The Girls Team

Minorities are no big deal in college. Universities have been dealing with minority groups for decades (who’s a “minority” changes every generation, but still) but some minorities are easier than others. There are the minorities universities want to attract because they add to campus diversity. There are other minorities colleges don’t particularly need to attract; they just want to make sure the ones there are safe and reasonably happy.

But no university has quite yet figured out how deal with transgender students. Usually lumped together with sexual attraction-based campus groups, transgender students are rare, misunderstood, and, well, puzzling.

George Washington University has a great big job ahead of it. According to a piece by Katie Thomas in the New York Times:

Monday was a lazy day for Kye Allums, a typically busy junior playing Division I basketball at George Washington University. Without any classes or practice on his schedule, Allums woke up late, stopped in at a team meeting, worked on a class project, then took an afternoon nap. But Monday was anything but ordinary because it was the day the world would learn about the decision Allums had embarked on one year earlier: to come out as a transgender man playing on a women’s basketball team.

Advocates for transgender athletes said they believed Allums was the first Division I college basketball player to compete publicly as a transgender person, although not the first to play as a college athlete. In a statement, a George Washington official said Allums would remain on the women’s basketball team.

This reveals one of the great complications that colleges have dealing with this issue. Allums is actually not “competing publicly as a transgender person” and he probably never will; he’s a transgender person competing publicly as a woman. If he weren’t a woman he couldn’t be there. Being a woman is a necessary condition for being a member of the women’s varsity basketball team.

But his new identification was duly announced by the university. Allums’s coach said: the “George Washington University women’s basketball program, including myself, support Kye’s right to make this decision.” The women’s basketball website was updated so that Allums’s first name was no longer Kay-Kay, but the more gender ambiguous Kye.

But the curious neutering of Allums—the website removed all female pronouns or other references to gender, where possible, though nowhere is he referred to as a man—is a very hard thing for a university to navigate. Allums says the other members of his team are supportive and now try to use the male pronoun when addressing him.

Using male pronouns is just a symbolic gesture—though admittedly probably a rather important one to Allums—however. There’s a more structural problem here. “I decided to do it because I was uncomfortable not being able to be myself, ” Allums said.

Well there’s going to be a significant delay before Allums can really be himself. While the basketball player said he would like to receive hormone treatments to begin turning into an actual man, it doesn’t look like that’s possible, at least as long as he wishes to play for the women’s team.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer