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.”
Bulkley Valley SD 54 superintendent leaving
Chris van der Mark has been superintendent with SD54 for eight years, and has hands full in Cariboo.
B.C. chiefs show solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs
Chiefs from around B.C. outside the Coastal GasLink pipeline route in Smithers show support.
Woman killed in head-on crash near Vanderhoof
RCMP say driver crossed the centre line and hit a loaded fuel tanker truck
RCMP to review actions at Wet’suwet’en pipeline protest camps
Senior Mountie says he hopes protests will be peaceful following deal with hereditary chiefs
Self serve doggy-wash poised to change dog grooming industry
Add money, start spraying to wash dog in the K9000
Anxiety in Alaska as endless aftershocks rattle residents
Seismologists expect the temblors to continue for months, although the frequency has lessened
Women’s March returns across the U.S. amid shutdown and controversy
The original march in 2017, the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, drew hundreds of thousands of people
Federal Liberals announce former B.C. MLA as new candidate in byelection
Richard Lee will face off against federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh
No winning ticket in $10 million Lotto Max jackpot
No win in Friday night’s draw means the next Lotto Max draw will be approximately $17 million
Scientists ID another possible threat to orcas: pink salmon
For two decades, significantly more of the whales have died in even-numbered years than in odd years
Burnaby byelection turmoil sparks debate about identity issues in politics
The Liberals still have not said whether they plan to replace Wang, who stepped aside Wednesday
B.C. woman planned to donate a kidney to her husband, then found out she has cancer
Richard Stuart needs a kidney, his wife Tracy has been diagnosed with cancer