(Photo: Courtesy of Walt Heyer)
Walt Heyer says that no one can really change their gender. He should know, too, because he's tried.
When he was only about five years old, Heyer's grandmother began to dress him as if he were a girl and even made a dress just for him. The result was a very confused little boy. "I look at it today as being pretty abusive. While it seemed very benign at the time, and maybe even playful, I can see today...that it was really abusive to my psyche," he told The Christian Post on Wednesday.
But his early struggles didn't end there. His father became angry and fearful of the influence of Heyer's grandmother on him, and began to treat his son differently as a result. His mother was young and immature – she had two boys of her own before the age of 20 – and she was heavy-handed with her discipline of them. Heyer's uncle viewed the situation with his grandmother as a joke, and sexually molested him when he was still young.
After a while, Heyer began to wonder if he would be treated better if he actually was a girl. He tried to bury his feelings, but the more he withdrew the more he began to fantasize about being a girl.
By his early teenage years, the fantasy had only grown. He adopted the female name Andrea West, and began cross dressing. At age 15, he also began learning about Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) and, although he struggled against his desire to be female, he says those feelings were like a radio playing in his head that he just couldn't turn off.
"While I didn't want to be going down this pathway I seemed to be on this track that I couldn't interrupt, stop or change," he recalled. "But I wasn't homosexual. I was having dates with girls, I never felt any desire to have relationships with men, so from the standpoint of my sexuality I was always heterosexual."
"That I think, too, is one of the...misleading factors. Most people consider transgenders to be homosexual and, from my experience...98 to 99 percent of the people who contact me are not homosexual...It's really a gender identity issue, not a sexual preference issue."
In the midst of his struggle, Heyer got married and had two children. He worked as an engineer for a while and achieved significant financial success.
"But the difficulty that I faced was that I couldn't shut the thoughts or the feelings off," he said. He turned to alcohol to cope with his issues, and eventually his life came crashing down around him.
He and his wife split after 17 years of marriage, and he lost his job when he began making the physical transformation into becoming a woman. He got breast implants, began taking hormones, had electrolysis to reduce the hair on his face, and he had his genitals removed.
As an adult woman, he gave himself the name Laura, and lived under that identity for eight years. After studying psychology while still living as a woman, however, he says he eventually realized that a person can't actually change genders and that he was delusional. He also later found out that he had a dissociative disorder and multiple personality disorder as a result of his haunting past. "You're not born transgender, something happens in your childhood that causes you to not want to be who you are...And today the only thing that is...socially acceptable is calling yourself a transgender," he said.
"I don't think that's an accurate description of where the people are. They're individuals suffering from a delusional disorder that is going to become very self-destructive if, in fact, they don't get good psychological counseling or psychiatric help during that process."
While he was living as Laura, Heyer says that he believed in Christ but struggled to be accepted in the church. He recalled one church he attended where he entered as a woman but was asked to leave by the pastor once his identity issues were revealed.
Not all his church experiences were bad, however. He found a church that welcomed him in, even with the knowledge of what his struggle was. The pastor of that church told him, "Our job is to love you and it's God's job to transform you."
"The church, what it did for me was it allowed me to really get to the point where I asked the Lord for forgiveness. I began to pray for forgiveness. And I realized that the critical point is understanding that you can accept Jesus Christ, but there's a point where that doesn't become real...until you're walking with Christ," he said.
"Because the real truth that Christ is alive is the fact that you see a transformed life. And so what happened in my life is that when I finally... got down on my knees and was working through these things many years after I had accepted Christ – probably 10 to 15 years after I accepted Christ – I finally felt that I was broken enough as a man that I got on my knees and prayed."
He says that one day he had a vision while praying with his psychologist. He saw Jesus pick up a baby version of himself, look at him and say, "You will now be saved with me forever." From that point on he could feel the Holy Spirit moving and guiding him in his life.
Today, Heyer says he no longer struggles with his gender identity and uses his testimony to speak out in support of those who have similar struggles and against those who advocate sex reassignment surgery as the solution to the gender identity problems.
A Swedish study published online in February 2011 examined individuals who had sex reassignments between 1973 and 2003, and found that switching sexes can have a significant negative impact on the individual and is not a good solution to someone's gender identity crisis. "This study found substantially higher rates of overall mortality, death from cardiovascular disease and suicide, suicide attempts, and psychiatric hospitalizations in sex-reassigned transsexual individuals compared to a healthy control population," the study's authors write in their conclusion. "This highlights that post-surgical transsexuals are a risk group that need long-term psychiatric and somatic follow-up."
Heyer is the founder of websites such as Sex Change Regret and True Trans Christians, and is the author of several related books including Trading My Sorrows and, most recently, Paper Genders, which was published in June 2011.
He emphasizes the point that SRS is cosmetic surgery only, that it is "scientifically, medically and surgically impossible" for a man to actually be changed into a woman, but also says other people need to show compassion toward those who are struggling with gender identity issues.
Today Heyer is married again, and he says that he has found happiness in being the gender that God created him to be.