Rachel McKinnon says she looks forward to a day when, ‘people like me can just focus on competing’ because ‘that’s hard enough.’ (Contributed/Craig Huffman)

Transgender cyclist from B.C. wins world title, backlash ensues

Victoria native Rachel McKinnon: “All the work that went into that victory, people are attributing to me being trans.’

When Rachel McKinnon hopped on her bike to compete in the UCI Masters Track Cycling World Championship earlier this month in California, she knew she had followed the competition rules to a tee – ironic for a kid who grew up golfing in Greater Victoria and who is now at the centre of a firestorm of backlash for being a transgender athlete.

“I’m not naive, I work on this topic professionally,” says the College of Charleston professor, on the line from South Carolina. “I’m currently teaching a course on transgender people in sport and yet, I’m pretty shocked at how heavy the backlash is.”

On Oct. 13, the Stelly’s Secondary School alum and UVic graduate made history as the first transgender woman to win a world title. But, it’s the idea that McKinnon had an unfair advantage – due to being assigned male at birth – that caused an international uproar.

“All the work that went into that victory, people are attributing to me being trans,” she says. “I didn’t just get up off the couch and win. I worked my butt off.”

RELATED: B.C. filmmaker receives non-binary birth certificate

Standing on the podium with the bronze medal was Jen Wagner Assali, a hand surgeon from Houston, who tweeted immediately following the race that the result was unfair.

She later apologized, saying she made the comments out of frustration and that they weren’t productive or positive, adding: “While I may not agree with the rules, when I pin on a number I agree to race by them.”

The rules, McKinnon says, are clear, and she has always competed in accordance with them, regularly testing her testosterone levels – which require staying below 10 nanomoles for every litre of blood.

RELATED: Pride Week kicks off in Victoria with raising of five pride flags

The idea that she could have had a physical advantage over her competitors solely based on gender frustrates McKinnon who says in the qualifying rounds, Wagner Assali “beat me 10 out of 12 times.”

And of her competitor’s response on social media, McKinnon says: “She made it clear that she stood by what she said, but just regretted doing it publicly.”

Transgender athletes first competed in Olympic level sport in 2004 – to date, none of them have reached the podium – and it is the International Olympic Committee’s guidelines for male-to-female trans athletes that most elite level sport organizations also use.

In 2017, a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine surveyed 2,127 cisgender track and field athletes (those whose gender identity aligns with the gender they were assigned at birth) testing their levels of testosterone in comparison with their performance.

While the data has yet to be released, the study found men with higher levels of testosterone didn’t necessarily fare any better in any particular event and women with high levels of testosterone sometimes had an advantage over those with lower levels.

Sochi Olympics offer platform for gay community

The controversy is predictable, McKinnon says, because the rights of transgender people have made significant gains in recent years.

“Every time this has happened in history with marginalized groups and the advancement of civil rights, there’s been a backlash,” she points out. “And, I think we’re in that moment.”

Truth be told, McKinnon doesn’t think people really even care about women’s track cycling, a relatively new sport that first appeared at the 1988 Olympics, and that the criticisms are just a way of “exposing whatever transphobia they already had.”

Participation in sport is a human right, she says, pointing to the fourth principle of the Olympic Charter.

“I do look forward to the day, if it ever comes, that I or people like me can just focus on competing,” McKinnon says. “That’s hard enough.”


@kristyn_anthony
kristyn.anthony@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Police name second suspect, lay kidnapping and attempted murder charges in connection with Rudy Johnson Bridge incidents

Drynock is considered dangerous, do not approach him and call the local RCMP detachment immediately

Skeena-Bulkley Valley candidates react to finding Trudeau broke ethics law

The election campaign is heating up before the writ has even dropped

Links probable between homicide, missing persons investigation in Williams Lake

Rich ‘Savage’ Duncan the victim of Aug. 6 homicide

Heiltsuk challenges feds decision to award $67M contract to east coast towing company

Heiltsuk Horizon challenges decision to award emergency ship towing contract to Irving company

Jim Pattison takeover offer ‘non-binding,’ Canfor cautions investors

B.C. billionaire already big shareholder in forest industry

QUIZ: How much do you remember about Woodstock?

Weekend music festival in Bethel, New York, was held 50 years ago

U16 B.C. fastpitch team named national champs

Girls went undefeated at national tournament in Calgary

Advocates ‘internationalize’ the fight to free Raif Badawi from Saudi prison

Raif Badawi was arrested on June 17, 2012, and was later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for his online criticism of Saudi clerics

Canadian entrepreneurs turning beer byproduct into bread, cookies and profits

Some breweries turn to entrepreneurs looking to turn spent grain into treats for people and their pets

Canada ‘disappointed’ terror suspect’s British citizenship revoked

Jack Letts, who was dubbed “Jihadi Jack” by the U.K. media, has been detained in a Kurdish prison for about two years

Chrystia Freeland condemns violence in Hong Kong, backs right to peaceful assembly

There have been months of protests in the semi-autonomous region

Most Read