The Great Unravelling
‘Transition is at best a palliative solution to psychological distress. It can never be a resolution because we can never change sex.’ These words are deeply controversial. They’re the sort of words for which some in the UK have lost their jobs. Many would assume they are the words of someone who doesn’t understand trans people, doesn’t realise the deep harm such words can do, and almost certainly doesn’t really care. But these are actually the words of a trans person who transitioned almost 10 years ago.
Debbie Hayton transitioned ‘male-to-female’ in 2012. She is now an outspoken critic of gender identity ideology, calling for the protection of women’s rights and the protection of young people who are quickly being ushered into medical transition. If anyone can talk about the reality of transition, it’s Debbie.
Debbie has written many helpful articles, the most recent of which is a reflection on her own experience: ‘Transition is not the Solution: a Personal Testimony’.
The reflections Debbie shares show how she has experienced the unravelling of gender ideology in her own life. Her story mirrors that of many others. Such stories are increasingly coming into the public sphere.
But Debbie’s experience is perhaps particularly noteworthy because she is not one of the new wave of critics and detransitioners emerging as the first generation of young people who were pushed towards transition reach adulthood. She is also not a ‘female-to-male’ trans person as the majority of the young detransitioners are. And she has many more years of experience of life as a transitioned trans person than most others who are now speaking out. I’m grateful for Debbie’s testimony, for her courage in sharing it, and the work she is doing to try and protect others.
Drawing out some lessons
What can we learn from Debbie’s experience? Several important themes – all of which occur commonly in such stories – are worth noting.
The role of the internet
Very often, the internet plays a central role in the story of trans people. Debbie’s experience was no different. While she had always been aware of a deep desire to be a woman, for many years she ignored this desire and employed coping strategies to keep going. But when the internet came along, and with it an insight into the fact that transition was possible, everything changed. ‘[H]ad 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.’
The centrality of identity
In our culture, trans is all about identity. We’re told that how we feel inside is who we are. It doesn’t matter what our bodies or our community or anything or anyone else says; we are who we feel we are. Our true self is the self who lives inside. Therefore, for those whose internal self doesn’t match their body, the obvious thing to do is to bring the body into line with the internal self.
Except, that doesn’t seem to work. ‘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.’ It turns out, internal identity doesn’t work. We can’t just ignore our bodies and embrace our true self, because our bodies are part of our true self: ‘[O]ur bodies are more than mere perambulating devices; we are our bodies as much as we are our minds.’
The impact on others
Internal identity says we have the right to embrace our internal self no matter what the impact on other people. Being true to yourself – your internal self – is the most important thing, no matter what cost others might have to pay.
Sadly, the cost others have to pay can be pretty high. Talking of her transition, Debbie notes that it caused ‘so much distress to my wife and children’. Elsewhere, Debbie has written in more detail about the impact on her wife, ‘My transition was hardest of all for Stephanie. While I celebrated new freedoms, her life was made harder. As I crashed through life, she had to pick up the pieces. She counselled our children, looked after the house, and dealt with enquiries. People who walked on eggshells around me unleashed their worries on her.’
Embracing an internal identity is never just a personal decision. It will always have an impact on others.
The deeper reality
Debbie talks about the shift that has taken place in her thinking. Looking back to when she transitioned, she notes that ‘at the time I was convinced that I was some kind of woman’. But now she recognises that her ‘problems were rooted in my sexuality’ and that ‘we can never change sex’.
The consistent thread in those who question their choice to transition is that they have come to realise that their experience of gender dysphoria was in some way tied up with someone else. Since gender was never really the core issue, it’s no surprise that transitioning doesn’t really deal with the problem.
This is why Debbie says that ‘transition is at best a palliative solution to psychological distress’. If we really care about helping trans people, it’s this psychological distress that should be the focus, not the matter of gender. Gender dysphoria is better understood in terms of suffering than in terms of identity.
In another article, Debbie has honestly confessed her uncertainty over whether transitioning was the right thing to do: ‘If I knew in 2012 what I know now, would I still transition? Honestly, I’m not sure … In hindsight, I do wonder whether there might have been some less drastic remedy.’
Applying the lessons
All of these lessons can help us as we seek to understand the reality of transgender experience and to best love and support transgender people.
They are also a reminder of the importance of holding onto the Bible’s teaching and the truth when it comes to this topic. Transgender ideology is unravelling, slowly but surely. As it does, we can be those ready to welcome and support its victims in the years to come, sharing with them the good news of a God who made and loves them, of an identity that is given, not discovered or achieved, and of an eternal hope that can sustain us whatever we face.