Two years ago, I had the privilege of meeting Walt Heyer at a conference. After reading his essays for years, I was excited to hear him in person. I found him to be a gentle and caring soul who speaks powerfully and with razor-sharp clarity.
Walt’s wisdom is hard-won, coming from his own life experiences. Those include undergoing total sex-reassignment surgery as an adult, living as a woman for eight years, and then detransitioning to embrace his true sex. He has been helping people with gender dysphoria, especially those who regret their transition attempts, for years through his writings and website. As Walt was sharing his own remarkable story that day, he also referred to hundreds of other stories that are similar to his. As I listened, I thought, “What he is saying is so important. I wish everyone could hear this, and I wish I could hear more of those other stories.”
Thanks to his new book, Trans Life Survivors, my wish has come true. By reading it, you can equip yourself to be a genuine ally to those struggling with gender dysphoria—one who is positioned to give real help to those caught in an ongoing battle that is at once both intensely personal and increasingly cultural.
Evidence of Regret: Thirty Witnesses
Trans Life Survivors begins with snapshots of thirty people who have corresponded with Walt to express confusion, fears, and regrets over their gender transitions. By sharing their stories, Walt gives a voice to a growing group of people whom many seek to silence. Like victims who give impact statements in a courtroom, these individuals line up to testify to the harms they have suffered. As you read, you dignify them by listening to their stories in a world that seeks to deny their experiences and even their existence.
Among those you’ll meet is Sam, who sought counseling to help with unresolved issues related to childhood sexual abuse and psychotic depression. However, because Sam was also presenting as a female at the time, his psychologist did not help him address these known traumas; instead, she referred him for surgery after only thirty days, telling him that he had been “born into the wrong body and really should have been female.” Sam had surgery a few months later, never even having been on female hormones. Afterwards, he became suicidal and filled with regret. After numerous hospitalizations over several years, he finally found a counselor who would help him reintegrate his body and mind and deal with his traumas, which now included PTSD from the transition process itself. Today, Sam is finally finding healing, although his body can never be fully restored.
Tim had been presenting as a female as well, but he began to realize that this was connected to the sexual abuse and adult-initiated cross-dressing to which he had been subjected as a child. When he tried to discuss this with his therapist, she felt that it was “irrelevant” to his gender dysphoria diagnosis. The psychologists and clinic tried to fast-track him to surgery, even arranging for him to meet with a gay priest to alleviate any religious concerns. Tim resisted because he was concerned by “their wanton disregard of the possibility that my gender discomfort was from other reasons.” Tim has since detransitioned and is happy living as a male. He is thankful that he “escaped the clutches of the sex change industry” and did not go through with having the genital mutilation that is euphemistically called “bottom” surgery.
Others were not so lucky. Billy, whose story has been told here at Public Discourse, detransitioned eight years after realizing that the removal and cosmetic reconfiguration of his genitalia did nothing to heal his emotional wounds from childhood. Kevin, who has been living as a woman for twelve years, now calls his sex change “the biggest mistake of my life” and wants to detransition. Rick became Rachael in the space of fifteen months. He had surgery before ever living out a test in real life with a socially transitioned identity, which he calls “truly misguided.”
The list goes on and on. Whatever else you may hear, transgender regret is real, and it isn’t rare. As Walt points out, there is a theme repeated throughout these stories: a rushed prescription of medical interventions with hormones and surgery, without addressing the childhood abuse or attendant mental health issues that are present in many with gender dysphoria.
Evidence of Experimentation: Harming Children
In his section on children, Walt cites numerous studies showing that the majority of gender-distressed children naturally desist from their dysphoria, meaning that they grow to accept their biological sex. One study found rates between 80 and 95 percent. In light of these numbers, why have activists and many professionals worked to make “gender affirming” therapy (in the form of social transition, hormones, and surgical interventions) the only acceptable form of care?
Often the rationale behind giving children puberty-blockers is said to be “buying time” for them to decide about their identity, but what actually happens is that they become “locked into” a transgender life. One follow-up study on 70 twelve- to sixteen-year-olds who had received puberty blockers showed that all of them went on to request cross-sex hormones: the first step toward actual gender reassignment. In other words, “buying time” led to 100 percent transitioning.
This outcome led the American College of Pediatricians to declare: “There is an obvious self-fulfilling nature to encouraging a young child with GD [gender dysphoria] to socially impersonate the opposite sex and then institute pubertal suppression.” Puberty-blocking drugs are being given to children with total disregard for their known harms, such as decreased bone growth, reduced bone mass, and effects on fertility. There have been no studies investigating their long-term effects on children. Puberty blockers have been shown to induce lasting brain abnormalities, such as affecting memory and executive function in adult women. Walt rightly asks: “Prescribing medication that has not been studied for use on biologically normal gender dysphoric youth and is known to interfere with brain development and fertility—why would anyone do this to children?”
The push to offer social transitioning and puberty blockers to gender dysphoric children is creating a generation of trans adults who will be, for the most part, infertile and dependent on hormonal and medical interventions for life. Walt points out that the real message being given to gender dysphoric children is: “something is wrong with who you are.” “Children internalize the idea that the natal girl or boy is not someone to be loved or embraced, but eradicated,” and yet these deeply destructive ideas are called “affirmation.”
Stories of regret are beginning to emerge from this younger “trans generation.” Take Max, who transitioned to female in his teens, genital surgery included. Now in his mid-twenties, he says that he was too young to make such a decision. “I feel like I was brainwashed by the transgender agenda and by gender norm expectations. . . . My feelings were confusing, and I thought they would never go away.” He says he would give anything to have his body intact again. Derrick also transitioned to female in his late teens, having been told by professionals that his dysphoric feelings were “deep-seated” and would never change. However, after receiving counseling for other childhood traumas, his feelings did indeed change, and he embraced his natal sex. Now in his thirties, he is bravely embarking on the journey of detransitioning. Derrick writes, “saddest of all, I can never have children . . . I pray God will give me the strength to withstand that sadness.”
Walt asks: “How can a boy who is in many ways still a child ‘consent’ to surgically eliminate fatherhood from his future?” Any reasonable person knows the answer: he can’t.
True Allies: Clothed with Compassion and Armed with Truth
By sharing the stories of real people suffering real pain and struggling with enormous regret, Walt enables us to gain the first thing a person seeking to be a true ally needs to help those caught in this battle: compassion. No matter what stage of the transgender journey a person is on, these men, women, boys, and girls are all dealing with deep pain, and they have been lied to by numerous individuals and professional groups about the solutions to their problems. They deserve to be treated tenderly and with honor and respect as they seek real healing from their confusion and pain.
However, compassion alone is not enough. Many people involved in trans activism are undoubtedly well-intentioned, but they are deceived about the harm they are doing.
Let Walt arm you with the truth. In addition to giving you the evidence of harm and regret, let him introduce you to other allies who fight for the genuine good of the whole person―both body and mind―of those dealing with gender dysphoria. You will meet Brie Jentry and learn how she wisely and lovingly walked with her daughter who experienced dysphoria. From there, you can explore numerous similar stories at the 4thwavenow or Transgender Trend online communities.
Follow Walt’s invitation to learn more about James Caspian, the gay-identified psychotherapist whose decades of work and support for LGBT rights meant nothing to those who opposed him when he sought to study and help those that were dealing with transition regret. Learn more about gender dysphoria expert Kenneth Zucker and the closing of his clinic, or Dr. Lisa Littman and the uproar over her research on Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria. Then you will have examples of true allies and friends for the journey as you seek to give genuine help.
Walt will teach you to evaluate critically the studies that are released on transgender success and regret, and to identify their frequent and fatal flaws. He will equip you with hard facts about the suicide rates: surgery does nothing to alleviate these sadly high rates, whereas treating the pervasive comorbid mental health conditions first could. He will also show you how politicized professional organizations are not only promoting harmful treatments but actively working to prohibit—even criminalize—psychotherapy that would help. Walt gives a guide for detransitioning, as information and resources for people needing such help are almost nonexistent. (Just ask Michael, whose transgender therapist worked with him for nine months to become “female,” only to drop him as a client when he said he needed to return to being male.)
Walking with the Wounded
Walt Heyer is a wounded healer. He survived his trans life, and he now lives to love and serve those fighting the same battle he did. We are going to have a generation of children growing into adulthood who have been scarred and maimed, casualties of the ideological war that is being waged in every corner of our society, involving everyone from preschoolers to prelates. We have to stand ready to help these hurting individuals at any stage of their journey. But we must do so as genuine allies who will “do no harm” and, even better, accompany these people in friendship and love to greater wholeness, peace, and their highest human flourishing.
Walt tells of “Mr. M,” who is longing to embrace being female and Michelle again, but knows that she will do so with lifelong scars: a hysterectomy and double-mastectomy and the lasting effects of male hormones cannot be erased. As she considers detransitioning, Michelle writes: “I know the trans community will hate me, but will my friends and the public see me as courageous?”
As a woman who formerly identified as a lesbian and was on the butch end of the spectrum, I could easily have been encouraged down a “trans masculine” path in my youth. I weep for Michelle’s loss as I give her my resounding “yes.” Michelle is courageous beyond words, and she needs and deserves a community of support as she makes the long journey home to herself. I wish I knew her personally, and I wish I could be her friend as I pray for her from afar. But there will be others, many others, and they will increasingly come both my way and yours.
Walt wrote this book with the prayer that we as “concerned reader[s] might become part of a solution when others call for help.” After reading it, I am more ready than ever to answer that call, and I join his prayer that you will do the same.