Acceptance of GW transgender basketball player a good life lesson
So what happens next? George Washington's Kye Allums made history last weekend by becoming the first openly transgender player in NCAA hoops history to suit up in a game when the Colonials played a pair of games in a tournament in Minnesota.
For those with transgender family or friends, a sigh of relief was audible, especially when Allums was received warmly by the Twin Cities crowd. Allums is biologically female, but identifies as male. Allums has changed his name from Kay-Kay to Kye and has plans to undergo a medical gender transition after college. Kye is holding off on the procedure because he wants to be able to keep his scholarship on the women's team and just wants to play ball. The reaction by both the NCAA and GW has been unconditionally positive.
"I didn't choose to be born in this body and feel the way I do," Allums said in a statement. "I decided to transition, that is change my name and pronouns because it bothered me to hide who I am, and I am trying to help myself and others to be who they are. I told my teammates first, and they, including my coaches, have supported me. My teammates have embraced me as the big brother of the team. They have been my family, and I love them all."
It's a good story, but what happens next? For Allums, the situation should be on solid ground. He has the support of friends, family, teammates and George Washington. The situation for away games should not be viewed with excess apprehension. John Feinstein, the best-selling author of numerous college basketball books said, "The fact is that there is just considerably less bile in the stands for women's college basketball, compared to men's. Outside of Tennessee and UConn, you're just not going to get the kinds of crowds where people will chant derogatory, awful things." Feinstein does point out that because some away games will be played in front of small crowds in big arenas, "it would really only take one drunken yahoo to be heard. Security will need to be on its toes."
I spoke with a college coach who asked not to be named and said that Allums might have a tougher time on the court. "Do the men players talk more trash? Absolutely. But do the women also talk their share? You better believe it," the coach said. "The refs will have to be on point to squash any of that talk. The NCAA has made their position clear that we are to support Kye. The refs need to follow that lead."
Yes, Allums should be able to look forward to playing his season with minimal tension. But, to look ahead, the implications of Kye Allums' public and proud existence are even more profound for the future of amateur sports. Dr. Ann Travers, a sports sociologist at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver said, "The presence of openly transgender athletes in sport tears at the normalcy of the idea that we have to have boy athletes on one side and girl athletes on the other -- and that this is the most effective way to group people who want to play sports. The assumption that there are only two sexes has no basis in science and is, rather, a product of culture. Kye Allums' participation on an NCAA women's team inherently necessitates a challenge to this custom of segregating people according to assumptions about sex difference. This situation is critical not just to protect both his rights to an equal education and sport participation, but because it will have bearing on all future transgender athletes."
It's also difficult to not think of the Kye Allums story in light of the vile attacks against South African runner Caster Semenya for not meeting biological norms of how international track defines "female." The facts are that we live in a world where gender is fluid: biologically, psychologically and socially. Sports, with its rigid separations of locker rooms, bathrooms, and teams, will need to figure out a way to confront this reality in the years to come.
As Keith Gill, the Director of Athletics and Recreation at American University said, "The fact is that we're in the education business. That means two things: Anytime we can support a student and the way they choose to live there life, it can only be a positive thing. This is also going to be an educational experience for the rest of us as well."