If you have even a passing interest in the day-to-day happenings in mixed martial arts, you have no doubt heard about Fallon Fox, MMA’s first transgender athlete. The story has been discussed ad nauseam over the past ten days or so.
I wouldn’t blame you if you were tired of hearing about it. In truth, I was of two minds as to whether or not I should even write this piece, given that there are countless opinions already on offer. Still, if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to give this particular dead horse a few whacks of my own.
My own take on the issue concerns the level of ignorance on display by prominent individuals within the MMA community and many of the fans who have contributed to the discussion.
In a recent interview with BloodyElbow.com, legendary MMA fighter and trainer Pat Miletich shared his own views on the subject of Fallon Fox:
“I think if you have a Y chromosome in your body, you're a man, no matter what hardware you have surgically removed, changed or done whatever. You're still a man. I talked to a lot of female fighters and they think it's bull****. I agree with them. There's nothing that changes the fact that Fallon Fox was born a man. So what if he lopped off his junk. I mean hey, you're still a man [laughs]. Fallon's confusion does not transfer over to my confusion. He still has a Y chromosome.”
How many of the female fighters he talked to were experts on gender reassignment, I wonder? I’m going to assume that Pat didn’t trawl through the scientific literature before offering his opinion.
And given that the former UFC welterweight champion seemingly doesn’t recognise that there is a distinction between a eunuch and someone who has undergone sexual reassignment, I think it’s a safe assumption to make.
The problem with basing one’s views on intuition is that much of science is counter-intuitive. For example, having a “Y chromosome in your body” is largely irrelevant to the discussion. Hormones are much more pertinent to the issue of fairness, which is really all that matters when determining whether Fallon Fox should be permitted to compete against females.
Dr. Johnny Benjamin recently offered his own take on the subject to BloodyElbow.com. The self-proclaimed “Fight Doc” made a number of points throughout the interview, but some of the more questionable claims can be seen below:
“The surgeons that spoke towards bone density decreasing and so on and so forth—that doesn't say the person doesn't still have superior physiological abilities. The real question is, what was the sex at time of puberty? As we all know, boys and girls aren't that much different until they go through puberty.
Gender reassignment happens after puberty. One of the things that happens during puberty, is that boys grow 15-20 cm taller than girls. The average height of men is greater than the average height of women. In addition to bone density, there is also the issue of longer bones in men. Longer bones lead to some mechanical advantages that shorter bones don't have.”
These claims directly contradict the views of experts in the relevant field of gender reassignment, such as Dr. Marci Bowers and Dr. Sherman Leis.
Again, speaking to BloodyElbow.com (who have done a wonderful job covering this story), Dr. Bowers and Dr. Leis both stated that years of hormone replacement therapy will have mitigated any advantage Fallon Fox may previously have enjoyed:
“If an individual is on female hormones, and she's been on them for several years, the hormones decrease the muscle mass, bone density, strength, libido and aggression. Those things are attributed to testosterone, and if she no longer produces testosterone, then she would have the level that an average female would have.”
Dr. Benjamin’s claim that men are generally taller than women might be relevant, if not for the fact that Fallon Fox is a mere 5’7”. We’re not exactly talking about Hong-man Choi here. Even if we were to assume that it is relevant, height also varies significantly within the sexes. Should we start separating fighters like Stefan Struve and Pat Barry into discrete "height divisions"?
One has to wonder why Dr. Johnny Benjamin feels compelled to consistently give his views on issues that are outside his field of expertise. He is an orthopedic spine surgeon, yet he feels qualified to contradict the views of medical professionals who have spent their entire careers studying gender reassignment.
Unfortunately, the likes of Dr. Benjamin and Pat Miletich aren’t alone. The reader comments on many mixed martial arts websites make Matt Hughes’ description of Fallon Fox as an “It” seem enlightened by comparison.
Every sport has its share of individuals who drag down the level of discourse. Given the manner in which the community has embraced women’s MMA, it’s unfortunate that many of those same people have let the community down so spectacularly on this issue.