Fallon Fox and the Culture of Ignorance: A Response to Controversy

James MacDonald@@JimMacDonaldMMAFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2013

Courtesy of Fightland.com
Courtesy of Fightland.com

As many of you are no doubt aware, I recently posted an article that explored what I deem to be ignorance surrounding the Fallon Fox story.

Naturally, I expected the piece to be controversial, but the discussion that developed in the comments section was, let’s say, more passionate than I had anticipated.

Comments ranged from people providing thoughtful opposition to my own view to those who suggested that Fallon Fox and I should kill ourselves—perhaps in a manner that pays homage to Romeo and Juliet, if certain other commenters are to be taken seriously.

Regrettably, this article is going to be ever-so-slightly academic in its tone, since several readers requested published sources for certain claims. Hopefully those who are interested will indulge the heavier tone.

There is no doubt that this is a sensitive issue. Some see it as a fundamental conflict between fighter safety and Fox’s right to live her life as a woman, with all the privileges that entails. However, my opinion is that this perceived conflict is an illusion based on fallacious reasoning relating to intuition.

I am going to respond to some of the common criticisms aimed at my last article, while providing several lines of evidence that should hopefully clarify some of the more robust misconceptions that have arisen.

One theme that persisted throughout the discussion was the notion that Fallon Fox should be defined as man or woman based on her chromosomes. This concept has been thoroughly debunked in recent years. The following quotes are from a 2000 article published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Genetics:

Despite compelling evidence for the lack of scientific merit for chromosome-based screening for gender, as well as its functional and ethical inconsistencies, the IOC persisted in its policy for 30 years…. At the recent recommendation of the IOC Athletes Commission, the Executive Board of the IOC has finally recognized the medical and functional inconsistencies and undue costs of chromosome-based methods. In 1999, the IOC ratified the abandonment of on-site genetic screening of females at the next Olympic Games in Australia.

How we define men and women is an important issue in general, but it isn’t as important as you might think in this case—which is counter-intuitive, I grant you.

The reason why it is less important is because our goal should be to determine whether or not Fallon Fox has a competitive edge as a result of being born a male, not whether she possesses all the qualities and traits we associate with being female.

Another stubborn misconception relates to bone density. Indeed, Joe Rogan recently made this very point in reference to Fallon Fox during an eight-minute rant on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast:

First of all, she's not really a she. She's a transgender, post-op person. The operation doesn't shave down your bone density. It doesn't change.

I’ll ignore the UFC color commentator’s subjective claim regarding how we should define gender and instead focus on the last part of the above quote, which is patently false. This point was addressed in my previous article, but it is perhaps worth repeating.

The effects of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) on bone density have been well established. The National Osteoporosis Society details the impact (p.4) on those who have gone through the process of gender reassignment:

Both sex hormones are necessary for bone health as once they decline (as in hormone therapy for a transsexual person), bone density begins to be lost. This is because, without the influence of the hormones, the cells which break down bone begin to work faster than the cells making new bone, so a deficiency in bone density occurs.

You can also go here for Steph Daniels’ interview with two leading sex reassignment physicians, both of whom echo these claims.

Surprisingly, some commenters have disputed the idea that HRT impacts muscle mass. Most of you are probably aware—largely owing to the controversy surrounding Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) in MMA—that hormones have a profound effect on both gaining and shedding muscle.

The following study from 2008, published in the peer-reviewed journal BONE (I already regret providing the journal title), addresses the issue of decreased muscle mass and decreased bone density in male-to-female gender reassigned individuals:

M→F (male-to-female) transsexual persons have less lean mass and muscle strength, and higher fat mass. In addition, they present lower trabecular vBMD and aBMD at the lumbar spine, total hip and distal radius, and smaller cortical bone size as compared to matched controls.

If you would like to look more closely at the cited articles, then the links have been provided. You may need access to college/university library resources to access the full text of the articles.

Many readers have retrospectively focused on what they perceive to be an unnatural strength advantage for Fox, arguing that we should trust what we see with our eyes and not what science tells us.

For example, in her bout with Scottie Fortner, Fox executed a takedown early in the fight. It was a solid takedown, but it was nothing we haven’t already seen many times from Miesha Tate and Sara McMann.

To hear some tell the story, you would think Fox had lifted her foe several feet into the air and executed a spectacular Big Show-esque chokeslam. In reality, she simply took Fortner down with a double-leg, secured the mount position and transitioned quite beautifully to an armbar.

That is the problem with the so-called “eye test." We are all susceptible to confirmation bias. Even my brief description of the above fight is a reflection of my own bias.

It is for this reason that we should defer to the experts.

Certain commenters objected to the perceived notion that I was calling everyone on the other side of the line ignorant. This is probably my fault for not communicating clearly whom the title of the article referred to.

The truth is that charge was reserved for the likes of Pat Miletich and Joe Rogan—whose work I greatly admire in general. While neither man is ignorant generally, conflating eunuchs and transsexuals and making spurious claims about gender reassignment are examples of profound ignorance on this particular subject.

No one, including myself, is objecting on the grounds that their statements are politically incorrect.

The issue is that their claims are factually inaccurate.

Political correctness is of little concern to me, particularly when we are dealing with serious issues such as fighter safety and competitive fairness.

While I don’t expect this article to be the last word on the issue (nor should it be), hopefully it clarifies some of the questions that were raised in light of my previous submission.

There are a number of valid concerns that need to be addressed before this issue can be put to bed, such as Fox’s need to submit the relevant medical information in order to guarantee that she is competing on a level playing field.

It is also worth discussing whether or not it is inherently advantageous to hone one’s skills as a male prior to undertaking the process of gender reassignment.

These are important issues, which can perhaps elevate the level of discourse on the subject.

Hopefully future debate is handled with the kind of class I had previously come to expect from the community.


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