Metro Weekly

Transgender BYU student faces possible expulsion for pursuing top surgery

After receiving a warning from their bishop, Kris Irvin must either forego the surgery or transfer to a non-private institution

Kris Irvin – Photo: News4Utah.

A transgender student at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, could face punishment from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and expulsion from the university if they proceed with “top surgery” to treat their gender dysphoria.

Kris Irvin, who goes by “they/their” pronouns, says they have felt they are a boy stuck in a girl’s body since age 3, and has suffered from gender dysphoria since puberty, reports the Salt Lake City-based ABC affiliate News4Utah. Irvin says the gender dysphoria led to severe depression and anxiety.

“It’s a hatred for your body because your body doesn’t look the way it’s supposed to in your mind,” they said. “I would wear two sports bras all the time to try and flatten myself out. Even when I hit puberty, I thought ‘Please don’t grow. Please don’t grow.’ I used to pray that I would get a disease where I would have to get a double mastectomy.”

Irvin found out about the possibility of “top surgery” from other transgender members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who had undergone the procedure, which gave them hope that they could one day live according to their gender identity.

“For me, top surgery is the last piece of the puzzle,” Irvin said. “It’s the last thing I need to do in order to be comfortable with myself and in my body.”

Unfortunately for Irvin, the surgery is very expensive. Irvin also suffers from fibromyalgia and says it’s difficult to work, go to school, raise their son, and save up enough money for the procedure. To help get extra money, they started a GoFundMe page, but was soon after confronted by their bishop.

“My bishop called me into his office and said, ‘If you proceed with top surgery, then we will have to proceed with church discipline.’ That could compromise my ecclesiastical endorsement, which would mean I couldn’t go to BYU,” Irvin told News4Utah. “I do want to say I love my bishop. I think he’s an amazing man. He’s served our family really well and I really admire him. But I think he’s wrong on this issue.”

Irvin said it’s particularly unfair that the other transgender members who first told them about the surgery were able to undergo the procedure without punishment.

But because the church has no set guidelines for dealing with transgender members, decisions — like disciplining Irvin — are often left up to the discretion of individual bishops.

Irvin said they wrote a detailed email to their bishop trying to explain their gender dysphoria, but the bishop refused to back down from his earlier stance.

Irvin said it made them suicidal, and pointed out the hypocrisy that members of the church have not been disciplined for pursuing cosmetic, non-medically necessary surgeries that radically alter their bodies.

Irvin is 30 credits shy of graduating from BYU, meaning they expect it to take at least another year before they can finish their education.

Unfortunately, with a lack of flexibility from their bishop, it means Irvin must either forego the surgery until they graduate, or move forward with the procedure and transfer to a non-religious college.

Even though they love their experience at BYU, Irvin said they just can’t wait to have the surgery, adding: “It’s just awful. I don’t want to go through another summer with the breasts that I have. It’s just uncomfortable. It’s make me depressed. It makes me feel disgusting and awful and I can’t do it.”

A spokesman for Brigham Young University released a statement to News4Utah saying: “BYU does not have a formal policy; we handle every case on an individual basis. Ecclesiastical leaders do provide annual student endorsements.  However, the final decision regarding a student’s enrollment rests with the university.”

When asked why they don’t just leave the LDS church, Irvin said they want to serve as an example to other queer youth, and hope to highlight some of the challenges that queer Mormons face that need to be addressed.

“I want to be the person that I needed when I was growing up because I felt awful. I felt alone. I felt weird. I didn’t feel okay talking to anybody about this. It’s awful. No one should grow up the way I did,” Irvin said. “Being transgender is not a mental illness. That is one of the biggest misconceptions about transpeople. Be welcoming, be loving, be kind. You don’t know what somebody’s going through.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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