Trans cyclist disappointed but not defeated by online criticism

Transgender athletes are “damned if we do, damned if we don't,” says Ottawa-based cyclist Evelyn Sifton.

After Evelyn Sifton won a race in Houston, people accused her of having an unfair advantage

While Ottawa-based cyclist Evelyn Sifton found some success racing with her team, Shadow Elite Racing, the athlete finished in the middle of the pack during many of her meets. (Shadow Elite Racing)

Transgender athletes are "damned if we do, damned if we don't," says Ottawa-based cyclist Evelyn Sifton.

Sifton competes in fixed-gear racing — outdoor circuit racing that uses track bikes instead of road bikes — as well as more typical road racing.

In a recent social media post, she talked about the vitriol she received after winning a race in the U.S. earlier this year — and her disappointment that all people seemed to focus on was the fact she was transgender.

"So, when I finished 20th or 30th place, which was most of my results this season, to be honest, no one cares," she told CBC Radio's  In Town and Out.

"But when we win, it does."

Opinions change following win

When Sifton first began to compete, she thought the sport was welcoming and supportive. 

And while the cyclist found some success with her team, Shadow Elite Racing, the athlete finished in the middle of the pack during many of her meets.

Her opinions about fixed-gear racing evolved, however, after Sifton and her team won a race in Houston.  

Following the win, the Ottawan told In Town and Out she found herself bombarded with criticism on Twitter. Sifton said her personal information was posted on two websites that create blacklists of transgender athletes, which led to further harassment.

A friend had to help secure her information online.

"I had to protect myself," Sifton said.

A recent social-media post by an Ottawa athlete has gone viral. Evelyn Sifton is a competitive cyclist. She's also transgender. 11:35

Sports are highly regulated for transgender people looking to compete. Sifton said male-to-female athletes must go a year without competing while taking hormone blockers. 

"What they're testing is, at the time the threshold was below 10 parts-per-million of testosterone," she said. "And you have to maintain that level for at least a year before you're allowed to re-enter competition in the women's category."

Attitudes shifted after another athlete's win

Last October, Canadian transgender athlete Rachel McKinnon won the UCI Masters Track Cycling World Championship in Los Angeles. 

Sifton said attitudes toward trans cyclists shifted after the woman who won bronze posted on social media, decrying her loss in what she thought was an unfair race. 

"Masters Track Cycling has never gotten this much attention before. Now that a trans woman wins it, suddenly everyone cares about the Masters Track World Championships," Sifton said.

The same is true for herself, she added. 

When she was in the middle of the pack, Sifton said no one could use her results to further the narrative that trans athletes have an advantage against people who aren't transgender.

In her Instagram post, Sifton said the comments she's received have left her disappointed but not defeated.

"No trans person is putting themselves through expensive hormone replacement therapy, incredibly painful surgery, the indescribable depression and anxiety that comes from your existence and rights being debated and hated, just to win the women's field," she wrote.

Sifton feels she was only able to win that Houston race because three women who aren't transgender helped her cross that finish line. 

And while she feels it's important for her to keep racing, to keep challenging the narrative that surrounds trans athletes, she's also just compelled to compete. 

"It's a part of me," she said. "It's part of my identity."