A transgendered track and field star at Bates College is determined to earn a spot on the U.S. national team and compete in the 2008 Olympics.

LEWISTON – Keelin Godsey arrived at Bates College in September 2002 as a young, free-spirited woman named Kelly who planned to play basketball.

Long before she decided to exchange the orange ball for a silver shot put and hammer, charting a course to become an 11-time All-American track and field thrower, Godsey decided that the gender side of the equation wasn’t a perfect fit, either.

“I knew it in seventh grade, when people really started hassling me about being gay,” Godsey said. “I could never really figure that out, because I didn’t think of myself as gay. I thought of myself as straight. I liked women, but that was a straight thing for me to do.”

Now a senior, less than a year away from graduate school and the myriad obligations of life that follow, Godsey has chosen to do something about that confusion, permanently. Bates’ current most-decorated female student-athlete, possibly its best ever, has begun the long, complicated and expensive process of becoming a man.

Godsey, a native of Parker, Colo., spent last summer and fall “coming out” as transgender to the Bates community and its rival schools in the New England Small College Athletic Conference. After announcing the name change, Godsey requested that professors, coaches and teammates use the male pronoun in athletic department press releases and casual conversation.

Most have respected those wishes. When interviewed, coaches and teammates refer to “Keelin” and “he” without fail, and with a straight face.

Female to male

Outside the protective chamber of Bates and its egalitarian ideals, jaws inevitably drop when Godsey’s decision is discussed.

Then comes an aftershock that raises eyebrows. “He” continues to compete and win in an environment that is exclusively she: women’s track, where Godsey could win another individual national championship in the 20-pound weight throw next month, and again when the outdoor track season concludes in May.

In fact, Godsey intends to put off hormone therapy and eventual reassignment surgery (estimated price tag: $1 million) until at least 2008, in hopes of qualifying for that year’s Olympic Games in female competition.

“She would not have the strength to compete with the men,” said women’s track and field coach Jennifer “Jay” Hartshorn, who began her job at Bates in September.

Hartshorn said she wasn’t shocked. One of her closest friends is transgender. She also did her graduate work at Smith College in Massachusetts, which Hartshorn said has a large gay, lesbian and transgender community.

By the time Hartshorn arrived on campus, Godsey already had met privately with Bates athletic director Suzanne Coffey, who spent the summer discussing any potential legal and competitive issues with the NCAA and the Center For Drug Free Sport. Hartshorn addressed rival track and field coaches at a December meeting. After her presentation, the league unanimously supported Bates’ decision and Godsey’s right to compete.

“We are playing by the rules as the NCAA defines them,” Coffey said. “This is a case of gender identity. Keelin simply has begun using the male pronoun while competing in women’s track.”

Bates believes any objection to Godsey competing as a woman is rooted in semantics. Sex and gender are not necessarily synonymous, said Hartshorn. NCAA regulations state that an athlete is categorized according to his or her sex by state law.

State law considers a pre-operative Godsey physiologically female, pronouns notwithstanding. And as long as Godsey abstains from the use of male hormone supplements that would be considered performance enhancers, specifically testosterone and nandrolone, a mandatory drug test at any championship meet sanctioned by the NCAA or International Olympic Committee should turn up clean.

“He is not on a hormonal regimen,” said Coffey. “Keelin is a national champion, and as such, he will be tested regularly at those events.”

There will be questions

Godsey and school officials deny any serious repercussions thus far on campus or at competitions. That might be a credit to hate crime statutes, according to Hartshorn. It also may be a product of Coffey’s proactive, off-season approach (“my homework,” she said) and the school’s choice to give the media selective, limited access to the athlete.

While objectors remain few, Godsey knows there will be questions about the apparent duplicity of representing as a man while competing as a woman.

“Not many people do what I’m doing, and I’m doing what I’m doing only because I still want to compete,” Godsey said. “This was the only way I was going to do it, and the only way I could do it. There are no rules being broken. I’m not doing anything illegal, anything wrong. I’m not doing anything other than going by a different pronoun and a different name.”

Little has changed about Godsey’s appearance, which is notable for short, spiked hair and a tall, muscular build.

“(Other teams) probably don’t even realize it,” said Ashley Wentworth, a senior middle-distance runner from North Andover, Mass., and fellow captain of the women’s team with Godsey. “He looks the same as he did last year. Right now, it’s only the name that’s different.”

Everyday life has changed dramatically for Godsey, an English major who has applied to graduate schools as a male in hopes of becoming a physical therapist.

Transgender support groups offer limited help. Most of the members are in their 40s and 50s, Godsey said. Also, male-to-female procedures are more common in sports and the world at large than female-to-male transitions.

Reaction among family and friends runs the gamut from accepting to appalled.

“I lost a lot of friends over this,” Godsey said. “With family, it’s more like the relationships are gone. We don’t talk about it at all. That’s kind of how it’s dealt with. Some members of my family are perfectly OK with it. Some people say stuff, yeah, but I just don’t associate with those people. I essentially try to avoid them.”

“People might be able to sympathize, but it’s hard to empathize,” added Hartshorn. “I think people can relate to it on the level that, Oh, that would be hard.’ But they have no real basis in their life to compare it to.”

Olympic dreams

Godsey’s journey is not a case of the last player on the basketball or softball bench making a drastic change in college in order to ease transition into the professional realm. As a biological woman, Godsey has legitimate hopes of earning a spot with the U.S. national team and possibly reaching the Olympics in the hammer throw.

The IOC permits transgender athletes to compete in their new gender if reassignment surgery took place more than two years earlier, but again, Godsey hasn’t gone that far. Passing a drug test would be the only obstacle to Godsey competing against women for a gold medal.

When the track career ends, the financial worries will begin. Medical insurance does not cover any aspect of a sex-change operation.

“I’ve heard over $1 million for female-to-male. It’s kind of ridiculous,” Godsey said. “I will not do everything. I’m hoping it will be cheaper than that for me.”

Godsey fears discrimination in the workplace more than the possibility of bodily harm. As a woman, Godsey believed she lost out on jobs due to her androgynous appearance.

With the story now public knowledge, Bates hopes local reaction will mirror its disarming cool.

“My advice to people is to remember that it’s so much the same person,” Wentworth said. “He still likes all the same things, still thinks the same things are funny. Just take a look at the person.”

“I don’t anticipate anything negative,” said Coffey.

Then she added, “Of course, we can’t be sure of that.”

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