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.”
First transgender woman world champion…ever.*
UCI Masters Track Cycling Women 35-44 Sprint@outsports @TheAdvocateMag @CofC @PinkNews @TheChrisMosier @BicyclingMag @velonews @gcntweet @glaad @TransMediaWatch @TransEquality @TransgenderNews @equalitynetwork pic.twitter.com/SD0HuS1Crv
— Dr. Rachel McKinnon (@rachelvmckinnon) October 14, 2018
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.”
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.
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.”
My results last year. …where's this advantage you speak of? Why was I nearly LAST PLACE in most of the pro races (and I only one the one pro race all season)? pic.twitter.com/x68XFvYndI
— Dr. Rachel McKinnon (@rachelvmckinnon) October 22, 2018
|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.”
Column: Grade school students don’t have a voice during COVID pandemic
As adults weigh pros and cons of returning kids to school, is anyone asking kids what they think?
Unofficial holidays: the weird and wonderful things people celebrate around the world
On any given day of the year, there are several strange, silly or serious holidays to observe
Chilliwack Salvation Army to give away free laundry detergent and more at drive-thru event
They will be handing out Tide detergent, toothpaste and eggs to anyone who is in need
SLIDESHOW: Chilliwack firefighters battle large blaze at Rosedale chicken barn Friday
Majority of birds saved but buildings on Castleman Road destroyed by fire
Chilliwack Fair kicks off tonight with local talent
Todd Richard and Appaloosa to hit the stage for drive-in concert at fairgrounds
VIDEO: Find Me My Furever Home – Twister at the Chilliwack SPCA
Small animals like rats are one of the first to be surrendered and last to get adopted
University of Victoria, rowing coach sued over alleged ‘fat shaming’ and verbal abuse
Lawsuit says Barney Williams subjected coxswain Lily Copeland to offensive and belittling language
Canada to match donations to Lebanon relief
Canada is directing all of its aid for this crisis directly to humanitarian organizations, not the Lebanese government
NHL playoffs: Canucks to meet St. Louis Blues in Round 1
Vancouver takes on defending champs beginning Wednesday
Fraser Valley Bandits fall to Edmonton in CEBL final
Bandits lose 90-73 to Stingers in Sunday’s Summer Series final
1 year since a B.C. teen died in a skate park, his family still waiting for charges
Carson Crimeni’s final moments were broadcast on social media
VIDEO: Internet famous Yukon-based bhangra dancer explores Vancouver Island
Gurdeep Pandher spreads joy through dance, forms cross-cultural connections amid pandemic