A “Nonbinary” Category for Marathon Races? Inclusive, Cringeworthy, or of Little Consequence?
Organizers of the Boston Marathon have announced that in addition to the traditional male and female categories, upcoming races will include a “nonbinary” category starting with the 2023 race. Being a major race that attracts a lot of attention, cue the ridicule and backlash from Conservatives in the media and the “You are just hateful bigots” response from the Left. Unlike other competitive sports where there are more serious consequences and concerns about safety and fairness when mixing sex/genders beyond biological distinction, this additional category is really trivial given the individual nature of the race where everyone runs side by side already. However, if any ideological groups should really lighten up about it, it is not the Conservatives. All things considered it is the standard male-female format that is really “no big deal.” People that push back against it as part of the “culture wars” certainly are not without any concern at all, as it is likely not a satisfactory solution for those with gender dysphoria that insist on being included in the gender results opposite of their biological sex/gender. It may just be another step towards normalization of this type of behavior and expectation.
For a truly bigoted person, running a marathon would be pure torture (beyond the physical strain). Imagine someone who holds feelings of superiority over others based on physical characteristics mixed into a diverse crowd, being passed over and over by people of different sexes, ages, races, religions, and physical abilities. Except for perhaps the elite runners that start before everyone else, this describes the experience for most runners in these races. It would be kind of hard to justify superiority to oneself when being passed up and outperformed by the very people to which one is supposedly superior. Runners probably are not opposed to such a category as a matter of bigotry or hatred in any way. The general populace shouldn’t be either.
In this regard, mixed races like marathons are a great melting pot of athletics. Everyone is together, yet results are still often recorded based on certain physical criteria as well as the overall results. This serves the legitimate purpose of determining excellence based on relevant known differences in physical ability that can be applied to all in those categories. Specifically, breakdowns by age group and sex are the most relevant.
Other races have already instituted a “nonbinary” category. The Brooklyn Marathon/Half Marathon held in April 2022 provides an example of what will probably be a typical result. There were less competitors in the category and in general biological males will probably outperform biological females. This would be of little consequence if it were not for the monetary awards that were provided to the winners of this category based on every age group. A biological male that is not fast enough to win in the male category may be able to win and be compensated in the nonbinary category. A biological female that may win this category may also come up short among the general female crowd, or they may have been able to win this category outright. Either way, the race is compensating more people based on a subjectively defined distinction. This may be considered a slight injustice at worst (will race fees need to be raised to compensate more people?), inconsequential placating at best (“winning” a category not really taken seriously because they otherwise would have lost). The bottom line may just be that this category is really not needed, as everyone is still able to compete in the category of their biological sex and stand a chance of winning or losing like everyone else. There is no real claim of discrimination to be made, nor is there a cause for concern based on the fact competitors are asked to check the box of their sex, as this can be determined objectively and matters to the integrity of the race.
With more and more races indicating they will include this category, time will tell how it impacts sports and the politics of gender overall. Will the category ever be taken seriously, as even supporters must admit the “winners” did not really win anything of consequence unless their times were better than their true biological competitors? Will people see it as a good compromise option for people that do not wish to select an either/or sex/gender option? Will it result in demands for even more categories? These are interesting questions related to the bigger “culture war” topic, but I think in this case, perhaps for once, everyone should just relax and enjoy the race.