By Mark Ellis
At a young age, he suffered abuse at the hands of several family members, which left him psychologically scarred. Many years later, after gender reassignment surgery failed to heal his brokenness, he found healing at a deeper level.
His traumatic journey began at four-years-old, when his grandmother – for whatever reason – started cross-dressing him. “By the time I was five, she made me a purple chiffon full-length dress,” says Walter Heyer, the author of Trading My Sorrows.
Every time his parents dropped him off at her house, she dressed him up as a little girl. “She got excited about me being a little girl. She liked me better as a little girl. She told me to keep it a secret.”
Two years later, Walter took the dress home and hid it in the bottom dresser drawer in his bedroom.
“At home I was a rough little kid, playing in the dirt with scuffed-up jeans. But I wasn’t getting the same affirmation at home as I got from my grandmother for being a girl. Her words of affirmation were powerful but very confusing,” he recalls.
One day at dinner, his mother asked, “So what’s with the dress you have in your drawer?”
Walter started to break out in a sweat. “Grandma made it for me.” He proceeded to tell them what had been going on and for how long.
His father got red with anger, his face glowing like a Roman candle. “You could have set off a nuclear explosion at that point,” Walter recalls. His father was a part-time policeman and industrial goods salesman and also into martial arts.
From that time on, Walter wasn’t allowed to go to grandma’s house unless his parents were with him.
The purple dress disappeared and he never saw it again, but it took on a life of its own within his thoughts.
“I had been a skinny kid before this. I started eating to fill that pain I was feeling. One time I ate seven sandwiches,” he says.
His father’s adopted brother, only a teenager, decided Walter was “fair game” and at family gatherings he would take him off behind the garage and molest him.
He complained one day to his mother and she didn’t believe him. “That didn’t happen; you’re lying,” she said.
Dad decided he needed to shape Walter up, so his discipline got more aggressive. “He would spank me with a hardwood floor plank. Today it would be called abuse because it left welts. At first I would cry and wail. But then I decided the only way to defend against it was to be silent.”
In high school, Walter excelled in theater, running track and became the kicker on his football team.
At the same time, his inner conflict intensified. “I had this split persona,” he recounts. “The female inside me was silent in terms of visibility but lived mightily in my head. Everything was confusing.”
Questions swirled through his mind: Who am I? Am I really a girl? Am I really a boy? Why was my uncle abusing me? Why was dad hitting me?
“It was like a radio in my head playing this stuff over and over again. I couldn’t turn it off. There was no off switch.”
His parents dropped Walter and his brother at church but didn’t attend themselves. He didn’t have any relationship with God.
Later the family moved and he was baptized at another church. “I was so damaged by what happened (in the past) I couldn’t get in a relationship with anybody, let alone God,” he says.
“I went to church and I prayed for the Lord to take this stuff away from me, to heal me from it. I thought this stuff must be so new to God that he doesn’t understand it. I felt like I was on my own and needed to fix it myself.”
After college, Walter became an associate space engineer, working on the Apollo space project and an expert on cryogenic connecters.
He met a girl at church in the Sunday night singles group. They dated two years and got married. “We were doing well and had a nice relationship,” he recalls. “We were going to church. I still wanted to see what God could do to heal me.” They attended couples conferences at Forest Home, a Christian camp in the local mountains.
But sadly, the seed his grandmother planted – watered by the abuse — continued to grow and live in his head as if it was real and alive.
A double life
Secretly, he began cross-dressing and going to bars to “relieve the stress.” He also started to use alcohol more heavily.
“I was married with two kids. Nobody knew about this. I found a place far away from home to do this,” he confesses.
He left the aerospace industry and took a job in the automotive industry, which involved more travel. He became one of the most successful people in his company while he lived a double life.
“By the time my kids grew up, we were still attending church. If you looked at one side of my life it would look absolutely perfect. I had two worlds I lived in,” he admits.
In 1980 Walter visited a transgender surgeon, Dr. Stanley Biber, known as the preeminent expert in the world. After meeting for 45 minutes in his San Francisco office, Dr. Biber looked at Walter and said, “You have gender dysphoria. What you need to do is undergo gender reassignment surgery, take hormones, and completely change and become female.”
Walter was dumbfounded. “That seems a bit quick to make that kind of assessment.”
“No, you’re a perfect candidate for this. I’ve been doing this for years,” the doctor said confidently.
Walter waited two more years until the pressure cooker in his mind reached the boiling point.
Finally, at 42-years-old he sat down with his wife and told her everything that had been happening. “We need to divorce and I need to change genders,” he announced.
She exploded. “This was even more devastating because the kids were involved and this kind of pain no one should ever have to experience,” he says.
His daughter never spoke to him again. “My son said he wished I had cancer and died because at least he could tell his friends what happened.”
Walter went ahead with the gender reassignment surgery, but it led to unexpected consequences. He was terminated from his job and was not able to find another job. Financial pressures mounted quickly.
“Within a few months I was homeless, living in a park in Long Beach, California. By that time, I was a full-blown alcoholic.”
A friend let him live in his garage. “I was so dirty and messed up he didn’t want me in the house. The garage looked like the Waldorf Astoria at that point.”
Walter started to attend AA meetings and heard people talk about their higher power. “A few people talked about Christ, not a lot, but enough that it rang my bell a little bit.”
He received some Christian counseling, pro bono. “He ( the counselor) could see my life was a total mess. I was suicidal and he got very concerned. He said I needed to live in a healthy family.”
The counselor arranged for him to live with a pastor and his schoolteacher wife and two teenage kids.
Walter got a job as ‘Laura Jensen’ working at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate factory. Laura went to Bible study and church with his/her new family in Pleasanton, California.
“The family embraced me. The daughter let me have her room and she slept on the couch. They wrapped their arms around me and loved me. They didn’t throw the Bible at me or pray that I get fixed. They sat back and were curious about my story and how all this came about.”
But one day Laura relapsed. She got intoxicated at a biker’s bar and her new family told her she needed to go to a recovery home. They dropped her off at a women’s recovery home in San Francisco.
At recovery meetings she heard people talk about their higher power again, and sometimes Jesus, but it was usually frowned upon to mention the name of Jesus.
Laura visited a church in Foster City and went in to see the pastor.
“Are you going to try and fix me?” Laura asked.
“My job is to try to love you,” the pastor replied. “It’s God’s job to try and change you.”
But internally, Laura wasn’t sure she could be fixed. “I wasn’t sure God could do anything with me. I felt like I was on the scrap heap of life, part of discarded humanity.”
A group of people in the church began to pray for Laura in a more intentional way. The prayers brought the beginnings of change. “I reached greater sobriety and an understanding of who I was, so I began to restore Walt and dress as Walt. There was something going on that made me want to re-connect with Walt.”
Still in the Laura persona, she went to UC Santa Cruz and began to study the psychology of addictions, thinking she might become a counselor. After she was sent into clinical environments and worked as an intern for two years she came to a startling conclusion.
“I realized that nobody changes gender. The whole thing is a myth, a fantasy, it’s delusional, a psychological disorder, and that began to trouble me.
“I realized I was a fraud as a female. I hadn’t really changed. I only made it look like I had. I had my driver’s license changed back to Walt. I began dressing as Walt.”
A counselor in Santa Monica told Laura (Walter) he had a dissociative disorder.
“Really, what does that really mean?” Walter asked.
“Based on what you told me, the cross dressing (by your grandmother) and the sexual abuse caused you to dissociate. You did not want to be who you were because that little boy was being sexually abused, cross-dressed, and being physically abused. Those things built within you another personality. You weren’t happy being a boy because you got abused too much and had too many bad things happen.
“But because you’ve gone through gender reassignment surgery it’s going to be almost impossible for you to recover.”
Walter wept when the counselor told him recovery seemed impossible.
He moved back to the San Francisco area and re-connected with the church that had received him well.
Walter visited a Christian psychologist and they went through the traumas in his past, carefully, praying for them. “We put everything down on paper and them walked outside and lit the paper on fire in the parking lot. I thought it was great symbolism but wondered if it would work.”
Powerful prayer, amazing vision
The two men went back inside, sat down across from each other, and began to pray. Suddenly, an extraordinary vision filled Walter’s mind.
“I could see the Lord Jesus Christ in white and he was down in this position reaching out to me.
“There was a little baby and the baby was me as a boy. He reached down and picked up the boy and cradled him in his arms and then said, ‘You will be safe with me forever.’”
“From that moment on my life was redeemed and restored and I began living in His will. I am sober almost 30
years and married 18 years.
“The Lord has taken this horribly broken life and restored it. I owe it to people who loved on me and stood by and watched the Lord working in my life, as ugly and difficult and painful as it was for them to watch at times.”
“Now my life serves to honor and glorify Jesus Christ. My testimony is that being transgender is redeemable and you don’t have to live that way.”
If you want to know God personally, go here
For more about Walter Heyer and his book, go here