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Yanna Awtrey is transgender and was kicked out of Welch College in Gallatin while recovering from "top surgery." Courtney Pedroza, Nashville Tennessean

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It’s been two months since Yanna Awtrey was essentially kicked out of Welch College in Gallatin, Tennessee, after having breast reduction surgery, also known as “top surgery.” While the transgender man has been transitioning physically, he’s  experienced an emotional journey.

Soon, he will legally change his name.

Awtrey, whose parents are Free Will Baptist missionaries, spent most of his life with his family in Bulgaria, where they still live. Ever since he was 15, he knew his parents planned for him to attend Welch College in Gallatin – formerly Free Will Baptist Bible College.

His decision to undergo the surgery in August led to him being outed to the college, and a disciplinary committee suspended him for two years. If he wished to return, it said, he’d face another committee.

Alone in an unfamiliar country and town, Awtrey needed to find a place to live – and quickly.

He wound up in North Carolina at the home of his parents’ friends, who allowed him to stay long enough to recover physically from the surgery.

Previously reported: Transgender student kicked out of Baptist college after surgery

Last week, he returned to Nashville, to more family friends, despite everything that’s happened. 

A separation

Growing up in Bulgaria, surrounded by conservative Christians, Awtrey said he didn’t meet an openly LGBT person until he was 18.

“I didn’t hear the word transgender until I was online at 16,” he said. “I met my first openly transgender person when I was 18. That was an exciting moment for me. It shows how very protected and secluded I was."

Awtrey continues to take hormones, and in a couple of weeks, he has a court hearing to legally change his name. That represents more to Awtrey than a part of his physical transition.

“It’s a separation between my old life and my new life,” he said. 

Who he is has been a work in progress, Awtrey explained.

“I’ve kind of flip-flopped my mood,” he said. He was depressed, especially in the first few weeks after everything happened with school.

“It was my general situation, where I suddenly didn’t have any home security or job security or life security – just the basic things people need and worry about,” he said.

But, Awtrey said, he always prepared for this situation, and he knew homelessness might be part of his journey.

“So whenever I get in that sort of mood, I understand it's just something that needs to pass over, that I need to work through and process," Awtrey said. "I know things, both good and bad, are temporary.”

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The effect on his faith

Awtrey said the experience with Welch College affected his faith – but in a positive way.

“I know there are people that call themselves Christians who wouldn’t behave the way these people did.  … It’s made me dig deeper, and I know myself more and I believe God more," Awtrey said. "And that relationship was a lot more fractured when I was closeted and living in Bulgaria."

Though he still feels some anger, he said he doesn’t have a “personal anger toward Welch College.”

“I don’t feel like I need to spend time mulling over … every single aspect of what happened to me if it’s not going to make me a better person or make me choose different things in life,” Awtrey said.

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