If you’ve been following LGBT issues at all, then you’ve probably heard about Fallon Fox.
She’s a professional mixed martial artist who caused a great deal of controversy when questions came up last March about her medical history–specifically that she’s a transgender woman fighting other women. The controversy garnered even more mainstream media coverage after Joe Rogan went on a rant calling her “a man without a dick” and then again when a UFC fighter got cut for telling a reporter that Fox was a “sociopathic, disgusting freak.”
Birth name unreleased, Fox had gotten sexual reassignment surgery in 2006 and has been on hormone replacement therapy for years before she started fighting.
Fallon Fox was later cleared by the Florida State Boxing Commission to fight women. And she is now scheduled to fight Allanna Jones in CFA 11 on AXS TV, May 24.
[Cat Zingano’s interview tact here was laudable.]
It was my interest in sex and gender roles that led me to what has become the only sport I enjoy regularly watching. (Who is this Ronda Rousey that made it for women in the UFC when the president said it would “never” happen? I found last year’s Tate v. Rousey and was immediately intrigued by the fast-paced grappling.)
But I struggled with this piece, not only because I don’t participate in WMMA, but because the nature of the sport can make it harder to argue what constitutes “fairness” in competition than in say, a non-contact sport like running. Example: If you’re wrestling and have a leg lock around an opponent’s waist, even adjusted for weight, I imagine that something like hip shape could matter, and it could matter a lot. I had a lot of problems trying to think of how to write an article that defends which characteristics are “important” in determining sex in a way that doesn’t open up a slippery slope into scrapping sex segregation in sports all together.
All the major MMA news sites I’ve read have had an outstanding professional and nonjudgemental style when reporting the controversy. But the more critical opinions of the fans can be found in the comments sections of sites like CagePotato, MMAjunkie, YouTube videos, MMA forums, and r/mma.
Many comments are dismissible purely on their ignorance (dur, XX and XY, the end) and hate levels, but there is some civil discussion going on:
Most of the arguments about Fox still having the “natural advantages” of men can easily be rebutted with existing scientific literature. The hormone replacement therapy makes the muscle mass and bone density arguments moot. Testosterone levels are going to be well within “female” range. I haven’t found any “muscle fiber type” literature that says women can’t condition train to “manlier” types. And any differences in neurology (reaction time, spatial awareness, etc.), are usually too small to make blanket statement about the sexes.
Not every sexual dimorphism can be neatly plotted on a bell curve, and even when they can, elite athletes are going to be the outliers.
That said, the amount of sexism and transphobia within the fighting community is overwhelming. Cris Cyborg has been getting unparalleled amounts of shit for her masculine physiognomy for years, so it was no surprise to see her name alongside Fox’s in comments like, “let the trannies fight each other.” I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to characterize most MMA fighters, commentators, and fans as giant douchebags. The amount of vitriol, prejudice, and misinformation that has surrounded Fox is what is truly disgusting about the entire ordeal.
If Fallon Fox loses to Allanna Jones on Friday, she loses. If she wins, it’ll be touted as proof that male-to-female transgender means superior. Either way, she’s still going to have to face a bunch of judgment and questions about her legitimacy as a a woman and a fighter. She may have problems finding consistent sponsors. Major promotion agencies, which have pretty much all been bought by Zuffa (UFC), are going to want to avoid this controversy until the fans will it to happen. Fox is now 37, late for a budding MMA career, and transgender folk still have a long way to go before society matches them at current tolerance and understanding levels of homosexuals. By those metrics, Fox has already lost.
The silver lining in all this is that the Florida State Boxing Commission made the right call. At the end of all the quibbling about bone proportion and safety, there should be a segregation of men and women in MMA and Fox should be allowed in one of the two.
The doctors and the overseeing commission say that Fallon Fox is a woman. So fight on, Fallon “Queen of Swords” Fox, fight on.