By Steve Coulter
Kye Allums is still adjusting to the spotlight.
The transgender pioneer who broke the barrier in 2010 to become the first openly transgender athlete in NCAA history says he learns something new every day on what it means to be a leader — an activist through art, athletics, and public speaking around the country for those trying to complete their own individual journey.
“It’s always a learning experience when I share my story — and when I don’t,” said Allums, who played guard for the George Washington Colonials women’s basketball team before graduating in 2011 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts.
“I’ve learned that I don’t always have to be the one doing the talking, and that listening to other peoples’ stories can be advocacy within itself,” he added. “I’ve come to realize that sharing my story doesn’t need to be tough because every audience is different, and every audience reacts differently.”
To calm the nerves before speaking in front of a crowd — whether it be a room full of LGBTQ youth or athletic administrators at high schools and colleges across the country, Allums listens to music.
“It helps with anxiety,” he said, drawing the similarities to how he used to prepare for a basketball game.
“It definitely parallels getting ready for a game,” he explains. “Sports helped prepare me for public speaking — there are lights everywhere; everyone in the room is looking at you, and you have to stay focused. It’s made the transition a lot easier.”
Sharing his Identity
An alumnus of Centennial High School in Circle Pines, Minnesota, Allums earned a full ride to George Washington. Before enrolling in college classes, Allums — born Kyler Kelican Allums — said he had never given much thought to his sexuality.
It wasn’t until he took a human sexuality course as a freshman at GWU that the light bulb turned on.
“I learned what trans meant and I realized that I was trans,” he said. “I felt inclined to share that as my identity; I didn’t want to be mis-gendered…my biological sex is female, but I am a transgender male.”
In addition to traveling the country and talking about how it’s possible to be transgender and play on a team, Allums has starred in a documentary produced by Laverne Cox called The T Word, which followed young LGBT individuals and explains what they go through.
Allums has also produced his own set of projects, including “I Am Enough,” which encouraged at-risk youth to talk about their experience by submitting their stories and seeing that others are dealing with the same issues.
“I stopped it last year,” he explained about the social medial project. “I didn’t feel like I was getting enough out of it. I forgot about taking myself, and I wanted to go back to living my life.”
Through his website, Allums keeps people updated with his newest projects.
“Right now, my main focus is talking to college athletic departments, coaches and committees, about LBGTQ inclusion in sports,” he explained.“ In Washington DC, I represent the National Black Justic Coalition of emerging leaders.”
He preaches a message of self-love and self-awareness to every audience.
“It’s OK to be very vulnerable,” he said. “I’m willing to admit that I’m still trying to figure out my own life, and I’m OK with that…I’m still learning about my identity and what I’m comfortable with, and what I’m not,” he added.
Expression without talking
He still wants to listen to others even though “I Am Enough” has run its course.
“I’m not going to connect with everyone just because they’re trans or they’re African American, or because they’re both,” he said. “But it’s about more than connecting — it’s about expressing yourself, and that’s what I’m trying to do for myself and show others how to do.”
Allums wrote his first book, “Who Am I?” that he published earlier this year. It features poems and letters he wrote about his parents and himself.
The Minnesota native says he has always found writing to be therapeutic, and by taking a break from “I Am Enough,” he’s found more time to express himself.
“The options are limitless. It’s challenging but nice,” he said. “You’re trying to get things out and figure out what you want to share and how you want to share it.”
Of course, the focus of his the short book is his relationship with his mom and dad, who he says he’s close with but also, disagrees with from time to time.
“I needed to be very careful with what I selected,” he said. “I didn’t want to say anything that I would regret later.”
In the end, it all came down to his comfort level.
“The letters and poems were all written in one summer — being with my family over a short period of time inspired me,” he explained. “A lot came out, and I feel comfortable with what I chose.”
Everybody is Different
Looking back on his journey, Allums is most proud of earning his degree from GWU in December 2011 — not his decision to become a pioneer for transgender athletes across the world.
“It felt great to finally get it done — I was so proud of myself,” he said. “It showed me that I could actually complete something, and it’s helped propel me into my career as a speaker and activist.”
In the weeks following his decision to come out publicly, Allums said he received dozens of calls from the media every day and had to schedule at least an hour, if not two, before and after practice to do interviews.
Finally, it became too much and he decided to leave the team in May 2011.
“It continued throughout the year,” he said. “My basketball game was affected but the game was still a good release for me. I realized that all the focus was on me and that I knew I wasn’t the only one on the team.”
He said that after he made his announcement, he had a difficult time letting others into his life — something that’s began to change recently.
“Others saw my story and wanted to meet with me, but I didn’t know them and I couldn’t allow myself to let my guard down and accept who I was,” he admitted.
Through his passions — sports, music, dance and writing — and his career, Allums has struck the balance that he believes has set him on the path of understanding himself and others who might need his guidance.
“I’ve learned that everyone has a story to tell and that everyone is different, and that not every trans person is the same,” he concluded.
“We’re all different and that means you can learn something from everybody by just listening to what they have to say, and hearing how they feel — that’s the most important lesson.”