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

Plane crashes into Nelson supermarket parking lot

Pilot and passenger have minor injuries

Trail invited to ‘Climb’

70,000-kilometre hiking challenge to support people living with dementia

Shady dealings invade B.C. rental market, online sales

Advisory from the Better Business Bureau

Adrian Dix: It’s time to renew the fight to stop the spread

We must recommit to using our COVID sense to keep us safe, stop the spread and save lives

Phase three presents new opportunities for Kootenay tourism

Message from MLA Michelle Mungall and MLA Katrine Conroy

VIDEO: Otter pups learn to swim at B.C. wildlife rescue facility

Watch Critter Care’s Nathan Wagstaffe help seven young otters go for their first dip

Michael Buble among 13 British Columbians to receive Order of B.C.

Ceremony will be delayed to 2021 due to COVID-19

U.S. border communities feel loss of Canadian tourists, shoppers and friends

Restrictions on non-essential travel across the Canada-U.S. border have been in place since March 2`

Rollout of COVID-19 Alert app faces criticism over accessibility

App requires users to have Apple or Android phones made in the last five years, and a relatively new operating system

Alleged impaired driver sparks small wildfire near Lytton after crash: B.C. RCMP

Good Samaritans prevented the blaze from getting out of control

B.C. First Nation adopts ‘digital twinning’ software to better manage territory

Software allows users to visualize what a mountain might look like if the trees on its slopes were logged

All inquiry recommendations implemented after fatal Port Hardy RCMP shooting: Ministry

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. cleared the RCMP officers involved of wrongdoing

Leave your deets when dining: Restaurants taking personal info to trace COVID-19

Health officials say indoor dining presents a higher risk

Most Read