Leslie Robinson

Transgender Steps Forward

Filed By Leslie Robinson | November 23, 2010 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: transgender judge, transgender people

Recently our community marked the 12th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, a somber day devoted to memorializing those murdered for their gender identity.

kye-allums.jpgAlso recently, however, we've seen transgender breakthroughs that are, in a word, fabulousgreatwonderful.

College basketball season has begun, and many a media outlet has covered the story of Kye Allums, a junior guard at George Washington University. At 5-foot-11, Allums won't be shattering glass, but his story is.

"Yes, I am a male on a female team," Allums, 21, told USA Today. "And I want to be clear about this. I am a transgender male, which means feelings-wise, how it feels on the inside, I feel as if I should have been born male with male parts.

"But my biological sex is female, which makes me a transgender male."

This was a college student taking great pains to educate a sportswriter, who's accustomed to X's and O's, on X's and Y's. The sportswriter can expect a midterm.

When Allums' college playing career is over, he intends to transition. He planned to keep quiet until then, but "it just got too tough not to be me."

His teammates, coach and university all appear to be supportive. The NCAA probably thought not long ago that it would have to deal with this issue the day the Rhode Island School of Design won the Rose Bowl.

But the NCAA has a policy, explained a spokesman: "A female who wants to be socially identified as a male but has not had hormone treatments or surgery may compete on a women's team."

So this college basketball season begins with an African-American, openly transgender person playing Division 1 hoop. This represents so many steps forward it's practically traveling.

Turning to a different sport, the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) will soon have a different understanding of "lady." GolfChannel.com reported the LPGA will propose in a Nov. 30 player meeting to axe its "female at birth" requirement.

It's not that association honchos experienced an epiphany. It's that they have drivers aimed at their heads.

Lana Lawless, 57, who had gender-reassignment surgery five years ago, filed suit in San Francisco over the LPGA declining her application for tour membership. Her suit claims the organization discriminated due to her transgender status, a violation of California's anti-discrimination statutes.

The LPGA has landed in the rough indeed.

A change to the constitutional bylaws requires two-thirds of the LPGA membership to agree. The association has already told players the old gender rule was established "in a different time," and defending it legally today would be harder than putting with your eyes closed.

Also, the International Olympic Committee, the U.S. Golf Association and other golf entities now allow transgender participation. The fairways are getting fairer.

Victoria Kolakowski, who had reassignment surgery in 1991, has scored big in a different arena. In a race so tight it couldn't be called until two weeks after the election, voters in California chose Kolakowski for Alameda County Superior Court.

An openly transgender woman wins a popular election. Thank you California for being... California.

Kolakowski, 49, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the election result "speaks well of our ability to look past differences and look to the things that matter: our ability and experience."

Here's hoping she has both, because she'll be scrutinized like an "American Idol" finalist.

Two days after Kolakowski declared victory, transgender LGBT activist Phyllis Frye was appointed a municipal court judge in the Houston City Council chamber, the same room where 30 years ago Frye helped repeal Houston's "cross-dressing ordinance."

Frye, 63, said to the Houston Chronicle, "Things have changed, and it's pretty wonderful."

Two judges in two days. That's the right kind of order in the court.


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Regardless of NCAA rules, it is totally inappropriate for a trans man to be on a women's basketball team. Perpetuating the inclusion of trans men in women's spaces at the expense of trans women is not any sort of step forward for transgender rights; it is a huge step backwards and a perfect example of how trans men gain male privilege and use it to satisfy their own selfish desires.

Leslie while I appreciate your trying to "spread the good news"...

I agree with Disiree that your discussion about Kye Allums is overly simplistic in it being a good thing for the trans community. I'm glad Kye has his scholarship, so I give him some slack in wanting to play if even on the women's team, but this case actually throws some possible future dark shadows on up and coming trans athletes especially trans men already taking T and trans women athletes. It's very likely it will be used as a possible precedent to deny future trans athletes the ability to play on any team other than that of their assigned birth gender. So, while I'm happy for Kye, it's not a step forward.

Also, don't like using "transgender" as a noun.

Do you mean that title, Gina? I think that's meant as an adjective and not a noun.

@Leslie: I find it fascinating the difference between yours and Drew Cordes' post about Kye.

I didn't notice Drew's post before now, but... holy shit, talk about utterly busted.

I didn't read the subhead as meaning something like "baby steps forward" because, honestly, what's a "transgender step?" Are there "gay steps forward" or "Lesbian steps forwards"... what would that mean? Is a "transgender step" a little one or a big one? It's a strange concept. So I read it as a noun... as in "the movement" steps forward.

Okay, perhaps that was Leslie's intention... but Bil, I'm having problems with your "let's try to only say only nice things" policy when I'm reading some pretty busted posts. :-(

Angela Brightfeather | November 23, 2010 4:27 PM

Whoa there Desiree!!

Do I note some kind of discontent against Transgender persons pushing the envelope of what is proper or what is not? Since when, in a world left questioning their basic concepts of gender in the face of changing times and changing genders, was it ever bad to push people to learn more about abandoning the traditional biases they have pigeon-holeing people into one gender or another, masculine or feminine?

Each instance like Mr. Allums or the others mentioned, brings the so called "normal" or "traditional" way of thinking to the point of insecurity as seen in your comment. The question, due to those like Mr. Allum, comes to the point where it should be, with everyone questioning their gender biases or even their own gender preferences and examining the many, many ways that those biases have been used against them to discriminate and make them feel uncomfortable all their lives.

Sports is a great example of where gender biases become clearly evident and discriminatory.

Lets take one of my sports for instance, professional billiards. The APA has a clear policy about people who wish to compete as a male or female, since they do have a tournament setup to distinguish each. That policy was brought about using WPATH guidelines and allows any FtoM to play in tournament competition against other males if they are under a doctor's care and an HRT program. The same goes for MtoF's.

But the ultimate goal of the APA is to recognize at some time in the future, that women and men are equal and should compete in tournaments, head to head and equally. In fact, in some cash tournaments, they already do.

I think that the only reason why you may be feeling "queezy" about Mr. Allums playing with the woman's team, is that he might have to use the same locker room. At present and in his situation, would you prefer that he play with the men and use their locker room? Or maybe you think that since he is in a state of transition and recognition, he should not play basketball at all?

To any of those thoughts Desiree, I can only implore that you grow the heck up and understand that we should all be playing together and equally.

Do I note some kind of discontent against Transgender persons pushing the envelope of what is proper or what is not? Since when, in a world left questioning their basic concepts of gender in the face of changing times and changing genders, was it ever bad to push people to learn more about abandoning the traditional biases they have pigeon-holeing people into one gender or another, masculine or feminine?

You would have a point if I was objecting to the inclusion of a genderqueer woman on the women's basketball team, but nothing of the sort is going on. Kye is a transgender man and as such belongs on the men's team, not the women's. The inclusion of trans men in women's spaces and the corresponding exclusion of trans women from those same spaces is one of the most persistent forms of transphobia among cisgender women, and you're buying into it lock, stock, and barrel.

jayinchicago | November 23, 2010 6:02 PM

As stated in other interviews, Kye Allums identifies within binary gender as a man. Which is his right to do, of course, but I don't think he should be interpreted as pushing a gender envelope but instead as someone working within a system which has no real place for him.

I may be approaching this from the wrong angle, but if Kye Allum lost his scholarship, what would be preventing him from taking out need-based financial aid?

I'm not sure how wanting to keep a women's scholarship when you identify as a man is consistent with... anything, really, other than the admittedly powerful desire to graduate without owing anything; but he's playing basketball under false pretenses and harming other potential transgender student-athletes, so I'm honestly having a hard time working up sympathy.

I may be approaching this from the wrong angle, but if Kye Allum lost his scholarship, what would be preventing him from taking out need-based financial aid?

It's generous of you to consider his financial situation, but your concern is misplaced. The in-depth article OutSports did on Kye makes it perfectly clear that he planned all of this in advance and is not in any sort of financial need -- the only reason he's not on hormones is to game the NCAA rules, and he's already arranged to get GRS during the upcoming off-season.

I missed your comment about the OutSports article, Desiree,

The in-depth article OutSports did on Kye makes it perfectly clear that he planned all of this in advance and is not in any sort of financial need -- the only reason he's not on hormones is to game the NCAA rules, and he's already arranged to get GRS during the upcoming off-season.

so I went back and read what Kye had to say,

“The only thing I can’t do is take testosterone,” Allums said. “And I don’t need that anyway. I probably naturally have more than some of the guys on the guys’ team. If I get surgery, it doesn’t affect my play, it doesn’t enhance anything, I’m just taking something off my body, like if I lost a finger.”

I don't know how things stand now but GW used to be the most expensive college in the country to attend not too long ago. He does seem to have funding for surgery, so maybe that is an indication he doesn't need the scholarship money. I don't know if that conclusion is a totally certain one but regardless, what he says about surgery

If I get surgery, it doesn’t affect my play, it doesn’t enhance anything, I’m just taking something off my body, like if I lost a finger.

adds to a lot of misunderstandings and trivializes the physical situation of many people who have sense of self conflicts with sex assignments who have dealt with those conflicts. (I use the expression "sense of self" because I think it is more accurate and less dichotomous than "gender identity".)

If he is speaking only of breast surgery, I don't think his remark is very inaccurate. I think it's more significant than something like getting implants, however. If he knows what he is talking about, he is not speaking of removing his gonads (ovaries). There are many reasons why that could have a significant impact on his performance. If the abundant testosterone he claims to have is produced by cysts on his ovaries is one thing I can think of but, also, without hrt it seems that would have an affect on his bone health.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder why he couldn't have waited to come out socially as male as well as masculinize physically as male until he was ready to accept the full consequences of doing that. There definitely is a lot about this story that is purely sensationalistic and that perpetuates all the misconceptions people have written about here.

jayinchicago | November 23, 2010 5:14 PM

I think this story appeals to cisgender people because it places a trans person in the cis narrative of the meaningfulness of the birth sex assignment. It would be much more interesting and trans rights affirming to report on (and help!) trans people who wish to compete in groups not based on this arbitrary marker.

I mean, I think this is also why trans men at women's colleges is an issue that appeals to cisgender LGB people--it doesn't question anything and in fact is just more of the same.

Jay, I think for a lot of non-trans people, when they read "transgender person gets to do _________" they do a bobble-head reaction of "oh how wonderful" because they think that's what being an ally is. That way they don't have to think about it or truly challenge their own assumptions.

Trans men being in women's spaces isn't especially good for them or for any women... be they trans or non-trans. And using queer theory to smudge trans people's identities is ultimately repression confirming the status quo while disguised as rebellion.

A couple of non-trans women who attend women's colleges commented on a thread at AfterEllen saying that trans men were allowed at their unis but not trans women! (They weren't for or against anything, just adding info to the discussion, which may have been about this same b-ball player).

Kinda shook my head over that for a while, then shrugged and went on...it's just the way it is, trans men are accepted in a lot of women's spaces where trans women are not (seems even worse with lesbians and radical feminists and most esp with radical femininst lesbians, lol). On the other hand, this same dynamic seems to work in the non-trans gay male community too, where trans men may be resented, but trans women (esp if they are over-the-top, draggy-ish) are accepted.

The result is the same, the non-trans ppl see the trans ppl as being defined by their 'birth sex', whichever way that goes. So they aren't accepting trans ppl, just are accepting the gender variant expression (for example, lots of lesbians seem to see trans men as 'ultimate butches' rather than men).

As far as Kye goes, he seems to be wanting it both ways, since, as pointed out, he identifies and wants to be seen as a guy, but wants to paly on a women's team. Maybe I am just being rigid here, but Kyle isnt saying he is genderqueer, he seems to claim malehood, and like some of the other commenters, I have a hard time seeing how what he is doing helps trans ppl be accepted as they identify. But hey, whatever, you know?

As far as Kye goes, he seems to be wanting it both ways, since, as pointed out, he identifies and wants to be seen as a guy, but wants to paly on a women's team. Maybe I am just being rigid here, but Kyle isnt saying he is genderqueer, he seems to claim malehood, and like some of the other commenters, I have a hard time seeing how what he is doing helps trans ppl be accepted as they identify.

No, you're not being "rigid" at all. Kye is being a total hypocrite in identifying as a completely straightforward binary male -- there's a longer article about him on OutSports that makes this explicitly clear -- and yet insisting on his "right" to appropriate a place in women's space. Furthermore, he is blatantly gaming the system by putting off his transition so that he can continue to take a women's athletic scholarship.

This is the comment I just posted on OutSports. I'm pasting it here as well:

Why should Kye Allum have an opportunity to play sports, "period," just because he's an athlete? It seems to me that participating in college athletics is a privilege, not a right - and it's a privilege that is contingent on being in compliance with the rules of the organization governing your sport (in the US, this is USUALLY NCAA or NAIA).

Mr. Allum should NOT be competing on a women's team. This is not just "men on a men's team and women on a women's team" simplicity - He openly admits to gaming the eligibility rules, and worse, he is doing so in a way that perpetuates anti-trans bias and prejudice, not reduces them.

Anti-trans prejudice is based on the idea that we are not the gender we present to the world. Kye Allum - and many other trans men who want to remain in women's spaces while transitioning or for years after transition, and sadly in my mind this includes Shannon Minter, the legal head of NCLR - promote the idea that trans men are "really" women - and worse, by inversion, given the greater amount of everyday discrimination that we encounter, the idea that trans women are "really" men.

The truly radical choice for trans men would be to advocate for trans women's inclusion in women's spaces - and the first step to this would be to withdraw from said spaces.

Um, I dunno...esp after reading some comments on the youth video, I am reminded yet again that young ppl see a lot of GLBT things much differently than older ppl do. It reminds me a lot of the '2nd wave/3rd wave' stuff in feminism. I am not sure that there is really 'one true way' to be trans (or gay or bi or whatever).

I tend to see trans issues in terms of how they impact *my* idea of transness, but I try to avoid that. I don't want to be affliced with what I call Harry Benjamin Syndrome Syndrome, but rather try to see things more holistically.

And really, though I don't feel that what Kye is doing or the pregnant man or the trans woman fathering her wife's baby help trans ppl in general be accepted as authentic men and women, I try to understand that different ppl have different priorities, and that in the final analysis, that noone owes anything to whatever 'community', really, as everyone has to live their own life in the end.

.it's just the way it is, trans men are accepted in a lot of women's spaces where trans women are not (seems even worse with lesbians and radical feminists and most esp with radical femininst lesbians, lol).

Transphobia among radical feminists isn't a reflection of generalized social transphobia; it's an integral element of second-wave feminist ideology.

I read someone at another blog bring up the fact that if Kye had been raised male, played on a men's team and then came out as transsexual female, he wouldn't be tolerated at all. He would be thrown off the team and lose his scholarship immediately. Very good point, I thought.

My personal narrative prevents me from being too self righteous where judging someone harshly for what they might have to do is concerned. It seems to me, real progress would be made if the situation allowed Kye to get the medical treatment he needed to physically masculinize and be able to find the help he needed and get an education whether or not he was able to play basketball better than the ones who he says are not his peers. There are plenty of men who are good at basketball who are unable to compete on men's teams because they are not tall enough or as good as the people who are able to play. One does not have to be super macho to be a man.

If the situation were reversed and it were a transsexual female in question, I can't see such a person wanting to be segregated with males. It would be an absolute hell for such a person.

There is a history of corruption and recruiting scandals in the NCAA as far as offering players the opportunity to enhance the name recognition of certain colleges and universities. Many NCAA basketball players do not get an education that is adequate enough to succeed in life if they are not able to play in the pros. Why is there so much financial aid available to selected groups of people with athletic ability, anyway? College really needs to be affordable for everybody.

I read someone at another blog bring up the fact that if Kye had been raised male, played on a men's team and then came out as transsexual female, he wouldn't be tolerated at all. He would be thrown off the team and lose his scholarship immediately. Very good point, I thought.

This is very true -- trans men have always faced massively less social and legal discrimination than trans women. That's part of why I find it absolutely infuriating that guys like Kye not only get a free pass when they selfishly perpetuate discrimination against trans women for their own benefit but are often celebrated for doing so.

Hi Desiree,

I feel more despair than infuriation. I think the dynamic is a very complicated one. I think there is a lot of chauvinism among both sexes, misandry along with misogyny. One of the reasons I have a lot of trouble with the emphasis on "gender" is that it seems to reinforce the illusion that that gender is malleable but but sex is fixed and mutually exclusive so that Kye ends up being seen as sharing a bond with other "biological females" because he is "biologically female" yet is a remarkable female because he possesses a "male gender". Seems like a lot of "sex essentialist" hocus pocus to me.

One thing I know is if he started to take testosterone his urine and sweat would smell like a man's. I think that is a biological thing. Hormones create sex changes that affects other's perceptions subliminally, I believe. I think compatibility for people who are transsexual, as far as sensing who they belong with on a subliminal level, is what makes a person transsexual. Maybe it works differently for people who are transsexual to male. I don't know. I do know men don't have any patience for women's conversation and the like, never had any patience for me and I gradually found out, as I developed into adulthood, I had no place among them.

That is what seems amazing to me about people like Kye. They seem to feel comfortable among those who men most always seem uncomfortable with yet they claim to be like men. I don't entirely dismiss the possibility that may be the case. It sure never worked that way for me, however. Everything that could have been done to make me conform socially as a male was done. It was just impossible. It was like chemical repulsion. Rejection among those who regularly accept you as one of their own but who will reject you when they learn details of your past can be very painful. It makes me more sad than angry because it leaves me in the wilderness, alone.