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Transgender Athlete Competes For Spot In Olympics

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A central question of gender and sports is facing officials as they prepare for London's Summer Olympics. In a system that segregates athletic competition by sex for reasons of fairness, where do transgender athletes fit in?

Take, for example, Keelin Godsey, the first openly transgender contender for the U.S. Olympic team. Last month, Godsey qualified for the women's track and field Olympic trials in the hammer throw.

Godsey was born female, identifies as male, and competes in the female division — a situation that recently attracted the attention of writer Pablo Torre and Sports Illustrated. As Torre tells NPR's Michel Martin, cases such as Godsey's might present "the most thorny question" for sports organizers.

"For Keelin, it's a question of identity," Torre says. "Keelin's identity was formed as a women's sports athlete, before Keelin came out as transgender male. And the reality is, for a lot of college athletes who are transgender, they have scholarships, they have spots on their teams in elite sports, and they're physically that gender — physically female, for example, in Keelin's case. And really, that's enough for a governing body. Or, it should be enough."

Torre co-wrote a story about transgender athletes for Sports Illustrated's current issue. He's also a regular contributor to Tell Me More's Barbershop segment. And he says there are no physical or medical differences between Keelin and a biological woman — there have been no hormone treatments, for instance.

"So, for Keelin it's a matter of choosing and fulfilling that other part of their identity, as an elite athlete," he says.

But that choice can also mean forgoing the medical treatments some transgender people receive when they transition to another gender.

"If you want to stay within your birth sex athletically," Torre says, "you need to forego testosterone — which is really the big thing."

"And Keelin — let's make no mistake about this, this has been incredibly tough, and at times tormenting and torturous, for Keelin Godsey, a person who identifies fully as a male, and wishes to live as a male in all walks of life. But, it's his passion for sports and the opportunity to make the Olympic team" that are behind Godsey's choice, Torre says.

As soon as Godsey's Olympics experience ends — either in the U.S. trials or at the games in London — "Keelin will be taking testosterone, and physically transitioning," Torre says. "And that's this other, second dream, beyond Olympic contention, that Keelin hopes to finally fulfill."

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