Six runners share what it means to move (and live) as their authentic selves.
Running can be hard for us all, but transgender and non-binary runners have unique perspectives on the sport’s mental and physical challenges.
Living as a transgender person can mean accepting that your gender identity and bodily alignment aren’t always a match. This gender dysphoria often leads to lots of mental distress, but it can be alleviated through transitioning.
Coming out and living life as your authentic self can open up your world to more possibilities. For many transgender runners this means embracing their full selves and getting to run as the person they have always felt they were.
To better understand what running unabashedly as their authentic selves means, we spoke with six transgender runners. We hope the entire running community finds joy and acceptance in what they shared.
Editor’s note: These responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
I have been running literally as long as I can remember. My mum used to run marathons and I’ve been in a running family my whole life. I came out as trans my senior year of college, and wasn’t exactly kicked off my lacrosse team, but pretty much was made to feel uncomfortable. So I ended up just not playing my senior year because of that, and I kind of took running back, because I didn’t have as much other physical activity and stuff going on.
I really liked that sort of connection of joining a running club, and I really like working out with other people. There’s not a lot of sports opportunities where you are not gendered. Even though you still have to sign up under a specific gender, once you get there, everyone is just there. Standing in the starting corral you don’t know what gender I signed up for. No matter what, I found that once I got to the race, no one knew, and I really liked that part of running.
I’ve been living authentically as myself for, coming up on eight years now, and honestly it was around that time when I started running. After I got my start trying to be 90 days sober and freshly out of the closet, I was running with the general meditative nature of running and like trying to be in my body. It really went hand in hand with my transition and finding peace and myself.
I do a good amount of mentorship with LGBTQ+ teenagers, and I tell them what is important is finding your space and sport, even if it is running, because it doesn’t have to look like everybody else’s. I still really enjoy the sport and get a lot out of running and have added this really wonderful dimension to my life.
I didn’t really start until I would say January 2010, when I ran into a friend. I was looking to expand my LGBTQ+ sphere, and she said, “Oh, there is this running group, Front Runners”, and I laughed because the furthest I had ever run is like four bases for softball. I showed up with my running shoes, my joggers and ski gloves and a ski hat, and I looked like a hot mess. And somebody else that sort of took pity on me was like, I will run with you, and I could tell she was a lot faster. We got back and I was like, that was horrible, but the coach of the running team at the time was like, “Oh, don’t worry about it, you’ll learn but just stick with me”. That just kicked off my entire journey, and I’ve been with Front Runners ever since.
Without them, my life would be drastically different. I found that it was possible to become myself thanks to the confidence I got from running and the support I got from the running group and friends. I didn’t realise this level of support for attaining your own goals was available. It’s just such an amazing community that offers so much in support, and I hope I also give back and provide a space for others to come into and grow as whole people.
I have not been running that long at all. I would still call myself fairly close to a beginner. I was really seeking community and an excuse to get out of the house when I started running, and I joined a running group. Then I just became super involved in the sport. This year was the first year that New York Road Runners allowed a non-binary section in their rankings, so it felt like the perfect year for me to start actually doing races and stuff.
I do not think that I would have continued running and I definitely wouldn’t be working the job I have now if I hadn’t joined that group. For me, being with other LGBT people, and running alongside them and going through the trials and tribulations of starting out running, suffering from shin splints, not wanting to go another mile, and doing that with another person that would gender me correctly, and would understand where I was in life - that was absolutely vital to me as a runner.
As I’ve been able to put my body into alignment with my gender identity through the process of medical, social, and legal transition, running has helped me feel at home in a body that hasn’t always felt like home. Because it gives me an opportunity to feel strength and to feel empowered, and to be impressed in my body and by my body! It’s really incredible to see how my body feels during and after runs. I’m able to take my shoes anywhere I travel, and I can go explore and don’t need anybody’s permission.
Part of feeling good in my body is being able to wear clothing that is affirming. I don’t have to go for a run in, like, tiny women’s short shorts, and I don’t have to go for a run in long basketball shorts. Running has been a space for me to be proud of my body in a way that hasn’t historically been true for me. Running is so funny because it can be a very individual sport. I don’t have to make plans with anybody to go for a run, and I don’t need to take a class or whatever. It’s like I go for a run when I want. But it’s also something so social. They say that a good marathon pace is one that is conversational.
So I come from a family of triathletes and marathoners, and for a long time my brother and I were the only family members who refused to run more than a mile, and it was almost like a source of pride. Then as I started to get older and I was working internationally, I travelled to all different kinds of places and countries. I wanted to stay fit and sharp for my Muay Thai, so I started running. And I was like, actually, I really enjoy this. Now that I’m a less active fighter, I’m doing even more running. Especially during the pandemic, I started running even more because it was a safe way to be social and be outside and just connect with other people.
As somebody who works at the intersection of LGBTQ+ human rights and sports, I’m really grateful that there are so many queer running spaces in New York. In queer spaces the ideas around gender identity, and the acceptance of gender identity, are just so much more fluid. There is no singular way to be trans, to be trans-non-binary, or to be non-binary, and I think that’s really powerful. So to be welcomed, exactly as I am, in that space, and not have to perform my gender in any particular way, is really powerful, and also really freeing.
Support trans and non-binary communities
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is actively working to advocate for the rights and lives of the transgender and non-binary community. To learn more about how you can raise awareness for and uplift the lives of trans people, join Count Me In, a campaign lead by the HRC.
At Brooks, our purpose is to inspire everyone to run their path. We champion the run for all and believe in the power of a diverse running community that includes people of different races, abilities, genders, ages, sexual orientation, body type and circumstances.
Everyone should have the same right to participate in and benefit from sports, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Brooks supports creating welcoming and inclusive environments for LGBTQ+ athletes. We support athletes competing in the sport that matches their gender identity, because we believe gender is an intrinsic part of identity, and that competition should be an option for all athletes.
Sydney Bauer is a transgender journalist based in Atlanta, Georgia. She covers sports, politics and major events through the lens of identity and gender. Follow her on Twitter @femme_thoughts.