For software engineer and transgender woman Amelia Gapin, running has been a constant during a time of change.
“The great thing about running for me is it still feels the same,” she tells The Daily Beast. “It still feels great. The main difference is that I’m just slower. I can put in the same effort, but then when I look down at the time afterwards, it’s slower.”
The fact that Gapin’s times went up is to be expected. Even though some media outlets make a lot of noise about women like Gapin having an ostensible competitive advantage in athletics—as Fox News and others did this week after the Boston Athletic Association announced that transgender runners are formally welcome to compete in next Monday’s Boston Marathon—the process of male-to-female hormonal transition generally lowers testosterone levels to a normal female range, reducing performance accordingly.
That’s why the International Olympic Committee decided to allow transgender athletes to compete without undergoing sex reassignment surgery in 2016, why USA Track & Field follows the same guidelines, and why it’s no surprise that Boston Athletic Association chief Tom Grilk would tell the Associated Press this week with regards to the upcoming marathon, “We register people as they specify themselves to be.”
Gapin, a vocal transgender runner who was the cover model for the July 2016 issue of Women’s Running magazine, qualified to run in the Boston Marathon with her finish time at the 2016 Chicago Marathon and, although she was planning to compete in next week’s race anyway, she tells The Daily Beast that the BAA’s position is “affirming.”
“It makes you feel like you belong,” she says. “You get to be yourself and run this race—you don’t have to keep something quiet.”
Keeping it quiet is how transgender runners have generally handled competing in marathons.
In fact, the Boston Marathon’s position only became a public point of contention after the blog Marathon Investigation wrote about Gapin’s participation, opining that although it was “right” for her and other transgender women to compete, it was not “fair to the runners that may have been bumped.”
In reality, medical experts like those who consulted on the IOC’s guidelines for transgender athletes have examined the issue and determined the hormonal requirements that are necessary to maintain “fair competition” (PDF).
Gapin tells The Daily Beast that the Boston Marathon’s qualifying process has been “murky” for transgender runners in the past, and that it will still require her to present ID with the correct gender. The truth, she says, is that not much has changed with the BAA’s statement save for the added clarity.
Gapin says that this is more of a “statement of inclusion” than an actual policy change, adding that the idea that transgender runners are only now starting to compete in marathons is “obviously absurd.”
What is new, Gapin says, is the protection from mistreatment that a public statement like the BAA’s can provide at the race itself.
“If you go to pick up your bib, and you hand over your ID, and that specific person is bigoted and wants to give you a hard time, before there were no rules for them to not do that,” she tells The Daily Beast. “Now, at least, if they try to do that, there is a policy that says that they are wrong.”
But that certainly won’t stop some media outlets from giving transgender runners like Gapin a hard time.
Although the AP copy for the Boston Marathon story that ABC ran pointed out that “for trans women who… lower their testosterone levels, medical experts say there’s no evidence of an athletic advantage,” Fox News opted for a headline about the “possible advantages” that women like Gapin could supposedly have.
The Washington Times said that the BAA’s decision created a “fairness debate” and presented it as a two-sided matter, rather than an issue that has already been resolved by expert committees and athletics associations.
The Boston Herald quoted a biology professor who claimed that transgender women who “still have male gonads” will “have an advantage over other women” and called the inclusion of transgender runners a “dilemma.”
It is not, in fact, a dilemma. What’s good enough for the IOC should be good enough for the Boston Marathon—and neither organization’s position was established without a substantial degree of thought and study. Or, as Gapin puts it, “They didn’t change these rules because of our feelings; they changed them because research and data show that the old rules weren’t necessary.
“The rules are in line now with reality,” she notes.
But reality doesn’t always matter to those who are already inclined to hate transgender people. The comments sections on articles like those mentioned above are the usual morass of misinformation and transphobia—and Gapin does her best not to look at them.
“I try very hard not to get into back-and-forth arguments with people online,” she says. “Generally, you’re not going to change their mind.”
Sometimes, Gapin will politely introduce herself, post some of her recent race times, and even share her testosterone levels, which are actually below the normal cisgender female range, and then “get out.”
“Doing anything more is just exhausting and, a lot of times, a waste of time,” she adds.
Still, the comments worry Gapin because, as she tells The Daily Beast “[transgender] people see these articles, but then they also see the comments, and then they see that that’s the world they would be transitioning into.”
She jokes that, by being so open about being transgender, she wants to be a sort of “shit umbrella” for others who might currently be afraid to participate in athletics, taking some of the online punishment to make life a little “easier” for those who will literally follow in her footsteps. Because the truth is that, in Gapin’s experience, the running community has been “amazing.”
“Super positive and supportive,” is how Gapin described it. “Of course, not everybody is—and that’s to be expected because it’s the world we live in—but for the most part, it’s been, really, really great.”
In fact, as NPR reported earlier this week, the New York and Chicago Marathons also have transgender-inclusive policies, meaning that at least three out of the six World Marathon Majors have now welcomed transgender participation.
Indeed, try as they might to gin up controversy, right-wing outlets have picked the wrong kind of sporting event to target because a marathon is, for the vast majority of runners, more of a competition against yourself than it is a race against other people.
“If you’re not at the level where you’re competing to win prize money or place, it really does not matter [to people],” Gapin tells The Daily Beast. “I have heard of some issues that people have had but it seems to be few and far between.”
When Gapin runs in the marathon next Monday, she won’t be racing for a time, but to have fun. She hopes that by just being openly herself and having a good time, she can send a message to “other trans people who are maybe on the fence about transitioning [or] still trying to figure things out.”
“I hope they see me and the other people who are running—or any other trans person who is inspiring them—and they don’t look at the comments online.”