What The Media Should Know About Walt Heyer And “Transition Regrets”

A popular right-wing activist with extreme, discredited views about LGBT people is making the media rounds to talk about Caitlyn Jenner, peddling the myth that many transgender people end up regretting transitioning.

Walt Heyer, contributor for the rabidly anti-LGBT web magazine The Federalist, appeared on the June 2 edition of CNN Newsroom to comment on Vanity Fair's cover story about Caitlyn Jenner's decision to publicly identify as a transgender woman.

Heyer's life story has made him a pseudo-celebrity in anti-LGBT circles; in his forties, he decided to transition to living life as a woman, only to transition back to living as a man less than a decade later. Since then, he's pushed the debunked claim that transgender people often experience regret after transitioning, arguing that what transgender people actually need is "psychiatric or psychological help."

On CNN, Heyer warned that Jenner might regret her decision to transition, comparing transitioning to “going down to the bar” and “wak[ing] up with a hangover”:

Heyer made similar arguments while appearing on a segment for CNN International.

But while he was granted a platform to comment on transgender issues, Heyer's experience isn't reflective of the experiences of the overwhelming majority of transgender people; he even admits that he was “misdiagnosed” and was actually suffering with “a dissociative disorder that required talk therapy, not surgery.” His views about transitioning aren't rooted in research or medical expertise. The idea that many transgender people experience “transition regrets” has been widely debunked and contradicts the positions of major professional medical organizations, which all view transitioning as an important and beneficial step for people who identify with a gender identity that doesn't correspond with their biological sex.

When he's not appearing on a major cable news network, Heyer is a source of extreme transphobic commentary. He's alled gender reassignment surgery a "modern day frontal lobotomy," asserted that parents who help their children transition should be punished with "at least 20 years in prison," and has called Chaz Bono a "poser transgender" because “she has resisted having a 'Snoopy' attached.” 

That kind of extremism has made Heyer a favorite of anti-gay hate groups, including MassResistance and Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, who tout his story as proof that being transgender is a mental problem that can be treated or cured. But it also makes Heyer an odd choice for mainstream media outlets, which should be emphasizing the commentary of experts rather than fringe voices.