What drives people to reject their own gender?
Walt Heyer knows all too well what it's like to live with gender dysphoria, having spent eight years living as a woman before transitioning back.
But the term 'gender dysphoria' is not one he likes to use because he feels it does not accurately reflect what he was experiencing at the time - and what many others are experiencing today.
Now aged 81, he's spent years helping countless people with sex change regret and gender confusion, giving them the help they may not have been able to find elsewhere.
He speaks to Christian Today about what he believes is the root of transgenderism and why he thinks medical transition and an affirming approach are not the solution.
CT: Going back to your transition to become a woman, what was going on on the inside?
Walt: It was my grandmother who started cross-dressing me at the age of 4 in a purple dress, and her cross-dressing me and affirming me in that purple dress sowed confusion in me. This greatly alarmed my father who tried to beat the purple dress out of me with a hardwood floor plank. Then by the time I was 7, because I was being dressed in this purple dress, I was sexually abused by my uncle.
CT: Do you think that triggered your gender dysphoria?
Walt: I don't use the word 'gender dysphoria' and here's why: the word 'dysphoria' is the opposite of 'euphoria'. It's a feeling, not a diagnosis. But the LGBT community has advanced the term 'gender dysphoria' to make people think that it's a condition that people experience.
The fact of the matter is that it's just unhappiness or discomfort with something that has happened to them, and in my case it started with my grandmother cross-dressing me in a purple dress, and the physical and sexual abuse that followed. What there was in me was not gender dysphoria, but the psychological and emotional and sexual abuse of a child before he was even 10-years-old.
CT: You've worked with thousands of people over decades. Is it the same for them?
Walt: People contact me every day through my website, Sex Change Regret, from all walks of life and different faiths - we've had people visit from 180 countries. The views I've formulated after all these years are not only from my own experience but from actually sitting down and speaking with the people who have had these issues. After spending time with them, I've concluded that it wasn't 'gender dysphoria' that we were experiencing but that something happened that caused us to not like who we are. That could be sexual abuse, emotional abuse or psychological abuse, but it caused us to not like who we are.
Then what happens is that because we don't like who we are, we begin to engage in what I call the 'self-destruction' of who we are. It's not so much about trying to become someone else as it is about trying to destroy who we are. What we are trying to do is deny who we are and destroy who we are, and so that is why we try to cut off body parts and change our appearance.
What I've also found is that young people who were abused early on in life want to rid themselves of their genitalia not because they want to become a woman but because they were sexually abused and so their reasoning is: 'if I get rid of my genitalia, nobody will sexually abuse me again.'
CT: How far did you go with your own medical transition?
Walt: I had my genitals cut off. I had breast implants. I was on hormone therapy for 14 years.
CT: How difficult is it to live with some of the physical changes that are irreversible?
Walt: I'm blessed to have been married for 23 years to a beautiful woman, so the Lord can redeem and restore anybody's life and that's been my message throughout all of my books and speaking engagements around the world. When you come into relationship with Jesus Christ you realize that the relationship with Christ covers everything. No one can hurt you again, no one can harm you again and what happened in the past is in the past. In many ways the healing that I received 30 years ago through the power and grace of Jesus Christ just cleaned the slate. So all of this doesn't matter.
They cut body parts off and put hormones in me but when you look at it through the framework of Jesus Christ, nothing could ever change my gender - or anyone else's. That's why we use the term of 'identifying as' a different gender because you can't actually change your gender. That's totally false. We can identify all we want as a woman but we cannot be a woman!
CT: What do you think of the argument that someone can be born in the wrong body?
Walt: No, it's just not true. The closest you can get to with that argument is where somebody has been born intersex, so with both genitalia or undeveloped genitalia, which is a fraction of the population. But that is a separate issue entirely from identifying as transgender. Transgender advocates want you to think that all transgender people are intersex. They want to merge both together and say that transgender people were 'born that way' too but it's just not true.
So, there is a whole different way of looking at this and it's this: nobody really transitions, nobody really becomes transgender. These are simply LGBTQ terminologies that are being advanced to make people think that you can actually change gender.
But we know that you cannot hormonally change a man into a woman; that you cannot surgically change a man into a woman; and you cannot biologically change a man into a woman.
The people I work with - including myself! - once we realize that we cannot change gender, then that is the moment we realize that we've been tricked and duped and lied to, and that this is the real harm. Because the truth is that we were made by Jesus Christ and we were made at conception in a way that was fixed and innate and unchangeable.
We cannot change our gender. All we can do, whether it's us or doctors doing it, is try to destroy what God made.
CT: What do you think of the current affirming approach to gender dysphoria?
Walt: Through my work with people who are expressing discomfort or unhappiness with who they are, what I've found is that 100 per cent of the time they can pinpoint something that caused them to not like who they are, whether that's because they were emotionally abused or sexually abused or psychologically abused. Something caused them to no longer want to be themselves.
Or it could be that, like me, they were cross-dressed by a family member and told how cute they were and so that affirmation begins to trigger this idea in them that they are transgender.
You see, the key element that people keep missing is that you cannot affirm a young boy as a female without at the very same time telling that young boy that there's something wrong with him as a boy. Right there, you are starting to make them unhappy with who they actually are.
What the advocates want to call 'gender dysphoria' I call childhood emotional abuse. They don't need hormones or a new identity. There is some kind of trauma or abuse that is causing them to not like who they are, and so then it becomes a self-esteem issue and it's about trying to build them back.
CT: A lot of the advocates claim that if we don't affirm people who want to transition, then they could commit suicide.
Walt: That's false. Here's something to think about: if in fact hormones and surgery were effective then the suicide rate should be equal to the general population, but it's not. According to a Swedish study, it's 18 times greater.
In July 2004, the Guardian published a great article about research done by the University of Birmingham which concluded that sex change surgery is ineffective in improving the lives of transgender people. Rather the researchers found that the people who go through these gender reassignment changes are traumatized to the point of suicide.
The advocates have done a splendid job of framing this whole issue of transitioning as the answer, but it's all a lie. The fact of the matter is that people are more likely to commit suicide after changing than before. The surgical and hormonal treatments cause them greater distress than they had before.
So, my message is the same: that the LGBT community has been lying. And I wonder if that 2004 article from the Guardian would even be published now because it shows that people are harmed by changing genders.
CT: De-transitioner Keira Bell recently won her case against the Tavistock clinic after being treated there with puberty blockers aged 16. One of the things she said was that there was not enough therapy and that she was not challenged enough.
Walt: They've ruined a lot of lives at that clinic and I've worked with some of them. And what she said is exactly right. I'm probably the only voice saying don't affirm them, don't assist or do anything to help them transition but instead look at the deeper issues of what's causing them to feel discomfort.
In my work with countless people, I learned to sit down and explore these issues with them, and I learned this because the professionals didn't do it with me. I told my therapist that I had been sexually abused and cross-dressed and physically abused, and the therapist thought this was all irrelevant, that it didn't matter and that this was not the issue, so we're going to diagnose you with gender dysphoria and give you hormone therapy and cut body parts off.
The proper therapy that I believe the Lord Jesus Christ wants us to do is to look at the harms these individuals have experienced. You will find that there is something that happened to cause these people to have these feelings and if you can deal with those underlying issues, you can resolve these feelings of discomfort.
But the High Court judgment against the Tavistock clinic said the same thing that I have been saying for 30 years. What the judge said is not news to me but it's amazing that someone is finally speaking the truth.
CT: What are some of these underlying issues?
Walt: The deeper issues are what in psychology terms is called the comorbidities - things like body dysmorphia, bipolar disorder, traume from being sexually abused, associative disorders, schizophrenia, social adjustment disorders or obsessive compulsive disorders. There are so many underlying comorbidities that are not being addressed by the clinics and LGBT activists but it is the underlying issues that are causing them to have these discomforts. The clinics want you to believe that 'gender dysphoria' is a diagnosis for something but it's not. The real diagnosis is the comorbidities. And the truth is that many of the people I've worked with, they don't want to change genders. They want to destroy who they are and changing genders is just collateral damage from the destruction of self.
The advocates want to give you hormones and take body parts off. But I want them to discover what the comorbidities are and treat those so that hormones and surgery can be avoided altogether. We can prevent people from going through these procedures unnecessarily.
CT: The climate around transgenderism in the UK is almost one of censorship and it's very difficult to publicly challenge the prevailing ideology. Some of those who have challenged it have been attacked and suffered character assassination on social media. Have you experienced this?
Walt: It's the same in the US. I have to live in hiding so that people can't find me. All my personal belongings like my car and house are managed by a trust so that no one can find out my address and come and burn my house down. Because they don't like me. And they don't like me because I love the Lord Jesus Christ. They don't like me because I tell the truth, and they don't like me because they don't want people to know the truth about this total madness. Because to be honest, it's barbaric to cut body parts off and fill boys with female hormones and fill girls with male hormones.
One girl I worked with from the UK was unable to find anyone to help her detransition. And that's one of the greatest injustices about this whole thing: how willing the clinics and the advocates are to cut off body parts, but if the person experiences regret, they're totally unwilling to help them detransition. People who experience regret should be able to receive help to detransition and the governments should be supporting that by giving them free medical care to let them do that.
CT: There's a growing international consensus that 'conversion therapy' should be banned. What do you think about that?
Walt: It's supposedly things like shock therapy but no one uses that kind of therapy. It's another big lie that the advocates have advanced. I've worked with thousands of people and I don't know anyone who had conversion therapy. Once they realize they were tricked, they don't need therapy, they just need a new wardrobe and to stop taking the hormones.
CT: Why do you think transgender ideology has exploded all over the Western world and become an issue that it wasn't even 10 years ago?
Walt: There are many on the Left who want to destroy the biblical foundation of the Church, so they want to literally destroy the identity of male and female. Male and female identities are the foundation of the Church - the Lord Jesus Christ created man and woman - so if you can destroy that, you can destroy the Church. That's why we now have some cities in the US that are taking male and female identities out of the public bathrooms. Why is all this happening? It's a great effort to bring down the biblical foundation of the Church.
CT: What would you say to someone who is experiencing sex change regret and who wants to detransition but doesn't know where to start in turning back and getting the help they need?
Walt: There are people who contact me saying 'I regret what I did, I want to detransition'. You know what I tell them? I tell them 'you never changed; they couldn't change you'. It's not possible. Yes they may have lost some body parts, but they couldn't change you.
So, many of the people who contact me won't actually need a great deal of help because once you recognize that it was a mistake you've already made 50 per cent of the journey back. Admitting it was a mistake and regretting it is how you start to come back, because they're not open to that discussion until they have regret. It's when regret sets in that they begin to open up.
So what I help them to recognize is that they never changed in the first place. They were simply living out this ideology because of something that happened to them. And so I work with them to get to the root of what happened to them and what caused them not to like who they are, and once we begin to discover some of these things, the light comes on and they say 'oh, I get it now'.
I work with some people for years, so it's not something that happens quickly, and I do it all for free. The only money I make is from my books and speaking at conferences.
But the key thing is: there's always something else that's driving this. It's not gender dysphoria. People don't truly transition and there are no transgender people. Because the idea that I was a transgender would suggest that the surgery and the hormones were successful. But they're not. Hormones and surgery are never ever going to change a man's biological body into that of a female.