GLBT students struggle with sexual and gender identity during college
Published: Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 19:07
Powell realized that the scarcity of transgender healthcare is a problem that affects many people, so he decided to make it his research in graduate school.
“Because I’ve embraced my identity as a trans person, I’m able to be successful. I’ve been accepted to Purdue with full funding and someone wants to work with me on my project to research transgender healthcare,” Powell said.
Powell said he has had a relatively positive experience openly identifying as transgender at A&M, despite drawing occasional mean looks or snide remarks. He said in the dorm community his freshman year was welcoming and he even met his current girlfriend there. He said his most uncomfortable obstacle is having to use the women’s restroom, because by law, he cannot use the men’s. Women sometimes run away after seeing him in the bathroom.
“The more I looked masculinized, the more issues I would have with bathrooms on campus,” Powell said. “You’re like ‘I just want to go to the bathroom, I don’t want to make a social statement. I don’t want to scare people. I just want 60 seconds of peace.’”
Powell added that he has learned to just laugh at the situations and move on.
Texas A&M does have a map of gender-neutral bathrooms that can be found online, and is in the process of adding more – including one under construction in the anthropology building.
Coming out to God
GLBT interactions with religion are often intertwined with familial and societal struggles.
The King James Bible describes Hell as a “lake of fire” where the “wailing and gnashing of teeth” will take place for eternity. The Qu’ran says that people will “long to leave the fire” but “theirs will be a lasting torment.”
While coming out, many religious students live in a state of constant fear that such a fate could await them at the end of their lives, making psychological stress unbearable.
“When you’re told that being attracted to the same gender means ‘I’m going to Hell,’ how do you reconcile that?” Covey said.
Religious GLBT students often go through a period during which they try to change themselves. Before Breeding came out, he tried to rid himself of his sexuality.
“I would always feel so dirty and disgusted … I would try to do things to change. I would wake up every morning and read the Bible for several hours and do all sorts of prayers,” Breeding said.
But nothing changed, which caused him to spiral into depression.
When Breeding started college at Baylor University, where being openly gay can be punished by university expulsion, his depression worsened into manic episodes. During his first semester at A&M, Breeding almost completed suicide.
After seeking help from Student Counseling Services and finding support at the GLBT Resource center, Breeding is now more comfortable than he has ever been with himself. He identifies as an atheist, but said being gay did not make him leave the Christian faith; it only sped up the process.
For a while, Elizondo was determined to become straight as well. He confided in his youth pastor, who told him that being gay is a sin and that he would have to fight off his desires. In efforts to do so, Elizondo spent more time involved in church activities, personal Bible studies and prayer.
“First I would ask [God] for forgiveness for any lustful thoughts I had, and please give me the strength to fight off these temptations and please make this go away because I want to live a normal life,” Elizondo said.
But when his feelings remained the same, and he could not depend on his family or church for support, Elizondo had to escape.
“It was a really dark time in my life where I was losing hope with everything I had known to be right. I was really depressed,” Elizando said. “I ended up resorting to pills to zone me out because I couldn’t stand to think about everything that was wrong with me, or what I thought was wrong with me.”
Elizondo saw no way that he could continue being Christian and gay at the same time, so he chose to abandon his faith because he could not control his sexuality. He eventually came out to his friends at A&M and got involved with GLBT Aggies, and became more accepting of himself and comfortable with his identity.
But despite this comfort, Elizondo still felt a longing for a relationship with God.
“I started feeling an emptiness for God, so I found Friends Congregational Church,” Elizondo said. “My relationship with God has grown so much, especially because there isn’t a part of me that I don’t accept. So it’s not only that I think God accepts me, but I accept me and I can continue my faith without all this doubt that was keeping me before.”
Dan De Leon pastors the Friends Congregational Church of College Station. The church openly accepts people of all sexual orientations.
De Leon said students often feel scorned from the church because of their sexuality. They often hear that they are going to Hell because of it. Leading a church that opposes such beliefs can create controversy.
“I’ll get flurries of hate mail, email, phone calls” De Leon said.
While the backlash does occur, De Leon said it is the exception, not the rule. Ordinarily, the feedback he receives is out of curiosity, which opens up for dialogue and De Leon said that is a good thing.
On the contrary, Rabbi Yosi Lazaroff of the Rohr Chabad Jewish Center said that in his opinion, sexuality is something that is to be kept private.
“We look at sexuality as something that is very holy in general. It’s something that we keep in private,” Lazaroff said, “What happens in the bedroom stays in the bedroom.”
While he prefers to not hear about the sexual practices of his congregation, he has had experience in dealing with gay Jewish students. In this case, Lazaroff said that it is his priority to treat every human being with respect.