On April 20, the Office of LGBTQ+ Programs and Services and PERA hosted Cal Calamia, a non-binary transmasculine runner, to give a talk about his activism and running achievements. Calamia made history in 2022 when he became the first non-binary winner of the Bay to Breakers and San Francisco marathons.
Calamia started his running career when he joined his middle school cross country team. Calamia continued running in high school, but when he started running in college, his relationship with running became fraught due to the strict gender roles in sports.
“There was a harshness about my family at that time too that made me feel really small,” said Calamia. “I felt like I was too sensitive and too caring to fit in with my family, and running became this necessary vehicle for me to get my own space. Running had been my outlet and my safe space, and it was ripped right out from under me. Counter to everything that I had believed about my sport, I had to stay away from my running in order to heal.”
Calamia moved to California after college because he was not finding a lot of love in his own community in the Midwest. His life changed when he met openly trans people in their community. He went back to running when he ran in the 2018 Chicago Marathon, but he ran as female before his transition. He ran the marathon again in 2019 after being on testosterone for two months, but still ran as a female because his qualifying times were attached to the female category.
“I was feeling kind of awkward because I didn’t feel like a female,” said Calamia. “I had qualified and was registered for the Boston Marathon [in 2020] also in the female category, but I didn’t want to be identified as a female in Boston, and I didn’t qualify under the men’s qualifying time.”
In 2022, Calamia had an opening to make an impact as an activist when he fought for non-binary runners to receive an award in the Bay to Breakers marathon in San Francisco. After months of pushing Bay to Breakers to change the reward policy for non-binary runners, Calamia found out that the top three non-binary runners to finish the marathon would receive an award.
“I cried in the back of the car on the way to Bay to Breakers,” said Calamia. “So much had gone on in the week leading up to the race that I was completely overwhelmed. Preparing for a race from a physical and mental standpoint is already quite demanding, [and] fighting ceaselessly for your own right to exist in a space and in the world and dodging hateful things that people say about you all the while when they are bad, that’s a lot to hold.”
In July of 2022, Calamia reached out to the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) to collaborate on making a non-binary category in the Boston Marathon. The BAA was on board with Calamia’s request and invited him to work with them during the process of creating the new section of the marathon.
“Starting with something so new was definitely a challenge, and it was also important to maintain the … standard of the Boston Marathon being one of the most competitive marathons to run,” said Calamia. “The non-binary category supports transgender athletes who identify as non-binary and embody various biological characteristics that may not be able to be contained fully by a men’s or women’s category, but it’s important to acknowledge that non-binary is an identity that people with many different bodies may resonate with. Some non-binary people transition medically and some do not. There’s nothing right or wrong with either of those things, but they are different. People who are assigned male at birth and do not medically transition are technically still at the top of the biological performance hierarchy, while people who are assigned female at birth and who do not medically transition are at a physical disadvantage, with trans people falling somewhere in the middle.”
Calamia and the BAA spent months talking about qualifying times, prizes and registration technicalities. While Calamia is thrilled to have worked with the BAA to bring a non-binary category to the Boston Marathon, he admits that it is not a perfect solution.
“There’s a lot of nuance in this category. While non-binary categories are a huge step in the right direction, they’re imperfect in many ways,” said Calamia. “One of them is the fact that men’s and women’s categories were probably created because of sexism. Women weren’t allowed to run [marathons] until relatively recently if you look at history, but another reason why we still keep these categories is to account for biological differences in bodies that may relate or correlate to performance differences. If gender categories cease to exist in the racing world, cisgendered men will most often be the only ones recognized for their athletic achievements.”
Calamia said that as he was running in the Boston Marathon, he noticed how he was constantly surrounded by cis men, and it made him think about how much harder he had to work just to run alongside them, but instead of seeing that fact as a weight, he used it to validate his presence at the marathon and in the running world.
“To cross the finish line at the Boston Marathon is so monumental. With this body, in this society, all of the trauma in these muscles, me as a whole, racing while the world tells us that we shouldn’t lace up Nikes, or worse, that we should not exist, and then to show up, day after day, mile after mile, marathon after marathon is nearly a miracle,” said Calamia. “My whole life I just wanted to run the Boston Marathon, and as I sat in my airplane seat I realized that more important than doing is just being there. Just showing up with a trans flag over my heart amongst so many non-binary runners. In so many ways, it felt like I had already won.”