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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Health and safety regulations to be followed by schools as they reopen Monday

Ministry of Education wrote a letter to parents dated May 28.

Wear a mask to protect others, says Vanderhoof’s top doctor

“I think wearing a mask is a small inconvenience when weighed against the possibility of giving vulnerable members of our community an infection that could kill them,” the doctor said.

Here is what school will look like for FLESS students

Students are going back to school on June 1 on a voluntary, part-time basis.

7 projects in Vanderhoof, Fraser Lake and Burns Lake receive NKDF funding

Nechako-Kitamaat Development Fund Society announced $139,702 in funding on May 29.

School buses for SD91 to start running from June 1

Parents urged to drop off and pick kids up whenever possible.

B.C. records four new COVID-19 cases, Abbotsford hospital outbreak cleared

Four senior home outbreaks also declared over, eight still active

RCMP, coroner investigate murder-suicide on Salt Spring Island

Two dead, police say there is no risk to the public

About 30% of B.C. students return to schools as in-class teaching restarts amid pandemic

Education minister noted that in-class instruction remains optional

Trudeau avoids questions about anti-racism protesters dispersed for Trump photo-op

Prime minister says racism is an issue Canadians must tackle at home, too

B.C.’s Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics goes virtual

The annual event partnering RCMP with Special Olympians is dramatically altered by COVID-19

Introducing the West Coast Traveller: A voyage of the mind

Top armchair travel content for Alaska, Yukon, BC, Alberta, Washington, Oregon and California!

Bateman program encourages people to sketch outside, connect with nature

#MyNatureSketch initiative encourages Canadians to become ‘bright-eyed three year olds’

Be cautious expanding COVID-19 bubble, Dr. Bonnie Henry tells B.C.

Senior homes stay off-limits as schools, businesses reopen

Most Read