Transgender runners can register for the Boston Marathon as their self-identified gender — if a government ID backs them up. It’s ‘a step in the right direction’ runners tell Moneyish.
Run as you are.
The Boston Marathon is one of a growing number of global sporting events that is allowing participants to compete under their self-identified gender, as long as that is the same gender that they also qualified under.
So that means a transgender runner such as Amelia Gapin can toe the starting line of perhaps the most hallowed marathon in the world on Monday with a bib registered under her true identity, as opposed to the name or gender her birth certificate may have once assigned her.
“It basically says that this sport is for everyone. We’re not going to discriminate against people who are transgender or anything else, so it makes you feel a little safer in the sport,” Gapin, 34, told Moneyish. “And it’s especially good because of how many of us run for mental reasons, too.” Transgender adults are at a greater risk of depression and suicide than the general population, research has shown, largely due to the discrimination, stigma and abuse many face.
The 13-time marathoner from Jersey City made history as the first transgender athlete to grace the cover of Women’s Running in 2016, and this will be her first time running the Boston Marathon. But many other trans runners are still “running under the radar,” she said, because they fear discrimination.
“If you’re going to pick up your race bib for a big city marathon like New York or Boston, you worry, ‘Is the person checking my ID going to give me a hard time?’ It hasn’t happened to me, but it happens,” said Gapin, who started a Facebook group that’s now 143 members strong where transgender runners can share their questions and concerns about road races.
The Boston Marathon’s policy on gender has been in the books for several years now, the Boston Athletic Association confirmed to Moneyish. “We don’t require medical documentation to prove gender identity, but we do require a government-issued ID to distribute each bib number, and we do compare the ID with the person’s qualification-associated gender description,” a spokesperson explained. “We don’t require that runners outline their gender identity history with us, so we can’t say for certain how many trans runners are in our race. We do know that we have had several transgender runners in the past.”
The New York City and Chicago marathons told Moneyish they have similar gender registration policies in place. And Tom Grilk, chief of the Boston Athletic Association, told the AP that “members of the LGBT community have had a lot to deal with over the years, and we’d rather not add to that burden.”
“What Boston has done is definitely a step in the right direction, but it’s not exactly perfect,” Gapin said, “because it can still be hard for some trans people to get their IDs updated. Some states (like Kansas and Tennessee) don’t let people update their gender marker on their birth certificates.” So they can be stuck registering as the gender they don’t identify with — which can also “out” a transgender runner if someone tracking her bib number on race day notices that she’s listed under a different gender.
That’s what happened to Maryland marathoner Grace Fisher in 2016 during her third year running Boston, and her second time tackling the course since transitioning to female. She had changed her gender marker on her ID, but she hadn’t changed her name yet. So the race registered her as male under her old name, which is what ran on the race tracking app, and what her finishing time was first posted under.
“Friends all around the world can see your registration, and see your name, and they’re like, ‘Oh wow, I didn’t know she was trans,” Fisher, 37, told Moneyish. The race did remedy her registration a month after the race, and she’s relieved that registering as herself for this year’s race wasn’t an issue. “It’s very affirming,” she said. “I don’t have to hide who I am.”
Boston’s gender policy has been in place for years, but it’s getting new mileage recently after a couple of Marathon Investigation and Canada Running articles highlighted some transgender women running Boston this year. This reignited a recurring debate over whether transgender female athletes have a physical advantage over cisgender females. And it’s a sensitive subject with the Boston Marathon in particular because the 122-year-old race is so selective about who can join the field capped at 30,000 runners. (The NYC Marathon, in comparison, accepts more than 50,000.) Runners have to either meet strict time qualifiers or fundraise thousands of dollars for charity to get in. And the misconception that men who transition to women have an athletic advantage over cisgender women still remains.
“The research, the science and the medicine shows that there isn’t really an advantage, that after a year or two on hormones, the performance level of a transgender athlete matches within the line of their cisgender counterpart,” said Gapin.
In fact, those assigned male at birth who transition to women often undergo hormone therapy that typically involves a testosterone-blocking drug and an estrogen supplement that decreases speed, strength and endurance in distance runners, per a 2015 study. And an Australian analysis of eight sports studies published last year concluded “there is no direct or consistent research suggesting transgender female individuals (or male individuals) have an athletic advantage at any stage of their transition.” The International Olympic Committee even states that transgender athletes can participate without gender confirmation surgery, but female transgender athletes must prove their testosterone levels are below a certain amount for a certain length of time.
“If transgender athletes really have that advantage, you would see them dominating in the sports we do play — and that doesn’t happen at all,” Gapin said. “A lot of transgender people actually struggle to even compete at the same level within their gender now versus before they transitioned.”
Gapin’s marathon finishing time has dropped about 10% since transitioning six years ago, for example, which is in line with professional-level female marathoners being about 10% slower than the elite men on average. “I ran my best marathon before I transitioned in 3:08:55 … and I ran a 3:44:58 in my first marathon after my transition,” Gapin said. “That’s a 36-minute difference after just seven months on hormones.”
Fisher has also seen her performance dip since she transitioned. “I have slowed quite a bit, even though I know a lot more about training, and I train smarter now,” she said. “I definitely noticed a difference after getting on the hormones.”
Both women are looking forward to running the 26.2-mile course from Hopkinton to Copley Square next week, chasing the heels of elite marathoners including 2017 NYC Marathon winner Shalane Flanagan, Olympic bronze medalist Deena Kastor and Olympians Desiree Linden and Molly Huddle. They feel even more blessed being able to do so as their authentic selves.
“Nobody wants an advantage. Nobody is trying to get ahead in any unfair way. We don’t want special treatment — we actively don’t want special treatment,” added Gapin. “We just want to be able to live our lives and do the things we love the same way that anyone else would.”
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