Running for the Future

Pushing for inclusion of nonbinary athletes in racing
by Winter Parts ’20
Many trans people, grow up knowing that their gender doesn’t match up with what they were assigned at birth, even if they don’t know exactly how to describe this feeling.

My experience was kind of the opposite.

I had no idea that I might be something other than cisgender until my junior year at Swarthmore. Even then, when I found out that I enjoyed painting my nails and wearing feminine clothing, I was still convinced for a while that I was a man. But by the spring of that year, I realized that these things, rather than just being fun, artistic activities, were outlets for expressing who I truly was.

Runner wearing pink and blue stands in front of an orange gate. They carry a reflective silver blanket.
courtesy of winter parts ’20
Winter Parts ’20 after winning the nonbinary category of the NYCRuns 2022 Brooklyn Half Marathon. Transgender athletes, like nonbinary runner Parts, face multiple barriers to competition. While many sports are imposing new bans on transgender athletes, the tide is turning toward positive change for nonbinary runners.
When I decided to come out after spring break, my track and field teammates were some of the first people I told, and in the beginning, not much changed for me in terms of running. Thankfully, track and field practices are less gender-segregated than many sports, so I didn’t feel out of place while training with my teammates. However, I started to feel uncomfortable in track races that semester, when I would line up at the start as the only nonbinary person in a group of men.
winter parts ’20
Over time, growing into my gender has changed my relationship with running and the running community more and more. Now, two years out from college, I am still thankful for my supportive teammates, but I don’t think I could go back to showering in a men’s locker room or racing in men’s races. It’s really difficult just to click the “M” button to sort myself into a category for mixed-gender road races that only have binary gender options.

Because of that difficulty, I have lately been putting a lot of effort into pushing for better inclusion of nonbinary runners in racing. This past winter, I resolved that any time I enter a race that only has binary gender options, I will contact the race director and ask them to consider expanding their gender categories to allow people to register as nonbinary, or without selecting a gender at all. I have also been excited to get in touch with some race directors and the queer running organization Front Runners, who are helping to push for better nonbinary inclusion in races across the country. It is thrilling to see the progress that is happening, with many major races starting to include nonbinary options, and I am eager to use this momentum to additionally push for better recognition of intersex runners, who are often overlooked in these discussions.

“Now is the time to fight for trans rights.”
At the same time, it is terrifying to see people and organizations waging war on transgender athletes around the world. Backed only by transphobic beliefs, politicians and organizations like International Swimming Federation are cruelly banning trans athletes from competing as themselves. These inhumane policies are a driving force in my motivation to work as an activist, and they make it clear that now is the time to fight for trans rights.
An astrophysics major at Swarthmore, Winter Parts ’20, who uses the pronoun they, now lives in State College, Pa., where they are an astronomy Ph.D. candidate at The Pennsylvania State University.