Walt Heyer lived for eight years as a woman named Laura Jensen.
Having suffered from gender-identity disorder since he was a child, Heyer was a married, successful businessman when he underwent cosmetic surgery to alter his sex at age 42.
However, Heyer said surgery and hormone treatment failed to address his underlying psychological issues. After undergoing therapy, attaining sobriety and turning his life to Christ, Heyer says he was able to accept his biology and return to living as a man.
Heyer, now 74 and married to his second wife for 18 years, is an author and public speaker who devotes his life to helping others who regret their choice to undergo what is known as “gender-reassignment surgery.”
A nondenominational Christian, Heyer has told his story in the novel Kid Dakota and the Secret at Grandma’s House and in his autobiography, A Transgender’s Faith. He also spreads awareness through his blog, WaltHeyer.com, and website, SexChangeRegret.com.
Heyer discussed his journey in a recent interview with the Register. Heyer also offered his thoughts on whether American society has reached a tipping point on the “transgender issue” in the wake of Bruce Jenner’s April 24 interview with ABC News, during which the Olympic gold-medal athlete and reality-television star described his lifelong struggle with “gender dysphoria.”
Has society reached a tipping point, a so-called transgender moment?
If we just look at the media, which has great influence and power, and look at what they’re putting out there, then one would certainly think that we’re at a tipping point. However, I think if you dig into society, aside from the media, most people would say that the whole gender-change thing is dubious, in terms of really thinking anyone can change genders. I think there’s much more of a media selling point. It’s like great advertising for gender change, but I think, still, the majority of people are skeptical that it’s effective.
What did you think of Bruce Jenner’s interview and his statements on being “transgender,” including his comment that he has a female soul?
Well, keep in mind I was right where he was at one time, so I don’t want to minimize or degrade anything that he’s saying. But people who are in the throes of trying to switch from one [sex] to the other will say anything, absolutely anything, to convince people that what they’re doing is because they have to. Part of what his dialogue was about was much like mine was at the time. We’re trying to convince ourselves that it’s actually necessary.
What I saw was somebody desperately trying to sell the audience with “I’ve been struggling with this all my life. Finally, I’m going to be fine.” But then, if you look at his ambiguity, he was not willing to identify a female name. He said, “Yeah, I’m a man, but I have the soul and brain of a woman.” All those are things that no one can prove.
It’s very hard when you just look at a glass TV screen and listen to what somebody is trying to sell you — that is, a gender change. What deeper issues does he have? He hid a lot of these things for years. “What else is he hiding?” is my question. There are too many things to consider: What is motivating him to do this when he’s 65 years old?
What do you say when Jenner and other people who identify as “transgender” say this is something that they’ve felt their entire lives?
I know a lot of individuals, and I was one of them, who were cross-dressed at a young age. And Jenner cross-dressed himself. One of the things that happens is we start to fantasize about what it’s going to be like. If we obsess about it or ruminate about it for a long period of time, we begin to develop our own gender-identity disorder if we choose to, if it becomes fun and somehow exciting and exhilarating. I can say it was true for me, and it’s fun for others; but down the road, that feeling goes away, and then you’re left with something very different than excitement: You’re left with depression.
What do you say to the American Psychiatric Association’s decision in 2012 to replace “gender-identity disorder” with “gender dysphoria” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)?
It is true that “gender dysphoria,” in and of itself, is not a psychiatric disorder. The problem with the statement is that we know for a fact that people who migrate toward a transgender life are people who suffer from comorbid [two or more] disorders, and those are psychiatric issues and psychological issues. Every last one of them needs to be diagnosed and treated, and it doesn’t get diagnosed and treated, because they [APA experts] pulled the top one out, the “gender dysphoria,” and said, “Well, if you’re gender dysphoric, then you’re fine just the way you are.”
The problem is no one is dealing with the dissociative disorder, the bipolar disorders, the schizophrenia, excessive compulsive [issues] and all of those other psychological disorders that make up the driving cause for people desiring to change sexes.
The other thing most people are not aware of is the question of why transgender was taken out of the DSM. It was taken out not for any other reason but for the purpose of political activism. The DSM has become the greatest political tool for the advancing of [Alfred] Kinsey and his 1947-48 moves to make every kind of sex available to anybody, because he believed any kind of sex was good sex. … It didn’t matter what it was.
How old were you when you first began experiencing signs of a gender-identity disorder?
My grandmother began cross-dressing me when I was 4 years old, and she did that until I was probably about 6 1/2 years old. She even made me a beautiful, purple chiffon evening dress. She fawned all over me when I was dressed like that. She loved me as a little girl, not so much as a boy. I took the dress home when I was probably 6 1/2. I was not allowed to go back to [see] my grandmother because my dad, who was a part-time police officer, exploded when he found out. My mom was horrified at what her mother was doing. It was a secret all that time. I was supposed to keep the secret.
Once you plant the seed, it grows. You’re fostering gender dysphoria from the first time you put a dress on, not much different than the first time a drug addict takes the drug. He’s hooked. There’s very little difference when someone cross-dresses like [Jenner] did. You get hooked.
How and when did you decide to go through “sex reassignment” surgery and live as a woman?
I told my first wife that I was struggling with it, just like [Jenner] said, and we just kind of blew it off and said, “It’ll be fine.” [I thought] “She can fix me” and [figured] that once I got married and had kids, the feelings would go away.
But you keep it a secret, and it’s the secret that really becomes the issue, because you’re trying to hide it from everybody, all the family and everybody else. Everybody copes in a different way. I coped by using alcohol. But I was very successful. I had a wonderful career in aerospace. I worked on the Apollo space missions. I was an automobile executive with a very large, $300-million corporation at that time. But I was using alcohol to suppress or cope with my feelings about changing gender, but the truth is, it probably did nothing but enhance it. So by the time I had been married 17 years, like Jenner, I had had enough, and I decided to change genders.
How did you realize that living as a woman was not the answer?
I lived eight years as a female. I had a successful career, working-wise, as a female for eight years. But I realized after studying psychology that no one can change genders. That’s the first thing you learn when you break the delusional disorder down. It is a delusion to think you can change genders. You can’t. It’s total nonsense. You can live in a masquerade, and the surgeries make it look like you changed genders, but you actually don’t.
When I came to that realization, then I began considering the Lord. I started studying and working toward that goal of having my identity in Christ instead of in my gender. It took a while. I got treated for my dissociative disorder by a psychotherapist. I was able to come into a relationship with Jesus Christ. My life was restored back to my birth gender, and I’ve lived that way for over 20 years now.
Psychotherapy was the key, along with Jesus Christ, in restoring my life — psychotherapy to get my head screwed back on correctly, and I discovered that when I was studying psychology at university in California. Once you begin to get a clear head, you start to get your sanity back; then you realize God didn’t make a mistake and that you need to turn your life over to Christ. At least that’s what it was for me.
How does your Christian faith influence the way you now approach the “transgender” issue?
I look at it like it’s a community of people who are psychologically disturbed, and they need psychological treatment. But because activists are trying to prevent them from having psychological treatment, they are going to stay unhealthy psychologically.
A fair-minded person would look at the staggering attempted-suicide rate, which is somewhere between 40% and 50% [for gender-confused people]. You’d stop and say psychologically healthy people, under the worst conditions in their lives, don’t attempt suicide. It’s only unhealthy people, psychologically, who are so unprepared for what life throws at them that [they] just give up on life. So we’re dealing with a small population of people who are not receiving good psychotherapy. They are people who believe that they can change genders, so they’re delusional from the start, and no one is going to diagnose them with a disorder until after they have surgery, in most cases, because all the psychotherapists are afraid to say anything. They’re handcuffed and fearful of losing their licenses.
How did you attain a different view of your sex?
It took a lot of work. It probably took two years to unravel all the nonsense. I had to go to Alcoholics Anonymous. I had to stop drinking. I had to start going into therapy. I had to start thinking about who really is in charge of my gender, which is the Lord. You begin to start putting all these pieces together. Certainly, sobriety, not drinking and being in psychotherapy is a good start for anybody to gain some psychological health and begin to get sanity back.
How did turning to Christ help you deal with your own sexual-identity issues?
I had a vision of Christ. I met with a Christian therapist in his office. He said, “Let’s pray,” so he began to pray. All of a sudden, during that time, the Lord Jesus Christ actually appeared to me. He came to me with his arms stretched out. I saw myself as a baby. I saw the Lord, all dressed in white, his arms outstretched, and he grabbed me as a baby and cradled me in both of his arms and held me to his chest, and said, “You are now safe with me forever.” Then he went out of the room, and he was gone. And from that moment forward, I was redeemed, restored and healed.
That was the redeeming moment. From then on, I’ve been serving him to try to help others not fall into the pit of having their bodies mutilated by surgeons who are doing it for the money. I doubt that any person actually needs surgery. I get letters all the time from so many people who regret it, and many [who identify as] transgenders today send me letters thanking me for what I’m doing.
You remarried after resuming your life as a man. How has that been?
I have a great relationship with my wife. You don’t stay married very long if you don’t have a good relationship. I even have a very good relationship with my first wife, and so does my current wife, who is the editor on everything that I write. She has an MBA from Berkeley, and she’s brilliant. She’s the driving force behind me getting out there [to tell my story].
Brian Fraga writes from Fall River, Massachusetts.