Debbie Hayton is a transgender high-school science teacher who transitioned from male to female in 2012. Hayton became involved in transgender politics after the U.K. parliament first considered self-identification of legal gender in 2016, when she voiced concerns about the kind of problems that self-ID might cause. Hayton is now a prominent in the transgender debate, advocating for the preservation of sex-based laws and protections for women and children.
Her work has been published in mainstream media outlets including The Times of London, The Economist, Quillette, and The Spectator. She has appeared on the BBC and Sky News. Here she speaks to National Review’s Madeleine Kearns.
Madeleine Kearns: You’re a transwoman. What does that mean?
Debbie Hayton: I base it on something I’ve done. The concrete reality of changing my body to more resemble a woman’s body, which means that the term “man” is no longer a good fit. So “transwoman” is a better fit.
MK: Last year you had a run-in with the LGBT committee of the Trade Unions Congress for wearing a T-shirt that said, “Transwomen are men. Get over it.” Why do you think people perceive this as hate speech? What’s so awful about transwomen being men?
DH: Exactly: What’s wrong with being a man?
MK: Why do you think some people find this message so challenging?
DH: I can only think it’s being picked up by people who are not as confident in themselves as I am and who are looking for external validation about who they are. I would say that the only validation that really matters is from within. We validate ourselves as who we are — and also, I guess from our friends and family, people we love and care about. If somebody on social media says, “You’re a man, Hayton,” why should that bother me?
MK: You made the decision to transition on account of gender dysphoria. When did your gender dysphoria start?
DH: I’ve early memories going back to about three years old of struggling with my sexual identity, what sex I was, and the expectations I had on myself as a boy in relating to other boys and girls. But it’s just something you live with; you make the best of the situation and get on with it. But then came the dawn of the Internet.
Knowledge is a dangerous thing because you find out that you’re not the only one. And that other people were doing what I’d secretly always wanted to do, which was to transition. Other people were doing it and doing it well. And when you see that, what do you do with it? Do you ignore it, or think “good for them,” or do you think “I perhaps want to do that as well”? I remember it was a vicious spiral going down and down and down, and suddenly the transition just became absolutely impossible to resist. It had turned from just an ongoing niggle into something that was really destroying my mental health.
MK: Just to be clear, when you say “transition,” do you mean hormonal, surgical, social, or some combination of the three?
DH: For me, it was everything: a desperate need to change my body. Social transition didn’t satisfy me. I knew it wouldn’t because it’s just putting a front on. So my body had to be changed. Hormones helped. But it was gender-reassignment surgery that finally put this all to rest. And then that’s how I was comfortable with my body, how my body looked, and how I could relate to myself. That was the important thing.
MK: Do you think that transition is right for everybody who has gender dysphoria?
DH: The problem is you can never compare other people’s gender dysphoria. I think the question is: Is it right for anybody? It does provide a solution — it does address the gender dysphoria, but in doing so, it creates so many more problems in terms of how we engage with society. And it’s just dreadful for families. My family went through transition as well and got no benefit out of this at all. I’ve heard it described as a palliative solution when nothing else is going to work, and this means that you can carry on living your life without serious mental-health issues. But whether it’s a good solution, I think, is open to question.
If you go through with it all, it leaves you sterile and medicated for life. For me in my early forties, when I transitioned after having my children, then there’s not that much that’s lost for me personally — there was for my partner — but my concern is the impact on youngsters who are making decisions long before they can really be certain of themselves and certainly about what their fertility actually really means to them as human beings.
MK: That’s a great point, actually. And a nice segue into my next question, which is: What are your views on the use of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for people under the age of 18? What’s your sense of that, having gone through this yourself and knowing what it involves?
DH: I don’t think it’s an appropriate treatment for children. Children are not old enough to make adult decisions about their own bodies that have permanent consequences. We don’t in the U.K. allow children to have tattoos because they’re permanent. I hear the arguments about social transitions — as just being social transition. But there’s a big, huge difference between allowing children to basically present in ways that are appropriate for the opposite sex. But when we’re telling children that they really are the opposite sex, I think that plays with the minds when the minds are still growing. And I think that’s wrong.
Some male-to-female child transitioners don’t even have the raw materials or the spare parts for effective gender-reassignment surgery. Just look at Jazz Jennings, for example, where the issues have been made very public. So, it’s not a good idea. And how on earth we’ve allowed this to start and go on without proper tests, I don’t know. Nothing else compares with this.
MK: What are your views on the proposed reforms to allow people to simply self-declare their legal gender (e.g., the U.K.’s Gender Recognition Act)?
DH: I think self-ID is dangerous. It’s bad for women, and it’s bad for trans people. Under the present system we really have quite a good deal in Great Britain: The two legal sexes are based on biological sex, and in transitioning you get a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) by which the U.K. law treats you in exactly the same way as it treats a biological woman, apart from two minor considerations.
One was church marriage. [A minister would not be required to marry a couple who had been born into the same sex.] The church got an exemption on it, but they can apply for the exemption only if they know about the transition, and they can’t find out about it unless you tell them. And the other one was — this shows you just how crazy the British system is — for acquiring hereditary titles, which would allow you to sit in the House of Lords and such things. Effectively they were concerned that a man would be disinherited by his older sister when she transitioned to become a trans man. And the peers in the House of Lords decided that was totally unacceptable.
MK: So they weren’t concerned about men identifying as women in women’s prisons?
DH: No, not women’s prisons or anything like that — they’re worried about younger men being disinherited. So there is something written into the act that doesn’t apply to inheritance of titles.
But what the GRC did was help a small number of people who pass pretty well as women socially, and almost perfectly in the showers, who wanted to disappear back into society and not be outed by their birth certificate. As soon as we start talking about self-ID, it takes away any sort of gatekeeping by society. The GRC is in some ways a contract made by the individual who signed a statutory declaration that yes, he or she wanted to be treated as the opposite sex, etc., etc. But it was also a contract that was then countersigned by society in the form of a medical report that said, “Yes, there is a medical need for you to do this.” And two medics sign off. So there’s some sort of a counter signatory.