Ten years ago, I was sitting in a therapist’s chair, crushed by anxiety, self-harming, desperate. The pain, which had been like a chronic grumble in my psyche since adolescence, had suddenly become acute.
I was then a 43-year-old man called David. I was happily married to my wife Stephanie; a father to three teenage children, with a PhD in atomic physics and a job as a secondary school teacher.
But my desire to transition from male to female was so urgent it was destroying my mental health. To this day I cannot only remember my own distress, I can actually summon it. It was a palpable feeling.
During one of my weekly sessions with my psychotherapist, she placed a chair in an open doorway: ‘Through that doorway,’ she said, ‘is transition.’
She told me she was not going to move the chair until we had explored every alternative to transitioning.
Today, two thoughts occur.
First, had I not been through that therapy — forcing me painfully to analyse my feelings — today I would be consumed with guilt.
To this day I cannot only remember my own distress, I can actually summon it. It was a palpable feeling, writes Debbie Hayton (pictured)
I might not feel I had adequately explored the options. I might be asking myself: ‘Why did I transition?
‘Why did I put the people I love most through so much angst?’
Thankfully, the memory of that chair sitting in the doorway also reminds me of why I sloughed off my old identity and, a year after I began therapy, became Debbie.
My other thought is more of a concern, a pressing one: proposed Government legislation could make it illegal for therapists, doctors, even parents, to question children — and adults like me — about why they want to change their gender.
On the surface, the Bill has the laudable intention of outlawing abhorrent practices sometimes used in the past in an attempt to ‘cure’ people of being LGBT.
So you might expect me to be delighted, but I am not.
Thankfully, the memory of that chair sitting in the doorway also reminds me of why I sloughed off my old identity and, a year after I began therapy, became Debbie. Pictured: Maxime in ITV drama Butterfly
I am deeply troubled about the consequences of rushing through sketchily thought-through legislation that might do more harm than good.
Conversion therapy that involves physical or sexual violence is already illegal — as, of course, such inhumane practices should be. But the aim is to fill legal gaps that might allow other types of such therapy to continue.
Of course, no one wants anyone to endure ‘counselling’ that bullies or brainwashes them into being ‘straight’. Some gay and lesbian couples, given conversion therapy for religious reasons, have spoken out strongly about the trauma they experienced.
However, what concerns me, alongside many experts, is that normal exploratory therapy could be outlawed, too.
This is the sort I went through and the type that safeguards, in particular, vulnerable children and adolescents who might otherwise rush into transitioning, with its profound and potentially damaging effects to their health.
The implications are also chilling for therapists already worried about working with those with gender dysphoria — the belief that someone’s emotional and psychological identity is at variance with their birth sex — for fear of being accused of transphobia.
Their very real concern is that basic therapeutic analysis — pausing for thought and reflection, and considering contributory factors such as other mental health conditions — will no longer be permitted.
The legislation is currently out for public consultation, but if the public want to respond they need to be quick. The Government is allowing just six weeks’ consultation on the Conversion Therapy (Prohibition) Bill. It is being rushed through Parliament at twice the usual speed, surely with the result of inhibiting scrutiny.
Given the complexity of the issue and the toxic environment in which it occurs, why — in the middle of a pandemic — is it so important for the Government?
I can only assume that Stonewall — the powerful LGBTQ+ organisation that is championing the Bill — is exerting its influence. And it’s not only the British Government where they have sway.
According to Stonewall, national governments and parliaments in Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, Israel, Norway, Denmark, Finland and France are all actively considering conversion therapy ban legislation, or launching consultations.
I can only assume that Stonewall — the powerful LGBTQ+ organisation that is championing the Bill — is exerting its influence. And it’s not only the British Government where they have sway (stock image)
I was middle-aged when I transitioned. At that stage I had swallowed wholesale the notion that I had been born into the wrong body; that I had always been a woman and needed to bring my body into alignment.
I already had the great good fortune to be a husband and father. I’d had a vasectomy and my family was already complete. You could say I was having my cake and eating it when I became Debbie.
Nine years later, I’m still married to Stephanie and we’ve been together 28 years, though we now sleep in separate beds.
My name changed and so did my wardrobe, while hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery have altered my body permanently. But now I know that while I may have ‘changed my gender’, I did not change sex, nor was I ever female to start with.
I am as male as any other man; my three children are all the evidence I need. But this is not a fashionable view — and when I wore a T-shirt proclaiming ‘Transwomen are Men. Get Over It’, I caused outrage, and was accused of transphobia.
Of course, I know others vehemently disagree with me — but it’s a debate we need to have.
This proposed Bill would enshrine the woolly notion of ‘gender identity’ into law, yet no one can satisfactorily explain what it means or prove it actually exists. We cannot even seem to agree on basic definitions.
This proposed Bill would enshrine the woolly notion of ‘gender identity’ into law, yet no one can satisfactorily explain what it means or prove it actually exists. We cannot even seem to agree on basic definitions (file image)
Gender identity is, in my view, a lazy label; an invention that has taken on a life of its own. And yet we are now being told that no therapist is permitted to challenge a person’s ‘gender identity’. And the true victims here will be children.
When they’re six or seven they may well believe in Father Christmas and the tooth fairy — and some are as young as this when they start questioning their ‘gender identity’.
While there appears to be provision for legitimate therapies in the new Bill, crucially the wording refers to ‘providing legitimate support for those who may be questioning if they are LGBT’.
But this would not cover children who assert that they are trans, without the maturity to question if this is truly so. No wonder it doesn’t offer the reassurance therapists tell me they need.
This insistence that we must not ‘question gender’ is, I believe, profoundly misguided because the consequences of transitioning as an adolescent are immense.
In fact, there has been a worrying increase in the number of ‘de-transitioners’ who, as children, were unwavering about their desire but who now have significant regrets over the irreversible damage that has been caused to them. In the future, children may well ask why they were not given appropriate therapy or advice when they made such life-changing decisions.
Transitioning is not the same as questioning your sexuality. It comes with medical intervention, with serious consequences for growing bodies, some of which cannot be reversed.
Transitioning is not the same as questioning your sexuality. It comes with medical intervention, with serious consequences for growing bodies, some of which cannot be reversed (file image)
Although last year the NHS paused referrals of children for puberty blockers, after a court case in which a young woman argued that a clinic should have challenged her more over her teenage choice to transition to male, in September the Court of Appeal ruled that under-16s can give informed consent to receive the treatments if their doctor deems they are competent to do so.
There are also organisations in the UK campaigning for the use of puberty blockers and recommending children and teenagers go to clinics abroad that will prescribe them.
The next step then is cross-sex hormones — oestrogen for boys; testosterone for girls. The long-term impact on fertility and general health is unknown.
So banning any therapy which falls short of affirmation may have the unintended consequence of creating more suffering — especially when studies show that the vast majority of children with gender dysphoria are eventually reconciled with their biological sex.
Gender dysphoria can lead to poor mental health — that was certainly my experience — and we should ensure the same range of treatment and therapy is available for it as for any other issue affecting mental health.
There has been an explosion in the number of young people seeking to transition. At the heart of this is, I believe, a perverse sort of idea that it is ‘brave’ to be transgender.
There has been an explosion in the number of young people seeking to transition. At the heart of this is, I believe, a perverse sort of idea that it is ‘brave’ to be transgender (file image)
I know how desolating it is to struggle with gender dysphoria. When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, it was shameful simply to be gay. Being trans was beyond the pale. So, of course, I am thankful society no longer vilifies trans people.
But we have moved too far in the opposite direction. As a secondary school teacher, I am sharply aware of the change in mores. We have gone from stigmatising being LGBTQ+ to celebrating it, as if it confers status — and I do not think that is healthy.
After all, which child wants to be a boring old heterosexual when there are now so many more interesting groups to ‘identify’ into?
In our sackcloth-and-ashes society, we constantly beat ourselves up for the sins of our past. To be straight, white, and educated makes us oppressors. The LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual) alphabet soup is one route out of the oppressor class.
Children are just children. They should not be forced to assume ‘identities’. We have let down an entire generation by feeding them lies, telling them that boys don’t have to become men; that girls need not grow into women. You might just as well tell them that they don’t have to grow up at all.
Strange as it may seem, I am profoundly grateful that I did not have the opportunity to transition medically as a teenager.
Had it been available to me, I know that the need to do so would have been as insatiable as it was in my 40s. My fertility would have been quashed before it began, and I would never have had the children I adore.
So let’s consider the ramifications before we allow the Government to wave through a Bill that could have disturbing consequences for years to come — most especially on the young and vulnerable, the very group it seeks to protect.
To have your say go to gov.uk/government/consultations/banning-conversiontherapy by December 10.
Strange as it may seem, I am profoundly grateful that I did not have the opportunity to transition medically as a teenager (file image)