July 20, 2022 - 6:39pm

New YouGov polling should be a wake-up call to campaigners and politicians who have been playing politics with transgender rights. The headlines look dreadful. “There has been an erosion in support for transgender rights since 2018”, YouGov finds. But dig a little deeper and a different story emerges.

The key finding for me is that most people don’t much care. Of the 1751 Britons surveyed at the end of May, only 8% had paid “a lot of attention to the trans debate”. Meanwhile two thirds had paid either no attention or “not much attention”. But they still have opinions. Among the “not much attention” crowd, 49% suggested that discrimination against trans people was a significant problem, compared to 37% who disagreed. But we don’t know how those opinions were formed.

The polling focussed on details. Should transwomen be allowed to compete in women’s sports? 61% disagreed. But that is hardly a litmus test for transphobia. I would be one of the 61% — sport is segregated because male bodies and female bodies are different, and they remain different even after transition.

Meanwhile a plurality (41% to 38%) held that transwomen should not be allowed to use women’s toilets. And at the same time, more people than not (39% to 36%) thought that transwomen should have access to women’s refuges for victims of rape or assault. I disagree with them — refuges cater for women fleeing male violence. I think that all male people should avoid them.

Unfortunately we don’t know if those polled were sympathetic to specific refuges for transwomen because that question was not asked. Neither were they asked the crucial question, “should trans people be treated with dignity and respect, and not less favourably than anyone else?” That may have uncovered widespread transphobia in the UK, though from my own experience transphobia is restricted to the margins of society.

However, I have noticed a hardening of attitudes. Interestingly, YouGov compared the current data to earlier polling in 2018 and 2020. It makes for sobering reading: fewer people think transwomen are women or transmen are men; more now think transgender women accessing women’s spaces poses a genuine risk. There is yet more confusion: while fewer people now think that it should easier to change legal gender, opinion has shifted against a doctor’s approval or evidence that the trans person has “lived in their new gender”.

But – significantly, I think – fewer people now think that transwomen should be allowed to use women’s toilets. It would have been hard to imagine that happening when I transitioned in 2012. Transsexualism — as it used to be called — was recognised as a medical issue. Those of us diagnosed with gender identity disorder, or gender dysphoria as it became known, were treated with compassion and accommodated without fuss.

But since around 2015, transgender ideology has become a political issue. Campaigners for self-identification have made repeated calls to dismantle the checks and balances that I believe underpinned the acceptance that transsexuals had taken for granted.  Disgracefully, politicians and policy makers have caved into them and, seven years later, we are now seeing the deleterious effects.

Debbie Hayton is a teacher and a transgender campaigner.