By Larry Carroll
The world’s oldest 100-mile trail race is touting a rule change that embraces the inclusion and equal rights beliefs of modern society — and transgender athletes are celebrating.
At the beginning of February, the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run issued a Transgender Entrant Policy, with the stated intent “to establish rules to encourage and facilitate the participation of transgender runners at WSER with the goal of ensuring fair and inclusive practices that respect the personal rights and dignity of transgender entrants while preserving the integrity of competition for awards and records based on sex.” Posted on the event’s official Facebook page, it was easy to quickly see the passion with which the message was received.
“So excited to see the sport I love taking steps to be a more inclusive community,” posted one responder. “I will welcome others with open arms, and every single person out there on the trails grinding out miles should be encouraged to compete.”
However, not everyone in the racing community has responded favorably — and as of this writing, the post’s 141 comments are littered with plenty of back-and-forth. One of those commenters is transgender athlete Bo Aucoin, who is now speaking out further on the issue in a powerful new interview.
“I know I’m a guy; I don’t know that I’ve ever known something so deeply. It’s terrifyingly liberating and painfully beautiful,” the 37-year-old Aucoin, who was born with female genitalia, tells ATRA . “Before transition I was quite competitive both as a distance runner and as a triathlete. I was never a pro or an elite, but I held my own as an age-grouper. Athletics helped ease some of the dysphoria I felt over my body.”
Regardless of their stance on other issues regarding transgender persons, some athletes and organizers have historically struggled with the issue of how to categorize them in races traditionally divided into “men’s” and “women’s” categories. Policies have increasingly focused on certain medical benchmarks that an athlete must reach in their transition before officially being allowed to compete as a certain gender, and the WSER statement seems to further that attempt at definition.
“A male-to-female transgender entrant can register to compete as a female provided the runner has been undergoing continuous, medically supervised hormone treatment for gender transition for at least one year prior to the race,” the policy states. “A female-to-male transgender entrant can register to compete as a male with no restrictions. The only exception is female-to-male transgender runners can no longer register to compete as a female if they have begun hormone treatment related to their gender transition that includes testosterone or any other banned substance.”
The statement goes on to say that although a runner’s self-declared gender at registration will be taken at face value, a challenge can be made if a top 10 finish or age group award is at stake. That challenge may then require the athlete to provide documentation detailing their gender transition status. But as one Facebook commenter put it plainly: “Kudos for starting this conversation. I’m sure there’s no perfect policy and you may find ways to improve it, but thinking about it, writing about it, being a leader on it and such is a net good.”
Aucoin agrees, and is appreciative of the opportunity to participate in a race that has been a lifelong goal: “Being on testosterone, I find it nearly impossible to cry. That news, when it came across my Facebook feed, however, very nearly did the trick … the policy simply takes away a major obstacle that was once there (and in many situations is still there) for transgender individuals — an obstacle that was never there and will never be there for the cisgender population. From my perspective, the policy is not about making exclusive accommodations. It’s about granting inclusive accessibility.”
Ultimately, what the issue seems to boil down to is something that Aucoin states very succinctly: Transgender is not a choice, but tolerance is.
“I’ve said it numerous times to myself and to others, but I’ll say it again: If I could snap my fingers and be comfortable as a cisgender woman, I would do it in a heartbeat,” the athlete explains. “That would be a much easier, and quite frankly, a much ‘better’ life. Transitioning isn’t fun. It’s really freakin’ hard.”
“And I know hard,” Aucoin adds. “I’m an ultra-marathoner.”