, the bigger is the gap that they have left behind. I wonder if I can fill that gap with my ideal notion of ‘woman’. In that sense it is possible to see how AGP males can be attracted to the other in themselves. Nature does not like vacuums. And perhaps no longer AGP, but serving a useful and decorative and healthy higher purpose – aesthetics and authenticity.

Marco S
Marco S
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Ru Paul Drag race should be banned on several grounds.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
2 years ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

As I say in my main comment, this is typically narcissistic (in a neutral not pejorative sense). The narcissistic trait is named after Narcissus who fell in love with his own image. Autogynephilia takes this a step further by dressing the arousing internal image as a woman.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 year ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

Narcissism

D Smith
D Smith
1 year ago

Women have no idea how much they instinctively signal their Interests in mating. Just look at a pack of women sitting together at a bar. An average man can probably pick out the women who are ovulating 9 times out of 10 because these women are far more dressed up and their faces more flushed if they are not wearing makeup. But just as women don’t realize their instincts are doing this, men don’t realize their instincts are driving them more towards the ovulating females .

Is it so hard to believe that the instincts (either from gene expression or unusual prenatal development) that drive women to act more feminine when single and even MORE feminine when ovulating my accidentally be expressed in some unlucky males and get activated at some point!?

It can be that looking at a cohort of beautiful women some men feel jealousy more strongly than attraction …

Last edited 1 year ago by D Smith
Peta Seel
Peta Seel
2 years ago

Through all the noise I have struggled to understand what transgender actually is but finally I think I do. Thank you for this piece, and I enjoy your articles in the Spectator too!

Debbie Hayton
Debbie Hayton
2 years ago
Reply to  Peta Seel

Thank you.

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago

I cannot help wondering what would happen to these troubled people if the medical profession had decided long ago that changing a person’s s e x ual characteristics, medically and/or surgically, would be unethical and should not be attempted. Doctors and surgeons could not resist the challenge though. They are so very clever, and once the potential is there people will want what is on offer, they will ‘need’ it.

Debbie Hayton
Debbie Hayton
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

I do wonder if it is an iatrogenic treatment.

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago
Reply to  Debbie Hayton

I had to look up “iatrogenic” Debbie but yes, that is a possibility I would think.

Last edited 2 years ago by Claire D
Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Who are the anti-trans ?

Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

I think they are a species even rarer than the trans themselves.

Mirax Path
Mirax Path
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

I think the medical intervention is not to blame because traditionally transexuals often castrated themselves. It was certainly true of some of the trans communities in India. It is humane to offer safer options to diy castrations. The ballooning of the issue to its recent mythical status as THE human rights issue of its time is something else and my objection is to the transformation of entirety society to validate the smallest minority there is.

Terry McMahon
Terry McMahon
2 years ago

Debbie, it’s hard to respond without sounding patronising, sycophantic, or just plain dumb, but in the ongoing storm of screaming accusations and egoic power-grabbing, your articles are an incredible education to those of us who are sincerely happy to embrace and celebrate differences yet are also increasingly troubled by the underlying agendas that exploit people like you.

Your bravery is profound, but, at the risk of overstepping, you are not brave because you are trans, you are brave because you insist on finding the connection in our differences.

To compare and contrast your articles with the cancel culture rage of so many trans ‘activists’ is a powerful education in the difference between creating empathy and understanding and generating division and incomprehension.

Unlike the rabid Twitter activists or hate-filled professors of love who will attack you for this piece, your compassionate erudition and beautiful determination to dig deeper into truth is doing more for genuine equality and understanding than all those poseurs put together.

You don’t make me ‘proud’ to be straight, miss Hayton, or gay, or trans, or any other reductionist label, you make me proud to be human. Thank you.

Debbie Hayton
Debbie Hayton
2 years ago
Reply to  Terry McMahon

Thank you, Terry.

Sue Ward
Sue Ward
2 years ago

Thank you Debbie for another great piece and for engaging with us below the line.

Debbie Hayton
Debbie Hayton
2 years ago
Reply to  Sue Ward

I should be working, LOL! ….

Mel Bass
Mel Bass
2 years ago
Reply to  Debbie Hayton

Debbie, so should I, instead of reading your very interesting article!

Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago

I have often wondered if this condition transexual people have that pushes them to “change” their own body is akin to what Oliver Sacks (and many other, I imagine) described when someone rejects a body part. The example he gave was the rejection of a limb that is seen not as yours anymore, but as extraneous, external, alien and in some cases you have an overriding desire to have it, literally, chopped off.
I remember well reading some of Sacks books (“the man who mistook is wife for a hat” is the one that springs to mind, but there are a few) many years ago. It was after watching “Awakenings” (Robert De Niro and Robin Williams) as they had a big impact on me.

Note to the editor: the sub-headline is rather misleading as I was expecting a completely different article.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrea X
Alan Tonkyn
Alan Tonkyn
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

I have often thought exactly the same as you on this, Andrea, with regard to the similarity between ‘gender dysphoria’ and that delusion that leads people to want a perfectly healthy limb to be removed. I think we should treat this dysphoria for what it is, a form of mental illness – temporary in some young people – which should elicit sympathy but not a set of society-changing laws and regulations and dangerous educational meddling in schools.

Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Tonkyn

I just cannot un-see the image I saw on the BBC website of [redacted in case someone sends the police to my home too] showing off his/her flat chest.
He/she had HER breasts removed and subsequently plastic surgery to model what SHE had left to resemble a man (nipples and all). I seem to remember a six-pack too …
All to the jubilation of the twitter-shpere.
I know that plastic surgery is all the rage, but SHE had perfectly functioning parts of HER body removed so that SHE could look like a “he”.
Good for him/her; it is all legal and has all the seals of approval, but if that is not self mutilation I don’t know what is. However, all you could do is join in in the festivities, or keep your counsel.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrea X
Alan Tonkyn
Alan Tonkyn
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

I agree, Andrea. There is indeed something terrible about the self-mutilation involved in the surgery (and the continuing need to take powerful drugs) to produce some kind of facsimile of a different sex. I am particularly alarmed at the ‘selling’ of the trans message to teenagers, who are naturally going through a period of uncertainty about themselves and their sexual attractiveness. A recent BBC World Service radio programme focusing on those who had ‘transitioned’ and now regretted it, was particularly saddening: young lives ruined and placed into a form of asexual limbo because of a fad promoted by (possibly) well-meaning but misled activists and egged on in the social media.

Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Tonkyn

I would say, just think of Michael Jackson. All the surgeries he had didn’t bring him happiness, did they

Alan Tonkyn
Alan Tonkyn
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Indeed, Andrea. You have anticipated the last part of my comment below.

Alan Tonkyn
Alan Tonkyn
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Tonkyn

I should add that I entirely accept that the bodily dysphoria experienced by an adult like Debbie is a real phenomenon, and deserves our sympathy. As she has said, it caused her terrible distress and she genuinely felt that transitioning was the only way to relieve that. I suspect, however, that, even in such a case, (and James/Jan Morris is also one such), the transitioning only partly relieves the pain .

Debbie Hayton
Debbie Hayton
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Tonkyn

Transitioning helped me, but it didn’t solve the underlying problem.

Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago
Reply to  Debbie Hayton

Do elaborate, if you would.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrea X
T B
T B
1 year ago
Reply to  Debbie Hayton

Debbie, you wrote “the urge to change not only my social presentation but also my body was irresistible.”

Are you taking about irresistible in a sexual sense (i.e. an autogynephilic desire to be a “man in a woman’s body”)? Or was it, as you put it, relieving psychological distress? Both?

What changed for you that helped you? And do you yourself understand the “underlying problem”?

Do you feel (as others have commented here, though not referring to you) as though you are living out a fantasy? Or do female clothes, a female body, female pronouns, etc feel “right”? You obviously have not transitioned back as of the writing of this article, so do you feel less psychological distress now? Do you feel *different* psychological distress?

Allie McBeth
Allie McBeth
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

I worked for a leading plastic surgery team in the NHS, quite a long time ago. At that time, gender reassignment, with all its associated treatments to change sex was starting to mushroom. One of the leading surgeons thought anyone with this wish was suffering with a mental disorder, but if you passed the test (2 yrs living as the opposite sex), you got all the surgery. I have to say, i was shocked at the costs to the NHS of the multiple procedures! I did meet some very troubled souls who indeed felt trapped in the wrong body, but was surprised by how many were large butch males. The only transman in that particular cohort was trying to de-transition back to being a woman.

Marcia McGrail
Marcia McGrail
2 years ago
Reply to  Allie McBeth

Yes, the financial cost to the beleaguered tax payer is indeed still shocking, despite fallacy-punctuated attempts to justify it https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6308214/; why isn’t this aspect debated?

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
2 years ago

I have great respect for your journalism, Debbie, but autogynephilia strikes me as typical narcissism (and I mean this in a neutral, not pejorative way). The narcissistic trait is named after the Narcissus of ancient Greek myth – the youth who fell in love with his own image. Autogynephilia takes this a step further by dressing the arousing internal object as a woman. But it is still a refusal of the ‘external object’ as psychoanalysts would say.

Last edited 2 years ago by Judy Englander
Debbie Hayton
Debbie Hayton
2 years ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

Thank you. I also distinguish between the neutral and the pejorative. I do think that we need to study and research autogynephilia so that we can help people struggling with it. But other flatly deny that it exists. Perhaps for reasons that I alluded to in the piece.

Dave Corby
Dave Corby
2 years ago

This is a very well written and enlightening article – but it does not answer my main concern as to why anyone can be so driven to take on such challenges and cause such disruption to their lives and, more importantly others, over ‘what turns them on’.
Is sexual pleasure really so important – especially at the later stages of life – that it is seen as morally OK to cause so much pain and distress to parents, wives, and children. (And the disruption of the lives of the vast majority of a society that is built around the very real differences between men and women.)
There is a great deal of suffering due to war, terrorism, political fear, hunger, disease, natural disasters, homelessness, mental disorder…
There are surely many higher priorities that we could/should individually put our minds and energies to, and sacrifice our desires for the love of those around us.

Jane Watson
Jane Watson
2 years ago

Grayson Perry did a documentary about trans women maybe 15 yrs ago. He was asking different individuals about their motivation and got a bit of resistance when he suggested there was an auto erotic element to ‘dressing up’ (including his own). I think it’s not necessarily unusual for people to display behaviours without understanding why they do them; the ‘explanation’ can be debatable.
I think born women, as one contributor says, do not consciously ‘signal’ sexually – they never need to. Maybe this is one reason some find the ‘signalling’ of trans women to be discomforting – it may be experienced as parody.
Having had a very close friend who transitioned (male to female, with medication but without surgery) and, over 10 yrs later, de-transitioned, I suspect ‘changing sex/gender’ can be a ‘solution’ with caveats.
20 yrs ago, I was in a hotel restaurant in Marylebone with my mother. We were seated adjacent to a smartly dressed couple. The couple had finished eating and were in eager conversation. I soon became aware that they were, in fact, two men having a typically ‘male’ conversation (I can’t explain what I mean by this). When curiosity got the better of me, I turned to discover the lady was Jan Morris.

Julia H
Julia H
2 years ago

I really enjoy reading Debbie’s perspective and particularly like that she started this article with the word transsexuals. This word needs to be reclaimed and promoted above the word transgender for one simple reason. Having the commitment to forfeit male genitals by surgical means provides a lot of reassurance to natal women who are being asked to share supposedly safe spaces with intact males who self identify as transwomen. Yes I know they’re not all rapists but that isn’t actually very reassuring. Not having a p***s is. If only the Equality Act could make this distinction with absolute clarity.

Debbie Hayton
Debbie Hayton
2 years ago
Reply to  Julia H

Thanks Julia. I sympathise with what you said. But it’s probably not possible for the law to distinguish people who have had GRS from those who have not. It would raise the objection of “forced sterilisation” to access protections. I don’t think it would be posssible to defend against that in our courts, let alone at Strasbourg.

Jane Watson
Jane Watson
2 years ago
Reply to  Debbie Hayton

And isn’t it relatively rare for trans women to lose their p***s? I think ‘top’ surgery is popular, but the other not so much. The risks and complications are substantial, including losing the ability to orgasm.

Debbie Hayton
Debbie Hayton
2 years ago
Reply to  Jane Watson

There are many potential complications from the very serious (e.g., fistula), through permanent incontinence, prolapse, loss of response (as you said), ingrown hair, etc, etc.

Kathryn Allegro
Kathryn Allegro
2 years ago
Reply to  Julia H

Yes, the word transsexual – and the concept – needs to be reclaimed and distinguished from the word transgender. It suits the Stonewallers to conflate sex with gender and to refer to all M-to-Fs as ‘transwomen’. But the vast majority of so-called transwomen are not transsexual. That is why the proposed GRA reform was so problematical, as it would have allowed any (fully intact) man to claim that he is trans and thereby gain access to women-only spaces. 
And thank you, Debbie, for your honesty and courage.

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
2 years ago

However, as Mrs. Patrick Campbell the actress said many moons ago:
“Does it really matter what these affectionate people do — so long as they don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses!”
Except, of course, that in our advanced age the whole point is to frighten the horses. It shows that you are a Real Activist instead of an NPC.

Ann Ceely
Ann Ceely
2 years ago

As a biological female, I don’t have an innate immutable feeling of what ‘femaleness’ is like.
I have lots of personality characteristics which are generally considered as masculine. I studied mathematical physics and had an engineering career – thank goodness! I don’t wear dresses and am glad I don’t have to!

Jane Watson
Jane Watson
2 years ago
Reply to  Ann Ceely

Ann, you might be interested in Simon Baron-Cohen’s work. He leads the Autism Research Dept at Cambridge. I used his E/S questionnaire in my MSc Psych. A majority of women are ‘empathisers’ (and rubbish at mathematical physics), but there are exceptions. Men are more commonly ‘systemisers’, and there are ‘extremes’ of both ‘types’. Autism has, controversially, been referred to as ‘extreme male brain’. This is interesting in relation to the trans issue as there is a huge upswing in young women on the autism spectrum seeking gender reassignment.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jane Watson
hayden eastwood
hayden eastwood
2 years ago

This is the most well thought out and thought provoking article I have read on transgenderism. Thank you very much.

Debbie Hayton
Debbie Hayton
2 years ago

Thank you.

JT H
JT H
2 years ago

I lost the thread a bit on the specifics of autogynephilia (AGP). The author makes an initial distinction regarding 1) sexual orientation (who you are attracted to) and 2) sexual signaling. The author denotes that AGPs are sexually signalling to themselves; however, they often end up having sexual attraction to other males. In other words, they are often changing both sexual signaling and sexual orientation. To me it would be more interesting to pursue this line from an evolutionary perspective.

Specifically, why would otherwise straight males (typically middle-age) need to begin sexually signaling other males? Is there a similar evolutionary hypothesis wherein males past their prime remove themselves from the potential gene pool for x reason (similar to other homosexual hypotheses)? How does this correlate to the depletion of testosterone as males age in general and the lower levels of testosterone of younger generations in general (as discussed in the testosterone book referenced)?

Zero expertise on my part. Real questions.No judgements.

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
2 years ago
Reply to  JT H

Blanchard, mentioned in the article, distinguished between two types of trans – autogynephiles (AGP) and homosexual/transexual HSTS). He considered the first to most prevalent, it manifests in adulthood (but not necessarily as late as mid-life) and the activist types amongst them often insist that they’re lesbians. They maintain their attraction to women.

The HSTS types are more often the ones who’ve been that way since youth – usually somewhat effeminate as young boys, same-sex attracted and wanting to transition because they need to be desired as women, by a man.

It would seem the psychological factors and drives aren’t the same, but they so often become conflated as ‘trans’ as if it’s just one thing.

JT H
JT H
2 years ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

Thanks for the correction. I had listened to Galileo’s Middle Finger (discussing some of this, including Blanchard), but I guess mixed up the post-AGP sexual orientation.

Debbie Hayton
Debbie Hayton
2 years ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

Thanks, Sharon. The concept of pseudo-bisexuality is very helpful here.
And – yes – the idea that there is one thing – trans – is so unhelpful. There may be several different psychological conditions all being conflated and explained away by invented “bunkum”.

Debbie Hayton
Debbie Hayton
2 years ago
Reply to  JT H

Trying to do any research into AGP would be very difficult. But typically AGP becomes overwhelming in middle age – think about the classic late male transitioner – this is after many have already fathered children.

Scott Norman Rosenthal
Scott Norman Rosenthal
2 years ago

I’m an old radical, not a reactionary.
Some Marxists defend, even embrace, trangenderism as a means of breaking up ingrained societal norms.
This has been one act among many. Now the U.S. is on the brink of violent upheaval.

Allie McBeth
Allie McBeth
2 years ago

I always enjoy reading your articles Debbie, you explain so well what I struggle to make sense of in the whole ‘gender indentity’ brouhaha. Thank you.

Debbie Hayton
Debbie Hayton
2 years ago
Reply to  Allie McBeth

Thank you

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago

Thank you very much, Debbie, for 1) a lot of thought-provoking articles, 2) writing such a personal article as this, 3) participating in the discussion.Can I exploit your generosity by asking your opinion on the following – is the story reasonably sensible or way off the mark, and what is most wrong with it?

Males find all those women beautiful and attractive and highly desirable. The grooming, the slinky clothes, the make-up is just an intensifier, it shows them dressing and preparing to be even more desirable. If those lovely creatures kept falling into our lap there would be nothing left to want. Unfortunately, they do not. In fact, some might experience that women do not seem to desire them or even particularly want them, which could be taken to mean that they were not desirable at all. Like Old Man Kangaroo, they might long to be “popular and wonderfully run after”. One way out would be to dream that you could *become* one of those lovely creatures yourself. Then you, too, could feel you were desirable and wanted and you would have those things you dreamed about, even if not in exactly the way you first thought.

Debbie Hayton
Debbie Hayton
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I think you have described it well, but I would say that the inwardly directed sexual orientation is a compulsion rather than a choice.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Debbie Hayton

Point taken. And thanks for answering. All the best.

John Urwin
John Urwin
2 years ago

Well done Debbie for such a clear explanation and being prepared to put your head above the parapet. I suspect that when people understand what is happening they will agree with you. I knew very little about the transexual and gender identity issue, but read the recently published “Trans” by Helen Joyce which sets it all out, particularly the risk to females posed by the campaigning of the gender self identification activists. I guess you’ve read it!

Debbie Hayton
Debbie Hayton
2 years ago
Reply to  John Urwin

Excellent book by HJ!

HildaRuth Beaumont
HildaRuth Beaumont
2 years ago

I found this piece very useful Debbie. I have no doubt that I am a heterosexual male but I have recently found that I am much happier and at ease with myself is I dress and present as female. Your discussion of autogynephilia was particularly useful in explaining to some extent my situation. I am fortunate in that I am n a position to ‘dress’ full time and I have never been more content. So heart felt thanks for your piece
HildaRuth Beaumont

HildaRuth Beaumont
HildaRuth Beaumont
2 years ago

I found this piece very useful Debbie. I have no doubt that I am a heterosexual male but I have recently found that I am much happier and at ease with myself is I dress and present as female. Your discussion of autogynephilia was particularly useful in explaining to some extent my situation. I am fortunate in that I am n a position to ‘dress’ full time and I have never been more content. So heart felt thanks for your piece
HildaRuth Beaumont

micah christian
micah christian
2 years ago

> “It should not, however, be ignored: gender identity has caused significant collateral damage to children and adolescentswomen’s rightsbiomedical science and Western political life.”
Not only is gender identity to be encountered, it is a core part of individuated identity. It is one of the fundaments upon which personhood rests.
After reading your article, I was struck with your earnestness and good faith. Also, with the copious amount of framing you must seem to do to be in your world. That is an indicator to me that this identity rests on as a house on shifting sand. There are no foundations.  
What will happen to your personhood once this fascination wears off and the constant framing becomes exhausting? This framing ultimately seems to be resting in delusion which is never healthy, nor will make you whole. I urge you to go deeper, beyond, into your soul. Something may be waiting there for you. Good Luck.

Last edited 2 years ago by micah christian
Debbie Hayton
Debbie Hayton
2 years ago

Trying to build a life on fantasy seems to me to be ultimately futile.

Scott Norman Rosenthal
Scott Norman Rosenthal
2 years ago
Reply to  Debbie Hayton

Even in examining religious concepts a scientific approach is beneficial.

Andrew Salkeld
Andrew Salkeld
2 years ago

Very interesting and informative article. Thank you. I wonder if it is helpful to look at the experience of countries such as Samoa and Thailand, where the Trans phenomenon (before it was hijacked by prostitution) has existed openly and has been embraced for many decades. And can hardly be called a phenomenon – at least that was my experience when living in both these countries a long time ago. Also, some commentators have mentioned the natural attraction that exists between men and women. Are there also men who are are on the lookout for friendship and devoted life partnership with trans folks? I hope so. My sense is that there is something very natural about the emerging phenomenon and emerging Trans acceptance in our Western societies. It might also be worth considering the very meaning and nature of Divine Androgyny, for those so inclined. These are mysterious and profound changes and one can only feel compassion for those who have to navigate the waters of change and the fierce tides of opinions. They are doing this for all of us.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
2 years ago

Debbie Hayton writes with both clairty and courage; a welcome combination especially as she writes on a subject that fews of us understand. and a subject on which many seem to practice grinding axes.

Karl Francis
Karl Francis
2 years ago

Brilliant piece, clear and we’ll researched.
Thankyou Debbie!

Last edited 2 years ago by Karl Francis
Peter Betul
Peter Betul
2 years ago

As an old fashioned liberal troubled by the politicisation of gender issues and its knock-on effects, especially in relation to the young, immature and impressionable, stumbling on your article, in a search for rational opinions on a splinter subject blown out of proportion by a social media age (and rapidly descending into forms of collective confusion), was akin to a deep breath of refreshing reason. So thanks for sharing it.

Last edited 2 years ago by Peter Betul
Penny Adrian
Penny Adrian
2 years ago

Hello, Debbie. Please forgive me, but I don’t consider you a man at all. In you I see someone who is socially and phenotypically female.
Your kindness and compassion has helped me to be much more open minded about the trans community.
Thank You so much, sweet sister.

Steve White
Steve White
2 years ago

Reply to Natasha Felicia
This is a very clear article and a brave explanation that doesn’t attempt to hide the truth or shape the world to a delusion.
I am interested in the extreme hostility that there is from many feminists to AGP. It is as if they believe the condition is one of choice and you can choose to be wired or choose to be sexually turned on by something else. They also seem to be obsessed with the idea that masturbation and fantasising cause AGP as opposed to it being the other way round. They enjoy condemnation of men I think?
Finally, if one could decide what was sexually stimulating paraphilias would not be an observable phenomenon

Natasha Felicia
Natasha Felicia
2 years ago
Reply to  Steve White

I am not sure what your comment is addressing? Is there a question you want to ask? Otherwise it seems you are assuming a lot about me and my thoughts. I am not hostile to AGP men as long as they don’t attempt to remove the boundaries that have existed between men and women and children when we are physically vulnerable or in physical competition. Also that I am not required (especially by law) to deny their biological reality.

The fact that Debbie seems to think AGPs are a good example of how men should be attractive to women or how Debbie believes men would prefer we present is amusing to me.

It is extremely easy for women to get male attention. My husband may “prefer” I spend my time at home just in lingerie but it makes no difference to how sexually attentive to me he is. He is just as eager to rip my clothes off if I have just come in from pulling weeds, am heavily pregnant or lost my hair (temporarily from chemo). Men will fetishize and find women attractive in burka, nuns habits, police uniform or a modest sari. It makes no difference because the biological drive still makes women attractive sexually to men.

Women KNOW that some men love women in stereotypically feminine clothes but we dress for ourselves and we usually do not wish to attract male attention constantly.

As a young woman I got just as much attention from men wearing a football jersey, trainers and jeans as a spectator at a football match as I would wearing a dress, heels and makeup at a night club.

I think my biology was screaming “sexually mature female” either way.

Steve White
Steve White
2 years ago

Sorry. I meant to make a general comment, not address it to you. Sorry again

Richard Lyon
Richard Lyon
2 years ago

Debbie – I mean you absolutely no disrespect. I believe you should be able to live a safe and fulfilled life in however a manner you choose. So I’m pleased that prosecutions for “hate crimes” have fallen 40% in the last decade.
But, with all of the very many, very significant problems in the world, most of which we already do not have sufficient spare attention to attend to – why do you think I should be interested in why you became trans? Rather than, say, the problems of poverty, or neglect of boys in the education system, or the emerging energy and financial crises, or the rise of (identity politics fuelled) intolerance and its role in destabilising Western culture?
I mean this as a sincere question. Isn’t this a private matter, rather than one to write about in public?

Last edited 2 years ago by Richard Lyon