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In April 1870 the Wexford Independent,Wexford, Ireland ran the following which was quickly repeated in the Carlow Post.
Women in Black is a name given to a largely US phenomenon from the 1860s through to World War I.
"The Victorian widow, swathed in her 'habiliments of woe,' was a familiar figure on the streets of the nineteenth century. The dull fabrics, the crape, the veil: all marked the wearer as one touched by Death and entitled to special consideration. Mourning garb both protected the wearer from the public gaze and elevated societal expectations for the widow. This made it all the more shocking when mourning dress was used as a criminal disguise.
Let us look at the rogues’ gallery of crimes committed in the United States from about 1860 to 1929 under the cover of crape. The list is a long and distressing one: Assault, inducing panic, menacing threats, armed robbery and pickpocketing, burglary, kidnapping, arson, murder, and most heinous of all to a 19th century audience: transvestism."
The different appearances were, of course, different. The "woman in black" could be or could be taken as:
a) a genuine widow
b) a woman using the guise to commit a crime
c) a transvestite
d) a supernatural apparition
Woodyard points out:
"A widow’s garb was the perfect cover for a transvestite, who, given the usual domestic organization of a 19th-century working-class household, had little privacy or time for cross-dressing. It allowed him to walk abroad publically, dressed as a woman; hiding in plain sight. The act of wearing widow’s weeds was, for transvestites, both a criminal act and the concealment of that criminal act.
In addition, mourning clothing was readily accessible. A man might borrow the weeds his wife had at home. Mourning goods could be purchased second-hand or through the mail. And security was guaranteed by the fact that few persons would have the courage or the impudence to walk up to a veiled widow in the dark and remove her veil. I found only a single case among hundreds of spectral Women in Black sightings, where a young Connecticut woman pulled the veil from the face of what turned out to be a well-known young man in widow’s weeds. His motive for doing so was elided by the newspaper."
In 1848 Columbus, Ohio became one of the first US cities to pass a law against transvesting. 40 other cities soon did the same. So some degree of subterfuge became required.
The Women in Black disappeared during the Great War. Authorities introduced a ban on deep mourning for considerations of morale, and anyway hemlines began to rise. Soon the Women in Black were forgotten.
Chris Woodyard. "The Woman in Black – Victorian Mourning as Criminal Disguise". Haunted Ohio, March 25, 2017. Online.
Beach Combing. "British and Irish Women in Black Spirits ". Strange History, October 31, 2021. Online.
After the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in CE 70 (Roman Date: AUC DCCCXXIII; Hebrew Year 3831) , the sicarii/zealots maintained a last redoubt in Masada ( מצדה metsada, "fortress") led by Eleazar ben Jair. It was besieged by Roman forces 73-4. Those within chose to die by their own hand rather than submit to the Romans.
However we read in Josephus, The Jewish War (William Whiston Translation, 1737), VII, 9, 1. Online.
“Yet was there an ancient woman, and another who was of kin to Eleazar, and superior to most women in prudence and learning, with five children: who had concealed themselves in caverns under ground; and had carried water thither for their drink; and were hidden there when the rest were intent upon the slaughter of one another.
Those others were nine hundred and sixty in number: the women, and children being withal included in that computation.”
John Allegro (The Chosen People: A Study of Jewish History from the Time of the Exile Until the Revolt of Bar Kocheba. Hodder and Stoughton, 1971: 240-1) comments:
“It might be considered ungracious to speculate on the identity, or even true sex of the ‘old woman’. described as ‘a relative of Eleazar’s’. and as being ‘superior in prudence and training (phronesi kai paideia) to most women’, who hid her female companion and accompanying five children underground during or after the mass slaughter of their fellow-Zealots above. Perhaps, too, we should not enquire too closely how that prudent person could so ‘lucidly report both the speech (of Eleazar) and how the deed was done’, if she were in hiding the whole time.
Nevertheless, one cannot help wondering if Josephus did not come by his remarkably complete knowledge of these last dramatic days and hours of Masada’s resistance through the first-hand report of Eleazar himself. Does Josephus know more about the ‘relative of Eleazar’ and her ‘prudence’ than he cares to divulge? Certainly, if Eleazar had felt no guilt in escaping the suicide pact disguised as an old woman, and was thus enabled to usher perhaps his wife and family from this tomb of Zealot hopes, he would have had some sympathy from Josephus, who had done much the same thing earlier on in the war.”
Certainly an interesting hypothesis. Almost all other writers neither repeat this hypothesis, nor refute it. It is of course a problem that the only evidence either way is the account by Josephus.
Eleazar would of course have worn a beard, and to pass as an old woman would need to have shaved. Shaving technology at this period was rather primitive - it was probably done simply with a sharp knife, and would leave cuts on his face. However the Romans might have respected an old woman enough not to have removed her veil.
John (יוחנן מגוש חלב Yohanan mi-Gush Halav) after defying Vespasian’s forces in Galilee, took his followers to Jerusalem in CE 69 (Roman Date: AUC DCCCXXII; Hebrew Year 3830)
We read in Josephus, The Jewish War (William Whiston Translation, 1737), IV, 9, 10. Online.
“Now this Simon, who was without the wall, was a greater terror to the people than the Romans themselves: as were the zealots who were within it more heavy upon them than both of the other. And during this time did the mischievous contrivances and courage [of John] corrupt the body of the Galileans. For these Galileans had advanced this John, and made him very potent. Who made them suitable a requital, from the authority he had obtained by their means. For he permitted them to do all things that any of them desired to do. While their inclination to plunder was insatiable: as was their zeal in searching the houses of the rich. And for the murdering of the men, and abusing of the women, it was sport to them. They also devoured what spoils they had taken, together with their blood; and indulged themselves in feminine wantonness, without any disturbance, till they were satiated therewith.
While they decked their hair, and put on women’s garments, and were besmeared over with ointments: and that they might appear very comely, they had paints under their eyes; and imitated not only the ornaments, but also the lusts of women: and were guilty of such intolerable uncleanness, that they invented unlawful pleasures of that sort. And thus did they roll themselves up and down the city, as in a brothel house; and defiled it entirely with their impure actions. Nay while their faces looked like the faces of women, they killed with their right hands; and when their gait was effeminate, they presently attacked men, and became warriors: and drew their swords from under their finely dyed cloaks, and ran every body through whom they light upon.
However Simon waited for such as ran away from John: and was the more bloody of the two. And he who had escaped the tyrant within the wall, was destroyed by the other that lay before the gates. So that all attempts of flying and deserting to the Romans were cut off, as to those that had a mind so to do.”
John was finally captured by the Romans in CE 70. He was star attraction in Titus’ victory march in Rome, and presumably died in a Roman prison.
Walt Heyer, raised in Los Angeles, had a grandmother who loved to dress him as a girl, and an uncle who sexually abused him. He married in 1965 and they had children. His wife knew about his cross-dressing. He became national manager of port operations for American Honda Motor Company, a job that required frequent travel to ports around the US.
Since childhood his inner woman, who named herself Christal West, had expressed herself in his cross-dressing. Walt moved his family to Sonoma, north of San Francisco so that he would have easy access to the city’s Tenderloin area. At first he went to the drag bars, particularly the Roadrunner, in male guise, until he found a friend who let him change, and then in female guise.
From there he was given the name of a doctor in Beverly Hills who prescribed female hormones, and then a plastic surgeon for top surgery. At this point his sex life with his wife had ended. In 1981 Heyer obtained the name of gay psychologist Paul Walker from the grapevine. Walker was building a practice catering to transsexuals, and was located on nearby Union Street. Heyer enrolled as a patient. Walker recognized Heyer, having seen his female persona in the Roadrunner. According to Heyer’s account, at the end of the first session Walker diagnosed gender dysphoria, and in the third session gave Heyer a letter recommending trans surgery. This despite the 1979 Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association Standards of Care (of which Walker was the major co-author) requiring two such letters and at least one year of cross-living before surgery.
Heyer actually went to Trinidad, Colorado and saw Dr Biber. His intention was to have a surgical sex change without telling his boss, his wife or anyone else. The choice of Biber was almost unavoidable he recalled:
“He was the only one anyone talked about. At the time he was the only one doing the surgery. I had tried to get into UCLA and other places, but everyone had shut down their clinics. There was nothing left. You had one choice.” (Smith p 15)
Biber read the letter from Walker and asked his usual questions. Heyer gave a check for $7,500, and agreed to the additional hospital fees. He went then to the hospital, felt bad about what he was doing, and returned to Biber’s office with a change of mind. He got a 50% refund. Back home Heyer finally told his wife. Divorce proceedings were started.
In 1983 Heyer again gained approval from Walker, and again went to Trinidad. Some things had changed. Heyer had started using the name Andrea West. Andrea had had buttocks implants, a nose job and electrolysis. However her resolve had wavered, and she had had her breast implants removed, but later had them replaced. As Walt she was still working for Honda and had been transferred to southern California. Walt’s drinking had become more intense. On return to Trinidad it was Andrea West who signed the papers, but then the name Laura Jenson popped into her head and that is who she became. It was still her intention to continue to work as Walt, and to be Laura out-of-work. She finally told her mother what she was doing. She actually continued to work as Walt. However her attorney maintained that she could not legally continue to work using the name Walt. She procrastinated for several months, until October 1983 when during a business meal and appearing as Walt, she explained that she had already had the surgery. The stunned boss took the issue to the president. Two weeks later she was offered six months severance pay, and she was to disappear and not discuss the termination with anyone.
Laura Jensen could not find another job, but still had alimony, child support and mortgage to pay. She was still drinking, and started taking cocaine. Most of her friends had disappeared, but one offered to help get her sober and took her to an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting. One AA member offered a garage to sleep in, and others offered odd jobs, but one of the others, also trans, took her to a bar, and she relapsed into alcohol and cocaine. AA again helped her out of that. Her son was the only family member still in contact, although she dressed as a man to meet him.
Laura’s break came when she was taken in by a Christian family, with a father who was a psychologist with a masters in theology. Laura ended up staying nine months, and returning often over the next twelve years. The family led her to accept Jesus as her savior, and helped her to decide to return to being Walt. Walt obtained a job in an auto body shop owned by a Christian man who also convinced him to start attending Bible classes. However, as Walt later wrote:
“Laura tormented Walt’s thoughts, enticing him to switch back. I began feeling more and more fragile, slowly crumbling under the weight of wanting relief from the intense emotional pain.” (Smith p 91)
It was Laura who climbed onto the roof of a restaurant and shouted that she wanted to die. This led to Walt losing his job and a court ordered recovery treatment. It was Laura who was admitted into a residential Women Recovery Association program. She began attending a local church in Foster City, south of San Francisco, where the pastor, while admitting that he had no experience with trans persons, welcomed her and they met regularly.
Laura took courses to become a counselor for people in drug or alcohol recovery - this at the same time as working a job, and working with her church and with AA. She began noticing differences between her two personas. Laura preferred healthy food; Walt was a junk-food fan. Walt’s voice was lower, while Laura’s was pitched higher. Their handwriting and opinions often were quite different. She remained Laura at school and at work, rather than risking discovery by changing whenever the impulse to do so struck. She attended men’s AA group meetings as Walt, and women’s AA group meetings as Laura. She knew that the major imperative was to stay sober. She did and she graduated in 1989 with an advanced certificate in drug and alcohol studies. Working with her pastor, Laura asked if it would be okay to come to church as Walt. After discussion and prayer it was arranged that the pastor gave a sermon on the theme of a sinner saved by repentance, and then told of Walt’s journey, and then Walt in person was well received.
Walt began working at CityTeam, a non-denominational Christian non-profit in San Jose. But at weekends she was still Laura. Walt was baffled by this as were friends and psychologists. Walt/Laura made a follow-up appointment with Paul Walker who had diagnosed gender dysphoria in 1981. By Heyer’s account, Walker responded to her claim of four years of sobriety, by admitting that he too was in a 12-step program, that he had been addicted to drugs and alcohol after a ski accident, and that he was HIV+. Before he died in 1991, Walker wrote to her that therapists should address alcohol and drug issues before moving on to gender issues. He assured Jensen/Heyer “that I share, as best I can, some of the pain that this mistake has caused you”. Heyer seized onto the word “mistake”.
Walt’s 12-month contract with CityTeam also ended in 1991, and he applied for a position as a counselor in a psychiatric ward in southern California - but as Laura, as all his papers were in that name. The job required working with severe psychological disorders, including self-mutilation and schizophrenia. The psychiatrist who oversaw her work took note of her as a person, and proposed clinical meetings in his free time. After three weeks he had her consult with another colleague, who used a term to explain Laura’s condition: Dissociative disorder (more popularly known as Multiple-Personality disorder). Laura sought a third and fourth opinion. Both confirmed: Dissociative disorder. A Dissociative disorder specialist used hypnosis, and identified 13-15 separate personalities. Penmanship varied according to which persona was active: Andrea’s signature was tight, small, and slanted left; Laura’s was bold and slanted right. If Walt/Laura had Dissociative disorder, it explained why transition had not solved her problems.
Laura returned to the San Francisco Bay area to be close to those who supported her best. She restarted at AA, and after an initial hesitancy, was welcomed back to the Foster City church. A new therapist advised that working a job interfered with the required therapy: Laura couch surfed, ran errands for a restaurant in exchange for meals and applied for permanent disability income. Whilst praying with her therapist, she had a religious experience, a vision of Jesus who took her into his arms. For the next few years Walt and Laura alternated. A friend who had taken in Laura some years before was dying of cancer at age 46. Walt became part of her support network, and got to know a woman named Kaycee who was doing the same. They started to meet in addition to supporting the friend. Kaycee accepted him while knowing his past. He had his breast implants finally removed and changed what documents he could. After five years Walt and Kaycee were formally dating. They married in May 1997. The gender switching stopped.
In 2006 Heyer published his first autobiography, Trading My Sorrows, in which he discusses his diagnosis of Dissociative Disorder. In 2008 he set up sexchangeregret.com. At first response was small. However in 2015, when Caitlyn Jenner was front-page news, Heyer was suddenly in demand. “I did forty radio and TV shows in five days”. He appeared at events with Paul McHugh and Ryan T Anderson, both of whom have also written books decrying transsexuality. Heyer endorsed both McHugh’s and Ray Blanchard’s ideas. He repeats conspiracy ideas that George Soros and Barack Obama have respectively financed and appointed activists to push a transgender agender:
“They want to destroy the moral fabric of society, of the Church, and if you can destroy gender, then you can destroy the basis of man-woman marriage, and then in due time destroy the foundation of society, which is the male-female family and spawning of offspring. So George Soros is totally against God and family.” (Smith p 145)
In 2018 Heyer edited an anthology of accounts by 30 others who detransitioned.
Trading My Sorrows: A True Story of Betrayals, Bad Choices, Love, and the Journey Home. Xulon Press, 2006. Reissued as A Transgender’s Faith. CreateSpace, 2015.
Perfected with Love. Xulon Press. 2009.
Paper Genders: Pulling the Mask Off the Transgender Phenomenon. Make Waves Publishing, 2011.
Paper Genders: Pulling the Mask Off the Transgender Phenomenon.Make Waves Publishing, 2011.
Gender, Lies and Suicide: A Whistleblower Speaks out. CreateSpace, 2013.
Kid Dakota and the Secret at Grandma’s House. CreateSpace, 2015. A novel based on Heyer’s childhood.
(ed)Trans Life Survivors. Bowker Identifier Services, 2018.
Articles of Impeachment against Sex Change Surgery. Walter Heyer, 2020.
"Walt Heyer". TransChristians, February 21, 2010. Online.
"Walt Heyer?" Maple Centers, October 2, 2011 – January 25, 2012. Online.
Jeff Schapiro. "Transsexual Returns to Original Gender After Relationship With Christ". Christian Post, January 11, 2012. Online.
Sheila Jeffreys. Gender Hurts: A feminist analysis of the politics of transgenderism. Routledge, 2014: 73-4.
Jay Akbar. “The man who's had TWO sex changes: Incredible story of Walt, who became Laura, then REVERSED the operation because he believes surgeons in US and Europe are too quick to operate”. The Daily Mail, 26 January 2015. Online.
Zinnia Jones. “Walt Heyer and ‘sex change regret’ ”. Gender Analysis, July 31, 2015. Online.
Ryan T Anderson. When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment. Encounter Books, 2018: 87-91.
Martin J Smith. Going to Trinidad: A Doctor, a Colorado Town, and Stories from an Unlikely Gender Crossroad BowerHouse, 2021: Passim.
“Walt Heyer was never transgender, yet underwent SRS. Distraught that he was approved for surgery, he hopes to make the psychological community stop SRS.
Walt has a unique circumstance. Walt was eventually diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, archaically called multiple personality disorder. One of his identities happened to be a woman and that identity gradually came into dominance. Not realizing this, he interpreted his feelings as transexual and had SRS. Eventually counselors gave him an accurate diagnosis which provided the proper treatment to eliminate his other false identities. Heyer's situation is undoubtedly tragic.”
Walt Heyer is probably the best known detransitioner or changeback although of course there are many who have done so. Like Alan Finch he set up a webpage and advocated against other people choosing to transition. Some revert to their original gender and admit to a personal mistake. However others go on a crusade to decry that others may decide to do what did not work out for them personally. Back in 2014 I estimated detransition as around 3% based on the data in this encyclopedia. Most other estimates are roughly the same. This Wikipedia article summarizes various studies and concludes: “It is estimated that the number of detransitioners ranges from less than one percent to as many as five percent”. As others have pointed out a 95% success rate makes sex-change surgery one of the most successful branches of medicine.
Heyer claims that 40% of trans persons attempt suicide. He does not differentiate between those who so attempt because they are not able to transition, those who are oppressed by others for being trans and those who actually regret transition.
Heyer is of course right that trans persons with substance abuse/alcoholism should get that sorted out before proceeding with transition. He is also right that those with a Dissociative disorder should get that sorted out first. The persona who becomes the final dominant persona may not want to transition.
There is a divide among trans persons between those who regard therapy as essential and those for whom such a requirement is at best an irritant. I was never offered nor ever wanted professional counselling. I was accepted after one session with Russell Reid. By that time I was working as female, and living so 24/7. I had several years in trans support groups and had talked with, even counselled, many others. I knew what I was doing, and 35 years later have no regrets. Apparently the only trans women that Heyer had met by 1981 were those in the Roadrunner bar. He was on the down-low, and had definitely not done a social transition prior to surgery.
If it actually was as Heyer tells it, Paul Walker did indeed make a serious mistake.
Heyer credits his destiny to grandma's purple dress, father's chastisement and uncle's sexual abuse. However many children experience worse and become neither trans nor dissociative. It is not that simple.