At first I was giddy for the fresh start. But hormones and sex change genital surgery couldn’t solve the underlying issues driving my gender dysphoria.
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. This planted the seed of gender confusion and led to my transitioning at age 42 to transgender female.
I lived as “Laura” for eight years, but, as I now know, transitioning doesn’t fix the underlying ailments.
Studies show that most people who want to live as the opposite sex have other psychological issues, such as depression or anxiety. In my case, I was diagnosed at age 40 with gender dysphoria and at age 50 with psychological issues due to childhood trauma.
Eventually, my parents found out, and my unsupervised visits to Grandma’s house ended. 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.
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That abuse caused me to not want to be male any longer. Cross-dressing gave me an escape. I lay awake at night, secretly begging God to change me into a girl. In my childlike thinking, if I could only be a girl, then I would be accepted and affirmed by the adults in my life. I would be safe.
Making the decision to transition
Gender dysphoria is about identity, not sexual orientation. I was never homosexual; I was interested in dating girls. In my early 20s and engaged to be married, I confided to my fiancée about my cross-dressing. She figured we could work it out. We got married and had two children.
In my work life I was successful, but the girl persona still occupied my thoughts. With weekly travel away from home, I easily indulged in cross-dressing, fueling the desire to be a woman.
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.
I sought out the top gender specialist at the time, Dr. Paul Walker, who had co-authored the 1979 standards of care for transgender health. He diagnosed me with gender identity disorder (now gender dysphoria) and recommended cross-sex hormones and sex change genital surgery. He told me that the childhood events were not related to my current gender distress, and that sex change was the only solution. I started taking female hormones and scheduled the surgery for April 1983 in Trinidad, Colorado. I was 42.
My marriage ended shortly before surgery. In addition to genital reconfiguration, I had breast implants and other feminizing procedures and changed my birth certificate to Laura Jensen, female. My childhood dream was realized, and my life as a woman began.
A fresh start, then a harder fall
At first, I was giddy with excitement. 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.
As Laura, I
decided to pursue being a counselor and started courses at the
University of California-Santa Cruz in the late 1980s. There, a crack in
my carefully crafted female persona opened, and I began to question my
The reprieve I experienced through surgery was only temporary. Hidden underneath the makeup and female clothing was the little boy hurt by childhood trauma. I was once again experiencing gender dysphoria, but this time I felt like a male inside a body refashioned to look like a woman. I was living my dream, but still I was deeply suicidal.
Walt Heyer in Palm Desert, California, in 2009. (Photo: Family handout)
A gender specialist told me to give it more time. Eight years seemed like an awfully long time to me. Nothing made sense. Why hadn’t the recommended hormones and surgery worked? Why was I still distressed about my gender identity? Why wasn’t I happy being Laura? Why did I have strong desires to be Walt again?
Emotionally, I was a mess. But with grit and determination, and the love and support of several families and counselors, I pursued healing on a psychological level. With expert guidance, I dared to revisit the emotional trauma of my youth. It wasn’t easy, but it was the only way to address the underlying conditions driving my gender dysphoria.
I was 50 when I had the breast implants removed, but the next few years were spent in confusion and counseling. 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. I still have scars on my chest, reminders of the gender detour that cost me 13 years of my life. I am on a hormone regimen to try to regulate a system that is permanently altered.
Regret is real
Eventually, I met a wonderful woman who didn’t care about the changes to my body, and we’ve been married for 21 years. Now we help others whose lives have been derailed by sex change. Measured by the human benefit to a hurting population, it’s a priceless way to spend our time.
Had I 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. 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.
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.
de-transitioning, I know the truth: Hormones and surgery may alter
appearances, but nothing changes the immutable fact of your sex.
Walt Heyer is a former transgender woman who provides support to others who regret gender change at SexChangeRegret.com. He is the author of “Trans Life Survivors.”
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