Meet the non-binary runner taking fight for equality in athletics worldwide after historic win
Cal Calamia felt a rush of emotion when they became the first person to win in the non-binary category at San Francisco’s historic Bay to Breakers race.
It was a history-making moment, but it didn’t happen without a fight. Cal registered for the race as non-binary, but they later discovered that there would be no award in the non-binary category.
Naturally, they were frustrated – why should there be an award in the men’s and women’s categories, but none for a non-binary winner?
“I saw the categories and I was confused about why you could register under a gender they weren’t acknowledging for the awards part of it,” Cal tells PinkNews. “It was never about me wanting to win an award, it was about the fact that it seemed like one plus one is two and they weren’t recognising that.”
Cal first reached out to Bay to Breakers organisers in October 2021, asking them to change their criteria to ensure a non-binary runner would be awarded on the day. They received no response.
After following up several times, organisers replied just days before the race. They told Cal they wouldn’t be changing their rules immediately, but would consider taking action for the 2023 race.
Cal mobilised the local community, which led to other LGBTQ+ people in the region contacting Bay to Breakers to express their dissatisfaction with the decision. Eventually, Cal heard on local news that organisers had backed down and introduced an award for non-binary runners.
“They still to this day have not gotten back to me at all,” Cal says. “The award they gave me when I won the race was a piece of plastic and they said they were going to mail me my actual gold medal, but they haven’t reached out yet and I haven’t heard anything.”
More insulting than receiving a piece of plastic was the lack of communication they received from Bay to Breakers, Cal says.
It was a really emotional moment for me to find out that I had done something that’s really historic.
“Bay to Breakers has gotten some positives press for having added this category and having shifted to be more inclusive, but if you’re not talking to the particular community member who started this conversation at all, I don’t really think you’re making adjustments to be more inclusive of trans and non-binary folks. You’re really just adjusting as a reaction to protect your own image.”
Cal Calamia’s victory has inspired them to fight for non-binary categories in other races
Still, Cal is trying to focus on the positive. Running the race – and winning in their category – was an exhilarating experience.
“It was a really emotional moment for me to find out that I had done something that’s really historic – being the first non-binary category winner in Bay to Breakers. The race has been around for over 100 years so it’s really awesome to be able to have that spot. It’s an honour.”
Their victory is also significant because trans and non-binary people are so often excluded from sport entirely.
A cursory look at the news over the last couple of years will tell you all you need to know – numerous state legislatures in America have introduced and passed legislation that bans trans women from competing in sports, and cisgender commentators keep filling column inches with their outdated musings on the topic.
The same questions keep getting thrown around about fairness, but nobody seems interested in listening to trans and non-binary people.
Cal doesn’t have all the answers, but they would like to see more races at the very least adopting non-binary categories.
“I just feel like this is the perfect pocket for me to be able to do what I love and for other people to also be able to do that in an environment where we’re actually not policing each other’s gender, each other’s quantity of hormones – we just want to run in a category where we feel like we’re seen.”
They continue: “I feel like there’s so much space and potential for running to be the place where this conversation begins, and we can begin to understand that it’s not threatening at all to have all types of people doing sports together.”
I don’t think I’m in the wrong body, I just need to get more in touch with the body I am in.
Cal might have gotten Bay to Breakers to change their awards rules, but their work isn’t done yet. They’re now using their platform to get other major races all across the United States to introduce non-binary categories.
“Everyone so far has been really responsive. The Chicago Marathon already got back to me and said they’re adding the category and the San Francisco marathon too, they’re not calling it non-binary, they’re calling it something like ‘gender plus’ to make it even more inclusive. I think it’s just laying the groundwork – it’s showing, ‘Hey, look, you’re adding the category, nothing changes, no one is harmed, nothing is taken away from anyone.’ More people can then just enjoy the event and feel like they belong in the sport.”
They’re also keenly aware that there’s a long way to go in the conversation around gendered categories more broadly.
“I’m still thinking about where I’m at with that – I think it doesn’t need to be gender. That’s kind of the short answer,” Cal says. “With any competition I think it makes sense for people to be competing against someone who has a similar skill or ability as them, and gender is such an imperfect categorisation of those skills and abilities.
“You should be competing against people who are competition for you, whether that be someone of the same gender or not doesn’t matter at all. This is something that isn’t an essential way to define the way that we participate in sports.”
Running helps trans and non-binary people feel connected to their bodies
For now though, their fight is purely about getting races to introduce a non-binary category so their community is getting the recognition they deserve. That’s important because running is a lifeline for so many people. For trans and non-binary people, it has a special significance.
“Running is so amazing,” Cal says. “I love running because it’s a specific place where I feel like nothing else can really matter… I can’t bring much with me – I really am in this world of my own where it gives me time and space to think about whatever I need to think about, to process whatever I might be feeling, and to release any energy that might be pent up – especially when you start getting into longer mileage and the endorphins are just pumping.”
Running also has a special significance for many trans and non-binary people, Cal says.
“It really helps me appreciate my body. Especially around transness or any gender transition, there’s such a stigma that trans and non-binary people don’t like or don’t love or don’t care about their bodies. But it’s a way for me to say, ‘Actually, this is something that my body has been doing since I was a kid – running around.’
“I’ve loved running for a really long time and it’s something that I really appreciate about my body – that it’ll run. It’s powerful, it makes me feel strong, and it makes me feel really grateful that I have the ability to run. It’s a way for me to reconnect with my body in that way. It allows me to say, ‘I don’t think I’m in the wrong body, I just need to get more in touch with the body I am in.'”
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It’s because of that deep passion Cal feels for running that they’re determined to take their fight worldwide – they want other trans and non-binary people to feel able to run competitively and to enjoy it in the way they do.
“The existence of people that are beyond the binary gender can become so politicised, but what’s the purpose of running events to begin with? If the purpose is to host an event where people run and enjoy themselves and can achieve their goals and they can feel excited by sport, don’t you want more people to have that opportunity?
“We need to recenter on what’s the why of even having the race, and typically it’s to celebrate the joy and the hard work that goes into running and sport in general. If that’s the case, why not cast a wider net and make sure more people can participate and feel that joy?”
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