The NCAA’s first out transgender player

Kye Allums, a junior at George Washington University, has gotten a lot of media attention lately for being the first out transgender player on an NCAA basketball team. Kye is male but will continue playing on the women’s basketball team. Kye had a couple different options for figuring out how he could keep playing basketball, and ultimately continuing to play on the women’s team was his decision:

NCAA rules say “a female who wants to be socially identified as a male but has not undergone hormone treatments or surgery may complete on a women’s team.” NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson said it is left up to the school to determine an athlete’s gender designation.

Allums considered having his surgery and treatments now – and then playing on a man’s team.

“I thought about it,” Allums said. “That wasn’t really my goal. Maybe for somebody else.”

I’m glad to see this situation play out in a way where the decision is actually based on what the trans player wants. And I’m really grateful to Kye for being the trailblazer and doing the hard work of educating the public through his own body and identity.
Kye is able to keep playing the game and able to be recognized on his own terms, though his medical transition process must be delayed as a result:
“It is hard,” Allums said, “because I would love for everything to happen right now. But, to those who wait, good things come. So I’m waiting and just focusing on basketball and school, and it’s going to come. As long as I think like that, it doesn’t seem like a hard thing.”
It’s possible to say Kye playing on the women’s team means his gender identity is not being fully recognized by others, especially the NCAA. While this may be true, and is certainly implied by the wording of the NCAA rules, I think this situation actually calls into question how we segregate sports teams by gender and how we understand how those teams are organized.
This situation is different from Caster Semenya’s in that it is about gender identity and the athlete involved has been given agency, but in both situations the question of which league a player should be in ultimately comes down to hormones. In both cases hormones are the determinant for whether a player should be on a men’s or women’s team, or if they can even fit into one of these confusingly defined boxes.
NCAA Division 1 women’s basketball is not, it turns out, something someone must be female identified to participate in. Instead, someone must not be in the process of medically transitioning to male or already medically transitioned. This calls into question what we’re really saying when we talk about a “women’s” or “men’s” basketball team – we are probably thinking about a team of women or a team of men, but what these labels actually refer to is apparently someone’s hormone levels or whether or not they’ve medically changed their hormones at all.
As medical science becomes more aware that people don’t actually fit easily into male and female boxes and as the trans and gender non-conforming communities continue to raise awareness and push for justice in our lives the way sports leagues are organized will continue to be questioned, clarified, and probably changed. I hope as this process goes on policies will be created that empower the athletes involved to take action on their own terms and that rules are developed that clearly respect the identities and transition processes of athletes.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • brooke

    Where is this information from? To my knowledge, smith has had several transgendered athletes for the past years.

  • Steven Olson

    I think that the way the NCAA has handled this is reasonably well, and the focus on hormone levels is a reasonable one (though may not be perfect). Plus it corresponds to how most amateur sports test for cheating through performance enhancing drugs, which in many cases involves finding unnaturally high levels of hormones (namely testosterone).

    And although current categorizing of sports doesn’t leave much room for people who don’t fall within the binary sexes, it is certainly better than the alternative of not separating the sexes for sports, which would, after puberty greatly reduce the number of female participants in sports. There are probably ways in which things can be modified to make it easier for trans folks, but the way to do that is with exceptions, not sweeping changes to the way things are currently done.

  • Matt

    It would seem to me that the desire to segregation of girls/women from boys/men is that, at least with some sports, there are significant differences in physical tendencies between the sexes (sexes, not genders), and doing so gives girls/women (who are usually also girls/women in the sexual sense) a reasonable opportunity to compete at higher levels. If we did not have good reason to believe these tendencies exist, we would probably have seen more measures seeking to integrate both divisions… although I suspect men and women would have the same or about the same ability when it comes to events like bowling.

    For as long as this segregation continues, it will likely seek to classify interested athletes according to physical attributes (“sex”) that seem to be the justification for segregation rather than identity (gender). Granted, there are other criteria that can be used for segregation, like creating basketball leagues with “height” limits, but sex is probably popular because it is persistent (a basketball player’s height can change naturally during college) and does not invite certain unhealthy behaviors — like in boxing/wrestling, where competitors often starve and dehydrate themselves to meet certain weight limits.

    I don’t think there is a clear answer, but I think the NCAA policy here is justified.