November 11, 2010

Athlete Comes Out as a Man; Plays Collegiate Women's Basketball

Every other Thursday I will be writing about LGBT Issues in Sport. Between each regularly scheduled post I may chime in with more posts if something comes up and/or I have the time. I have a serious academic interest in sport and in this column I’ll be highlighting current events, sharing resources, reflecting on complex issues and sharing athlete’s stories among other things. For more about me, you can read my first post, here. Please feel free to email me with thoughts or if you come across something you’d like me to include on the blog.

Informally called “The Center” by frequenters, the official name for the space below The Loop is The Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Life. That said, our trans community, while several students have submitted anonymous posts, doesn’t get a lot of attention here on the blog. Some events of the last week and other upcoming events make now as good a time as any to talk about what it means to identify as trans within the realm of sports. Consider these next few posts to be a mini-series.

The sports world operates largely operates along gendered lines, which can make it an unwelcoming place for people who don’t fit snugly into the boxes of male, female, man, woman, male=man and female=woman (you follow that?). [In this way, the issue of binaries in the sports world doesn’t just affect trans people—it also applies to intersexed individuals.]

Last week, outsports, a site which focuses on LGBTQ issues in sport, broke Kye Allums’s story. Since then, it's been picked up by a lot of other news outlets. Kye is a junior starter on the George Washington Women’s Basketball Team and he is a (trans)man.* As such, he is the first publicly out Division 1 transgender athlete.

He explained that he “always felt more comfortable dressing like a boy,” and even went through great lengths to do this. [His mom forced him to wear “girl clothes” to school, so he would change into sweats and basketball shorts when he arrived and then back into his other clothes before he left to go back home.] Despite this feeling, Kye didn’t identify as a man or as transgendered. In fact, he said he “used to feel like trans anything was really weird and those people were crazy, and [he] wondered, ‘How can you feel like that?’” Finding that the lesbians at his high school acted and dressed similarly, he identified as a lesbian for several years. During his first year at GW, however, his mother sent him a text message that asked him “Who do you think you are, young lady?” Reading this text message, he realized it was "simple:" he wasn’t woman.

After coming out to teammates a year ago and eventually talking with his coach (this summer), Kye publically came out as a man last week. Coming out to teammates, his coaches, or the rest of the world wasn’t his original plan, but when “it got too tough to not be [him],” he decided to move forward with the process. From all accounts that I’ve read, the university has done a tremendous job in supporting Kye. When he first told his coach, his coach responded by saying “Why would you think I wouldn’t have your back? I’ve had your back through everything. Our relationship has grown from nothing to this, and now you think I’d just turn my back on you because you told me this? No. I love you and I’ll always be here for you.” His coach has since released a statement saying that “The George Washington University women’s basketball program, including myself, support Kye’s right to make this decision.” The team’s co-captain has also issued supportive statements, praising Kye’s “courage and fortitude.”

Kye’s experiences illustrate the “small things” that a school can do to be supportive and create an affirming environment for a trans-identified student athlete without breaking any NCAA rules (ie: testosterone is a banned substance, so they can’t ‘legally’ permit Kye to begin hormone treatments**). For one thing, the team website lists him as, and he will be announced as, Kye —not Kay-Kay, the name he used to go by. His teammates and coaches use male pronouns while all future press releases (ie: post game notes, etc) will also use male pronouns. Those issues may seem small compared to the physical components of transitioning, but for someone who is putting off taking hormones until he’s finished playing and may not undergo surgery until then, either—they make all the difference. “A name is just a bunch of letters, but the letters make up a work and the words that make up my name have so many more emotions behind them. My old name, that’s just not me. When I hear Kye, everything feels okay, everything is right.”

GW officially opens their season on Sunday against Wisconsin Green Bay, just 30 minutes from Kye's hometown.

*In one account, Kye explicitly identified as a “transgender male,” though other reports explain that he sees himself simply as a man and not “female-to-male.”

**In general, student-athletes may receive approval to take typically “banned substances” by having their doctors fill out certain forms. However, it remains unclear if the testosterone levels taken by a transgender individual would be permitted, even with proper documentation.


  1. a mini series on transgender folks in sports!! Risa, you're literally the best! this is awesome. I'm really proud of Kye too-his visibility for trans individuals in the sports community is so great.

  2. Risa, thank you so much for posting this. Your posts are always to interesting. Keep up the great work!

  3. Risa, this is beyond inspirational. As someone who knows how harsh and how bigoted the athletic community can sometimes be, this is a complete breath of fresh air.