Wednesday, November 3, 2010

NCAA's First Trans Athlete Opening Doors and Starting Conversations

Not many people noticed a slight change on the George Washington University website earlier this year. It concerned a player on the school’s women’s basketball team named Kay-Kay Allums. Just a couple letters were taken away, a Y was moved and an E was added to form the player’s new name: Kye Allums. To most people it was meaningless, but to Allums the change was the most significant of his lifetime.

“A name is just a bunch of letters, but the letters make up a word and the words that make up my name have so many more emotions behind them,” Allums said. "My old name, that’s just not me. When I hear Kye, everything feels okay, everything is right.”

For the last 20 years, Kay-Kay Allums had appeared to the world as female. She was born with the anatomy that other women have. Her mom tried to dress her in only the most feminine clothes. But inside was a man waiting to burst out of the female body he was born in.

On Nov. 13, Kye Allums will introduce himself to the NCAA basketball world at the Best Buy Classic in Minneapolis in a game against the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. When he steps foot on the court, Allums will be the first publicly transgender person to play NCAA Div. 1 college basketball.

“I’ve always felt most comfortable dressing like a boy, but my mom would take all of my clothes from me and she’d force me to wear girl clothes,” Allums said. “I’d bring sweats and basketball shorts and put them in my backpack. I’d just change every day when I got to school, and I had to change back before I went home. It was annoying, but it was the only way I could go to school.”

In high school, Allums met other people who acted and dressed like him: They were lesbians. For the next few years Allums identified as lesbian, finally fitting into a group that he could define. As he progressed deep into his teens, despite their similar dress and manner, he realized he just didn’t fit with the lesbians at his school either.

It was a text message from his mother during his freshman year at George Washington that flipped the switch. They were in a fierce texting battle when his mother wrote, “Who do you think you are, young lady?” The answer was suddenly crystal clear to him: He wasn’t a young lady at all.

Allums began to correct everyone who referred to him with female pronouns; everyone, that is, except his head coach. The person Allums feared telling the most was Bozeman. Comments from the coach about religion had made Allums feel a little uneasy. He didn’t think his head coach would ever be able to wrap his head around the idea that he was coaching a man on a women’s team. Eventually, the internal pressure to be himself became too great for even Allums’ stubborn strength to repress.

“I was gonna have to hide a piece of me that was really important,” Allums said. “All my teammates knew. I don’t like keeping things from coach; I’m a very open person. It got to the point where I decided I wasn’t going to go through a whole season with my coach not really knowing me, even though I knew it would probably make him feel uncomfortable.”

The moment of truth came one day in June when Bozeman tracked down Allums in his dorm room to talk about another issue. When Allums eventually turned the topic to his transition, it became a difficult conversation. Allums explained, as best he could, that he was a man and had always been a man. When Bozeman asked Allums if God made a mistake, he didn’t know how to respond. It wasn’t going well. But at some point in the conversation, the tone changed.

“Why would you think I wouldn’t have your back?” Allums remembered Bozeman asking. “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.”

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