Queer running (guest post)

Shawna Held, a native Washingtonian, is slowly learning that the rain excuse isn’t working in California, where she moved to attend graduate school in Women’s Studies. She hopes to one day be that fun and wacky Women’s Studies Professor you wish you had or be a director of a Girls on the Run program. When she isn’t writing papers she is running, or at least thinking about running, which totally counts.

This post is about outing myself as a runner and as a queer lady. Let me explain. I get the same reaction from telling someone that I am a runner to telling someone that I am queer. From both non-runners and straight people I get the question “Why would you run a marathon/date a lady?” My answers range from “Because I like to” to snarky responses like “Why aren’t you?” These questions come from good places and I understand how confusing it can be to see me, who looks like I should date men, and at 6-foot looks like I should be dribbling and dunking a basketball, not lumbering over hills. I failed to do either of those things well – I was terrible at basketball and my last boyfriend is now a proud gay man. I also did not LIKE doing either of these things as much as I like what I am doing now.

However, running and being queer are both silenced parts of my identity. I am straddling these borders, one foot in a running world and the other one in a queer world; when all I want is to be comfortable in both of these worlds, never having to choose which identity I need to explain or silence.

In the running community I feel like I run too little and too slow to be a real runner. Although I have finished three marathons, one half-marathon and was captain of the cross-country team in high school, I never feel like I am a real runner. I was just a softball player (let the stereotypes begin) who joined the cross-country team because I had broken my finger and was unable to play volleyball. I was the girl on the team that people felt sorry for, as I usually ran amongst the injured girls with knee braces, but I always crossed the finish line as if I was the winner. I finished dead last in a marathon last year, so far last that they took down the race clock, but I was so proud of myself that I passed the finish line and the very, very bored volunteer, smiling with my arms up like I had won the Boston Marathon. Yet, I still struggle to admit to that I am a runner.

Much as I struggle to think of myself as a runner, I struggle to identify with my sexuality. In the queer community, my identity is constantly suspect and I feel like I have to literally drag my girlfriend with my hand stuck firmly in hers to tell them that, yes, I am ONE OF YOU. Being a proud queer woman has been a huge challenge to me. Nothing can prepare someone to come out to people, and as a straight looking lady, I feel that I have to come out to my dentist, the mail person and everyone else. Most of the time, though, I just avoid it all together and talk about something else, avoiding the “Do you have a boyfriend?” question. I hate how I feel I have to hide parts of myself to people, especially my extended family; for fear that, they may react poorly, think differently of me, and not love me as much as they did before.

But as with running, it sometimes takes a few steps to start a process. I have taken small steps in coming out to my extended family but those have been training runs. It is time that I prepare myself for a run that may hurt more than all the other ones combined and start coming out to myself and my family.

Running has given me the strength to come out to people. After my first 20 mile run, the endorphins raging through my body, I decided that it would be the perfect time to come out to my sister. I called her up thinking “How could this be harder than running 20 miles?” and her reaction? “Oh, I knew that since you were 15. What else is new? You ran 20 miles? Cool.” Perfect reaction, if you ask me. With reactions like that, I really should just go through the family phone book after my next marathon, medal around my neck, banana in hand, and start calling my huge extended family and leaving hilarious messages like “Hey! It is Shawna and I just ran a marathon! Oh and by the way, I am gay, and that girl you have been randomly seeing in pictures is my girlfriend. I am going to probably sleep for the next 10 hours but hopefully I will talk to you soon!” Now that would be a great story that my poor parents would have deal with, while I iced my legs and slept for hours, hopefully they would be laughing as hard as me with the flood of potentially awkward (or accepting? who knows) phone calls.

Long runs have allowed me to come out to myself about various things, not just my sexual identity but as a survivor of sexual assault, as beautiful and worthy of love, and (my favorite on long, lonely runs) as a hilarious person who survives in this world by laughing. There are times when I run and I feel a sense of calm come over me reminding me that everything I am doing with my life is good, everything I am is fine and that whatever troubles I am running about have solutions. I do not run away from my problems, I run to overcome my problems. For the most part, I love running because I love myself when I am running.

I am not out necessarily as a runner or as a queer person, but I am working towards that daily. I am trying to incorporate my loves, whether that is running or my girlfriend, into all aspects of my life. It is a daily struggle as it is always easier to make an excuse not to – is it raining outside? Will they not like me if they find out? But running has taught me that I am stronger than I ever thought I was. Shit, if you can run a marathon, you can do anything right?

Running while queer is not easy, but then again both of these things are difficult. I am a runner even if I deny it; I am queer even if I do not want to admit it publicly. I run with pride in myself as a runner and queer lady every time I step out into the street and I am slowly learning that this pride goes beyond running and goes into my very core. I am learning that I do not need a medal to tell me that I am runner and I do not need a flag to tell me I am queer. I am both of those things and so much more.

Want to guest blog for Fit and Feminist?  Hit me up at saltonmyskin at gmail dot com.

5 responses to “Queer running (guest post)

  1. In a similar boat.

    I’m slow, and I don’t run far yet; nor have I been running for that long. So people are sometimes incredulous when I venture to talk about running with them. (Never mind that I actually probably do run as often and as far as the people to whom I’m talking, when those discussions happen in real life.)

    I’m even more hesitant to discuss my queerness than my running with people I know in real life. While I strongly identify as queer (I like to call myself a Kinsey 4.75), my current and long term partner is a cis man. Given that I can foresee a (relatively likely) scenario where I’ll never actively date another woman again, it’s easy for me to feel like I’m not “queer enough” to ID with the word.

  2. One of the best guest posts I have read on a blog site in a very long time!

    The running will feel more exhilarating after being able to come out to your sister and have her reaction be so nonchalant about it. That’s a great thing that unfortunately doesn’t work much. But “the dentist, the mail person”etcetera have no reason to have to know or for you to feel you have to come out to them. A simple “yes, I do have a boyfriend.” should suffice. Of course that’s easy for ME to say!

    Just take care of your knees. At six feet tall, they may get extra burden on them.

  3. Yesssss! Queer marathon runner here too. I’ve been out for so long (as both a runner and a homo) that I can’t necessarily remember how hard it was to reconcile either of those identities, but I *have* had the experience of looking around at a race and feeling like I was engulfed in a sea of straight couples, whether that was even true or not. …And not that that should even be a bad thing, it’s just feels slightly isolating occasionally. When I lived in Portland I belonged to a group called the Front Runners for GLBTQ runners. They have chapters in a number of major cities, so you should check that out if you’re looking for other folks and don’t live in a small town like me. Anyway, I love your story about coming out to your sister on a 20-mile endorphin high!

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