Alex Blaze

Kye Allums to Leave College Basketball

Filed By Alex Blaze | May 19, 2011 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: basketball, George Washington University, kye allums, trans, transgender, transsexual, women

Kye Allums, the trans man who made headlines last year when he announced his transition but decided to put kye-allums.jpegoff physical transition and continue playing college women's basketball to keep his scholarship, has quit the basketball team his senior year:

The openly transgender member of the George Washington women's basketball team, whose groundbreaking season was cut short by a pair of concussions, says he won't play in his senior year.

The school announced that Kye Allums "has decided that it is in his best interest to no longer participate in intercollegiate athletics."

"I alone came to this conclusion," Allums said in a statement released by the university, "and I thank the athletic department for respecting my wishes."

I hope for nothing but the best for Allums, and he was put in an awkward position where he was visible in a certain context and was effectively being paid to put off transition since going through with it would have meant he couldn't play women's basketball and he would have lost his scholarship.

And I can't say that there's no moral ambiguity here - I've posted several times about how transsexual women should be allowed to play sports as women because they are women. My usual question for sports that don't allow trans women to play as women is whether they'd allow a trans man to play as a woman, with the assumption that they wouldn't. If testosterone can be considered a performance-enhancing drug, then I wouldn't expect a women's sport to make an exception for certain men who have a concrete need to take testosterone.

Allums postponed HRT, which means that he didn't have a competitive advantage when it comes to hormones. But is that it? Are hormones what separate men from women, not identity? If a cis woman naturally has more testosterone than average, should she be banned from competing? Should sports organizations revert to hormonal tests to determine gender instead of any of the myriad of means of determining gender?

Making an exception here contradicts the basic argument that one's gender identity is what one experiences, not what someone else can determine through a test. But if eligibility did just depend on identity, all that would do is motivate people like Allums to stay in the closet, and that's not an ideal situation either.

All I can say is that this case isn't simple, and the school, by allowing a pre-transition trans man to play as a woman (and he's not the only pre-transition trans man playing college sports on a women's team, of course), chose the best of several imperfect options.

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All I can say is that this case isn't simple, and the school, by allowing a pre-transition trans man to play as a woman (and he's not the only pre-transition trans man playing college sports on a women's team, of course), chose the best of several imperfect options.

I disagree vehemently. Allowing a trans man to play as a woman is wrong, period.

He made a hard decision... he was going to school on an athletic scholarship based on him playing (maybe he's found other funding sources?). There are lots of people who put off medical transition for practical reasons and not everyone can transition when they want to (how about the singer of the band, The Clicks, who has said he wasn't taking T because he didn't want his voice to change and impact the band?).

No, he didn't belong on a woman's team, taking T or no, but I think he deserves some slack when it comes to his education. There are lots of trans men who transition at women's only colleges like Smith and continue to get their degrees which, IMO, is the academic version of what Kye went through.

And yes, I think it does send an unfortunate message that trans people are still really somehow their assigned birth sex and not who we insist we are. It's a personal financial need which negatively impacts the trans community, but then so does countless trans women doing 'shemale porn' and I excuse them for that. Life isn't so simple.

"There are lots of trans men who transition at women's only colleges like Smith and continue to get their degrees which, IMO, is the academic version of what Kye went through."

And my understand is that these colleges don't accept trans women, even those who have had SRS. Basically, if you are a FAAB, you are a FAFL (female assigned for life), and if you are a MAAB, you are a MAFL.

I am guessing that a men's college would not be so understanding of a trans woman, though...

As to whether all women's colleges (like some of the 7 Sisters) accept trans women, I'm really not sure. I'd be interested to know. Would I be shocked if they didn't accept known trans women... no. The trans men at places like Smith weren't admitted as freshmen. They transitioned after already going to the school, so I don't think the issue of the school accepting trans men has actually come up other than they haven't been given the boot after coming out.

I don't know about all of them, but Smith has been making several moves to gender neutrality as a way of accommodating trans men. In 2003, the student constitution had all instances of "she" and "her" replaced with "the student" and an annual "Sisterhood" event was renamed "Celebration."

Meanwhile, it's very hard to get details on whether or not (or how) trans women are allowed. I've heard that some accept trans women only if you've had surgery (which is unlikely for the majority of students who go to college right after high school). However, in googling for it, I found one 2007 Boston Globe article which covered trans issues at Smith and said that some were concerned that accommodating trans men who transition after being admitted might lead to the inclusion of trans women (or of trans men who transition prior to admission). That phrasing leads me to believe that trans women currently aren't allowed at all.

The combination of making accommodations for trans men while excluding trans women completely is extra insulting.

The inclusion of trans men in women's spaces has always come at the expense of trans women. Moreover, it is a profoundly offensive expression of the privilege-driven sense of entitlement which men in Western society constantly exhibit.

It's all part of the same thing: They see trans men as women, and trans women as men. So the trans men belong, the trans women don't. I don't know much about gay male culture, but my guess is it's pretty much the same with them, the other way around.

There is a particularly frustrating dynamic inherent in all this. Men of history are the ones who should be the ones weighing in on this but what these situations highlight is the level of exclusion that exists in any sort of mythical community and what a travesty is made out of so many people's lives when identity is given so much weight.

This was always an untenable position for Allums. Either he was a man or not. Men don't belong on a women's team - do I need to say it? - because they're not women. Yes, being on male hormones would give him a seriously unfair advantage if he had taken them. But that is the low bar standard of minimal fairness; not a reason to give him a gold star because he didn't.

If you respect the genuineness of tranpeople's identites, including your own, you can't possibly accept a man playing on a woman's team, regardless of transition status. That takes a psychological toll on the individual, and diminishes the rest of the community. As has been pointed out by others, you can't ask transwomen to be accepted in a women's only situation if you advocate ignoring a transman's status in the same circumstances.

If it was really important to him to continue playing women's basketball, it would have been more plausible if he didn't come out to anyone, didn't use a male name, and didn't use male pronouns. And even that wouldn't guarantee success if his internal voice demanded to be heard. But instead he wanted his cake and to eat it, too. He wanted the recognition and the perks of living in his true gender, but not the responsibility or limitations that goes with it.

As far as transmen attending women's colleges, I think that is even less defensible than playing on a sports team. There is no physical prohibition to attending college, like being able to play on a specific team. But single sex institutions are based on a philosophical, cultural, and social aspects which are incompatible with being co-ed. That fundamentally changes the experience. Basketball is basketball.

Interesting read, especially in light of all of the other LGBT news that's been coming out of the sports world this week. Thanks.

the tome and tenor of the comments makes me think that every one assume that the transitional status issue is what caused allums to leave the basketball program; none of the comments assume that the reason allums quit were related to the season-ending concussions and the possibility of further similar injuries going forward.

do we have high confidence in these assumptions, or is it possible that the injuries played a more prominent part in what happened than we have so far acknowledged?

I strongly doubt Allums left the basketball program due to his transition status, as he had already made it abundantly clear that he is a selfish, entitled bastard who wants to have his cake and eat it too.

Om Kalthoum | May 20, 2011 11:25 AM

Duh. From the quoted AP article:

But he suffered two concussions early in the season and played in only eight games. He told The Associated Press in March that he has had suffered a total of eight concussions, that he was having memory problems and that he was unsure whether he would be cleared medically to play his senior season. He said doctors told him that he were a football player, his playing days would certainly be over.
"I'm a fighter. I'm still trying to come back," he said at the time. "I really do want to come back and play."

Alex, thank you for reporting on this, and Don, thank you for bringing the specifics up, because it's a nice reminder that reality usually has a way of upsetting the odd ideological apple cart.

As seems to happen all too often with anyone's transition -- anyone else's transition -- people use one person's choices and one person's unique decision tree as a pinata to make a value judgment on what they would do in their place. Unfortunately, this conceit, invariably handicapped by ignorance of any other person's experience and challenges, blended with a wishcast of what you might do in another person's place, what does it achieve? It simply takes us back to the unfortunate misconception that there must be one way to transition, when there isn't. There is only your own way, and here's hoping it works for you.

The frontier of transgender and transsexual issues is still fairly wide open, to the point that I think it's fair to say we're still collectively creating a field where little is actually established. As a result, I think we're better off avoiding the reductionism of claiming to know the right or wrong way to handle decisions as difficult as Kye Allums or any one of us have had to make. I merely wish Allums well, good health and long life. Resenting his opportunities seems petty at best, and the usual trans community infighting at worst.

I have a hard time faulting anyone for how they deal with the complications of their own transition and negotiate anti-trans forces they experience. Ideally, Allums could have joined the men's team and continued with his scholarship, but that does not appear to have been an option.

However, we're not just talking about his choices, but the school's and the league's. And those policy choices don't just affect Allums, but any trans people wanting to participate in sports, and to a lesser degree, all trans people wishing to access gender segregated spaces. I see his inclusion and accommodations to be an excuse that sports organizations can use to appear to be trans inclusive when in reality they are only dismissing trans folks' genders and seeing assigned sex as the only thing that matters, and as a result, don't allow trans women to participate.

Either way, I'm not going to be on a college basketball team, I don't resent him for his success, nor do I entirely fault him for choosing to take advantage of other people's prejudices. However, those prejudices are keeping women off of women's teams in favor for a man and are being used to justify excluding women from women's spaces in general, often again, in favor of including men. And that's a problem worth discussing.

Points well-taken, but I think you're reading into this an organizational agenda where instead you had a team and a set of institutions challenged by a remarkable circumstance for which they had no real precedent to guide them. They seem to have hashed out what they felt was the compromise that addressed the active player's concerns while also fulfilling the wishes of Allums' coach and teammates. Was that decision going to make everyone happy? Of course not, but there was probably no choice that would.

What I find troubling is your claim that this "dismisses trans folks' genders and seeing assigned sex as the only thing that matters" is troubling, not because this happened, but because you don't know that it did. Prove that it was a part of the process, or accept that this is your concern over what this precedent *might* mean. I think this speaks to your reasonable concerns, not theirs, in what may well be the irreconcilable difference between overarching symbolic issues on the one hand, and simple administrative pragmatism on the other.

To put it another way, in this scenario, the team, university, and conference proved adaptive. As you anticipate, we'll have to see what comes next, but I find that adaptiveness reassuring.

I'm confused about what assumption you see me as making. Do you think that the impact that this policy places a higher value on assigned sex than gender identity.

Because I'm not talking about whether his teammates, coach, opponents, etc think of him as a man, refer to him by male pronouns, etc. I'm talking about how the policy sees him -- and to place him on a women's team, and still call it a women's team, I don't see any way to justify that without saying that his female assigned sex matters more to the policy than his male identity, or by saying that his maleness is just in his head (a delusion to be accommodated, perhaps) and what really matters is his body which is still thought of as female. One way or another, soft transphobia or hard transphobia, the justification doesn't stick unless they are categorizing him as something other than a man.

I think that what was done for Allums' benefit was not designed to arrive at the conclusion you're drawing, and doesn't necessarily take a position or provide an immutable precedent, let alone make a statement on gender identity.

In contrast, if I understand you correctly, you've decided there has to be transphobia involved, no matter what decision they came to, and there was no choice they could have made that would not have been transphobic in one way or another. It also seems that you're intent on a position that automatically defines those involved as bigots, and that perhaps no outcome could not be labeled bigoted in one form or another.

If I'm wrong about that, my apologies for the misunderstanding.

My take? This was a tough situation with no easy solution, and one form of compromise was selected from among many options. In the context of an institution adapting to a changed and changing personal situation, they did what they could.

The arrived at the compromise that reconciled the fact that Allums had played and wanted to continue to play, and the fact that he was still welcome on the team after coming out. It also appears to be a compromise he could live with. It was also consistent with established rules on PED use and abuse.

My hope is that it was a solution that he's happy with, because it was for his benefit. I do that instead of inferring bigotry or leveling an accusation of transphobia where none may have been intended. We no doubt differ on this, but what I take from the Allums precedent is less that it was a matter of setting an immutable permanent example, but a reflection of the front-line trans experience, that human institutions are having to adapt as a result of accepting the fact of our existence, and that they are proving adaptive.

Admittedly, my expectation is that perfect outcomes, however desirable, don't come around very often. This could have turned out very badly, or wound up in an interminable court fight whose lasting legacy would be an additional barrier to acceptance of transsexual athletes in any way.

If this was close enough for perfect for Allums, that's good enough. As it stands, this was a learning moment for his teammates, classmates, and the institutions that had to come to a quick decision. If they served his needs well enough in the moment, that's a good thing. When they're confronted with the next, inevitable challenge on how to treat transsexual athletes, they'll have a positive experience to draw on. May they prove as adaptive in his or her situation, come that day.

We really are just talking circles around each other at this point. You're talking about people while I'm talking about policy.

You defend the decision makers as well intended, claiming I see them as bigots. However, I haven't said a word about their intent, or them at all, I'm just talking about the policy.

(If you need a reminder about the differences between saying someone is a bigot and saying they are doing something bigoted, I highly recommend this video. http://youtu.be/b0Ti-gkJiXc)

The closest you come to defending the policy is saying that if Allums is happy with it, so are you. However, you neglect my original point that the policy impacts people other than Allums. I can be happy for how the policy may benefit him while pointing out how the policy may cause harm others.

If you disagree with my conclusions, we can have that discussion, but so far that's not the discussion you're engaging in. And as much as you try to draw me into it, I refuse to engage in an argument over the intent or character of the people involved in the policy decision, because, as you've pointed out, none of us know anything about that.

I'm simply doing policy analysis. No policy is ever above critique. Critiquing a policy need not say anything about the policy maker.