I think I’ve seen this movie before.
On May 24, Mixed Martial Arts fighter Fallon Fox moved to 3-0 in her MMA career, beating Allana Jones and earning a spot in the finals of the Championship Fighting Alliance’s featherweight tournament. Her victory was accompanied by a chorus of jeers. Why? Fallon Fox is a transgendered male, now fully female—except for the unremovable Y chromosome—thanks to gender realignment surgery. Her rise through the female martial arts ranks has been greeted by a mixture of horror, ridicule and revulsion. When she came out for her most recent bout, some wit had the Aerosmith song “Dude Looks Like a Lady” blaring over the loudspeakers. Some of her MMA competitors have declared that they will not fight her, and here’s sports commentator/pundit/personality Joe Rogan opining on her qualifications to compete:
“You can’t fight women. That’s fucking crazy. I don’t know why she thinks that she’s going to be able to do that. If you want to be a woman in the bedroom and you know you want to play house and all of that other shit and you feel like you have, your body is really a woman’s body trapped inside a man’s frame and so you got a operation, that’s all good in the hood. But you can’t fight chicks. Get the fuck out of here. You’re out of your mind. You need to fight men, you know? Period. You need to fight men your size because you’re a man. You’re a man without a dick.”
How quickly they forget.
Back in 1977, the New York Supreme Court ruled that trangendered professional tennis player Renée Richards could not be banned from competing in the U.S. Open women’s tournament after tennis authorities tried to apply a new “must be born female” requirement specifically to keep her out. Yet here we are, countenancing the argument that a transgendered individual can’t compete as a woman, because she’s really “a man without a dick.” The reason the nearly 40 year-old precedent set by Richards in pro tennis seems to be ignored is that fighting, more so than tennis, is still seen a a man’s sport, and one where male secondary sex characteristics like greater lean muscle mass. size and bone density convey obvious competitive advantages. The same objection was made regarding Richards however, because weight-training competitors like Serena Williams, Sloane Stephens and Samantha Stosur weren’t around to make her look like a pathetic wimp.
None of the biological arguments against Fox stand up to scrutiny, but the “ick factor” rules here. Allowing a man to have surgery and then win prizes and titles by beating the daylights out of women seems unfair and creepy. Intellectually we can accept the fact that gender reassignment through hormone treatment and physical alteration creates a “real” woman, but for many, the leap to allowing transgendered individual compete in strength and size-dependent sports is a mental bridge too far.
That’s their problem, and the courts are correct: they have no right, nor is it fair, to make it Fallon Fox’s problem, any more than it made sense for the Miss Universe pageant to try to disqualify a transgendered beauty contest competitor. If the sport is for females, and Fox is legally a female, there is nothing unethical or unfair about her competing. If women’s sports want to fairly and seriously address the disparity in physical size and strength issues, then they should institute size and weight classes, not take their dissonance out on courageous survivors like Fox. ( In another gender and sports controversy, South African Silver Medalist runner Caster Semenya continues to face discrimination by authorities in her sport, due to her anomalous gender issues.) I think we can be pretty sure that we are never going to see male athletes getting themselves castrated and feminized so they can smoke the competition in women’s sports, and that is clearly not what Fox set out to do. Attacks like Rogan’s are willfully ignorant. We settled this issue, and Dr. Richards went through hell to get it settled. The only thing that has changed is that women are stronger than ever, and the myth that being born male confers permanent and automatic superiority has moved from myth to lie.
Graphic: The Inquisitor