Renée Richards, Fallon Fox, and Déjà Vu: Transgender Ethics In Sports


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.


Stosur. Chris Evert she’s not.

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.


Sources: Fight Opinion,  The Inquisitor, Yahoo Sports, Bleacher Report

Graphic: The Inquisitor

42 thoughts on “Renée Richards, Fallon Fox, and Déjà Vu: Transgender Ethics In Sports

  1. Wait, are you saying that because she is legally a female and therefore technically allowed to compete, there is by definition nothing unethical about competing? Isn’t that the attitude you decry so often, that “It’s not illegal” means that it must be ethical and fair?

    I also don’t think that competitive male athletes are going to undergo gender-swap efforts to compete in women’s sports. That doesn’t change the fact that a biological male stands to have an unfair advantage over a biological female. Samantha Stosur is a beast (in the muscle sense, no aesthetic judgement) and well above the average male tennis player, but a male tennis player who went to similar weight training lengths would likely be bigger than her.

    It’s the reason that we have yet to see a major-league professional female athlete compete in the men’s leagues, and the first one to do so is probably going to be a football kicker (a position of individual skill, not head-to-head contact): At high levels of sport, elite men are going to be better as a whole than elite women. It’s biology and anatomy, and has nothign to do with men being somehow “superior” as your last sentence implies.

    • You missed a connection somewhere. She is legally female. She is also biologically female—did you read the link? She lives as a female. The argument for letting her compete as what she lives as and as she is now physically configured is both fair and logical.

      That’s how we decide who qualifies for female competitions. Nobody ever said it was based on chromosomes. It’s obviously not based on biceps, or Serena would be playing in the male tournaments. Or height, since then they’d have to move her sister over too. A sport is a sport…most male/female separations make no sense. Why archery, in the Olympics? All the old male records in swimming have been broken by women. Why ping-pong?

      I don’t believe that males have an unfair advantage at all. Many advantages in physical ability can be made up with skill, and that true of most professional sports. The main reason that no women have turned up in baseball, for example, is that the hurdles to staying active in baseball are hopeless. Women don’t get to play as girls, and then it is too late. Two of the best players on my son’s Little League team were girls, but both chose to stop playing once they decided that getting hit on by guys was more fun than wearing a cup. If a similat number of women were encouraged an allowed to play baseball through the ranks, we’d have dozens of pitchers, catchers, base-stealers, outfielders. You don’t think Stosur, if baseball were her sport, could hit a ball out of Fenway? Why couldn’t she be Dustin Pedroia?

      A male tennis player who went to similar weight training lengths as Stosur would likely be bigger than her, and unable to move on the court, too. Women also have some advantages. The record in one-armed pull-ups is held by a woman, or was last I checked. Women have a much more efficient muscle/strength to weight ratio, if they seek it.

      • I didn’t read the link- from my work computer (where I’m not allowed to run NoScript) I only visit sites I trust don’t have any nasty malware lurking in the ads or background. I’ll have to read it later and answer back to that point later.

        As for a sport is a sport, though, well- no it isn’t. Many sports, it’s true, have a skill component much greater than the pure physical component. Ping-pong, archery, even baseball, sure. But for some key sports (and I’m looking at YOU, MMA), no matter how GOOD you are, if the other guy is strong enough he’s eventually going to punch you in the head and ou can’t stop him.

        Oh, and in the interest of good arguments, it’s not really relevant that old men’s records ahve been broken by women. Training techniques, the idea of devoting yoru whole life to a sport, and even steroid use have all advanced. Sure, modern women may be better swimmers than men of the past, but how do the current men and women’s records compare? You say that women are getting bigger and stronger all the time, but it’s true of men as well.

      • Re: The Bleacher Report article about M-F trans individuals and their bone/muscle density: Interesting. I’d never heard research along those lines before, and it certainly appears to show that with sufficient hormone therapy the biological advantage of growing to adulthood as a male can be negated.

        It certainly would take time to work- I wonder if the future may hold some time limit requirement for fighers wishing to compete out of their birth gender (2 years of HRT to compete as female when born male, or something similar)- to make sure there is a minimum standard of equalization. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that would draw criticism as a “test” for who’s “REALLY a woman.”

  2. Gender separate athletic competition should be outlawed. Let’s have baseball and football and boxing and golf and MMA and let the best competitor win. Like marriage. Why prevent anyone from competing for any purse? Why prevent anyone from becoming married? What’s sexual orientation or identity got to do with sport? If you identify as a girl and are attracted to guys and some guy beats you to a pulp in MMA, that’s too bad. You’re not good enough. It’s called “losing.” Sorry. Take up another sport.

    • I can never tell when you are being tongue in cheek or serious. In this case, I mostly agree with you. Gender differentiated sports are essentially affirmative action, and women suffer for it. If women played tennis against men all the time, they would be just as good, or some would.

      • I’m pretty sure I was being totally serious, Jack. I’m glad you mostly agree. In the future I will append a “tongue-in-cheek” or “serious” tag.

        • And this is a serious question: If it’s unenlightened and wrong to limit marriage to heterosexuals, why is it allowable to let only certain people compete athletically against some people (but not others)?

          • The serious answer is that any two people can always compete against each other any time they like. There is no right, however, to compete within a private organization that has its own rules. Hell, private golf clubs still prohibit women!. We could start a unisex sports association tomorrow.

  3. Doesn’t a transgender female have an advantage over other females in sports roughly the same as a male athlete on PEDs has over other males? In the PED case, there is an artificial alteration of the body chemistry, incl. hormones, etc. The difference, of course, is that in the transgender female case, the hormones and biological advantages are natural for her, and in order for other females to have the same biological make-up they would have to start using PEDs.

    • But transgender females are doing the opposite of steroids, taking estrogen, and are not naturally producing male hormones. Do you really want to get into hormone levels as a qualification for sports?

      • Probably not, I’m just saying the same advantage granted by steroids which we consider unfair is the advantage which also exists in the transgender female scenario. Unless the only reason we don’t allow steroids is because of harmful side effects, I can’t see how we can say one is an unfair advantage but the other is not, even if the advantage is being minimized by the use of other hormones. Does the advantage of developing as a male, with large amounts of testosterone and the ability to more easily develop fast-twitch muscle fibers and denser bones, ever get counteracted by the new hormones?

        • Yes. Takes about 2 years, once the source of testosterone is removed.

          There are two questions that have to be answered:

          First, how significant a role does bone density and muscle fiber composition in the past play? How much carries over – enough to be “unfair” compared with other women in the sport (all of whom are biologically very different from the norm)?

          Second – as a Trans woman has far less testosterone than her competition, is the disadvantage from this significant enough so that allowing Trans women to compete would be a safety issue for them?

          For the first question, such advantages would only be significant in sport segregated by weight/height class – like this one. The advantage is nullified after 2 years of HRT, and when opponents weigh the same.

          For the second question – while there may be some minimal risk that Trans women may be at an unfair disadvantage, it’s not a significant safety issue.

          BTW I’ve studied this area quite a bit – feel free to ask questions, and require citations.

      • Hormone levels = pretty much the most important thing in sports. Hence why PEDs are banned and just about all pro athletes take them.. and risk getting caught and ruining their careers.. and lives.

      • you’re wrong…..right if they stay on their asignment hormones…..but in the off season we naturalize and grow and then reassign… are wrong……unless sport becomes ONE open event where women compete against men….you are right if your agenda is to embrace trans genderism.but anyone who takes hormones to qualify is as guilty as taking PEDs to qualify….you are wrong and so is the WPTA for allowing this scam for so long in the williams sisters case.

  4. I’m a little frustrated by this article.

    I’d really like to see more focus on the biological arguments. Unless your a bigot the only factor of interest in the ethics of transgender competition is, whether or not transgendered females have an unfair competitive advantages as a result of being born male. I’m reading the Fallon Fox article and the only biological factor it soundly debunks is the bone density one. It takes a stab at muscle mass but doesn’t support it well (for the same reason I didn’t like the points about tennis or Caster). The issue of size isn’t addresses but it is one easily and reasonably remedied by your size dependent suggestion, so that’s entirely excusable.

    The Miss Universe point is interesting in a larger debate about the appropriateness of transgender discrimination but I don’t think it scales wells to sports. And the points about Tennis and Caster Semenya need short descriptions in addition to the links. We know they are relevant to the ethics of transgender people in sports but we don’t know how. What was the basis and argument for the supreme case ruling? Caster Semenya may face discrimination but what are the factors of her case and how are they decisively unethical enough to act as an appropriate foil to Richards?

    Presumably the links answer these questions, but in the interest of a quality argument they should be answered clearly and up front with the links being provided for extra-curricular interest.

    It must suck to be be feel like your trapped in the wrong body and life is already hard enough for transgendered people that the idea of barring them from sports seems like Homeric tragedy. But as it stands I’m leaning towards no, for the biological argument, even as I hope that it’s ethical for Richards and Semenya to compete.

    • I don’t even think its a close call.

      Richards, Semenya and Fox are all outliers, unusual cases at the edges that all rules and system have to deal with. Semenya is the easy one, ironically. She appears to have characteristics of both sexes, but identifies as a woman and always has. Fine. She’s a woman, until there’s an intersex category that the sport recognizes. Does her masculine traits give her an advantage? Sure. And Mark Spitz had hyper-extending elbows that let him swim faster. Tom Dempsey kicked field goals with a four shaped like a club. Babe Ruth was a baseball freak. That’s life. That’s sports.

      Surgical alteration raises the issue of fairness and cheating. I wouldn’t have allowed “the Blade Runner” to compete, for example—that’s far, far off the fairness mark. But transgendered individuals become women (or men) within the legal definitions, and from that point on, their disadvantages or advantages just go into the mix. What’s the alternative? Make Fox compete as a man? He isn’t one. Not let her compete at all? Based on what? She isn’t cheating. There are bigger, stronger women in the sport, or soon will be.

      I don’t think the advantages should even be an issue, just as with Serena. So she’s bigger and stronger than other women. What if she was a transexual with exactly the same abilities? Why would transexual Serena be more of an issue than the forever-female version? I don’t see it. It’s just “ick”, that’s all.

      • The physical performance difference between the sexes is not minimal, it is huge. That includes same weight/sized males/females, the difference remains even when the same training is received. The question is if she is taking the hormones does that reduce the ability down to the level of a women, even then it doesn’t take in account lung/heart capacity and the like.

      • The main point is that the article itself needs more clarity with regards to how the supporting cases actually support the case. Though without knowing if Semenya is actually transgender (she might just be a mannish lady) I dont think we can reasonably apply it to Richards.

        In so far as the biological edge is concerned Steve nailed it. And as support for that point I would add that the military has two separate sets of minimum physical standards for men and women, and when women have been held to the same physical standards as men (for example in the last two USMC Infantry Officer School classes) the results have been less than spectacular. The sex difference is too vast to be so easily dismissed

        I dont think hormone therapy can convincingly rectify the physical disparity between the two sexes. Id love to see evidence to the contrary but I fear there is just too much river to bridge. Nor can we just act as if they are one of sports rare naturally talented stars. The athletic pantheon didnt make the choice to have some biological advantage. But that’s exactly what transgender females in sports do. They make a choice. It almost certainly isn’t their intent to gain some advantage, but intent matters less than consequence (thats life). And that consequence is an unfair competitive advantage that you cant ethically expect competitors to swallow (thats sports).

        • Review Zoebrain’s comments on this topic. It’s more complicated than I can begin to describe. There is a big spectrum between the genders, and it is over-simplifying to say it is a matter of “are you a boy or are you a girl.” It can be a little bit of both.

          It makes neither ethical nor logical sense to ban a transgender competitor who is legally and biologically a woman because of a presumed physical edge when there are women who may be physically stronger with no surgical transition at all. The Richards case is completely analogous. I see nothing unfair… all is legal, nothing has been hidden. To the extent that the transgender qualities are an advantage, it is no different from any other advantage conferred genetically. The transgender treatment did not enhance the athletic skill or ability, and as Zoe explains, actually reduces strength. I see the argument, but it is based on erroneous assumptions. The transgender athlete has a right to compete, and the final gender alignment is where she belongs.

          • Addendum: Women should not have lesser physical standards in the armed forces, nor the police, nor among fire fighters. That’s affirmative action at its worst It’s not a model for anything, especially pro sports.

            • Women should not have lesser physical standards in the armed forces, nor the police, nor among fire fighters.

              Correct. It’s the job that has the requirements. The trick is to make sure that the tests accurately measure what the real requirements are.

              Example: in naval damage control, the ideal is to have someone simultaneously strong as an ox, with the size of a mouse to get into tight places, Having small people without upper body strength, or strong giants who can’t get in to damaged areas, both fail. A combination is best – reasonably strong small people, reasonably small strong people.

              A test just for size would be biased against men; one just for strength, biased against women. But neither bias is relevant, what matters is can they do what the job requires?

              One problem we have is that we have to use proxy tests. Number of pushups, ability to bench-press etc, and assume that those accurately measure ability. But push-ups aren’t part of (say) a firefighter’s job. Maneuvering charged hoses is, and that requires a certain minimum inertial mass and strength.

              For many firefighting scenarios, a relatively small person going in with a team of huge people backing them up with hoses is best. So the requirements for different parts of the team will be different, and often contradictory to some extent. Superb physical fitness is a common requirement, large mass is not.

        • I dont think hormone therapy can convincingly rectify the physical disparity between the two sexes. Id love to see evidence to the contrary

          See International Olympic Committee. IOC Medical Commission. Statement of the Stockholm consensus on sex reassignment in sports. 28 October, 2003.


          Click to access The_Transgender_Athlete_2011Recommendations.pdf

          The problem there is that they’re just recommendations, summaries of findings. To get the raw data used by the committees in order to check these conclusions requires not just data mining in published studies, but access to individual and confidential medical records. Frustrating!

          Click to access en_report_904.pdf

          The present recommendation is the result of an upda
          ting of the IAAF guidelines by a panel of
          experts and to which clear requirements have been a
          dded with respect to eligibility for
          competition under the new gender following sex reas
          signment after puberty. The most debated
          aspects have been: (A) For how long will the hormon
          al influence of the earlier puberty be of
          importance? (B) Will the testosterone influence on
          the muscular strength during male puberty
          ever disappear? (C) For how long should the treatme
          nt with female hormones last in order to be
          considered sufficient? (D) How can one make sure th
          at the required treatment with female
          hormone does really take place? All those questions
          were addressed by the panel, which also
          sought advise from further outside experts, before
          the enclosed recommendations were agreed

  5. I’m sorry but Samantha Stosur has obviously done a cycle of steroids. You don’t get that ripped and big as fast as she did with out doing steroids.

    • You could be right, but I think it’s an unfair assumption. She’s a mesomorph, and she works out hard. Was Angela Bassett on ‘roids when she trained to be Tina Turner? Madonna? Hillary Swank in “Million Dollar Baby”? Brooke Shields is naturally muscular, and has never worked at it—if she did, she would be frightening (hot, though!) Here’s a test—is Katie Couric stacking?

      Katie flexing

      • Answer to your questions = YES! They were/are ALL juicing! Steroids or HGH or both!
        “Mesomorph” my ass! Just PED abusers! Did you consider SAM Stosur to be a “mesomorph” when she was small and soft back in the early 00’s.. you know, before she started juicing?

        • Libel. Prove it. There are naturally muscular women, just as there are thin and heavy women. They are unusual, but so are elite athletes. Do you really think Serena Williams isn’t naturally muscular? Does Brooke Shields “juice”?

          • naturally low lipid percentage women….my wife is 50 kilo and has triceps and a back like a small man….but i dont think she would reach massive proportions if worked anerobically.serena williams looked very much the boy in her young years…..i’m surprised no one has taken advantage of the renee richards affair….no….i’m sure some have and the association is hand cuffed to respond……besides if big hitting men are making tennis billions,who is going to say anything……..but it is biologically morally wrong.

    • Correct. No female on the planet can get as muscular as Sam Stosur without drugs. Most men can’t get as muscular as “her” without PEDs too because they don’t have enough hormones in their system (building muscle is all about hormones. More hormones = more muscle building potential). Can you believe that? A “female” tennis player out-muscling weight-lifting men.. and people think it’s normal and that “she” doesn’t take drugs. World’s gone mad.

  6. This is unethical. At best those top tier women MMA fighters are performing at a male mean high performance level. If she can demonstrate that she is only at that level then there may be an argument. She lived as a man while in the navy and even after, she has had the ability to fully develop her male characteristics, sure she had the surgery done but what is the guarantee that she is taking those hormones, and at effective rates, that will reduce her natural completive edge? I know that no other athlete would ever consider taking advantage of an unfair means to edge out opponents but why wouldn’t she?

    No, without special restrictive rules for her this just won’t due ethically speaking. Weight classes not only help to insure a fair contest but also safety. The physical performance differences between men and women per mass isn’t slight, it is not even close, the top women athletes only perform at the high mean of men. The closest achievements are in swimming and running where a very few women have been able to make it into the bottom of the top tier of men. When it comes to strength and stamina especially as it pertains to completing complex tasks top women performers are in the range of a male couch potato. In contests of individual skill there is a solid argument but in combat such as MMA and boxing there is not.

    I absolutely am not denigrating those women athletes; they work their ass off to get to that level of performance, they are damn good. But to believe in this PC notion that women can physically perform at the same level as men regardless of the task is stupid.

    Now Zoe if you can give me some proof that she is only capable of performing at a women’s level then I might change my tune, but it would need to completely negate the muscular, skeletal and aerobic capacity differences between the sexes.

    If references are required to back up my assertion of the large difference in physical performance between the sexes here are a few to start with.

    Click to access GregorWJ-01October2011.pdf
    Gender Differences and their Impact on Physical Performance
    in Soldiers of the Austrian Armed Forces

      • My take is that the competition is weight-categorised.

        If she has an advantage from stronger, heavier bones, and also greater muscle mass… is she wearing an anti-gravity belt? Because her opponents are the same mass. What bits of her anatomy are lighter than theirs to make up for the difference?

        It’s true that given two similar women, one originally male-bodied, that one will have some advantage due to increased mass of muscle, bone, enlarged heart and lungs. She’ll also be heavier in proportion – so in a different weight class.

        There’s also the matter of comparing like vs like. None of the women in this competition are “average”. All have greater muscle density etc from training than most women. A fair number are certain to be subclinically, and possibly even clinically Intersex.

  7. This tranny should definitely be allowed to compete against other “women” because THEY are ALL trannies themselves after-all, with the amount of artificial anabolic hormones in their systems (steroids, hgh…)!
    And yes, they ALL juice! Just because a person passed a drug test (or wasn’t tested in the first place) it does NOT mean that person is drug free! Remember Lance Armstrong? How about Marion Jones?…..

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