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INTERVIEW (Part I): Former Transgender Walt Heyer Talks About His Detransition, The Dangers Of ‘Affirmation,’ And Childhood Sexual Trauma

As the transgender movement continues to develop, the cultural sentiment has moved rapidly toward acceptance and “affirmation.” While some believe the affirmation campaign is a step in the right direction, others are concerned that a rush to champion hormones and gender reassignment surgery while ignoring other potential drivers of gender dysphoria could ultimately do more harm than good.

The affirmation of gender dysphoria has even gained steam among the youth population. According to a study published in 2017 from The Williams Institute, “an estimated 0.7 percent of youth ages 13 to 17 … identify as transgender in the United States.” This is approximately 150,000 young people.

Despite the increasing social acceptance of transgenderism by Hollywood and the mainstream press, there is a segment of the trans population that is feeling regret, and seeking to detransition.

Walter Heyer, a former male-to-female transgender individual, runs a website called Sexchangeregret.com. The website serves as a contact point for Heyer to help those who are seeking to detransition.

On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to speak with Heyer about his life and his work. In part one of this two-part interview, Heyer speaks about the circumstances that led to his own gender dysphoria, his transition to female-identifying, the childhood trauma and comorbid disorders uncovered in the transgender population with whom he interacts, and more.

DW: Could you walk me through your early story about how you developed your dysphoria?

HEYER: Yeah. At four years old, my grandma was a seamstress and was making dresses. That’s where she made her money. It’s 1944, and so I’m the kid that’s being babysat by grandma, and I was curious about what she was doing, and just kind of watched her as the women came in and out of the house. That curiosity got her to make me a purple chiffon dress. And then she put it on me, and that was my little dress as a four-year-old. She thought I looked very cute, and today we would probably call it “affirming.” That curiosity and what occurred later, this affirmation process, led me to become confused about whether I should have been a girl or a boy. In 1944, we didn’t have any names for it, and I was just struggling with who I was. It took a long time for me to go to sleep at night. I struggled for a long time.

My dad and mom found out about it because it was a secret for two and a half years. I was at grandma’s, and then when my dad’s teenage brother found out, who was adopted, he thought I was good game to be sexually molested because I was wearing this purple dress at grandma’s. When I told my parents I was being sexually molested, they said that couldn’t be true because Fred said he didn’t do it.

So, you start off life before you’re nine years old with some of these confusing events, and Christine Jorgensen came along in the 1950’s, and when I saw that news story, I thought, “Well, that must be me. That must be what I am.” The association without having any other knowledge and information, I assumed that that was me.

I continued to cross dress and think that I was born in the wrong body throughout my life. Never really stopped as a teenager. I took on a secret name, Crystal West, and didn’t tell anybody about it. As time went on, I continued to cross dress all the way through high school and early college. Still confused, still struggling. Then I got married in my early twenties because, like so many people who identify as transgender, I’m not homosexual. The ones that I work with, probably over 90% of them are not homosexual; they’re just people confused about their gender identity, but their sexual identity is still heterosexual. So, I married, had kids, worked on the Apollo space mission, and at American Honda Motor Company.

I went to a gender therapist in San Francisco at the age of 40 to 41, and he diagnosed me with gender dysphoria, gender identity disorder – and he was the author of the original standards of care that are in place today. His name is Paul Walker. He was kind of the number one guy in the country on diagnosing and treating these disorders. So, I thought that was pretty radical and talked to my wife about it, and over the next couple of years I started on hormones. In April of 1983, I underwent gender reassignment surgery while I was an executive with American Honda Motor Company. They terminated me when I notified them of my new identity, and I became homeless not long after that. I was divorced and broke and struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction, then began to crawl my way back.

I lived for about eight years as “Laura Jensen,” female, in the San Francisco area. I studied psychology at UC Santa Cruz as a way to try to get myself back. I’d been living with a family in Pleasanton, California, because I had no real source of income for a long time.

When I saw and studied psychology at UC Santa Cruz, I realized that people who identified as transgender were also suffering from many disorders that no one ever talked about – things like separation anxiety and body dysmorphia and schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, social adjustment disorders. Just a pretty big laundry list of things that people who identified as transgender carried with them that were typically not addressed during the pre-surgical evaluation.

I then started going for therapy and realized that no one could actually land on anything specific. One therapist said that I had dissociative disorder; the other one said I didn’t. No one could come to a solid agreement. They just felt that the sexual molestation that occurred when I was young, the cross-dressing, all precipitated into me having difficulty identifying with who I was, electing to identify with my transgender identity. I eventually – through therapy and actually going to church in Foster City, California – kind of walked my way out of that, and detransitioned in 1990, and have been restored back to my sanity since 1990. Now, I’ve been married for 22 years to a real woman, and I’ve been clean and sober for 33 and a half years.

DW: So those two things – the chiffon dress and the sexual abuse – you believe were the primary contributors to your developing gender dysphoria?

HEYER: Yeah, and the people that I’ve known for a long time and work with even today, find that’s what it is. The people that I work with today, 45% to 50% of them were sexually abused as children, and they ended up identifying as a transgender later on. These are the ones that are also detransitioning.

DW: Can you explain the idea of comorbidities and past trauma as it relates to transgenderism?

HEYER: Yeah. Well, “comorbidity” is just a fancy word for “additional disorders.” These are things like schizophrenia, which some studies say that there’s a certain portion of people who identify as transgender have schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. These disorders typically weren’t there prior to identifying as transgender, but often times these disorders develop as a result of identifying, cross-dressing. A portion of them are disorders like “autogynephilia” and “transvestic fetish disorder.” Autogynephilia and transvestic fetishism are two pretty major factors that people don’t talk much about, and that’s men who cross dress and look at the mirror, and what they see in the mirror becomes the object of their own sexual affection, that becomes their sexual arousal. And so they’re typically not homosexual, they don’t need a partner, it’s just looking at themselves, they become complete sexually.

The person with transvestic fetish usually attaches himself sexually to one particular type of clothing, whether it’s shoes or whatever, and they become sexually aroused by those garments or female clothing. So, these are typically not transgenders; they’re actually people with other disorders, but they identify as transgender.

You also have people who are just cross-dressers, and transvestites. Then you have the drag queens, many of whom don’t have bottom surgery. They just are flamboyant, over-the-top homosexuals who identify as drag queens. But most of those groups, actually, are not transgender; they just identify as transgender when they have these other issues that we call comorbidities.

DW: Why do you believe people identify as transgender when what they’re experiencing is rather just a set of comorbidities?

HEYER: I don’t think it plays well when somebody sees you cross-dressing, and you tell them, “I have autogynephilia because I get sexually aroused by looking in a mirror.” It’s just a lot more socially palatable to tell people, “I’m transgender,” without going into the details of what that means.

And people who have dissociative disorders, your bipolar disorder, or whatever – you just throw all of these things into a basket, toss a blanket over it, and call it transgenderism, when, if you take the blanket off and begin to look deep into these things, you can see what the underlying comorbidities are – but we typically don’t do much of that. I do it all the time, 100% of the time, with the people who contact me after they’ve had a failed transition, and want to de-transition and we dig into, “Well, let’s find out why you transitioned.” 100% of the time, the people that I’ve worked with over the last ten years can come up with a situation, an event, that caused them to transition, whether it’s from female-to-male or male-to-female. So, they can identify it usually after the fact when the transition failed, which usually occurs between five and 15 years.

DW: Has there ever been someone you helped who didn’t either have a comorbidity or a past trauma?

HEYER: No.

DW: Back to your story, you transitioned when you were about 42, right?

HEYER: Yeah, that’s right.

DW: What were the years like while you were transgender?

HEYER: Well, I worked for FDIC and banking; I worked for the postal service. I was also at the same time studying psychology at UC Santa Cruz. That’s when I started looking into the books and finding comorbidities. So my life was fairly reasonable. I had a decent job. When I wanted to work, I could work, and I lived in San Francisco part of the time, I lived in L.A. part of the time, and in Pleasanton, California, part of the time. I was clean and sober. So I would call it unremarkable, except that I was really learning a lot about what they were doing in terms of identifying people who are transgender actually having other issues. So I was kind of beginning to crack into that in the late 1980’s.

DW: Can you tell me about your detransition experience? What first ignited it, and then the process of going through that detransition?

HEYER: Well, a series of things happened and it took probably a year and a half maybe to come all the way back. I think once I had begun to look into this idea of comorbidities, and begun to explore that – I was working actually in a psych hospital in L.A. on the unit as part of my schoolwork. I was called a “chemical dependency technician” in a lockdown psych unit. There was a psychiatric doctor there and he’s the one who began to talk to me about the comorbidities and other issues. I told him where I was trying to go with this, and he recommended I go see a therapist that he knew. I went and saw that therapist, and several other ones. It took me a lot of convincing through psychotherapy from many different people that it would be safe for me to detransition, and that I wouldn’t have this gnawing feeling that I’d made a mistake and needed to come back.

So, once I had resolved all those early childhood issues and could rectify what had happened, then it was relatively easy for me to realize that not only am I one of the ones that had gone through this unnecessarily, but that there were probably others – and that’s when I built the website sexchangeregret.com. The first year, we had 700 people come to the website. In 2015, we had 356,000 people come to the website. Today, we get 25,000 or 30,000 people a month. So many people are struggling. Somebody in the U.K. wrote an article recently – they are detransitioning and said they’ve found hundreds of people, and that’s the same thing I reported. I myself have worked with hundreds of people who are detransitioning, but it’s kind of a taboo subject. Nobody wants to hear about it; nobody wants to believe it. But this thing runs its course between five and 15 years.

Strangely enough, there’s a Dr. Charles Ihlenfeld who worked at the Harry Benjamin Gender Clinic in New York in 1979 as an endocrinologist, had administered hormone therapy to 500 people who had transitioned over a six year period, and he said in New York in 1979 that he was leaving the practice of administering hormones to these individuals, and going to become a psychiatric doctor so that he could actually help them because he said, and I quote, “Giving them hormones and changing their genders, it is causing too much unhappiness and too many of them ended in suicide.”

In part two of this interview, which will be released on Saturday, Heyer discusses the shockingly high suicide rate among the post-op transgender population, the dangerous consequences of youth transitions, the future of the trans movement, his relationship with his ex-wife and kids, and more.

For more information, you can visit Sexchangeregret.com, or Heyer’s personal website here.

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