Nonbinary Runners Exist, and This Activist Is Creating Space For Them

Ariel Robbins

Cal Calamia is a runner – a great runner. In 2022, they placed first in the nonbinary division of Bay to Breakers in San Francisco and the San Francisco Marathon. Later that same year, Calamia placed second in the nonbinary division at the Chicago Marathon.

But Calamia doesn’t just accumulate finisher medals. They’re also a tireless advocate for trans and nonbinary runners. His work – as an activist and also an adviser – played a critical role in these races even having nonbinary divisions. Calamia has also founded the Non-Binary+ Run Club, a San Francisco-based run club for trans and nonbinary runners that aims to bring the supportive community of team sports to a group of people who are often discouraged from participating.

Here, Calamia talks about how he stays motivated in their activist work, why it’s so important to push for trans and nonbinary inclusion in running races and other sports, and what it feels like to win a marathon.

POPSUGAR: Can you share your journey into running? How did you first get into it, and how did your participation in the sport continue and evolve throughout your life?

Cal Calamia: I began running in middle school. Some older students were recruiting people for the cross-country team, and I joined with a friend. It was my first introduction to running as a sport, and it was an amazing fit for me. I absolutely loved it and was super excited when I started lapping people in sixth grade or so. I loved the feeling of being able to move freely and have my mind set on only that one activity.

I continued to run in high school and college, but I ended up taking a break toward the end of college and leaving the team due to some personal circumstances and a desire to understand myself better. It was a little bit of a struggle participating in the women’s division for a number of reasons, one of them being that I was going through my own questions about my own identity.

After college, I moved to San Francisco. And once I arrived in the city, I was struck by the amount of genderqueer and trans folks that I met. It helped me understand that I needed to transition in order to feel like my best self. And as I started to transition, I found my way back to running. That was really healing for me, because I felt like I could be in a relationship with the sport and in relationship with myself in ways that felt a lot more comfortable and a lot more exciting to me. My journey ignited a serious passion for making running more accessible and inclusive for other gender-expansive folks, and in many ways, my life took off from there.

PS: Tell us how you got the idea to start the Non-Binary+ Run Club (NBRC) and what that experience has been like.

CC: I had been doing so much personal and individual work in the space of running inclusivity. I would compete in these races and perform in a way that I was excited about and place in a way that I was excited about and then be like, “Wait, something is still missing from all of this.” And it was the ability to connect with people like me who are also in the sphere of this sport.

So I started NBRC in October of 2022. I was so nervous because I was just not sure how many people such a niche run club would draw. And I was so pleasantly surprised by the numbers of people who started showing up.

It’s such a good indication of just how desperate many of us feel to have that team identity. There are not really trans and nonbinary teams that exist in the world for the most part . . . yet.

There are so many unique stories in our run crew – we have people who have been running forever and are just starting to question their gender, and we have people who are trans and aren’t really runners but want to be around other trans people in a way that doesn’t center nightlife. It’s a very open, supportive community.

One of my favorite things that has come out of the club is seeing really authentic, beautiful friendships blossom that are grounded in running. It’s been a very heartwarming project for me, and it’s really helped me stay grounded and stay centered in the inclusivity work that I’m doing, because I know who I’m doing it for.

“To now be able to cross a finish line really as myself without carrying any shame about who I am . . . it’s just the most indescribable feeling of pride and joy and almost relief.”

Sometimes I hear this idea that there aren’t enough [nonbinary people] to require a separate division in races. So to be able to look at our run crew and just be so proud of everyone, it’s a lifeline for me, and it gives momentum to my inclusivity activism work.

For example, a few years ago, I was in a back-and-forth with the Bay to Breakers organizers about recognizing nonbinary runners, and I remember feeling so alone in that work. And last year, we had a whole crew show up to run Bay to Breakers, which was so amazing. Having that representation in numbers is really powerful and gives meaning to the work of expanding nonbinary divisions and equitable access to sports for trans folks.

PS: Why is it important to have a nonbinary division in races, and in other sports as well?

CC: Sports are so unnecessarily gendered, especially when you’re looking at something like running, where we all just hop on the start line and go run our race, right? The nonbinary division is so essential because it acknowledges that men and women are not the only people that exist in the world, and it gives people like me the opportunity to select something that’s true [when registering for a race]. I cannot tell you the amount of times that I was staring down a web page with a male and female checkbox, genuinely wondering what I was supposed to do.

It’s imperative that athletic organizations, including races, acknowledge that nonbinary people do exist. That’s the first step to encouraging nonbinary people to be active. Then begins the work of empowering gender-expansive athletes to stand up against our exclusion from athletics.

PS: What does it feel like to place first in a nonbinary division at a major race?

CC: It’s unbelievable. As I mentioned earlier, I struggled with my relationship with running prior to uncovering my relationship with gender. When I was in college, I didn’t really envision a better future for myself as a runner. I felt like my relationship with running had shifted into a negative place, and that was really challenging.

So to now be able to cross a finish line really as myself without carrying any shame about who I am, and to be able to do so in a division that fully acknowledges me, and then to be the first person to cross the finish line in that division – it’s just the most indescribable feeling of pride and joy and almost relief.

In those moments, I feel so much hope that there will be many trans people after me that will be able to revel in their accomplishments and be celebrated for their excellence.

I’m kind of notorious for putting my hands up at the end of a race. It feels like that last step across the finish line is a message to everyone, including myself, that trans people are here; that we’re going to continue to be here; that we belong in all the spaces that we want be in; and that we will succeed, despite the adversity of trying to prove that we belong. We do belong.

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