By Dan Woog
The most newsworthy part of college basketball player Kye Allums’ coming out story as the first openly transgender man to play on an NCCA Division I women’s basketball team may be how little attention the news story drew.
Beyond brief, matter-of-fact articles in the “New York Times,” “Washington Post” and “USA Today,” and on websites like The Huffington Post, reaction seemed muted – if non-existent. Granted, Kye Allums is no Tiger Woods, Reggie Bush or Michael Vick. Still, you’d think the potent combination of sex and college hoops would send the sports world into a twitter.
Instead, Kye simply announced he was no longer Kay-Kay. He said that after 20 years – as a junior playing for George Washington University – he’d be the man he’d always felt he was. He had not begun hormone treatments or had reassignment surgery, however, so he could continue to play on the Colonials’ women’s team.
And he had the full support of his coach and teammates.
It had been a long journey for the Minnesota native. While growing up, his mother forced him to wear “girl clothes” – not the sweats and basketball shorts he felt much more comfortable in. So he changed into them at school.
For a long time he thought he was a lesbian. But, as Outsports.com reported, he realized he didn’t share the feelings they felt. Not until freshman year in college – when his mother texted him, “Who do you think you are, young lady?” – did he realize he was not a young lady at all.
He began sharing his secret with teammates the next year. As he described the enormous disconnect between his body and his heart, they began to understand.
“Everybody’s pretty much accepting of everyone on the team,” he told Outsports. “Everybody is different. We’re teammates, we’re like family. It’s a bunch of brothers and sisters. Everybody brings their life and issues to the family.”
Allums was gratified by the players’ response. But he feared telling head coach Mike Bozeman, a religious man. Last June, during a conversation that began on a different topic, Allums broached the subject. Bozeman asked Allums if God had made a mistake.
It was a difficult moment, but Bozeman soon offered support. He reminded Allums he’d always “had your back.” He said he’d continue to love Allums, the same way he loved all his players.
Allums’ next concern was for his scholarship. Researching his options, he realized he was protected by a Washington, D.C. law that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity. The NCAA seemed to clear the way for his continued participation on the women’s team as well, noting that gender classification should be based on “state identification documents, such as driver’s licenses and voter registration.”
Still, when the news broke in early November that Kye – not Kay-Kay – Allums would begin playing as a man on the women’s team two weeks later (ironically in Minneapolis, half an hour south of where Allums grew up) – he was not sure what would happen.
He needn’t have worried.
He told the “Washington Post” the next day, “I’ve had numerous Facebook messages, text messages, people calling me, people I don’t even know, telling me how they’re proud of me and how I’m a really brave person, and it’s been really positive.”
From as far away as Germany, men and women said “they wish more people were like me, or more people would be able to say something.”
But that was that. There was no feeding frenzy in the media. The blogosphere did not erupt. Radio sports call-in shows scarcely mentioned the news.
Part of the reason may be Allums’ personality, and his forthright discussion of what it means to be a transgender male. According to “USA Today,” he spoke “openly and with disarming nonchalance to an array of local and national news media outlets.”
Part of the reason may be that the NCAA did not turn this into a pitched battle. George Washington University administrators consulted with the governing body about Allums’ competitive status. The NCAA affirmed that it follows conduct outlined in an October report by the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “On the Team: Equal Opportunity for Transgender Student Athletes” emphasizes the importance of playing sports free from discrimination. The report notes that an environment unfriendly to trans students can harm all members of a team.
And part of the reason may be that – as Allums’ teammates and coach demonstrate – coming out as a trans man is not as big a deal as it once might have seemed.
When “USA Today” asked whether winning games or inspiring others is most important, Allums sounded like any athlete, male or female: “Winning games.”
Of course, he added, “by winning games I hope I do inspire people.”