It’s a touchy subject in any walk of life, let alone the testosterone-filled world of MMA cages: gender identity. Specifically, transgender identity. Last month, it came to light that MMA fighter Fallon Fox underwent a gender reassignment operation to become a woman in 2006. On Wednesday, she was cleared of any wrongdoing in obtaining a Florida fighter’s license.
Going forward this won’t simply be a civil rights issue, but also one of fighter safety. But the bigger problem is that the issue exists solely in the big gray area of the sport, an area no one had previously wished to address, let alone enter.
Sexual identity is located on a spectrum. Some people are born female and over time come to understand themselves better as males.[ref]This is called F to M transitioning.[/ref] Other times, a person may be born male and come to identify as female.[ref]M to F transitioning.[/ref] Transition from identification can be done in many ways. Sometimes it is through identity only and other times it can involve surgery that supports physical changes from one sex to another. As such, Fox should have every right to fight in a competition as the person she identifies to be. To argue that she is still a man who “cut her dick off,” as some pundits have eloquently put it, greatly dumbs down the science behind hormonal therapy.
The MMA community has been viewed by outsiders as insensitive and at times homophobic (though Liz Chamouche fighting in a main event as lesbian was a major step forward). People like Pat Miletch–who takes the position that Fox should not fight–make the sport seem even more insensitive, if partially because those who are speaking out against Fox are not able to word what it is they disapprove of in an intelligent manner.
Another point: “Well…she was a man until just a while ago.” Normally, I would put little validity into this statement, since the cocktail of synthetics pumped into Fox’s body would seem to nullify that notion. But looking at her 2-0 record, you can’t help but notice two early stoppages via knock out. This record sticks out like a sore thumb. Is it just poor competition or is it that she is benefiting from having a more imposing and physically strong frame? It is hard to say since neither competitor has proven to be a solid benchmark.
Fox will fight Allana Jones on May 24. Yet other fighters are already coming out and saying that they do not want to face Fox. Ericka Newsome claimed that she thought the sex change issue made her fight with Fox unfair and that if she had known about Fox’s past, she wouldn’t have taken her on.
The stigma is out there now, no matter what is justified or real. Fox fights in a division that is essentially dead in Women’s MMA (145 lbs). This class only has one true champion in “Cyborg” Santos, who was recently busted for steroids. Santos-Fox could occur because Santos is now fighting outside of UFC, for the all-women’s Invicta FC, and Santos needs to remain relevant if she hopes to land a multi-million dollar fight with Ronda Rousey. With outlets like CNN covering Fox, it’s fair to assume big media will be at her next fight.
Another wrinkle here is that Fox is 37-years-old and just getting started in MMA. With this exposure it would only make sense that she would look to capitalize on the media attention. The truth is that Fox’s unique situation is a ticking clock that will ring at any moment and when it does it will be over for her, because of age.
Then there is the athletic commission, an entity who must be nervous, since they do not want the Fox case studied in civil justice seminars. Even outspoken ringmaster Dana White has yet to substantively comment on the issue, mainly stating that Fox is just young in her career and it is mostly up to the commission. So here we stand, one fighter with a large amount of attention and support and nearly just as many detractors. The issue is far from simple—there’s been speculation of a possible transgender MMA league that could open up a whole new can of equality worms.
The greatest asset for Fox at this point is what she is doing to win and win impressively. The more people talk about the issue around her sexuality, means more attention and more chances for her to potentially get a big opportunity. Times have changed and it is time for the fighting world to wake up and get on-board.