By Kayley Whalen, Board Liaison, National LGBTQ Task Force
On Tuesday, March 5, Fallon Fox made sports history when she came out as the first openly transgender athlete in mixed martial arts (MMA). Fox competes professionally in the women’s featherweight division of the Championship Fighting Alliance, and is currently undefeated (2-0 in professional matches, and 5-0 counting both amateur and professional matches).
Fallon Fox’s story resonates very personally with me, as I am a transgender athlete who competes in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). Fox began hormone replacement therapy (HRT) 11 years ago; I began HRT seven years ago. Both of us began training for a full-contact women’s sport in 2008, her MMA, me, flat-track roller derby. And unfortunately, both of us have faced transphobia and discrimination within our respective sports, including critics who claim we have no right to compete with other women because of a supposed “unfair advantage” we have as transgender women.
I met Fallon Fox in 2010 and we immediately became friends. She told me then about her fears about being outed within MMA, and I shared with her my story of triumphing over my critics in roller derby that had tried to out me and remove me from the sport I loved.
However, our experiences have been different in that I was able to keep my transgender history private when I was first investigated in 2010, whereas Fox chose to out herself when she found out she was being investigated. I did eventually choose to out myself as transgender to the roller derby world in January 2012, in order to show my support for the transgender policy the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association was about to adopt.
Fox has displayed impressive skill and strategy at MMA, decisively winning her first two professional bouts in addition to all three of her amateur bouts, and it’s likely that she wouldn’t be facing this same scrutiny if she wasn’t successful. While many detractors claim that transgender athletes such as myself and Fox have an “unfair advantage” over cisgender women — i. e., women who were assigned female at birth — medical experts overwhelmingly agree that this is not the case.
While both of us may be muscular, strong women, and both of us have successful athletic records (my team, the DC All-Stars, went from No. 10 to No. 6 in WFTDA’s East Division in 2012), that is a result of the countless hours we put into training. Our hormone therapy long ago put us on an even playing field with other women our size.
From my own personal experience, I know that coming out publicly in the media is a very difficult process for a transgender person to go through, especially someone already with a fan following that comes from being a successful athlete. The best thing for her would be if her story brings in a huge outpouring of love, she’s allowed to keep fighting, and then life goes on and she keeps being treated with the same respect in her sport as before. The Association of Boxing Commissions(ABC) has a medical policy on transgender fighters that would seem to allow Fallon Fox to be eligible to compete as a woman, but her fighting license is nevertheless currently under dispute.
Even if she is allowed to continue to compete, it is almost certain she will continue to face transphobia, as demonstrated by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and National Center for Transgender Equality’s Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey.
That survey interviewed over 6,000 transgender people from across the U.S. and found alarmingly high rates of discrimination of all forms. While there was no specific data on discrimination in sports, MMA is Fox’s professional work, and the survey found that 90% of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job, or took actions like hiding who they are to avoid discrimination. Furthermore, over one-quarter (26%) of respondents reported that they had lost a job due to being transgender or gender non-conforming and 50% were harassed on the job.
Support Our Work