Power and personality

Chin-ups and activism provide fuel for power-lifter Kinnon Ross MacKinnon

Kinnon Ross MacKinnon can dead-lift (that’s bending over, grasping a barbell and straightening up into a standing position) about two-and-a-half times his bodyweight – 391 pounds. He plans to up that number to 405 pounds.

He can rock Rocky Balboa-style one-armed chin-ups and do squats with friend Jennifer Crawford hoisted on his back (which he successfully manoeuvred during a burlesque performance at the Trans Pride kickoff in 2012). MacKinnon, who describes himself as a transgender bisexual guy, will compete as a power-lifter in the 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland.

MacKinnon is only 27, but his athletic achievements are impressive. Before moving to Toronto (when in his early teens and still identifying as female), he competed for Nova Scotia at the national level, including in freestyle skiing at both the Canada Games and the Junior Nationals in 1999.

But then he decided to become a bodybuilder because, he says, a muscular body seemed essential to his being seen as male. “I wanted to build a masculine physique. I wanted my upper body to be bigger than my lower body so that I’d have more masculine proportions.”

However, while MacKinnon was living as male, he had not undergone chest surgery and says bodybuilding outfits didn’t allow him to be perceived correctly. “I could do [power-lifting] with the way my body was, because you’re not onstage in a bikini or a thong – which is what bodybuilders do; instead, in power-lifting you’re onstage in a T-shirt and singlet, so I could cover my chest,” he says.

He has been competing as a male power-lifter against other men for more than a year, including two competitions in 2012: the Ottawa Open in July and the Northern Open in North Bay, Ontario, in October. The latter took place four days before his chest surgery. Most power-lifting associations don’t have trans-inclusion policies, but MacKinnon has been allowed to compete even though many people know how he identifies.

Still, he doesn’t always connect with other power-lifters. “I’m not a straight trans guy, so I don’t relate to men I compete with as a straight man would. I’m a queer guy, so I feel like in some ways I miss out on some kinds of male bonding that straight guys do,” he says.

By day MacKinnon is a social worker and says he occasionally speaks on issues concerning physical well-being. In May, he will speak at the National Eating Disorder Information Centre conference “about queer male body image, specifically from the perspective of a trans man, and about experiences of transitioning and about bodybuilding.”

For the second year, MacKinnon will also participate in Raymond May 17, an event in honour of Nova Scotia activist Raymond Taavel, who was murdered last year. “One of my best friends [Jennifer Crawford] organized a memorial to remember Raymond’s life and to fundraise,” he says. On the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, MacKinnon, his power-lifting team and people across Toronto will take part in a cross-fit workout with all proceeds going to Supporting Our Youth.


Recovering from chest surgery and a recent back injury have set MacKinnon back a bit, but he says there’s plenty of time to prepare for 2014.

“I do hope to win the Gay Games for my weight class, because I’ve seen the numbers that the winners of the last few years have lifted, and my lifts are getting pretty close to that now,” he says. “I still have a year and a half to get stronger, anyway.”

Raymond May 17

Fri, May 17


Jeremy Willard is a Toronto-based freelance writer and editor. He's written for Fab Magazine, Daily Xtra and the Torontoist. He generally writes about the arts, local news and queer history (in History Boys, the Daily Xtra column that he shares with Michael Lyons).

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Culture, News, Trans, Canada

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