Why all marathons should include a gender non-binary category, says runner Cal Calamia

On Nov. 6 thousands of runners from around the world will take to the streets of New York City for the TCS New York City Marathon. Last year was the first time the NYC marathon allowed runners to register in a non-binary category, and 2022 will be the first time that a cash prize of $5,000 will be awarded to the winner of that category.

New York's race isn't the only one undergoing a transformation. In 2023, both the Boston and London marathons have announced that they will add a category for non-binary runners. For Cal Calamia, a transmasculine runner and marathoner, the move means they will get to compete as themself.

“We're choosing to run in this category because it's what feels authentic for us, and everyone deserves to have that experience of authenticity when they're doing things that they love," Calamia tells Yahoo Life.

On Oct. 9, Calamia, 26, competed and won the non-binary category at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. It was the first time the race offered the new category, and of the 40,000 runners who registered, about 70 signed up to run as non-binary.

Before Chicago, Calamia became the first runner to win the non-binary category at the San Francisco marathon in July. Before that race, event organizers even reached out to Calamia who consulted on the non-binary category and helped to ensure that all runners felt included. Calamia also won the non-binary category at San Francisco's Bay to Breakers, a popular 12k race held every May.

“Having this non-binary category is kind of a way to acknowledge that not everyone is a man or a woman, and for some folks that feels really confusing. I like to just put it in the simplest term for myself. For the first 21 years of my life I was a girl, so I was confused about a lot of things. I was figuring a lot of things out, but that was my life experience. Now I'm often perceived as a man, I’m transmasculine,” says Calamia.

“The word non-binary for me means I'm not either one of these two things. I'm both, I'm more than, I'm everything in between.”

Video transcript

CAL CALAMIA: We deserve to run. We deserve to feel connected with our bodies as trans and nonbinary people. Having this nonbinary category just makes it so running can be a place where I can be myself. I just want people to be open to humanizing the people who these conversations are about instead of trying to politicize who we are.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: I'm Brittany Jones-Cooper, and this is "Unmuted." Today, I'm talking with Cal Calamia, the first person to win the nonbinary-plus division at the San Francisco Marathon. They're here to talk about why everyone deserves a chance to compete as themselves.

Cal, you recently completed the Chicago Marathon with a personal record. And I know this was the first year that they had a nonbinary category for runners. Can you tell me about your experience?

CAL CALAMIA: I loved running Chicago. I grew up outside of Chicago. So this is my third time running the race. The previous two times I ran it as a female before I began my transition. In college, I really struggled with being a Division I cross country athlete. My relationship with running was just kind of tainted by uncertainty about my own gender and some unhealthy dynamics on the team.

When I moved to San Francisco and started the transition, I started to get more interested in and excited about marathoning. Now I have transitioned and I'm living as a truer form of myself. So having the chance to go back and actually run it in the nonbinary category meant a lot to me.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Can you explain how the categories traditionally work and why it is important that this nonbinary category is now an option for people?

CAL CALAMIA: Traditionally, races will either have a male and female categorization or a man and woman categorization. And having this nonbinary category is kind of a way to acknowledge that not everyone is a man or a woman. For some folks that feels really confusing. I like to just put it in the simplest terms for myself. The first 21 years of my life, I was a girl. I was figuring a lot of things out, but that was my life experience. Now I'm often perceived as a man. I'm transmasculine. Just looking at these two completely different life experiences I've had.

The word "nonbinary," for me, means I'm not either one of these two things. I'm both. I'm more than. I'm everything in between. It's more complicated than your traditional gender categorization. And I understand there are questions at the professional level. And there's a lot that we still don't know. There are differences in anatomy. There are differences in athletic ability. And gender is one factor, but it's not the only factor that makes people have differences in ability.

I think we're just acknowledging and celebrating the abundance of identities. Because at the end of the day, all we want to do is sign up and run like everyone else and not have to lie about who we are in the registration process.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: You've really led this charge in many ways to get this category in more races. I know the NYC Marathon added a nonbinary category in 2021. Boston-- I know London's adding a nonbinary category as well. You were part of the logistics in the nonbinary category at the San Francisco Marathon. So what did that entail?

CAL CALAMIA: San Francisco actually did an excellent job at being inclusive. I feel like they did a lot to just humanize nonbinary runners and prioritize conversation with those of us that were going to be in the race. And so it was so emotional to cross that finish line and know that this race has been going on for decades, and no one has ever won that category before, but I just did it.

And now I'm actually working with Boston-- asking my opinion, asking, how can we make this category feel equitable and also maintain the integrity of the marathon? And being a part of this movement to push organizations and races to be more inclusive, trying to figure out what is it going to take exactly for us to have equity in sports? Hey, we actually deserve to participate in sports. We deserve to be physically active and, we deserve to prioritize our physical health in the same way as cisgender folks do.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: The idea of a gender revolution is threatening to a lot of people. What would you say to somebody who doesn't understand why a nonbinary runner would want to compete in a nonbinary category?

CAL CALAMIA: Well, there's definitely confusion, and that'll show in Facebook and Instagram comments, news comments. And a lot of times they're like, you're a man, just run with the men, or even commenting on genitalia. I think it goes to show just that there's still a lot of learning to do for folks. And adding this category does not take anything away from anyone. At the end of the day, why we're choosing to run in this category is because it's what feels authentic for us.

I've never done that in my life.

- Congratulations.

CAL CALAMIA: I ran. I broke five. This conversation's only going to grow. I think we're at a point in history where we are beginning a gender revolution. And that might be challenging for some folks to confront, but it's happening. The fact that nonbinary runners will be celebrated is just so exciting. Everyone deserves to have that experience of authenticity when they're doing things that they love.