A former transgender woman says that cross-sex hormones and sex-change surgery doesn't solve the underlying psychological problems associated with gender dysphoria.
Walt Heyer was 42 when he began taking female hormones and underwent sex-change surgery, including genital reconfiguration and breast implants. His doctors told him it was the only solution to his gender distress.
But they were wrong, Heyer explained in an op-ed published Monday in USA Today. The now 77-year-old detailed his transition from a man to a woman, then back to a man eight years later.
"After de-transitioning, I know the truth: Hormones and surgery may alter appearances, but nothing changes the immutable fact of your sex," Heyer wrote. "You will hear the media say, 'Regret is rare.' But they are not reading my inbox, which is full of messages from transgender individuals who want the life and body back that was taken from them by cross-sex hormones, surgery and living under a new identity."
What's the story?
Heyer said his gender confusion started when he was a young boy.
"I started my transgender journey as a 4-year-old boy when my grandmother repeatedly, over several years, cross-dressed me in a full-length purple dress she made especially for me and told me how pretty I was as a girl," he wrote. "This planted the seed of gender confusion and led to my transitioning at age 42 to transgender female."
When Heyer's parents learned what his grandmother had done, he was no longer permitted to visit her unsupervised.
"I thought my secret was safe, but my teenage uncle heard about it and felt I was fair game for taunting and sexual abuse. I wasn't even 10 years old. If not for the purple dress, I believe I would not have been abused by my uncle," Heyer wrote.
The abuse led him to no longer wanting to be a boy. He started cross-dressing as a means of escape.
In his 20s, he married a woman and they had two children. He was successful at work but Heyer continued cross-dressing on his business trips away from home.
"By the time I was 40, I couldn't take the pressure of living two separate lives. I felt torn apart, wanting to be a good husband and father, but in severe torment about needing to be a woman," he wrote.
After Heyer's marriage ended, he followed the recommendations given to him and transitioned to a woman.
"At first, I was giddy with excitement," he wrote. "It seemed like a fresh start. I could sever ties with my former life as Walt and my painful past. But reality soon hit. My children and former wife were devastated. When I told my employer, my career was over."
He began living as a woman named Laura Jensen but he was still confused and "deeply suicidal." He couldn't understand why the hormones and surgery hadn't worked.
"Hidden underneath the makeup and female clothing was the little boy hurt by childhood trauma," Heyer wrote. "I was once again experiencing gender dysphoria, but this time I felt like a male inside a body refashioned to look like a woman."
Some studies have shown that many of those diagnosed with gender dysphoria have at least one other psychiatric disorder.
He finally sought help for the abuse he had suffered as a child. His breast implants were removed when he was 50 and he continued his therapy.
"In 1996, at the age of 55, I was finally free from the desire to live as a woman and changed my legal documents back to Walt, my biologically correct male sex," he explained in his column.
Heyer believes that he wouldn't have suffered as he did if he had not been "misled by media stories of sex change 'success' and by medical practitioners who said transitioning was the answer to my problems."
"I wouldn't have suffered as I have. Genetics can't be changed," he said. "Feelings, however, can and do change. Underlying issues often drive the desire to escape one's life into another, and they need to be addressed before taking the radical step of transition."
Heyer eventually remarried. He and his wife, who have been married for 21 years, provide support to others through his website SexChangeRegret.com.
He has written several books on the topic, including "Sex Change-It's Suicide: A Whistleblower Speaks Out" and "A Transgender's Faith."