After more than 50 years of races, the New York City Marathon added a nonbinary gender category in 2021. LX News Editor and Producer Mackenzie Behm sat down with Zackary Harris, the inaugural winner of the category.
The NYC Marathon is the largest race in the U.S., in both spectators and participants. Nonbinary athletes, such as Harris, believe creating a nonbinary category is a step forward for what gender inclusivity could look like in mainstream sporting events.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Mackenzie Behm: What did it feel like to be able to race as nonbinary?
Zackary Harris: I don't think I realized how frustrating it was until the first time where I could finally sign up as nonbinary. I was very much overcome with, “Oh, wow. I've been, like, kind of swallowing this, like, moment in something that I consider to be a very big part of my life.” Running is one of the most important things that I do on a daily basis.
Behm: Why is identity important?
Harris: We are often trying to find people who are like us. Identity, I think, is essential to our overall existence as human beings, because we need to know who we are, but we also need to know who we can be with and who is going to accept us and appreciate us for who we are.
Behm: Have you heard criticisms towards nonbinary athletes?
Harris: I think the criticisms that a lot of people have about incorporating nonbinary people and recognizing nonbinary people in sports is that they, one, don't see our identities as real. None of us are asking for anything special out of this. We're asking for the most basic of recognition —– to be in a division that's just comparable to the men's and women's. We're asking for essentially the bare minimum of what should go into creating a gender division in sports.
Behm: After winning the inaugural race that included nonbinary runners, what do you think could be improved upon?
Harris: There's tons of kinks still that everyone is trying to work out. I like to think I'm someone who is very reasonable and that I understand this isn't going to be perfect on the first go.
There's always someone who is either like dividing up the men's and women's and says, “Men on this side, women on this side,” but doesn't think about the nonbinary people. And I'm just like, “Well, I guess I'll go in the middle.” Or there's an announcer who is actually talking about my achievements and talking about me, but is using the wrong pronouns or presenting me an award and using the wrong pronouns. It's a very strange moment that I'm being recognized as a nonbinary runner, but we're still perpetuating all of these misconceptions about what nonbinary is and how to talk about nonbinary people.
Behm: What are your hopes for the future?
Zackary Harris: I hope that running also becomes a sort of precedent for other sporting divisions to start recognizing that there's not just men and women, that there are many more gender identities that exist, that deserve recognition and to be able to compete as themselves and with people who also identify as themselves in a similar manner, and that hopefully one day there's more nonbinary divisions not just in running but across other sports as well.