The velodrome in Manchester, England, is a beautiful, fast indoor track. Its corners are gentle, and the temperature and humidity are well managed for speed. In October, racing in Manchester, I broke the masters women’s world record in the 200-meter time trial by 0.24 seconds with a time of 11.649 seconds. This race happened during qualification for the Female 35-39 Sprint event. My record is still slower than records in the 40-44 and 45-49 age categories.
People are angry because I’m a transgender woman, and I race in the women’s category.
Soon after my win, Donald Trump Jr. threw a Twitter tantrum about me. I’ve seen a huge uptick in the volume of hate mail I’ve received in the weeks since. I have four people who monitor my Instagram to delete hateful messages; they’ve been overwhelmed by the volume. Twitter is far worse. I’ve received death threats, but I try not to dwell on them.
People love to claim that I cheated. I didn’t. Cycling’s governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale, has no doubts that I followed all of the rules. I completed an antidoping test to ratify my world record. I didn’t use any suspicious or dangerous tactics in any of my races. (They’re still on YouTube; you can watch them for yourself).
Many want me to race against men. I have news for them: I’m not allowed. I’m legally female. My birth certificate, passport, driver’s license, U.S. permanent resident card, medical records and my racing license all have an “F” on them. The Union Cycliste Internationale, USACycling, Cycling Canada, the Canadian and United States governments and the state of South Carolina all agree that I’m female.
The rules require me to race in the women’s category. That’s exactly where I belong: I am a woman, after all. I am female as well.
In addition to competing in masters track cycling, which is age-restricted in five-year increments, I compete in elite events each summer. My best result was a bronze in 2018. My best elite result in 2019 was eighth. I am far from the fastest female track cyclist in the world.
The elite women’s 200-meter record was set in September by Canadian Kelsey Mitchell (who only started racing two years ago!) at 10.154 seconds. My masters world record is 13 percent slower than hers. My current elite world ranking in the Sprint event is 105th. Ms. Mitchell is on her way to represent Canada at the 2020 Olympics. I am not.
Some people think this is unfair because I used to have more testosterone in my body, once upon a time. They think this, even though my body hasn’t been able to produce testosterone for seven years. I transitioned in 2012. My testosterone levels are so low that they’re undetectable, and have been that way since 2012.
Some people think it’s unfair because they claim my body developed differently than many other women’s bodies. But women come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes, and some elite cyclists are even bigger than me. I’m six feet tall and weigh 190 pounds. Dutch track cyclist Elis Ligtlee, an Olympic gold medalist, is taller and heavier than me at 6 foot 1 inches and 198 pounds. She towered over Kristina Vogel, who at 5 foot 3 inches and 136 pounds, was the more accomplished track sprinter. Bigger isn’t necessarily faster. While they were still competing, these women were clearly much faster than me. I wouldn’t have stood a chance.
Every elite athlete has competitive advantages. Some are physical; consider the 2016 Olympic women’s high jump final. The average height of the gold, silver and bronze medalists was 6 foot 2 inches. Ruth Beitia, at slightly over 6 foot 3 inches, won gold. The woman who tied for 10th, Inika McPherson, is 5 foot 5 inches tall. And we consider a 10-inch difference in height in an Olympic high jump final to be fair.
Other advantages are social or economic. Some athletes have access to the best coaches, the best equipment, the best facilities, and others don’t. Some athletes are better at tactics, or better at pushing through pain and discomfort. We already permit huge competitive advantages and call them fair, even within women’s sport.
If you think I have an unfair competitive advantage, consider this: I lose most of my races. I won five out of 22 events in 2019; none of those I won were against strong international fields. The woman who took second place to me in the masters world championship sprint event, Dawn Orwick, beat me just days earlier in the 500-meter time trial. In the 12 times I’ve raced against Jennifer Wagner, who finished third to my first place in the sprint event in 2018, she beat me in seven. Wagner has beaten me more times than I’ve beaten her, head-to-head. How can I have an unfair advantage over her if she beats me most of the time? And why should my right to compete be contingent on not winning?
The Union Cycliste Internationale currently follows the International Olympic Committee’s policies on gender. Trans people have been welcome in the Olympics since the I.O.C. first adopted a trans-inclusion policy in 2003. The I.O.C. updated their policy in 2015 to make it possible for trans people to compete without genital surgery.
Since the 2004 Athens Olympics, there have been over 54,000 Olympians. Not one of them has been openly trans. There also weren’t any cases of men pretending to be (trans) women.
Next year, there are a few athletes who have the potential to become the first openly trans athlete to compete in the Games. None are a medal favorite. This is not the beginning of the end of women’s sports.
Trans women are women. We are female. And we are not taking over. No openly trans woman has set an open elite world record in any sport (remember: mine is in masters racing). No openly trans woman has won an elite world championship in any sport, let alone a medal.
There haven’t been any reported cases of gender fraud, where a male athlete is given a female passport or birth certificate by an unscrupulous nation, for the purposes of slipping a “man” into a women’s Olympic event. If there were going to be mass gender fraud, we’d have seen it by now.
The I.O.C.’s Olympic Charter has Seven Fundamental Principles of Olympism in its Olympic Charter. Number four begins, “The practice of sport is a human right.”
It is a human right to be able to compete. I will continue to show up. I hope you’ll consider cheering.
Dr. Rachel McKinnon (@SportIsARight) is an associate professor of philosophy at the College of Charleston and a professional track cyclist.
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