Matt Kailey is the author of Just Add Hormones: An Insider's Guide to the Transsexual Experience, a Lambda Literary Award finalist. He is also a nationally recognized speaker, trainer, and writer dealing with transgender issues. He can be reached through his website and blog at www.tranifesto.com.
George Washington University women's basketball player Kye Allums was scoreless in his first game since coming out as transgender, but don't worry, Kye – I haven't scored much lately myself.
I'm not sure what people thought would happen when Allums played basketball as a man, but his playing ability has likely not changed. He has already said that he would not start hormones as long as he is on the team, due to concerns that testosterone might disqualify him from play by giving the team an unfair advantage.
Of course, I doubt that they have tested the testosterone levels of the women on the team, and, as we discovered when South African athlete Caster Semenya was dragged through the mud simply for being a superior runner, testosterone levels vary tremendously from woman to woman – as they do from man to man.
But Allums, who made history as the first out transgender person to play NCAA Division I college basketball, just wants to play ball, and he also needs to live in the gender that aligns with his identity. So he has begun his transition – without hormones as long as he is playing sports – and he has been supported by his teammates, coach, and school.
The subject of trans athletes is nothing new. Renee Richards broke ground in 1977 when the New York Supreme Court ruled that she had the right to play professional tennis as a woman after transitioning from male to female. But the controversy over who can play what sport remains ongoing.
There is really a fairly simple way to eliminate this controversy and to make room for transgender, transsexual, and intersex people in sports – eliminate the requirements based on genitalia (which is truly what separate-sex sports are based on) and establish standards for various categories or levels of play based instead on the physical requirements of the sport for each level.
For example, instead of considering professional football a "man's" sport, allow anyone to compete for a slot on the team based on height, weight, and strength requirements. Will most professional football teams still consist solely of men? Probably. But if there were a woman out there who had the ability and met the requirements and the demands of the position, she would be eligible to be considered.
How would she get discovered and recruited? She would already be playing college football, where her talents would come to the attention of recruiters. How would she happen to be playing college football? She would have gotten a scholarship based on her championship high-school play. And so on down the line.
Establishing various levels of sports play based on physical qualifications, rather than dividing teams by sex and gender, would benefit everyone. Men who wanted to play a certain sport but were not physically large or strong enough could play the sport in a different category. Women who were capable and met the qualifications, but who were unable in the past to be considered for a particular sport because of their sex, would be in the running.
They already do this somewhat with boxing, offering different weight classifications. The concept would simply be broadened to include all sports and all sexes and genders. In that way, equals would be competing against each other, and original birth certificates would be out the window.
And the locker rooms? This is likely to be a primary concern only of straight, non-trans people, who tend to think about sex obsessively, but certainly provisions could be made. Sports is an important enough aspect of U.S. culture that we could find the money to offer more than one locker room per team – perhaps by diverting a million or so from professional players' salaries to fund schools at levels that even hint at the importance of education and recreation.
In the meantime, hats off to all of those athletes who are breaking sex and gender barriers and proving that it's not whether you win or lose – it's who you are when you play the game.
Photo from the George Washington University athletics website.