Do you want to be visible?

Shedding light on the importance of transgender awareness and Biola’s policies regarding gender-affirming health care.

Transgender+students+discuss+their+experiences+at+Biola.+

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Transgender students discuss their experiences at Biola.

Amelia Schuhler, Opinions Editor

Every year in November, an estimated 1.6 million people in the U.S. who identify as transgender celebrate Transgender Awareness Week — a time to promote awareness of the social and legal history of being transgender in the U.S. as well as mark the accomplishments and resilience of transgender individuals. 

Awareness around this topic directly correlates to the well-being of people belonging to the transgender community. Recent data shows that public opinion and attitudes about transgender and gender non-conforming people directly impact the rates of violence against these communities. According to the 2018 hate crime report done by the Los Angeles County Commision of Human Relations, there were 25 hate crimes motivated by gender in 2018 compared to 38 the previous year, all of which targeted the transgender community. 

The National Center for Transgender Equality released a report finding that at least 47 transgender people were killed in the past year. The center released the report just days before the tragic shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ club in Colorado, which resulted in the deaths of Daniel Aston, Raymond Green Vance, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh and Derrick Rump.

In addition to these dangers, transgender people are disproportionately burdened by poor mental health that can be attributed to a lack of social support and increased discrimination. Transgender teens are 7.6 times more likely to commit suicide than cisgender teens, 82% of transgender individuals have considered killing themselves and 40% have attempted suicide.

To fight discrimination and increase social support for trans and gender diverse people, use their correct pronouns, speak out against transphobia and microaggressions in everyday life, listen to and learn from trans people and support trans creators.

BEING TRANSGENDER AT BIOLA 

Transgender students at Biola face a unique set of challenges. The university’s position on sexuality and relationships does not affirm that gender identity is up to the individual and does not allow students to medically transition during their time at Biola. For transgender people who do wish to medically transition, it is a crucial part of their wellbeing to have freedom over that decision: this study published by the National Library of Medicine found that gender-affirming medical interventions are associated with lower odds of depression and suicidal ideation.

The number of transgender students or any students belonging to the LGBTQ+ community at Biola is a mystery because many of them choose not to disclose their gender identity or sexual orientation to many, if any, of their peers. 

Jackson Mathes, a former Biola student, shared his experience in an interview. “I recognized very quickly that if I was going to be my authentic self, I needed to be open about the fact that I’m trans,” he said when describing his first year at Biola. Mathes ended up transferring after his first year due to financial reasons. 

Mathes shared that a lot of students at Biola believe that discrimination is disturbingly obvious, but this is not always the case. The type of pushback that Mathes experienced at Biola is woven into the structure of the university.

“Most people were fairly accepting and kind, people used my pronouns,” Mathes said. “Actually, much of the backlash I received was from the university itself. When I got here I was immediately referred to the office at Spiritual Development to talk to a counselor.” 

What Mathes described as “backlash” is the standard procedure that Student Development adheres to at Biola when a student is living in a way that goes outside of the parameters of Biola’s theological positions. This process includes meeting with staff at Student Development, and, depending on the extent to which students are violating community standards, “sanctions” are then applied to individual cases.

COMMUNITY STANDARDS

Lisa Igram, Interim Vice President of Student Development, said that “when students choose to attend Biola, they are choosing to agree with and live by Biola’s biblical principles reflected in the community standards.” 

Igram went on to say that the institution’s intention is “to walk compassionately and prayerfully with students. When we hear of students who have these questions, we always begin with a conversation. We seek to both honor the complexity of students’ stories and understand their experiences, journey and process.” 

Mathes felt uncomfortable throughout the process.

“I would have to sit in meetings with people to figure out what the rules at Biola were just so I could exist there as myself,” Mathes said. While these meetings had the initial intent of providing support for Mathes, the support that he asked for — the ability to use the male restroom and the freedom to transition — were not things that the university was willing to offer. 

According to the student handbook, the university works with transgender students individually to come to decisions about using gendered facilities. In Mathes’ case, he was denied the housing he requested in a male hall in a dormitory and was assigned to a room in a female hall. While Mathes agreed to this, it wasn’t ideal. “I had to tip-toe around, shower at 2:00 a.m. so no one would see me,” he said. Biola’s policies, while meant to be “compassionate” to students’ unique situations, left Mathes feeling out of place as a man in a women’s dormitory.

Some might ask why a student like Mathes would want to be at Biola, but Mathes made it clear in our interview that he wanted to go to a private Christian university. 

“People tend to believe that this is a split-off part of me,” Mathes said. “It surprises people that I can be a part of the trans community and be a Christian. I experience that in the real world too — people are surprised to hear that I’m both trans and a Christian. It feels like I’m living in two worlds: both have the idea that they’re opposites, but they don’t need to be.” 

ALUMNA PERSPECTIVE

Mathes is one of many LGBTQ+ students who have attended Biola University. Jess Creasman, a Cinema and Media Arts major at Biola who graduated in fall 2021, shared their experience as a genderqueer person at Biola. 

“I’ve been aware of my dysphoria since early childhood, but [I] finally admitted it to myself and labeled it about a month after graduation,” Creasman said. 

Even though Creasman had not connected their dysphoria to the reality that they were genderqueer until after graduating, it still significantly impacted their time at Biola. 

“It was very difficult for me to feel fully comfortable in social settings,” Creasman said. “Especially classroom discussions or projects. Most of that pressure came from the student body, sometimes faculty, but the social pressure was much worse. A huge component was also in the incredibly rigid gender roles that Biola holds to.” 

The roles that Creasman is referring to are facets of the social landscape at Biola and are also evident in the University’s Statement of Biblical Principles: God’s Intentional Design for Life, which states that “our sex as male or female is a biological given of the individual human person from conception made manifest at birth, and is a stable characteristic of the person determined by God’s creational intent.”

Creasman felt constrained by the presence of these roles which hold such weighty theological significance in the university’s eyes. Since graduating, Creasman has begun taking steps to medically transition. At one point, Creasman considered taking a faculty position in the Cinema and Media Arts school at Biola but has since decided not to work for the university as they would have had to postpone medically transitioning.

“Queer kids at Biola need to feel like they’re safe if they’re going to learn,” Creasman said. “Especially students in film, fine arts and theater. They have so much potential to create beautiful work if a professor or mentor is just willing to let them ask dangerous questions and work toward an honest answer. I’m beyond thankful for the professors that let me experiment with my identity through my creativity, whether they were aware of it or not – they literally saved my life, and selfishly I would love to work with them in the program that meant so much to me.” 

TRANS CHRISTIANS

Mathes expressed that he wanted to be able to facilitate conversations about the transgender experience while he was at Biola.

“Trans people should not be a scary topic, we’re just people,” Mathes said. 

There are conversations about LGBTQ+ issues going on at Biola in spaces like the Dwelling, a club for LGBTQ+ students — but the Dwelling is more of a support group for students reconciling their gender identity and sexuality with their faith. The types of conversations that Mathes wants to have at Biola go beyond reconciling his identity as a transgender man with his faith, and have to do with making Biola more inclusive and accepting of transgender students who are not conflicted about being both transgender and Christian. In order for that to happen, the university would need to be open to altering its community standards.

Mathes believes that an individual’s decision to transition should not be an issue within the church.

“I fully believe that God made me trans the same way that God made me in any other way,” Mathes said. “I’m not saying it’s okay to commit a sin — I’m saying that being this way isn’t a sin. That’s why the conversation needs to be had.” 

Mathes touches on a key component of the issue at hand, which is that Biola sees gender identity as a binary thing that has to do with a person’s sex that they were assigned at birth, and that God’s intended purpose for people is to live in such a way that honors that binary. They make this clear with language in their theological position that states that “in the beginning, God designed marriage as a covenantal bond between one man and one woman, which is affirmed by Jesus in the New Testament.” The tension here is that Mathes, and many other transgender Christians do not agree with that. 

When I asked Mathes whether or not he felt it was safe to be transgender at Biola, he laughed. “It is! If you’re really secretive about it.” 

When Mathes arrived at Biola he was fully set up to begin transitioning, but was unable to because of Biola’s guidelines. “I didn’t want to rock the boat because I didn’t want to lose my ability to be a student,” he said. Even after leaving Biola, the school’s policies have affected Mathes’ ability to transition; because of his decision to postpone the process in order to stay enrolled at the school, Mathes has since lost his insurance’s approval for covering the costs of his transition. Over a year later, Mathes has still been unable to begin the process.

HANDBOOK POLICIES

Mathes described the hours he spent combing through the Biola student handbook which details the rules and regulations in place for a student who wishes to medically transition during their time here. The handbook states that “sexual behavior contrary to Biola’s community standards will be addressed through a disciplinary process … in all disciplinary matters we will seek to be redemptive and developmental in the lives of the individuals involved.” 

Medically transitioning is included under the umbrella of behavior contrary to Biola’s community standards. Biola makes their position on sexuality, gender and relationships clear, and they “ask that transgender individuals refrain from the process of a medical transition during their time at Biola.” The handbook concludes that “students who choose to engage in such behaviors or relationships will be referred to the Department of Student Care, which manages student adherence to Biola’s community standards.” 

If Mathes had chosen to begin treatments while at Biola, he would not have been able to keep any written record of it, nor would he be able to share any information regarding his transition with his peers — because should the university find evidence that a student is transitioning, enforcing the disciplinary actions that Biola’s policies refer to could result in expulsion.

WHY WOULD A TRANSGENDER STUDENT CHOOSE BIOLA?

Because Biola makes their stance on gender and sexuality so clear, it may be perplexing why a transgender or genderqueer student would choose to attend Biola. However, Creasman listed a variety of reasons.

“Because our families cover our tuition if we go to a Christian college,” Creasman said. “Or because we have friends and a community we’re supported by, or the faculty and resources are perfectly suited to our needs. Maybe it’s sunk-cost fallacy, maybe it’s endearment or financial necessity.”

For whatever reason, there are many LGBTQ+ students who choose to attend Biola, where transgender and queer visibility comes with a cost. As important as awareness around this topic is, simply knowing that transgender people exist and have a violent history of being discriminated against is not enough. Caring for the transgender community entails standing up for transgender rights, which include the right to medically transition. Until transgender rights are protected at Biola in the same way that they are at other universities, transgender and genderqueer students as well as all other members of the LGBTQ+ community will remain an underserved group on our campus. 

This article was updated 12/2 with clarifying language. 

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