Boston Qualified: Transgender Women

Three trans women allowed to run The Boston Marathon by qualifying under the female standards for the first time in the race's 122 year history

Clarification: There certainly have been Transgender women run Boston in the past. The group of trans women mentioned in this article are the first known to have openly qualified as females and accepted into Boston under the female qualification standards. Past policy required gender reassignment surgery in order for a trans woman to qualify and run Boston as a female.

Boston Bound

In April of 2017, Stevie Romer ran a Boston Qualifying time at The Spring Chance BQ.2 Marathon. Her time of 3:57:11 was just under the Boston qualifying standard of 4:00:00 for a 52 year old female. Due to the high demand of Boston, not everyone that meets the qualifying standard for Boston is guaranteed an entry. Her time would be right on the edge of acceptance. Stevie decided to try to qualify again in September at the 2017 Marquette Marathon. She ran 3:41:19. Her time was good enough to guarantee her entry into The 2018 Boston Marathon.

Stevie is one of three known trans women to qualify and enter The 2018 Boston Marathon. Former Women’s Running cover contest winner Amelia Gapin and Erin Taylor are the others. It is believed that they are the first trans women openly allowed to qualify and run Boston under a female designation.

I will write about the possible objections that some may have regarding a transgender runner qualifying for Boston using the female standard. For me, this is not a black and white issue. When someone first approached me with the hypothetical question “Should a male runner that identifies as a female be able to qualify for Boston as a female?” My initial thought was “No, they need to qualify as a male. They are taking away a spot from someone more deserving.” But, really it isn’t that simple. In dealing with fair and unfair, and right or wrong, there isn’t always an easy answer.

Run In a Dress

In 2014, Steven Romer drove 6 hours for a 5k to benefit MS. As she recalls, she finished “second or third”. Those aren’t the details that Stevie now remembers. She ran ‘Run In a Dress for MS”. She remembers being able to publicly wear a dress without fear of not being accepted. She remembers the details of the dress and how it felt to wear it and run in it.

Steven returned to the same race in 2015 and was the overall winner. Stevie now describes that trophy as “my favorite running trophy of all time”.

They put a blue sparkly barbie dress on the gold male runner on the trophy, and it matched the blue dress I actually wore in the race! To hear people cheering for me crossing the finish line wearing the frilly, puff-sleeve princess / Alice in Wonderland dress I had only dreamed of wearing my whole life was absolutely unreal. I sort of count that as my first “coming out” because of the cheering and feeling of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 2nd Run With a Dress race was in May of 2015. Other than these races, the first time Stevie went out in public as a female was about a year and a half ago. She came out at work about a year ago. Stevie refers to ‘Run With a Dress’ as systematic desensitization. It was a way to conquer his fear of going out in public as a woman.

Backlash

Everyone has not been accepting. Stevie ran a local 5k run for Breast Cancer. Initially she was not going to run. When she posted on Facebook that she was not going to run in order to avoid controversy. The race director insisted she sign up. She wanted this to be her local “coming out”. When Stevie arrived, her friends avoided her, would not talk to her or make eye contact.

…my friends did not talk to me, people were trying not to look at me and it was really bad…I never expected to get first overall, and never thought about it because I was supposed to run with my friends. Anyway, one of my past running friends DID come up – to yell at me, not talk, because she was in second place. She did not even say HI – just waved at my genital region and asked if I was a “complete woman”

According to Stevie, she offered to give up the award, but the 2nd place woman wouldn’t hear it.

Stevie shared much more of her background. I cannot reasonably post everything she shared within this article, but I felt it was important that I allow her to tell her story unedited. If you would like to read more about her background, I have posted her unedited response below.

Stevie Romer Backround

Qualifying for Boston as a Transgender Runner

While researching this story, I came across an article in Women’s running regarding transgender runners. The article included a profile of Amelia Gapin. In the story, Amelia revealed that she chose to undergo gender reassignment surgery.

my big goal is to qualify for the Boston Marathon, and I can’t qualify for it as a woman without having surgery,” she says. I knew the recovery process would be tough, and knowing that I wouldn’t be able to run for some months was holding me back—but it was also starting to increasingly feel as though not having surgery was holding me back from running, so I finally decided to do it.

According to The Women’s Running article the USATF required transgender athletes to be on hormone replacement therapy for 2 years and to have had gender reassignment surgery in order to compete as their identified gender.

Today, the policy seems to have evolved..at least where prize money or age group awards are not at stake.

Excerpts from The USATF policy:

In the spirit of popular engagement, USATF encourages race directors and competitors to accept the entries at face value in instances where awards and/or prize money are not at stake.

The policy outlines the process that should be followed if someone feels that a competitor’s entry information was inaccurate and resulted in an award.

I asked Amelia about her thoughts regarding the rule change. And she was clear and to the point:

I think requiring someone to have a very major and invasive surgery for any sort of access to a gender segregated space/group/category is antiquated, cruel, and unnecessarily exclusionary. I had it easier than those before me and I hope those after have it easier than I did.

There is no official policy by the BAA (or at least it’s not published). But they are aware of Stevie’s entry and are “allowing her to run.

A Potential For Controversy

I asked Stevie about her thoughts on registering for Boston as a female, and potentially bumping someone out of Boston.

“Running my Boston qualifier as female – yes of course I did, because I am female…I honestly thought people would not care if I qualified as female because I live full time as female and they know how much it means to transgender people. I am so used to the good feelings of running for charity and helping unfortunate others while running that maybe I am out of touch a bit? But that’s really what I think. As for “bumping” someone, I don’t really think that’s an issue, and it never crossed my mind at all until you brought it up.”

I found this response very honest, and revealing. In Stevie’s thought process, she is a female, so why would anything else matter?

Some will argue that Stevie has an advantage over other female runners simply due to genetics.

On a recent episode of ‘Ten Junk Miles’ podcast, transgender ultra runner Bobbi Nicole-Cote gave her thoughts. She chose not to register for a race as female until she had “0 percent testosterone”. For her that was a year after beginning hormone replacement. During the podcast she acknowledged the physiological advantage a male athlete has over their female counterparts.

My Thoughts

I feel my opinion means very little in this matter. But I have been asked on more than one occasion what have been mostly hypothetical questions regarding this.

I believe that the BAA is making the correct decision in allowing Stevie, Amelia and Erin to run, having qualified under the female standard.  Is it fair to the runners that may have been bumped? No. But it is really the only decision that could be made. There is no ‘fair’ solution to everyone. While maybe not fair to those that were bumped, I do think the decision is ‘right’.  I do believe they should check IDs to verify age and identity. But anything beyond that would be invasive and potentially discriminatory. Checking IDs should be done for all participants when they pick up their bibs and basic checks should be part of that. This should catch anyone trying to cheat the system by registering as a female for the sole reason of gaming the system by qualifying under the slower standard. I don’t know for certain that this has happened, but I have seen results where runners were registered with incorrect age and gender information resulting in Boston Qualifying times. I do not know if in those specific instances if those registration inaccuracies were intentional or honest mistakes.

 

Why Write This Article?

After the 2016 Boston Marathon, I received a half dozen tips regarding a runner that in the minds of many did not fit the appearance of a Boston Qualifying runner. The runner gained some weight since he ran his qualifier and all of these tipsters felt that there was no way that he could have earned the low bib # that he was wearing.

After learning about Stevie a few months ago, I couldn’t get that past situation out of my head. How many people would witness Stevie on the course, and think she does not belong? I wanted to do my part to make it known that these runners are a welcome part of The Boston Marathon. No matter anyone’s opinion on the subject, I hope everyone can respect that.

They are also breaking new ground as the first known Trans women to run in The Boston Marathon and I think these three athletes should be recognized.

Stevie left me with this paragraph.

Watching Shalane Flanagan on TV was my other big inspiration. Today, the only picture I have on my wall of a runner is Shalane Flanagan in the air leading a world-class field at the Boston Marathon. I am so excited to see her there it is unreal! I want to go to Boston to see her more than anything else – to run with her in the same race! Other than that picture of Shalane, I have a medal-rack with a quote from Steve Pre: “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift”!  And that is how I feel about life now, and I cannot give my best in life if I am not being me.

 

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2018 Boston Marathon
29 Comments on this post.
  • Charlene
    28 March 2018 at 10:57 am

    I applaud them for living an authentic life, but this is not how to go about it.

    By state laws (look it up), unless a Doctor has signed off as a sex change and a new birth certificate has been issued, the person is the gender the were born with. If the person feels they identify as another gender, that is their right and I encourage them to live that life, but LEGALLY they are not a women, therefore – they should not be allowed to run as a “woman”. If my brother chooses to run in a skirt and says on that day he “identifies as woman” and is allowed to race as a woman, that quite frankly is not fair to the female participants. This isn’t about rights, because racing is not a luxury not a job or public service. I can guarantee you that straight men will register as a woman and claim they identify as a woman, so they can run Boston or other major race.

    If they have gone through the legal transition and changed their birth certificate, then – they are a different gender than they were born with. I have NO issues with transgender, but fair is fair – they are not a woman, they are still legally a man. They should race under that gender until they have legally changed their gender. JMO

    • JustaTech
      28 March 2018 at 2:41 pm

      But what if a person can’t afford surgery? It is a very expensive surgery. Or what if they have some other medical condition that precludes surgery? Or live in a place where there are no doctors willing to perform the surgery? And what about folks from Oregon who can register their birth certificate and state ID as “non-binary”? Or any other state that doesn’t require surgery before allowing gender change on IDs?

      As to your point about cis (you said straight but I think you mean cis) men running as women to qualify, do we have any evidence of that? Is that a common form of cheating? What you’ve described is someone pretending to be a woman for one day, not living every single day as a woman.

      And where do you want to draw the line? What about women who are XXY? Or women who are X? Do we demand blood tests measuring testosterone?

      • Kelly
        2 April 2018 at 2:04 pm

        Ok then…… the IAAF needs to get rid of the rules for females to have world records now if I follow your logic. Anyone that is different from XY then gets thrown into the female category. Male domination prevails again. This is a slap in the face to women everywhere and we might as well get rid of Title IX while we are at it.
        This is a much more complicated issue and we shouldn’t be putting yet again more struggles for our XX athletes.

    • Tom
      5 April 2018 at 11:43 pm

      “but LEGALLY they are not a women, therefore – they should not be allowed to run as a “woman”. If my brother chooses to run in a skirt and says blah blah blah”

      That would be relevant if we were talking about the law. Luckily, races are free to use other standards. As for your brother, stop using straw man arguments. “OMG if fifteen hundred men wear dresses to marathons no woman might get to run Boston!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

      Yes, and if super fast space aliens disguise themselves as humans for enough marathons, no humans might get to run. NEITHER is actually going to happen, so come back to reality and abandon the scare tactics.

      As soon as you are a race director, you can enforce genital inspections as packet pickup all you want. But the folks at Boston don’t have to follow ‘state laws’ (which states? All of them? They have different laws sometimes, have you looked them all up? They still aren’t relevant.)

  • Tom
    28 March 2018 at 11:14 am

    Of all the things that bum me out about missing out on this year’s Boston Marathon by 19 seconds, this is not one of them.

    If she’s living her life as a woman, I don’t even personally care whether she’s on HRT or not, and certainly not whether she’s had sex reassignment surgery. Because basically the odds that a man would live his life as a woman just to be able to qualify for Boston or win races is essentially zero.

    Now, people like the woman who serially cheats at Disney to get into Boston? That pisses me off.

  • ShowMetheMoney
    28 March 2018 at 1:00 pm

    This has NOTHING to do with cheating to qualify for Boston! Why is this even being written? Oh Mr.Holier than thou thinks his opinion matters about every and any topic related to running!

    • derek murphy
      28 March 2018 at 1:21 pm

      I really thought the section Titled Why Write this article answered that question

      • Scott William
        29 March 2018 at 8:08 am

        There are some remarkably impatient people out there. They do not actually fully read articles. They see a headline, get immediately upset, and dash off an angry comment in moments. These people are best ignored.

        Sloppy spelling and grammatical errors are a common sign of this behavior. The commenter gets so worked up that they rage-type faster and less carefully than they might have in their better, calmer, moments.

        If, as this person did, users come at you with offensive attacks on your character, especially if it’s clear they didn’t bother to take the time to even read your words, then they deserve to be shunned. I truly recommend just not bothering to offering your pearls of wisdom to this kind of swine (Matt 7:6).

  • PT
    28 March 2018 at 1:30 pm

    My opinion is that we should all be free to be whatever we want.

    Freedom of choice is wonderful.

    The story sounds great for Stevie, Amelia and Bobby.

    But.. based only on what this article says, those 3 people may have 3 wildly varying amounts of advantage over a person who has no Y chromosomes.

    I’m not saying that all DO, just that some of them very much MAY have a large advantage over other women.

    And then I think, ok great for those 3 women. But the US has 330 million people or so, I think. The world has 7 billion?

    What if there were another 14,000 Boston entrants who did the same thing next year, or in 5 years?

    What do you do then? Because you are going to bump out a ton of women in that scenario.

    If we’re getting specific to these 3 people, all of which I wish the best, 2 of them seem to have given away much more of their likely birth advantage than the 3rd person has.

    Sorry for long rant, but my final thought is Boston should open up slots for a transgender group. This is probably very unfair to some women.

    • Scott William
      29 March 2018 at 9:12 am

      Blanket statements are often not appropriate. What if being “free to be whatever we want” is to be a violent athlete, who punches, grabs, or kicks their opponents when the referees/course officials are not looking? Or lets say an athlete who looks upon the other athletes as sexual targets, regardless of age appropriateness, authority level, or the willingness of the other person?

      The rights and “freedom of choice” of the OTHER people must be considered, not merely our own. Freedom to not be assaulted, or harassed, in my examples. In the case of this story, Mr. Murphy makes a decent case that these competing freedoms for Boston Marathon athletes of different gender status CAN be balanced, once we have a good understanding of the situation.

      Leading off with some vague snap statements, then putting together a “straw man” argument about “14,000” transgender entrants, isn’t helping. I am guessing that a new and separate transgender category would feel highly insulting to those who were to be thrown into it.

  • Matthew Wilcox
    28 March 2018 at 2:17 pm

    This is such a complex issue. Putting gender issues to one side, even sexual identity is complex (androgen insensitivity, XXY, and many other conditions). The number of people this truly affects is so low, we should applaud the “take them at their word” standard applied by USATF.

    I missed out on Boston this year by 30ish seconds and I don’t feel robbed by Stevie or anyone else. I feel robbed by how freaking hot it was last Boston and by the timing of the Minneapolis marathon 😉 Next year!

  • Femme
    28 March 2018 at 4:23 pm

    Of course the male commenters don’t feel slighted by transgenders; when has a transgender male ever defeated natural-born men? Gender is biologic, and it is more complex than simply hormones. When GDR female athletes were fed testosterone, they dominated the women’s group, but they simply did not rival the men’s performances. The male skeletal structure also offers an advantage (narrow hips, broad shoulders, longer legs) over female skeletons. Anthropologists have little trouble identifying a female skeleton from a male skeleton, furher prooft of an actual, measurable difference. Two years of hormone therapy or reassignment surgery is not the same as decades of being a woman and going through puberty as a woman. I feel it is scientifically dishonest to pretend that there is no distinction between men and women, or transgender anything and untransgender anything. Having said that, races can allow whoever they want, but I feel a separate category would be more appropriate than this arrangement.

    • derek murphy
      28 March 2018 at 4:28 pm

      To be fair, these runners could just as easily bump a male runner from participating in Boston. The acceptances are based on the e runner’s time differential vs their qualifying standard without regards to gender.

      • Annick
        29 March 2018 at 12:48 pm

        Could, yes. But, not in Stevie’s case.

    • Ellie
      2 April 2018 at 11:17 am

      There are differences between the AVERAGE female and the AVERAGE male. Some women have naturally high levels of testosterone, some women are intersex, there are many circumstances that are “grey”. When women say they are women, let them be. Stevie is NOT bumping anyone, she had a faster time.

      There are many easier ways to qualify for Boston than pretending to be transgender.

      Derek, I thought the article was well done for your beliefs being in the grey area. While not perfect (I spotted at least one misgendering) you brought to attention an important subject, one way you filter cheaters is a quick glance between gender and photos, this shows there can be discrepancies in the process that people should be aware of. Ultimately the race is allowing these women to run (yay!), so readers should be respectful of these runners and not badger Derek when he ignores their flags to their qualification status.

  • PT
    28 March 2018 at 6:30 pm

    I’m not sure how standard males could be just as easily bumped on average in the same way that standard females could be, by transgender folks.

    Do you mean, female to male transgender entrants could have an advantage over standard males due to additional testosterone injections, etc.? I don’t know the actual details of the transition.

    I thought the far greater risk here was to standard females being bumped by transgender folks who were originally males but now identify as females, and who may or may NOT have given up some or any of their inborn physical advantage?

    Because, as is NOT debatable, standard males have a fairly large advantage over standard females, at least through the marathon distance.

    They really ought to have 2 more categories, male to female, and female to male, and they should be proportional to population %, which I do not know exactly. 1%? Less?

    Problem solved.

    But folks who used to be male but now identify as females competing for spots with standard females is basically… Unfair, on average… To the standard females.

    If this is accurate, I’m very surprised Boston is cool with this, to be honest, and it definitely changes how I feel about the race and it’s standards. They don’t seem quite as important to me anymore…

  • David
    28 March 2018 at 6:38 pm

    As I understand it, men who reassign to female actually lose a lot of the strength that being male gives them because of the various drugs and hormones they take as part of the transition, even before they actually have any surgery. So the chances of a male to female transgender athlete being able to achieve a male qualifying time as a female are pretty low.

  • PT
    28 March 2018 at 10:38 pm

    It is not correct that a transgender runner could just as easily bump a man, in almost all cases they will be bumping women.

    This arrangement is unfair to women, and I’m kind of shocked that Boston is allowing this. Very arbitrary, and it cheapens their qualifying standards in my eyes. The reason I liked their standards is because I believed them to be fair. This is not fair.

    The only fair arrangement would be 2 new categories, in the approx. % they exist in the population:
    male –> female
    female –> male

    The bib has no mention of gender, etc., just a number.

    • derek murphy
      3 April 2018 at 7:52 pm

      Yes, that is a correct statement. THey wouldn’t bump someone by time but by their time below their standard. A male or a female could just as easily be the one sitting there 1 second off of the cutoff.

  • Greg M
    29 March 2018 at 11:20 am

    Thank you for writing such a balanced, respectful, honest, and objective article on such a controversial topic, Derek.

  • S. Romer
    29 March 2018 at 2:34 pm

    Stevie is my sibling. I spent a lifetime not knowing about any of this. How can that be? We grew up together!

    Maybe if our culture wasn’t so concerned with placing labels on people, based on body parts most don’t even see, we’d all be better off. Maybe clinging to that archaic system of labels isn’t worth a single moment of a lifetime thrown away & hidden down a dark hole, because of its inherent, ubiquitous bias most unfortunately perceive as “normal.”

    We need new ways to refer to PEOPLE without the old labels. Or maybe new words. In some cases we’ve already started: actor & actress is now simply actor.

    Is this about Stevie or an inflexible system? MI is showing us there is room for everyone. Thinking caps on, people!

    • UK
      5 April 2018 at 3:23 pm

      ❤️ Stevie is my friend. And I applaud her for her courage to share her and live an authentic life. A little more important than running a Boston qualifier.

    • UK
      5 April 2018 at 3:24 pm

      ❤️ Stevie is my friend. And I applaud her for her courage to share her story and live an authentic life. A little more important than running a Boston qualifier.

  • Urban B
    31 March 2018 at 4:46 pm

    As the saying goes, our rights extend to the bridge of our neighbor’s nose. While pursuing your own goals in life is great, whatever they are, your right to do so ends when it interferes with another. To me, if it came down to one last spot in the Boston marathon between a woman with XX chromosomes, and a person identifying as a woman with XY chromosomes (with only the female qualifying time and perhaps decades of male biochemical, muscle, and bone development), there is no choice at all. Therefore, the same would go for the second spot, and then the third. A sane world does not yield to our desires at the expense of others.

  • patty
    2 April 2018 at 5:36 pm

    The women’s qualifying time compared to the men’s are a joke. 30 minutes buffer? A bunch of women can easily run tremendously faster than men. It should be more around the 10-15 minutes buffer, not 30 minutes. Are there any women that transgender into men and try to qualify at the men’s time? ha!

  • anonymous
    3 April 2018 at 10:59 am

    Many thanks for this article! Actually I was waiting for when this topic would come up here and how it would be perceived.
    I am “transgendered (MtF)” myself, train daily and run races regularly. Before participating in races I did my research because I think that running (or sports in general) has a lot to do with respecting other people’s efforts and achievements and I would not be happy about my own ones if I was in doubt of having an unfair advantage. This research included contacting the national track and field association for clarification. Their response was basically that there is no binding or even legal national policy but a recommendation to follow IOC and IAAF policy. I choose to stick to the IAAF policy that was in place at this time. This was more restrictive than the IOC policy at that time (or the later IAAF policy) and required to be post-op at least 2 years and having testosterone levels within usual female range. If I am not mistaken, IAAF later only required 2 years of hormone therapy (not requiring surgery anymore) but this policy was also revoked due to a court decision, so officially there is no real international policy in place now. This basically reduces the whole process to “acceptance by self identification” in most cases which I do not see as a good solution – and a far worse situation than with the policy based on testosterone levels. Personally, I think that this policy was actually a good one and currently cannot think of a better suggestion.
    Of course, I compare my results and training efforts (and amount of time spend for training) with other female athletes and do not think that I have an advantage now. Would this be different having male testosterone levels? Certainly! And to be honest: I would be offended too if someone wins an age group or even race in such a case. Especially, if running at a level on which it is likely to achieve good positions in races (or e.g. profit from race entries with qualification standards) at least recommendations for trans-athletes would be helpful. I’d also kindly like to ask trans-athletes (especially if not undergoing hormone therapy or surgery) to do some own research before participating in races.

    Also, many thanks to other people commenting here as the general perception seems to be supportive, reasonable and to clearly differentiate this topic from cheating.

  • Runner
    6 April 2018 at 2:13 pm

    Seems unfair that some women will be bumped by some with an advantage. Either open a new category as others have mentioned either that or all of a sudden you will see guys trying to qualify under the female standards just to run Boston.

    • Raddison
      7 April 2018 at 8:17 am

      I believe the argument that there will be hundreds or thousands of men trying to game the system by declaring they are female is invalid. As a child growing up in England the government introduced compulsory helmets for motor bike riders. However, Sikhs were given an exception on religious grounds. Immediately people cried that scofflaws would declare they were members of a religion that banned head covering and so would try to avoid tickets. It barely happened, a few may have tried but it never went anywhere and it soon became a non issue.

      I believe the same will happen here, the few that may try to game the system will quickly be exposed as jerks. The rest of us will continue to try to qualify based on our belief of our actual gender.

    • RH
      12 April 2018 at 4:25 pm

      Right here on this site, we’ve seen the bizarre lengths to which people will go in order to cheat their way into the Boston Marathon. If instead of cutting a course, using a bib mule, buying a bib, forging a bib, etc., the person can just have an extra 30 minutes to qualify and be hailed as an inspiration and a hero instead of worrying about being caught as a cheat, yes, it IS going to happen.

      The runner mentioned in the article who is not running in Boston tried for years to qualify as a male and failed. As a woman, suddenly she was winning her age group and qualifying, bragging (falsely) about how she was going to be the first openly trains woman to qualify. She did not qualify by enough time to gain entry this year and will not be running.

      There is nothing brave or useful or inspirational or fair about electing to submit your gender as the one that gets an extra 30 minutes that are meant to accommodate for biological disadvantages that do not exist in male-bodied people. If the runners were transMEN succeeding at qualifying by the men’s standard, hats off. This is the complete opposite situation however, and displaces people with female bodies. Just as we don’t want any qualified runner displaced by a cheat, every female runner displaced by a male-bodied runner counts and matters.

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