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Transgender Pioneer

November 8, 2010

WASHINGTON — Kye Allums is surprised by the support he has received as of late.

Last week, the George Washington University junior and player on the women’s basketball team publicly came out as a transgender man. Allums is believed by many to be the first openly transgender person to play Division I college basketball, though not the first to play on an intercollegiate team.

Though he has been open about his transgender status with his teammates and coaches for a while, Allums changed his legal name in September. Then, last month, he approached the university about being referred to as a male.

“It was definitively nerve-racking,” Allums said in an interview with Inside Higher Ed. “I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know if my teammates [or other people at the university] would get angry or not talk to me anymore. … But every person surprised me. … They were fine with it.”

As news of his decision to come out spreads beyond the team, though, Allums noted that he must address a number of misconceptions.

“A lot of people think I’m a guy right now and that I’m trying to be a girl, or people don’t understand how my body is, or people think I’m taking testosterone,” Allums said. “Right now, my body is biologically female. … But, after college, I plan on taking hormones.”

Allums said his decision to delay hormone treatment was primarily influenced by how this process could jeopardize his National Collegiate Athletic Association eligibility and, as a result, his athletic scholarship.

“Me personally, I wouldn’t want to take any substance that’s banned already to enhance performance,” said Allums, referring to testosterone. “I mean, basketball, that’s what’s paying for my school. … It’s illegal to take a substance like that while you’re playing sports.”

Allums, who is an interior design major, said he has no intention of playing basketball professionally after college.

“Still, if I took testosterone and played after college, then I would want to play against guys,” Allums said. “I mean, I play against guys for fun right now. But playing with [men] is not a big issue for me.”

Allums is looking forward to this Saturday, when he and his team are scheduled to open their regular season at the Best Buy Classic in Minneapolis. Allums grew up in nearby Hugo, Minn., so he is anxious about the homecoming.

“I’ve gotten a lot of messages and e-mails from people who played with me in junior high and high school that I haven’t talked to in ages,” Allums said. “But I don’t really have to think about anything but me and me playing basketball … so I’ll be ready.”

University officials would not make Mike Bozeman, women’s basketball head coach, or any of Allums’s teammates available to Inside Higher Ed for comment, noting that they have “respectfully declined” all further interviews about Kye’s decision so that they can fully concentrate on the team’s upcoming season.

Last week, however, Bozeman and Ivy Abiona, senior captain of the women’s team, spoke in support of Kye and his decision at a university press conference.

“Kye has decided to live as a male student and be referred to as a male,” Bozeman told reporters. “George Washington University supports Kye and his right to make this decision.”

Abiona echoed her coach’s words and told reporters that she is not worried about opposing fan reaction to Allums.

“I think we have a pretty good idea of what to expect,” Abiona said. “We’ve played against tough crowds, and we’re going to continue to play against tough crowds. And as long as we’re united, we’re a team and we’re a family, we’ll be OK.”

Photo: George Washington University

Mike Bozeman (left), Kye Allums (center) and Ivy Abiona (right) at press conference about Allums' coming out.

Currently, the NCAA has no formal policy on transgender athletes, but it does recommend that institutions follow classifications on athletes’ identification documents, such as driver’s licenses or voter registration cards. Still, it is up to individual institutions whether to designate an athlete as male or female.

In hopes of creating a national standard, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Women’s Sports Foundation released last month a report outlining when athletes should have the option of playing on men’s teams, women’s teams or either. The report divided its recommendations into those for transgender students undergoing hormone treatments and those who are not. Under these recommendations, George Washington would be urged to allow Allums to choose whether to play on the men's team or the women's.

Helen J. Carroll, one of the report’s co-authors and director of the center’s sports project, praised George Washington’s handling of Allums’s decision to come out.

“I think they’re basically a model for how to handle an athlete who is transgender and needed to be out,” Carroll told Inside Higher Ed. “It’s very commendable that they looked outside of the athletic department for expertise to help the athletic department understand who a transgender person is and what to do here. It’s great that they involved the dean of students and the communications department as well. … The communications department and the sports information department worked well together to … manage everything so that the story doesn’t overtake the basketball team.”

Still, Carroll acknowledged it could become more complicated for institutions to accommodate transgender athletes if they decide to undergo hormone treatment during college instead of after, like Allums.

“I expect a transgender student-athlete, at some point very near in the future, to play in their gender identity and that the NCAA will figure out the correct policies for that to happen,” Carroll said. “Hopefully those model policies will follow those in our report. … The NCAA is very happy that there’s a report out there that is so detailed with medical information and just what the very best thinking is right now on this. … There will be a learning curve for everybody.”

In the meantime, Allums has advice for other transgender athletes who are considering coming out.

“Just hang in there,” Allums said. “It does get better. You just have to take it day by day and focus on the things you can actually change in the moment. … Also, just be around people who support you. Just focus on those people that are important to you.”

 

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