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
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.”
‘I’m very, very lucky to be doing what I do’
Photographer Boomer Jerritt brings Antarctica to Timberline Theatre Jan. 29
VIDEO: Show celebrates local and regional talent at Campbell River Art Gallery
37th Annual Members’ Show runs until Feb. 20
Strong winds up to 100 km/h for parts of Vancouver Island
Wind warning in effect for north, east and west Vancouver Island into Saturday morning
Campbell River resident asking for bottles and cans to help Island stabbing victim
Janelle Guyatt suffered serious injuries during a May 2016 knife attack
RCMP’s use of force in arrest of Island man not excessive, judge rules
Campbell River man high on cocaine led high speed chase through city’s downtown
VIDEO: U.S. Congress to probe whether Trump told lawyer Cohen to lie
At issue is a BuzzFeed News report that about negotiations over a Moscow real estate project
Rookie Demko backstops Canucks to 4-3 win over Sabres
Young Vancouver goalie makes 36 saves to turn away Buffalo
Charges upgraded against mother of murdered B.C. girl
Kerryann Lewis now faces first- rather than second-degree murder in the death of Aaliyah Rosa.
UPDATE: Injured firefighter in stable condition
Kelowna fire crews responded to a blaze at Pope’sGallery of BC Art & Photography on Friday
Rare ‘super blood wolf moon’ takes to the skies this Sunday
Celestial event happens only three times this century
Arrest made after historic B.C. church hit by arson
The fire at the 150-year-old Murray United Church in Merritt was considered a possible hate crime
B.C. dangerous offender in court for violating no-contact order, sends letter to victim
Wayne Belleville was shocked to see a letter addressed to him from his shooter, Ronald Teneycke
Man blames his loud car radio, sirens for crash with B.C. ambulance
Tribunal rejects bid to recoup ICBC costs after crash deemed 100-per-cent his fault