As a transgender runner, I spend a lot of time talking and writing about how running is different now versus before I transitioned. Mostly, I focus on the performance aspect — I’m much slower now. What I should be talking about is harassment and safety.
In reality, I have no idea what it’s like to be a man — I never actually was one — but I do know a lot about what it’s like to be seen and treated as one. I know the things I didn’t used to have to worry about while running.
Before, when I wanted to run, I ran. I didn’t put any thought into the presence of daylight. Would it still be light at the end of my run? Didn’t matter. Will there be people around? Didn’t matter. I didn’t plan my running route around what roads were the safest. I ran at night, in the dark, a lot. I loved it.
I didn’t worry about any of these things because I didn’t have to. My running was uneventful. No one bothered me. No one talked to me. Nothing ever happened.
These days, I don’t get to be so reckless. I need to put my safety first. My runs need to be planned. Gone are days where my calendar simply says “8 miles” on Wednesday. Now, it’s “8 miles” at 6:30am on Wednesday when I know the sun will be up. If a run doesn’t happen during daylight hours, it doesn’t get to happen at all. Runs have become real calendar events instead of things I squeeze in wherever I have time.
No longer do I get to head out for my beloved night runs. At least not without a running partner. A male running partner, to be more specific. The darkness is dangerous. The darkness is where potential attackers are.
That’s the sad part. My mindset has shifted from not paying mind to other people to having to keep active tabs on every man within sight. Few men are actually a threat, but I don’t know which ones are and which ones aren’t. I’m forced to treat each one as though they see me as a potential target. I keep a running escape plan in my head in case someone attacks me.
It’s not just physical attacks I fear, but mental and emotional ones as well. Catcalling is never a compliment. I never want or enjoy this. Catcalling doesn’t validate my identity as a woman. Catcalling doesn’t make me feel beautiful. How do I know which comments are harmless and which are a really a warning sign? I don’t.
Having men — and it’s always men — yell and whistle and honk at me as they drive by or as I run by them as they sit on benches in the park, overtly eyeing each passing female runner up and down, serves as a reminder that, to them, women are there for their enjoyment, their pleasure. We are not human, we are their single-use gratification to be disposed of afterwards. I don’t know how to think like a man, but I do know the things men say when women aren’t around. If I didn’t, maybe I wouldn’t be so scared.
I remember the first time the weather started to warm up after I had transitioned. I packed my tights and warm layers away along with any bit of piece of mind I had from the winter. With the shorts and tank tops came the stares, whistles, honks, and comments. One time, my wife and I were out for a run together in our old neighborhood, one of the safest places I’ve ever lived. About a mile in, a car slowly crept up from behind us. As he gotnext to us, he slowed down even more to keep pace with us. For a good twenty seconds, the man behind the wheel of this car drove next to us while staring us both up and down. I didn’t make eye contact. I felt used and devalued.
Slowly, my normal running route began to change. There were houses I no longer felt safe running by. Teenage boys playing basketball in a driveway became a deterrent. Sure, these boys probably wouldn’t hurt me, but they almost always made comments. One even took it upon himself to start running alongside me for a couple hundred feet. I was terrified.
I also learned to fear people coming up from behind me. Before I transitioned, I was quick, I ran sub-7:00 miles on training runs. Few people passed me. These days my pace is anywhere from 8:30 to 9:30. I get passed often. I don’t wear headphones when I run so I’m able to hear people come up from behind me. Each time, my heart skips a beat. “Is this another runner or is this someone who wants to hurt me?” I don’t know until they pass me.
Going out for a run used to mean going out to work hard, get fresh air, feel good, clear my mind and burn off that extra serving of fries from dinner last night. Now it means fear of physical, mental and emotional abuse. Even when nothing happens, the fear itself is my abuser.
As a transgender woman and activist, I fight for people to understand that I’m just like any other woman. In reality, I’m not. I’m different. Not in how much of a woman I am, but because I actually know what it’s like to just run and to do so without fear.
Amelia is a transgender athlete who started running seven years ago to get in shape and lose weight. She’s since become obsessed with the marathon and chasing her spot at the Boston Marathon. When not running, you can usually find Amelia at her day job as a software engineer at Tumblr in NYC, snowboarding, or at home in Jersey City under a pile of cats. Follow Amelia at her blog or on Twitter.