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May 28, 2012
Playing fields have long been segregated on the basis of sex. But what happens to the athletes whose physiology doesn't match their gender identity? Against whom do they compete? What obstacles do they face? And how are they being treated by sports' governing bodies?
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May 28, 2012

The Transgender Athlete

Playing fields have long been segregated on the basis of sex. But what happens to the athletes whose physiology doesn't match their gender identity? Against whom do they compete? What obstacles do they face? And how are they being treated by sports' governing bodies?

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Bozeman, whose children were fielding questions about Allums from their teachers at school, admits to being overwhelmed. "I was winging it," says the coach, who was fired in March after going 42--75 in four seasons. "[The university] provided us with a sports psychologist to come and talk to the team, but that was toward the end of the year. We needed that at the beginning."

Allums chose not to return as a senior, primarily because a series of concussions caused him to miss all but eight games in 2010--11. And last May, despite a lifelong fear of needles, Allums began to physically transition. His doctor started him on testosterone injections of .5 cc, upped the amount to 1.0 cc three months later, but swiftly slashed it to .75 every two weeks because the higher dosage made Allums feel as if he'd been tagged with a tranquilizer dart. His voice has deepened; his hat size has increased; he sports a light mustache; he can run faster; and his feet have grown almost a half size. At 22, Allums, who moved to New York City in March, is planning a comeback. While he spends much of his time giving speeches on trans issues, he would like to use his remaining NCAA eligibility to play with a men's team at a small college while completing a master's degree in psychology or sociology. "Basketball is basketball," says Allums. "If I can play, I can play."

Even when Godsey had long blond hair at Chaparral High in Parker, Colo., "I always presented as very masculine," he says. He played basketball, soccer, softball and track, but his appearance—and the perception that he was gay—resulted in verbal and physical torment. "I was the awkward kid," Godsey says. "I was the 'gay' kid. I was the one who was different." There was the time when he came to school and found an explicit, derogatory message waiting at his locker. The time when a group of female students beat him up, breaking several of his ribs. (That attack helped spark an interest in power lifting.) The time when a former teammate from the girls' basketball team gave him a Bible, meticulously annotated, with highlighted passages suggesting that Godsey was going to hell if he didn't change.

The concept of being transgender still provokes extreme prejudice and hostility. A recent survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network of 295 trans students between ages 13 and 20 discovered a staggering degree of victimization. In the past year 87% had been called names or threatened because of their gender expression; 53% had been pushed or shoved; 26% had been punched, kicked or injured with a weapon; and 46% reported having missed school because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable. "I truly believe that the issue of gay equality in our society is on the verge of being resolved," says Cyd Zeigler, the cofounder of, a publication that covers LGBT issues in sports. "Transgender equality is next. And a far bigger step." Allums's ultimate goal is to run a foundation devoted to trans youth—dozens of whom have reached out to him via Facebook. Says Allums of one 16-year-old who is warring with his parents, "It's like, What do I do to make him not hurt himself?"

The suffering is not limited to the young. In April 2007, Mike Penner, an acclaimed sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times, announced he was a trans woman and changed his name to Christine Daniels. "I am a transsexual sportswriter," he wrote in his coming-out column. "It has taken me more than 40 years, a million tears and hundreds of hours of soul-wrenching therapy for me to work up the courage to type those words." And yet, after all those years and all that therapy, the transition proved too difficult. In October 2008, Penner resumed working under his old name. Just one year later he killed himself in his Los Angeles home.

Godsey missed chunks of time in high school directly because of bullying. But try as he might, there was no switch to be flipped on and off. At Chaparral High he assumed he was a lesbian, and why not? Godsey only learned the word transgender when he took a freshman seminar taught by Erica Rand, a women and gender studies professor at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. Soon after, in another class, Godsey was shown a survey that had been administered by psychiatrists to judge gender identity. "In my head I was circling the answers," he recalls. "I was like, Oh, crap."

Godsey haunted Bates's library. The more he read by transgender authors, the more unavoidable the truth became. "Coming out to myself was actually harder than coming out to everyone else," he admits. "I was so internally transphobic." He pauses. "This is the first time I've been willing to really talk about it."

In the spring of 2005, shortly after shattering the Division III women's championship hammer record (by throwing 195'4"), Godsey tackled his biggest challenge to date. After confiding in Rand, the then junior e-mailed Bates's dean of students and athletic director to notify them of an impending change: Beginning with the fall semester, Kelly would permanently become Keelin and wished to be referred to as he.

Godsey still can't remember what he said when he stepped in front of the bleachers that fall and informed his women's track teammates of their captain's new identity. "Have you ever seen Old School, where [Will Ferrell's] debating and he just gets into that zone?" Godsey asks, laughing. "It was a nerve-racking experience. I kind of blacked out." All he knows is that the 30 or so girls around him were "pretty awesome" when they heard the news.

But as far as NCAA headquarters was concerned? Except for his first name and choice of pronoun, nothing about the athlete who would graduate as a 16-time All-America—in the hammer, discus, shot put and weight throw—was changing.

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