McKinnon’s Transition and Goldman’s Gambit

In an op-ed, competitive cyclist and philosophy prof Rachel McKinnon stands her ground.

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.

McKinnon is transgender and, having won a gold medal in a race, has been the target of hatred for “cheating” by being born a man and competing as a woman. But she didn’t cheat. Not at all.

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.

The distinction between woman and female is rhetorical to some, real to others, and irrelevant to this question.

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.

The bottom line is that Rachel McKinnon is a woman now. She may lack a uterus, and some may argue that there are aspects of her physiology that differ from someone born female, but she’s a woman now because she has committed to being female.

She won the race as a woman, playing by all the rules established to distinguish between sexes to keep the race fair. You don’t have to like it, or even agree with it, but rules were established and she complied with them in every way.

The point isn’t whether it seems fair or right to you, or me, but that choices were made, both by McKinnon as well as the cycling authority, in the creation of rules. The choices could have gone a different way, but they didn’t. Now that the choices exist, the rules are established, the only thing left for McKinnon is to adhere to them. She did.

For the employees of Goldman Sachs, there is now a rule as well.

White-shoe Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs is the latest corporate giant to impose preferred pronouns on their employees. In a blog post entitled ‘Bringing Your Authentic Self to Work’, Goldman says ‘We are committed to cultivating a work experience where all of our people can reach their full potential and thrive as their authentic selves.’ But in ensuring that some employees can express their ‘authentic selves’, Goldman is demanding that others suppress theirs. It’s one of many recent attempts at modernization under the leadership of new CEO David M. Solomon.

A cynic might believe that this is a ruse to create the image of Goldman being all wokey, which would be just a wee bit laughable given the culture of Wall Street. But let’s assume, arguendo, that it’s serious and that an employee will suffer adverse employment consequences for failing to adhere to this new policy.

Pronouns are words that an individual would like others to use when talking to or about them. Using a person’s self-identified pronoun(s) is a way to show respect and ensure a more inclusive environment.

Not only are people expected to use preferred pronouns when talking about someone else, but to pro-actively offer their own pronouns to make others feel comfortable offering theirs.

Women, primarily, are speaking out against this all the time, in notable publications such as this one. Yet companies, universities, organizations, and arms of government are pushing it on us incessantly. There is a sheen of rightness, correctitude, and moral imperative about pronoun preference, but it is a lie. While some may believe that gender defines their authentic self, others may find the practice entirely irrelevant.

The argument is that it’s just a matter of politeness, accommodating the feelings of others. even though the “others” are a tiny percentage, if any, of people and the duty falls on the overwhelming majority to change their ways. But is it just being polite?

It’s easy to believe that pronouns are no big deal, that using a person’s preferred pronouns and expressing your own is simply politeness. But using personal pronouns that differ from biological sex indicates that you believe that gender is a deeply held, intrinsic, authentic part of a person. Once you’re on board with pronouns, you have accepted the idea that sex is mutable and gender is innate. You’ve now opened the door to bathrooms, locker rooms, fitting rooms, women’s shelters, girls’ schools, women’s sports, legal protections and set aside programs, being open to men who claim to be women as well.

If Rachel McKinnon worked at Goldman, or was a Goldman customer, there would be little doubt that she would be referred to by feminine pronouns, although she might prefer something else. But McKinnon made the commitment and is a woman. Goldman has created a rule without rules. It’s a rule that undermines the rules in that it compels speech by those who prefer not to indulge it, subjects the majority to the whims of those who have failed to make the commitment McKinnon has and believe they’re entitled to make up their own rules based on whatever they feel at the moment.

Transgender people exist, and are entitled to exist without facing discrimination for being transgender. The way to accomplish that is to establish viable ground rules, to determine whether and what limits need to exist so that we can all co-exist. There are issues raised by accommodating sincere gender orientation issues in a society grounded in a binary view of sex, based on the indisputable fact the binary reflects almost all of us. If we are sincere in wanting to be inclusive, making viable rules to address outlier issues is the only way to face and end discrimination, even if the rules seem imperfect to the few. Even if the transitory winds of woke demand that the many bend for the benefit of the few or be shamed for their complicity.

Compelling people to indulge anyone’s transitory fantasy as a stepping stone to a society in defiance of both reality* and the sensibilities of the majority isn’t the path to ending transgender discrimination. Root for Rachel McKinnon, whether on her bicycle or in her fight for acceptance. She’s on the right path.

*Trans huckster Jessica Yaniv, who gained notoriety by suing for a woman’s refusal to wax his crotch, was outraged at the discrimination of a gynecologist who refused to “examine” him just because he has no uterus. Yaniv is useful as a foil, as this is where we end up without sensible rules we can all live with.

8 thoughts on “McKinnon’s Transition and Goldman’s Gambit

  1. Rudytbone

    If Rachel McKinnon’s significant other was murdered and male DNA evidence was found at the scene; would Rachel McKinnon be a suspect if they didn’t have an alibi?

    I’d love to see the “DNA doesn’t reflect my actual gender” defense.

  2. Erik H.

    I don’t think McKinnon deserves that much respect.

    Your position is very reasonable: every set of rules is arbitrary to some degree, and McKinnon is perfectly entitled to play within the rules just like everyone else. If the rules grant a sporting advantage to a subset of folks… well, that’s true for most rules. And if it doesn’t work out–if the strike zone needs to move, or if weight classes need to be adjusted, or other tweaks made–then you can just change the rules.

    If that were McKinnon’s position, it would be great!

    But McKinnon would not agree with you at all.

    Her perspective is that a) the existing rules are not arbitrary, but rather obvious and required; b) her participation in women’s sports under her preferred criteria is a matter of human rights (this claim is what her PhD paper is about); c) there is literally no biological effect whatsoever from her earlier development w/ benefit of testosterone*; d) the question of “what sporting classifications should apply to trans individuals” is inseparable from the question of said individuals’ human rights, and should be almost entirely controlled by self-identification; and e) too much discussion of any of the earlier claims, whether on the basis of science or ethics, is anathema, anti-trans, violating human rights, etc., because “sports are a human right and human rights are not up for debate.”

    In her view the rules cannot be changed, debated, or modified, and no other rules can legally or morally exist at all.

    So when you say “Root for Rachel McKinnon, whether on her bicycle or in her fight for acceptance. She’s on the right path.” I don’t think that’s especially accurate.

    *Ignoring the science, there’s a simple analogy: Imagine that female North Korean Olympic athletes are openly using testosterone prior to and during puberty in an effort to boost bone/muscle development. They stop a few years prior to the Olympics, and their testosterone drops. But from the years of boosting, they’re more muscular, larger, have bigger hearts and lungs, a higher proportion of fast-twitch muscles, etc. Most folks would view that as a problem, I think. This is the equivalent of McKinnon.

    1. SHG Post author

      Your point is well taken, but then, the rules can be tweaked to address those who would game the system for an unfair advantage. To the extent McKinnon would argue that there can be no change, that’s a different argument. To the extent she would argue that she has done everything in her power to play by the rules, even if they allow her an advantage, then she’s earned her gold medal.

      The point is that we need the ability to discuss the rules, to disagree about how to make rules that both accommodate the existence of transgender people and treat them fairly, yet still accommodate the reality that very few people are transgender, and people who aren’t are still entitled to their autonomy, privacy, and fairness. We’re no better off with the tyranny of the minority than we are with the tyranny of the majority.

  3. Julia

    Beware that doctors and the government of British Columbia adhere to the same standard as Goldman Sachs, whoever “feels” like a woman is a woman and can change their birth certificate to have an “F”. It’s the same procedure for both R. McKinnon and Yaniv, and anyone who wants it. R. McKinnon got his Canadian passport based on the birth certificate and the US documents based on his Canadian passport but he’s still as much female as he’s a rabbit. It’s just laundering a lie until it becomes a “rule”. Why can’t we get government documents based entirely on our feelz? Maybe, someone feels 5 inches taller and 60 lbs lighter, it should be reflected on their driver’s licence. What about changing place of birth? Illegal immigration problems will be solved in one shot.

    Preferred pronouns imply preferred language. But isn’t enforcing English only environment illegal? Made up rules can’t be translated. Well, I would like to be addressed in my preferred languages depending on a week day. I will submit my schedule later. Let’s stick for now to those 4 languages routinely spoken in my own family, I’m not asking for too much. Should everyone respect my multicultural identity or what?

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