My take on the Fallon Fox controversy

There’s been lots of talk recently about female transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox, and whether she should be able to compete in the women’s division. I’ve had a few discussions about it, and there seem to be a lot of misconceptions going around, so here are my thoughts on the subject.

1) Many of the comments about this subject have been offensive and unnecessary. I think this is a necessary debate, but it needs to be handled respectfully.

2) None of us have a right to compete in professional MMA. People are routinely denied a licence to compete if their medical status means that there could be an increased risk either to themselves or their opponent.

3) MMA is a relatively safe sport, providing that participants are evenly matched by size, strength and ability. We have gender and weight classes not only to ensure fairness, but also to reduce the risks.

4) Contrary to some of the assertions by Fox’s supporters in the media, there appears to be no good scientific evidence that proves Fox does not have a performance advantage over someone who was born female. Expert opinion is still just opinion – and it seems divided on the subject. Experts may also have their own biases. Specialists in gender reassignment may not be equally knowledgeable about exercise physiology.

5) The experts supporting Fox have been quite cautious in their assessment. “She probably does not have a significant advantage” and “her musculature is comparable to that of a woman” are a long way from saying “we know for a fact that she does not have a performance advantage over someone born female”.

6) The differences between men and women in sport depend on a great deal more than current hormone levels and muscle mass. For example, men have a higher ratio of type II to type I muscle fibres, which is associated with improved speed and explosive power, and a heart that is larger relative to body size. It’s not clear to what extent either of these would change after sex-reassignment surgery, or what implications that would have for performance in this case. Because of the bone structure that is developed while still growing, men also have a greater lung capacity and a narrower pelvis, giving a biomechanical advantage – factors which are highly unlikely to be reversed by hormone treatment.There are likely to be other factors that differ between men and women in terms of athletic performance that we aren’t even aware of.

7) Fox’s supporters point to the fact that male to female transgender athletes are allowed to compete as female in the olympics to support their argument that she should be able to compete in the women’s division in MMA. The IOC appears to base it’s policy on the principle that without firm evidence that an unfair advantage exists, transgender fighters should be allowed to compete in the interests of inclusivity. I agree that equality of participation is a nice ideal, and it’s a reasonable argument if we’re talking about sports like tennis or kayaking. But in a sport where one participant is trying to do physical damage to another, the burden of proof should be reversed. We need good scientific evidence to support the assertion that Fox has no advantage as a result of having been born male. Lack of evidence of an advantage isn’t sufficient – especially when so little evidence exists.

8) We should also consider the possibility that the IOC decision may not be based entirely on scientific evidence (of which there appears to be very little), but also on factors such as social pressure.

9) Good research on this subject that takes into account all the relevant factors is hard to do, for a variety of reasons. Several people have suggested that performance testing could establish whether Fox’s attributes (strength, power, VO2 max, etc) lie within “normal range” for a female athlete. Leaving aside the statistical issues, a significant problem with this idea is the question of how to measure performance variables in an athlete who – by the nature of the situation – would not have an incentive to produce her best possible performance.

10) I sympathise with Fox’s position, and I don’t entirely agree with those who say that she should not be allowed to fight. On the other hand, I believe it was wrong that Fox’s opponents were not informed of the situation so they could make their own assessment of the risks involved and give consent. This will obviously not be an issue in future in Fox’s case; but I’m concerned about the athletic commissions’ position that the opponent has no right to know. My opinion is that if someone is going to be legally punching me in the face, then it’s absolutely my business if she grew up as a male. While I understand the concerns about privacy, I don’t think that in this case the right to privacy trumps the opponent’s right to make her own informed decision about the risks she is taking.

Finally – if anyone has access to any scientific evidence that I seem to have missed, please send it to me! I am happy to revise my opinion as and when new information becomes available.

Footnote: Another concern in this particular case is with the tournament set up. The other fighters in the semi-finals are now in a difficult position – if they turn down the fight because of (in my opinion, quite valid) concerns, they lose their spot in the tournament. That, to me, seems wrong. Fighters should not be coerced or pressured into accepting a match against Fox if they are not comfortable doing so.

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109 comments

  1. The fact that there is very little scientific support to show the effects on the physical performance following gender reassignment surgery, would in my opinion make it a risk based approach to taking the fight. Leaving out the fact that they grew up for 20 years as a male in this case, should be a risk that the opponent is aware of so they can decide on accepting that risk.

  2. Thanks for making this summary Rosie, with regards to the caustic nature that the general debate has been on this subject ( like a Jerry Springer episode stretching into eternity..) i find your reasoning to be like a ray of sunshine through some pretty clouded skies.

    And really show me a petition to boycott CFA and i will sign it, very bad tact by the promotor.

  3. Rosie- Tough subject. I think that the divisions should be hormonal and not gender. Their are outliers in every “gender” I have known several VERY VERY hight test level women who have the same advantage over their “average” test level female counterparts as a person cycling PEDs. But no one cares because they’re natural. Take into consideration the fact that in many cases pre- gender re-assignment people tend to have more of the natural hormonal profile of the gender they’re moving towards and you have an very sticky situation. I have personally supported several gender transitions, and in both cases their natural test levels were probably higher than Fox’s natural levels even as a “man”. So….. Where is the line drawn. Judgments based on what you do have, or what you were “supposed” to have? Very tough.
    My (entirely impossible, but an interesting thought experiment) suggestion is, to have divisions based on hormonal profile. Kind of like in body building there’s a “natural” division.
    Have a “lower” level division, that would be made up of natural women, trans women, or low test men. Have a “higher” level that would be Natural men, trans men, and high test women. And a “freakshow” level for all the people that want to use PEDs regardless of gender.
    I mean if the weight and hormonal profile are the same, that’s about as fair as it gets.
    Yes, there is an advantage, to having a prior high test level. But you can’t have a division for men that have NEVER used PEDs. A ton of male fighters did use in the past and now don’t. Theoretically, they would have the same advantage with no recourse. Essentially, we currently say to men “We don’t care what you used to, or are currently doing. But within a reasonable time frame before your fight and on the night of, you must be at “this” level of “these” parameters.”
    How is it any different? Seems, like an individual born male, but with statistically low levels, who is undergoing hormone therapy, doesn’t actually have that much of advantage over a born female with naturally high levels over a lifetime.
    At lower levels of competition it would be a bigger problem. But high level sports self select. Basketball doesn’t “make” you tall. But tall people “tend” to excel at basketball. In combat sports, in the higher levels all participants (regardless of gender) “tend” to have higher test levels, and more favorable anthropomorphic angles.
    Thoughts?
    Not being an asshole. Honestly discussing. I know you’re brilliant, and value your opinion.

    1. Hi Jay – I agree that the waters do get murky when you start looking into all this. It’s a tricky subject, and I’m not going to pretend that I have all the answers. The problem with focusing on hormones is that current hormonal levels simply don’t tell the whole story. There’s very much more to it than that. In a sport like MMA, my opinion is that informed consent has to be the starting point.

      1. Rosi, first I have to say that I really love how rationally you’re thinking about this and that you dig facts as much as I do. ;-) I’ve had way too many “conversations” with transphobic ranters about this lately.

        I absolutely agree – only looking at current hormone levels doesn’t cut it at all.

        But I’m not sure about the fighters needing to know about their opponents transsexual status. The licencing authorities should definitely know about it. But once they have determined letting Fox compete is in fact fair, why would the fighters still need to know? Yeah, sure, there’s the “OMG, she was born male!”-factor, but I don’t see how that’s still of importance once it has been determined – by the proper authorities, not fighters who don’t even have the knowledge to do so – that letting her fight is fair.

      2. My point is that given the current lack of scientific knowledge, it’s impossible for anyone to determine that it’s fair for a transgender fighter to compete in a female division. Given this uncertainty, my opinion is that informed consent has to be the way forwards, at least until we have more data.

  4. If we had been talking about this 5 years ago I would’ve agreed that it would be safer to err on the side of safety for now. But Fox has been on HRT for 10+ years and I can guarantee you (Well, almost; I’m not a doctor, but I’ve previously considered transition myself, although in the opposite direction, and am thus very, very well informed. So well informed actually that that was one of the reasons I decided against transitioning myself.) that after this time she has no advantages left when it comes to muscles, bone structure, tendons etc.

    Most of the variations left (for example the narrower pelvis) are within the normal range of variations that also exist in female-born women. And even if some of these variations might still be an advantage, she also has disadvantages in comparison to the other, female-born competitors (for example extremely low testosterone levels). There are female-born women with naturally higher testosterone levels who thus have a pretty big advantage over Fox. Heck, I could give Fox some of my own testosterone and still have plenty for myself.

    Other biomechanical variations also aren’t significant enough to justify barring Fox from competition. For example, I know many people think that males generally have longer arms than females (and thus a mechanical advantage; even if they’re of the same height), but in fact they really don’t have significantly different average arm lengths. In this case, as in many others, variations between people of the same sex are larger than variations between different sexes.

    1. I appreciate your input and experience. The question about whether something should be automatically allowed because it falls within the “normal range” for females (even though it gives a significant advantage over an average female) is interesting. My view is that it should not be allowed unless you’re also going to permit those who are born female to use artificial means to alter their attributes towards the upper end of that range.

      I think this parallels the issues surrounding testosterone levels in men. Should men be allowed to artificially supplement testosterone to bring them up to the higher end of the “normal range” for their gender? In a nutshell, this is the TRT controversy – and again, my opinion is that this should not be permitted (except in exceptional circumstances).

      1. I think maybe the question to ask then is if it’s medically necessary.

        If a female needs hormone therapy to maintain normal estrogen and testosterone levels (for example in the case of severe PCOS or after an oophorectomy), should she no longer be allowed to compete?

        If a male lost his testes (genitals blown off – wouldn’t be the first time that happened in war or in an accident) and would thus need hormone therapy to maintain healthy male hormone levels, should he no longer be allowed to compete?

        In my opinion, they should all be allowed to compete, and for some transsexuals HRT is definitely medically necessary (as transsexuality can’t be “cured” by psychotherapy or similar treatments and its effects can only be mitigated by hormonal and surgical treatment of the body).

  5. It’s certainly a tricky one. She went through puberty as a male, and will still therefore have some features of a male (hips, shoulders etc) I found this article on Carla Esperza’s Facebook page yesterday which has some interesting points. http://fightland.vice.com/blog/to-live-and-fight-as-a-woman She also still has male DNA, which no amount of hormone therapy or surgery can change, and said DNA will hard wire some physical features into her body. Personally, I think she should be allowed to fight as a woman, but no one should be pressured into accepting a fight against her if they don’t feel comfortable doing so, and they shouldn’t be penalised for not wanting to fight her.

  6. After reading several articles and thinking about it, my position simply falls to the opinion of the State Athletic Control Boards. It would seem that the NJ SABC falls in line with the IOC’s opinion/rule set for male-to-female post puberty athletes. Since I think NJ has one of THE toughest SACB’s in the country, I’m inclined to agree with them. With that said, I’m certainly glad, I don’t have to face an M-to-F, and I doubt you’d see any F-to-M’s in the cage.

    1. You’re entitled to your opinion of course; my answer to this is addressed in point (7) above.

  7. “Specialists in gender reassignment may not be equally knowledgeable about exercise physiology.”

    Exactly, Ms. Sexton. While I sympathize with Ms. Fox regarding her desire to fight in MMA while dealing with this controversy, there needs to be clear scientific evidence that she doesn’t have a physiological advantage from being born male. In my opinion, if she does in fact hold an advantage it would be no different than a fighter using performance enhancing drugs.

    Participants in any sport need to compete on a level playing field.

  8. I am in utter agreement that her opponents should have been made aware. I am as liberal as they come when it comes to inclusivity, but this is fighting. People have the potential to get hurt. If fighters are required to reveal their weight for the sake of safety and fairness, knowing that your opponent used to be a member of the opposite sex should be mandatory.

    With that being said, I think she should be allowed to fight. Science supports her argument more than it goes against it. While there are other factors to consider as Rosi so eloquently stated above, she does, for all intents and purposes, meet the criteria to fight. Best example I can use in this case is Cris Cyborg. Her build is that of a very muscular 145 lb man. She has a narrow pelvis and is physically shaped like a very fit male. To add to that she has been caught with steroids in her system for a fight in the past, which definitely unbalances the playing field. Not to mention that her opponent fought her without knowledge that Cris had the anabolic agent in her system. No one is saying that she should not be allowed to fight even after the fact. While it’s not necessarily an apples to apples comparison, regulatory bodies cannot always account for every physical advantage that a fighter might have, male or female. If the playing field is as even as it can be, and doctors, (who are not always correct) approve it, and the opponent is game, I support her right to pursue her goal.

    Not to say that there is not a discussion to be had here and that my opinion is correct, but I tend to side with the group that says let her fight, with obvious caveats.

    1. Re “no one is saying Cyborg shouldn’t be allowed to fight” – I am! I’ve argued that a 12 month ban for using steroids is not sufficient (even for a first offence), and that in fact there’s a good case to be made for lifetime bans.

  9. Rosi:

    Is there a significant difference in the skeletal architecture of men’s and women’s shoulders, just as there is the hips? I remember hearing something to that effect in the past and that it accounts for some athletic advantages men have in comparison to women. However, I am not confident that this assertion had any basis in fact.

    Since this story broke I have been checking your website for your opinion on it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

    1. There will generally be some differences in bone structure, though these are most notable round the hips and pelvis for obvious reasons.

  10. As a person with a transsexual history myself (Can’t stand the word Transgender) I think hormones really don’t change us that much. Yes I’ve lost muscle tone but I don’t think I’ve lost that much strength. There is also the mental game how much does being raised male or maybe even still identifying as male compare to being raised female and identifying as female in a physical fight. Many Transgender identified people would argue that sexual orientation doesn’t matter but it does on likely hood of not having a traditionally recognized gender identity. Transgender identified people (MTF) who are either bisexual or female attracted have a high probability of being autogynephilia (Basically a heterosexual male that is in love with the image of himself as a woman.) They start out as crossdressers and transvestites who eventually opt for sex reasignment vs someone born with a cross sexed identity and needs to have a sex change (Traditional Transsexual.) You can find out more about it by Googling Blanchards theory of Transsexuality, or Anne Lawrence. Anne Lawrence outright uses male pronouns towards other Trans people who transistioned from male to female and has transistioned from male to living as female. Another psychologist Dr. Walter Bockting says Transgenders have neither a male or female identity. I would question “Her” internal sense of being female or a woman and maybe ask to have her take a polygraph test to verify she really is female self identifying. If ‘She” identifies as male or even other than female or male I don’t think “she’ belongs fighting against or competing against 100% natally born females. The only group of Transistioned individuals that I think shouldn’t be questioned about competing in Professional women’s sports are those who transition before puberty and have gone through only a hormonally induced female puberty and the intersexed. I wish you the best and I hope that I gave you some stuff extra stuff to consider if you fight “Her.” Thank you for your well thought out response and I hope the information I provided to you is beneficial and I hope you use it responsibly.

    1. Ok, this is completely a “not your business” thing but the question just hit me…… Is this theoretically a “post operative” MTF? I despise getting into the notion of “genitals= gender”….. But, I think it speaks to “commitment” (if that’s even the right word). I mean, if they’ve actually altered their physical sex, and are doing hormone treatment to match their internal gender….. Seems like a polygraph might be redundant.
      If they’re just putting on a sports bra and winning medals….. Not so sure.
      But this is all really just a discussion about commissions, and rules. I view people as individuals, and believe with INFORMED consent of all parties….. Let anyone fight.
      Honestly.
      I started fighting back when it was Vale Tudo. I still wish it was. I did “Dog Bros” style fights with weapons. I think regardless of the nature of the challenge, if all parties understand and want that test….. Let them fight.
      The point for me was always the test/display of spirit. Not “winning”. All this only matters when we need things to be “fair” so we can “win” “legitimately”. The further down that rabbit hole we go, the further we get away from what I loved anyway.
      But that’s a HUGE digression.
      I just really like the fact that theirs an actual DISCUSSION on the subject, and no name calling! Super refreshing.

      1. post-op = a trans* person who has had all surgeries
        pre-op = someone who hasn’t had surgeries yet but plans to have them
        non-op = trans* folk who haven’t had surgeries and don’t plan to have them

        What compells transsexuals to change their bodies is called body dysphoria (gender dysphoria is also often used instead of it, but, depending on the context, it’s not the same thing). Many FtM transsexuals even report having a phantom penis. That’s a phenomenon very similar to amputees having a phantom limb after an amputation. Think of it this way: There’s the body and then there’s the brain that has a map of the body. If the body and the brain’s map don’t correspond, you get a transsexual. However, not all transsexuals aim for genital surgery. Some don’t want it because they’re not content with current surgical possibilities (a situation especially FtMs often find themselves in; digging a hole is easier than erecting a pole after all ;-) ), or they’ve managed to arrange themselves with their equipment and discomfort to a degree.

        There are transsexuals who change their bodies because of autogynephilia, but contrary to Blanchard’s nonfactual opinion they’re a tiny minority (according to Rauchfleisch and every other leading European expert on transsexuality).

        Also, not every transsexual (even if they get HRT and the whole surgical package) identifies as the gender traditionally assigned to their “opposite” sex. Some also identify as genderqueer or some other third gender.

        And I agree – it’s nice to have a discussion with people who are actually interested in the topic instead of just spewing transphobic rants.

    2. Jesus, Ray Blanchard and his consorts (among them Michael Bailey, Anne Lawrence, and Kenneth Zucker – the latter two are staunch proponents of reparative therapy!) are dilettantes with absolutely nothing to support their outlandish theories and “research”. Their dangerous quackery most certainly isn’t “science”. Blanchard et al. make a lot of waves, but they’ve been discredited over and over again.

      What difference does it make to what extent she identifies as a woman? I am female and have never been on hormones, but I also don’t entirely identify as a woman. So should I not be allowed to compete because my not-quite-a-woman-identity could give me an advantage? (However in the world that’s supposed to work!? O.o)

      Not to mention that, FYI, polygraph tests are discredited quackery as well.

      1. Actually Blanchard has not been discredited over and over again autogynephilia is still seen as a part of the picture. His theory of Autogynephilia comes from Magnus Hirshfeld a pioneer in Transvestite and Transsexual research. Time and time again Blanchards theory has been confirmed to at least represent to some degree a large portion of the transitioned population attracted to females especially by age and ethnicity. A couple of things to note though is that lifetime fetishistic Transvestism is reduced in minority populations but it still is present in some of the population. Here is some reasonably current research on the subject. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2894986/

      2. Just for disclosure and to avoid confusion amym440 is my wordpress identity I am also Lisa McDonald.

    3. I’m replying to this post of yours again, because I can’t find a “Reply” button to your last. Anyway…

      Did you even read that entire study that you yourself just posted?
      Yes, autogynephilia exists and warrants further research, but if you read that entire thing you’ll also see that several of Blanchard’s findings couldn’t be replicated, or mostly only apply to an older generation of a certain ethnicity, and that this study came to the conclusion that, contrary to Blanchard’s opinion, dividing MtFs by sexual orientation is a “fundamentally limited” approach.

      Here’s another paper on this…

      http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00918369.2010.486241

      …and another interesting critique:

      http://www.genderpsychology.org/autogynephilia/ray_blanchard/

      (This doesn’t necessarily have much to do with the topic of this blog, so, sorry, Rosi! But this is mildly explosive stuff that I can’t leave here just like that.)

      1. This is an article from another MMA blog that interviewed an endocrinologist.http://www.bloodyelbow.com/2013/3/20/4128658/dr-ramona-krutzik-endocrinologist-discusses-possible-advantages-fallon-fox-has It pretty much backs up everything I stated. I am a transistioned person and I very much care about the rights of transistioned people. But I agree with Rosie that the other fighters have a right to know and more research needs to be conducted. The earlier transitistioners should not be effected by this only those who have transistioned after achieving full maturity by male standards pre-transistion.

    4. I’m (not) sorry (at all), ;-) but I have to call bullpucky on what she said about “imprinting”.

      a) There’s little science to support this whole “males are naturally more aggressive and dominant and females are naturally more accommodating and submissive”-thing. There is, however, plenty of science suggesting that these (indeed existent) statistical differences are the result of social conditioning.

      a1) The theory that males are natural-born hunters and females are not has also been disproved by anthropology.

      b) There’s WAY too much overlap between genders/sexes in aggression potential for this to be any factor at all. (In contrast to physical differences.)

      b1) If, for whatever ridiculous reason, this would be considered a potential unfair advantage, they would also have to bar females who don’t strictly identify as women from competition, because, following that weird “logic”, there’s a potential they might have cross-sexed brains and therefore an advantage in that area. To be honest, if that were a factor at all, they should never let me in a cage with a woman either. Nor with people who still perpetuate this crap in 2013.

      c) There’s enough data to conclude that transwomen’s brains are more similar to female’s than they are to male’s. (I recently read another interesting article loosely connected to this: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/8265592/Tracking-the-tell-tale-signs-of-pure-genius.html)
      Notice I also said “more” like females’ brains, because we can conclude from the bulk of available data that overall they’re neither entirely female nor entirely male.

  11. Its not a complicated subject at all if you decide to put aside all the political correctness that has been shoved down America’s throat the last 20 years. The day you are born the doctor tell the mother you have a “Fill in the blank” thats what you fight as. If Mr/Mrs Fox really wants to step into the octagon and fight, then let him/her step in with a man.

  12. Most of what I am saying in this would apply only to those who have transistioned from a male documented sex to a female documented one.Also I know of no state that requires proof of Psychological screening for a change of sex on the birth certificate. The only thing most states require is a notarized statement from the surgeon that performed it.
    Technically speaking from the athletic rules I’ve read one doesn’t have to have completed genital sex reasignment only to have had a gonadectomy and have valid documention that hormone levels have been maintaned for the sex the person is competing in. That is sufficient to curb the natural production of hormones.. Hormone levels for women who have transitioned also are more stable than in natal females (No monthly cycling).
    As far as a surgery by informed consent that still doesn’t equal someone being born with or having a legitimate cross sexed identity it only shows they had a motive to have sex reasignment surgery not what the motive for it was. The standards of care for Transsexualism went awol for a lot of years and where they’ve been applied they have been greatly watered down and only recently have been slightly tightened back up. There is documented evidence for multiple types of people opting for sex reasignment. For many years a person could fly to thailand plop down a much lower cost than in the states and receive sex reasignment surgery without ever having to speak to a therapist. Even today at most some Thai doctors only require one session with a Thai psychologist and I’ve read for as little as 5 minutes before being approved for sex reasignment.
    The young transistioned post-operatives of today have spent almost their entire life living as girls and then as women. They have spent also a large portion of their life in psychological counseling to be approved for hormone blockers, then hormones, followed by sex reasignment surgery. They cannot nor should not be compared to someone who had SRS by informed consent without any psychological screening or very little psychological screening or not properly conducted screening. In fairness to those who have ducked the original professional guidelines it is a very expensive process that has not been covered by most health insurance in the U.S for a long time. Insurance should cover it as long as established guidelines are in place that protect both the public interest and those who seek its treatment.
    My first comment does not state that Fallon does not have a female identity only that their is a good possibility she does not even if “She’s ” been psychology screened due to the watered down standards. I think its worth investigating and I think the public has a right to know two things. First if people have been allowed or choose to medically and legally change their sex without having a long documented history of cross sexed identity or even having a cross sexed identity at all. Secondly that knowledge serves to protect both the public and those who have a legitimate cross sexed identity and that have sought to legally and medically treat that issue from others who do not and simply opt to change their physical sex for whatever reason.
    I have no doubt there are some really strong and tough 100% natally born females. But there are differences that are ingrained from childhood in both males females one big one is that males and females do not physically fight each other. Another big one is that males are physically stronger than females. I have to question how this effects the psych of a natally born female MMA fighter entering the ring with someone she knows spent a good portion of their life presenting as male. One should also question how this effects a fighter like Fallon Fox who obviously has no probem hitting a female. I do not think it is unfair to ask the questions is it because Fallon truly identifies as female and thinks it is a fair fight? or is there another motive?.

    1. I would like to touch back on a point I made about hormonal differences between natal females and post-operative females. Since post operative females have a more stable hormonal balance than natal females a good question is what if any effect it has on muscle developtment and in this case possible fighter psychology.
      As I have gone through this process at times my hormonal balance has been effected and as I’m sure my natal sisters and post-op sisters know from first hand experience it does have an effect on a persons psychology.
      As for physical musculature Fallon has what is called by the military a lean and mean physic. In the combat arms section of the military it is believed to be the optimum physical fighting form and indicates a low percentage of body fat. When I was in the military pinch tests were taken to ensure that a person was neither overweight or underweight.
      Does MMA do or require any pinch testing? I would assume that even at the highest levels of fitness there would be some difference between body fat count between male and female athletes? I would also take the educated guess that on average female athletes have a higher percentage of body fat than male athletes. That could be also be one way to testing if a later than puberty transistioned post-op woman has a physical advantage over her natally born female or pre-puberty transistioned competitors.

      1. 1.) You are waaaaaaaaaay overthinking this.
        2.) You are asking questions and making assumptions that have already been covered in other places, based on what less ranty, more on-point commentary is calling highly dubious science.
        3.) You clearly came here with no actual knowledge of the fighter in question. You wouldn’t have needed to be nearly so long-winded and off-topic if you had. The mental game has been covered, and the physical game has been covered with more confidence than the actual post itself cares to admit.
        4.) Case in point, according to a bio on her (I want to say by either SI or NYT), Fallon identified female from a young age with no way to actually deal with it until much later in life. Nothing I have read about her has raised any alarms to that would cause your spazzing.
        5.) I fail to see why what’s going on in her head matters anyway, to the angle from which you are railing anyway. The reasons behind the change are far, far less important than the physical ramifications, especially seeing as there has been no indication that said reasons are even remotely unusual, relative to the situation. These things have been touched upon elsewhere, as I may have already noted.

  13. “Expert opinion is still just opinion – and it seems divided on the subject. Experts may also have their own biases.”

    You seem to call into question the biases of the surgeons in the SBnation article. I’ve yet to hear about the biases of her detractors or anyone call into question the expertise of Dr. Benjamin who admittedly doesn’t actually know any trans people. Everyone has a bias on this issue. Everyone, even you. All of society has something invested in their notions of male and female and trans people are constantly faced with the difficulty of confronting society’s oversimplified understanding of sex and gender. What about your bias, and the bias of an uninformed public? The idea some have put forward that these doctors are selling their product is ridiculous. They aren’t selling their ability to create female-equivalent athletic performance. They sell vaginas. The two aren’t related.

    “The experts supporting Fox have been quite cautious in their assessment.”

    These are not the only experts to have ever spoken on the subject. Refuting them does not refute the idea that trans women should be allowed to participate. These are surgeons and this is not their expertise. As you recognize, they don’t know the physiology. They are right to be cautious.

    “and it’s a reasonable argument if we’re talking about sports like tennis or kayaking”

    You realize that there is judo, tae kwon do, and boxing in the olympics right? And that the Association of Boxing Commissions has a policy similar to the IOC? I realize that olympic boxing is not the same as MMA, but the fact that you mention tennis and leave out the combat sports is disingenuous.

    “We should also consider the possibility that the IOC decision may not be based entirely on scientific evidence (of which there appears to be very little), but also on factors such as social pressure.”

    Social pressure in favor of transgender people? Are you serious? This week a bill to say “you can’t just fire people for being transgender” failed to get out of committee in the Maryland senate. I’m interested about this “social pressure” and I’m wondering when it’s going to show up and help me get a job and have my health insurance actually pay out benefits for my healthcare. It’s very laughable. It’s socially acceptable to walk all over transgender people, say whatever you want to about them, and deny them whatever rights you would like to. There is no such thing as social pressure on the IOC to approve a policy for transgender equality. Do you think there will be consequences for Joe Rogan for being about as disrespectful as possible in his ugly rant about Fallon Fox? I don’t think there will be, because there is no social outrage or backlash against people with anti-trans views or people who advocate for anti-trans policies. That is the most infuriating argument I keep hearing. If people are so pro-trans because they’re afraid of being called a bigot, why is life so hard for trans people?

    “Several people have suggested that performance testing could establish whether Fox’s attributes (strength, power, VO2 max, etc) lie within “normal range” for a female athlete.”

    I don’t understand the standard that people think they can put in place here. You’re going to test a pro athlete for all attributes and make sure they lie within a “normal range”? Why don’t you go to the olympics and test the runners for VO2 max and see how many of them fall within the normal range. Athletes are supposed to be exceptional. They aren’t normal. In addition, all of these attributes have a great amount of overlap between men and women. Yes even something like pelvis width. If you’re going to search for some attribute where men have a supposed statistical advantage over women and then prove that HRT doesn’t mitigate that… well you’ll certainly find an attribute that “proves” your point. That doesn’t mean it’s unfair for trans women to participate.

    We’re talking about athletes. Athletes who are all given advantages and disadvantages that they deal with. Athletes who aren’t going to fit well into the statistical norms of the rest of society. Britney Griner is 6’5″ in a league with girls who are on average at least a few inches shorter than her. Nobody talks about disqualifying people who are too tall for basketball. Or disqualifying a marathoner who has a naturally high VO2 max. Seriously, if you’re going to look at Fallon Fox’s femur on an x-ray and say “well that’s just abnormally thick for a female” and disqualify her, you damn well better justify why all the girls with thick femurs are allowed to fight.

    You aren’t going to get research that proves she’s equal. How do you prove something like that? That’s like proving that there is no God. Proving an advantage doesn’t exist is like proving that Atlantis doesn’t exist. Like proving extraterrestrial life doesn’t exist. It’s logically impossible. You can’t put the burden of proof on her like that and act like it’s totally fair. It’s ridiculous. Are you making all of the other women prove that they are equal? What people need to realize is that HRT equalizes her as much as we can reasonably expect. That any other statistical advantage that she may have left over is not worth discriminating over. Because if you’re not going to test all of your athletes for bone thickness, pelvis width, heart performance, then it’s unfair to be testing her and disqualifying her over it. Sometimes women have a pelvis too narrow for vaginal child birth. Are they disqualified from MMA?

    MMA and most pro sports already test their female athletes for the one thing that actually matters: testosterone level. Of all of the sexually dimorphic traits you mentioned, all of them have very significant overlap between men and women and many of them are dependent on sex hormones. One sexually dimorphic trait that has no overlap is testosterone level. Men have 10x what women have and there is a huge gap between the sexes. This is easily measurable and testosterone is a performance enhancing drug. If that is literally the only performance advantage that you’ll disqualify a woman for, than you need to apply that rule equally to all women including Fallon Fox. If you’re going to apply different rules to her what you’re saying is that for the purposes of MMA you don’t consider her a woman. That is unacceptable.

    Fortunately, it seems very likely that she will get her licenses. She’ll just have to face some difficulty in finding fights. But when someone who is actually good fights her and shows the haters that she’s not invincible, then I guess some of her peers might realize that there is nothing unsafe about fighting a woman who had to fight her whole life just to be herself. Shame she might have to lose to be able to prove her credibility as a female fighter, but that’s just another in a long line of indignities that trans people face. She’s overcome the rest of them so I’m sure she can handle it.

    1. Of course, everyone has biases. (My bias? I don’t want to see fighters getting KOd by someone who may have an unfair advantage.) Which is why I’m suggesting that we look at what scientific research actually says on the subject, not “expert opinion”. The peer reviewed research to support the assertion that a transgender female doesn’t have an advantage over someone who was born female simply does not appear to exist. If someone can show me otherwise, then of course I’ll revise my opinion. That’s the nature of a scientific debate – even experts are expected to show their working out!

      Regarding the IOC – yes, there are other combat sports in the olympics. But, speaking as someone who has at one time or another practised most of them, there is a big difference between those sports and professional MMA.

      In terms of whether or not a transgender female lies within the “normal range” for a female – this is a statistically speaking a very complex question to answer, because we’re not looking at a single dimension of performance, but multiple dimensions simultaneously. It’s not nearly as simple as you suggest.

      Whether or not you regard my viewpoint as “unacceptable” is irrelevant. I’m arguing that in this instance safety should take priority over political correctness. I appreciate how hard it would be to get good supporting data – but that doesn’t mean it’s ok to gloss over it.

      1. There exists no peer reviewed research that says trans athletes DO have an unfair advantage. What of that? Or is the burden of proof always on the minority opinion even if the majority has no idea what they are talking about?

        Political correctness? Seriously I’m really tired of hearing that word in connection with trans people gaining a shred of equality. The idea that it is politically popular to affirm transgender people is absurd. The idea that it is taboo to deny trans people equality in any aspect of life is absurd. “Political correctness” does not advocate in favor of trans people. When 96% of people say “right on” in an online poll regarding Joe Rogan’s VILE rant against Fallon, you can see how much pressure there is on people to be nice to trans women. None. There is no political or social incentive to ensure our equality, let alone respect us. Sometimes enough clued in people are in power, and sometimes science is on our side to beat back the 96% of Americans who pick up pitch-forks when they hear that a trans woman made it out of the sex worker box they’ve been put in.

        Political correctness? Sports may be political, but there is nothing political about Fallon Fox being who she is. The weight of an entire society that has forever believed, without proof, that men and women are irreconcilably different and separate is on your side. And society is bludgeoning Fallon Fox with it.

      2. I discuss the “burden of proof” issue above. The reason that in the case of MMA specifically the burden of proof lies with those who claim that trans athletes have no advantage is because of the safety issue. The safety of MMA depends on fighters being sufficiently evenly matched in terms of size, strength and other relevant attributes. This is why we have weight categories and gender categories.

        In general, I’m in favour of equality and certainly in favour of treating all human beings with respect. I fully agree that Rogan’s take on the issue was offensive and in poor taste (see again point (1) above – there’s a reason why I started there).

        To put this into context – to fight in many US states, I would need to have a brain MRI. If that MRI showed up certain kinds of abnormality, then I would not be granted a licence to compete (even though there might not be definitive proof that it puts me at greater risk). The burden of proof is upon the person wishing to fight – and this isn’t unique to trans fighters. To go back to point (2) again, NONE of us have the right to fight.

    2. Very eloquent, Leah. Though I have the impression that most people don’t seem to understand that you can’t prove the non-existence of the holy tea-pot orbiting the earth. ;-)

      I do have to say though that normal ranges indeed exist for these things. But they’re far wider and there’s more overlap between the “opposite” sexes than most people seem to think and can easily accomodate an MtF such as Fox.

      As for Dr. Benajmin… That guy can’t even keep sexual orientation and gender identity apart and should thus pretty please keep his “expertise” to himself. What a jest. Next thing you know they’ll ask Dr. Oz. %-(

      1. I fully appreciate that there are some things that are impossible – or at least, very difficult, to prove. But in those cases, we shouldn’t just assume the answer to be the one we’d like! In the absence of convincing evidence either way, my opinion is simply that people should be allowed to make their own informed decision on the subject.

        The whole question of “normal ranges” is complex, both statistically and conceptually, not something I’m able to discuss fully here. Perhaps I’ll put that together as another blog. In a nutshell, though, there are a whole lot of relevant attributes – strength, speed, explosive power, power endurance, VO2 max, ability to withstand being punched in the head etc etc. To say that Fox is within “female range” you don’t just have to show she’s within the normal female range for each of these separately; you have to show she’s within the normal female range in the multidimensional composite of these (assuming that we can come up with a comprehensive list of measurable physical attributes that are relevant to performance). That’s precisely the evidence that we don’t have.

        Just because a line may be hard to draw, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t draw one!

  14. When this issue came out I started looking into it a little more, especially in regards to sex vs gender. All the talk seems to focus on hormone levels, the cosmetic surgery, what Fallon felt like inside, and the size and stature comparisons to female fighters. One just has to look around and see that men and women come in all types. There are plenty women that are bigger, stronger, tougher, and even more masculine then some men. Some men may be small, weak and considered very feminine, but should he assault a woman in public we still consider that a man hitting a woman. Should man and a woman of similar size and stature be allowed to fighter. Even if the man seems more feminine and the woman more masculine. Is it really right to say that the that changing estrogen/testosterone levels and cosmetic surgery to the anatomy makes them the same now? As with many problems I find it helps to always get down to basics facts first before. Fallon, is a human, a homo sapien. And at the root of it all, you two kinds separated not by outward appearance or inner feeling, but XX and XY chromosomes. Those can not be changed. I’ve seen some argue that that its being and man or woman is more than just chromosomes. I say yes and no. Yes, in terms of societies classification, no in the genetic definition. No matter what Fallon feels inside, or tries to change in regards to appearance or hormones, Fallon will never have been a human capable of giving birth to another human. Fallon will always have the same chromosomes since being born a man. Thats why, regardless of the labels society wants to use, I will always see Fallon as a man pretending to be a woman.

      1. Absolutely. As I understand it, the gender that the fighter went through puberty at is possibly the most relevant factor.

  15. I predict that Fallon Fox will have opponents – protesting ones perhaps, like Alanna Jones – because there is pressure: money. If people, including women, started to understand that concussions, especially serious ones, accumulate and that 3-5 are enough to cause measurable and progressing cognitive decline, then maybe over-matched fighters will start refusing fights.

    Because NO MONEY can ever pay for the memories you forget, due to dementia.

  16. The depth of data and research might be lacking in areas, but cautious or not, I’ve yet to actually see anyone with a background that gives them the knowledge to form an opinion that can carry some degree of weight actually outright say or lean toward it not being okay for Fallon Fox to fight women. I hope we can get all the science blanks filled in, but I just haven’t seen that divide you mention. I am of course no expert myself, and my reading on the subject hasn’t been any way exhaustive, but in the handful of articles I have read it has come up that the overall biomechanical advantage is in fact dramatically reduced by hormone treatment. I believe this is the whole impetus for the IOC allowing transgender athletes in the first place. Don’t forget, boxing and various martial arts disciplines are Olympic sports as well, so something like this does have the potential to crop up there too.

    That said, I absolutely do agree that her prior opponents should have been informed of such a unique circumstance like this. It maybe never becomes a huge deal if that happened in the first place, at least not until the possibility of Fox signing with a major promotion or something. I also don’t particularly like the idea of forfeiting for refusing to fight her in the tournament, but I’m not sure of an alternative if Fox gets to stay in it, and I think I’d be more much more sickened if they kicked her out.

    1. You don’t have to have a background in endocrinology and gender reassignment to form an opinion – you just have to know how to do a literature search and read scientific papers. The whole point of science is that it doesn’t work based on arguments from authority – even experts are expected to show their working out. I’d be very happy for someone to point me towards the research which supports Fox’s argument; so far nobody has been able to do so. (It’s also true that many of the endocrinologists who have spoken on the subject do not have a background in exercise physiology – so arguably, also do not have “the knowledge to form an opinion”).

      1. Methinks one should preferably also be able to interpret scientific papers, not just read them. ;-) I’m not saying that’s you, but I recently had a discussion about this with someone, posted a scientific study to support my argument, and they ended up saying “If anything it seems to state ” In M–>F, oestrogen treatment prevented bone loss after testosterone deprivation.”” Uhm, yeah, as it does in females, but that person didn’t know that because of their lack of knowledge in endocrinology and thus couldn’t understand the study.

        But this is why there are interdisciplinary teams. There’s never just one doctor who orchestrates a transsexuals entire transition – it’s always a team of endocrinologists, surgeons, psychologists… The same applies to establishing rules on the participation of transsexuals in certain sports. One expert’s opinion on this isn’t going to cut it; this is a case for an interdisciplinary team.

      2. That’s certainly true. But I think I understand the basic physiology well enough to get the general gist of what has and hasn’t been proved. There are plausible arguments in both directions – but nobody has been able to produce any hard evidence! Of course, if I’ve missed or misinterpreted anything, I’m very happy for someone to point that out to me – but please, let’s stick to discussing the science, not turn this into pissing contest over who has the best qualifications.

  17. Sharing is caring… ;-) I’ve been doing some additional digging myself and decided to share with you:

    We’re pretty much dealing with a jigsaw puzzle here, a solvable one though. If you’re looking for studies on MtF athletes in particular, you’re not going to have much luck indeed. Which means you have to broaden your focus. Which sometimes means you have to look into research that does not necessarily deal with MtF athletes. Other times it means you have to look into research with a narrower focus.

    – studies on MtF HRTs effects on bone density in particular
    – studies on MtF HRTs effects on muscle mass and strength in particular
    – studies on the effects of so-called “sex-specific” hormones in males and females respectively
    – studies on sex differences in males vs. females and male athletes vs. female athletes
    – studies on the effects of changing hormone levels as males age
    – studies on the effects of steroid abuse in females and males
    – yada yada yada blah blah blah etc. and so on… You know what I’m getting at.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1725041/pdf/v039p00695.pdf

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3007680/

    http://www.athletescan.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Do-Transitioned-Athletes-Compete-at-an-Advantage-or-Disadvantage-as-compared-with-Physically-Born-Men-and-Women-A-Review-of-the-Scientific-Literature2.pdf

    http://www.sportlaw.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/a-Equity-Discrimination-section-Including-Transitioning-and-Transitioned-Athlete-in-Sport-Issues-Facts-and-Perspectives-Wagman.pdf

    http://www.athletescan.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Social-Science-Literature-on-Sport-and-Transitioning-Transitioned-Athletes2.pdf

    http://ajpendo.physiology.org/content/276/2/E317.full

    http://transhealth.vch.ca/resources/library/tcpdocs/guidelines-endocrine.pdf

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1332177/

    Now, the following is not a study, but interesting anyway – paragraphs 7-8:

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1198744/3/index.htm

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9578826

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23369987

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22564669

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19121966

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18835591

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18624972

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8964856

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15502960

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17971101

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15994752

    If you’re also interested in further reading on sex and biology, I recommend “Evolution’s Rainbow – Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People” by Joan Roughgarden (ISBN 978-0-520-26012-2).

    In case you were wondering: Yeah, I seem to be masochistic. Or hopelessly geeky. Or both. I’m not certain yet. ;-)

    In conclusion I dare say that while there are no conclusive studies on MtF vs. female-born athletes in particular, we can still infer from the bulk of available data that MtF athletes who have done HRT for a long enough time qualify for competition. In fact, ESPECIALLY because it’s sports we’re talking about, because differences between MtF & female athletes are even smaller than the differences between MtF & female non-athletes.

    And honestly, if they let Cyborg compete again already one year after she was busted, Fox definitely also qualifies. Otherwise they better come up with a damn good explanation.

  18. I have to add though I’m glad I won’t have to decide that. As convinced as I am that the data is sufficient, if this decision were up to me, I would still opt for the counsel of a, you guessed it, interdisciplinary expert team. Like you said, this is the MMA after all, where people are legally punching each other in their faces. They will need to find a balance between not unnecessarily discriminating against someone and not putting the athletes in unnecessary harm’s way.

    1. Absolutely. I agree that it’s a tricky decision, which is why I think fighters should be allowed to make it for themselves, and not have it made for them without their knowledge by an athletic commission.

      1. Speaking of knowledge… The fighters’ knowledge or lack thereof is something that worries me. You and me know a lot more about this than at least 90% of all other people do, and we still can’t etirely agree.

        How then is the average fighter going to be able to make a decision that’s not just good for them but also fair towards Fox?

        Are we going to (at least attempt to ;-) ) tether them to chairs and make them read all this? ^.^

        That’s one reason I would actually rather see an athletic commission reach a verdict instead of letting individual fighters decide. That and, like lonestarr mentioned, that you and certainly the other fighters as well have your biases, as do I. In light of that it would be fairest towards the fighters AND Fox to let a qualified third party decide. I can see why you would rather let the fighters decide on their own, but I also can’t honestly say I think that would be fair towards Fox.

      2. Our disagreement is not so much over the facts, but what should be done in the case of uncertainty. People differ as to what risks they’re happy to accept. I’ll take the risk of fighting MMA (against an appropriately matched opponent), but motocross? Not a chance! That doesn’t mean I think other people shouldn’t be able to take that risk if they so choose. I think it’s a little insulting to suggest that fighters aren’t capable of understanding and weighing the issues for themselves. Fighters are entitled to their biases, because if they get it wrong, they’re going to be the ones most affected by the decision.

        Doctors used to argue that they should make all the decisions for patients without asking them what they wanted, because they knew best. Fortunately, this kind of medical paternalism is now out of fashion in favour of informed consent. The same logic applies to this situation.

      3. I apologize a little. ;-) It wasn’t my intention to insult you or other fighters.

        But try to understand that there’s a LOT of transphobia out there, and in my unfortunate, copious experience, some peope indeed are not capable of understanding and rationally weighing these issues because of it. And they don’t even need to be members of the Westboro Baptist Church for that to happen. ;-) People don’t even need to be overtly transphobic; people can have the best intentions and still not realize that subconsciously, they believe some of the crap society has told them about trans folk. It doesn’t automatically mean they’re bad people. It does however mean that transphobic attitudes and messages are still very ingrained in today’s society and can and do influence opinions and decisions that should, ideally, be based on facts; all available facts.

        This isn’t even only a problem of those bad, scary, straight, cisgender people out there. ;-) These are the kinds of negative messages trans people themselves often end up believing on some level – out and proud activists even -, whether they’re aware of it or not. Trans people deal with these things all the time, and still end up with that insidious beast that is internalized transphobia. Much like a gay person can end up with internalized homophobia, or a bi person with internalized biphobia, or like a person of color can end up internalizing the negative messages and attitudes they’re constantly confronted with.

        Uh, I don’t know. Maybe you’re right and trying to educate people and hope for the best is the best you can do in this situation. Heck, it’s probably even a good opportunity for people to learn and examine their prejudices. Obviously most fighters wouldn’t be happy about a commission making such a decision for them and that could even close them off to further, hopefully thorough and rational, discussions of all this. You’ve got to start somewhere, right.

        I honestly didn’t mean to insult anyone, but please do try to understand that my faith in people’s capability to make fair decisions when it comes to trans people is in some serious need of surperglue.

      4. This is exactly why I think it’s important to get the issues straight. This is a question about physiology and athletic ability, not one of how we feel about certain groups of people. I like to think I’m pretty open minded and tolerant – and I have no issues at all with trans people in general. I think Fox herself is not helping the case though, by confusing the issues and claiming that anyone who doesn’t want to fight her is either running scared, or a hate filled bigot. That won’t do her or trans people in general any favours.

      5. From your lips to every fighter’s ears.

        As we’ve unfortunately already seen though, some potential opponents of hers seem to be interested in neither facts that could get in the way of their preconceived opinions nor in showing her basic courtesy. Not that that wasn’t to be expected.

        Nope, she really isn’t doing herself any favors with that. That kind of approach usually just makes people dig their heels in.

  19. I think we are just going to have to agree to disagree here, because our personal biases have us coming down on opposite sides of an unprovable point. Delving deeper has not done anything to sway my opinion one way or the other. I still feel those saying it’s okay for Fallon Fox to fight are speaking from a slightly less shaky platform than you are, and that eventual research will bear her out to be no doubt impressive, but not at all beyond the physical capabilities of any natural born, highly trained female athlete. However, I accept a lack of anything conclusive being out there to support that right now.

    Little to no research appears to have really even been started in any meaningful way, nor do I see much motivation for it on the horizon. All the links & things have been entirely incidental, and easily countered. Ms. Fox is already 37 years old though. Her shelf life as a fighter is not likely long enough to wait things out, even if she somehow manages to be competitive for the better of another decade. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t play a part in this for me too. I’m not terribly fond of maybes that can’t be proven either way preventing someone from being allowed to do something to start with. Life experiences I guess.

    Anyway, that appears to be our ultimate sticking point. Maybes and uncertainties are less acceptable to you than they are to me. That’s fine, and it occurs to me I’m not nearly as detached I’d like to be. But you yourself are a fighter, so that almost certainly has to strongly color your reasoning too, whatever implications that entails. You do quite clearly have your own biases, but I digress…

    To finally, mercifully close this out, I do think keeping a sharp eye on things is a wise course of action. Maybe it will even assist in the data needed to flesh out the truth neither of us has. But I say let her fight.

    1. You’re right. The tricky question here is what to do in the case of doubt – or in other words, where does the burden of proof lie?

      I’ll openly admit to my bias – I hate seeing overmatched fighters get KOd or otherwise injured by opponents who have a significant advantage, whether in terms of size and strength or from mismatches in skill. I think that’s something we should go out of our way to avoid. I realise that this part of my argument is a matter of opinion, and one that is coloured by my experience – but I think the fact I’m a fighter makes that opinion more, rather than less, relevant.

      You may be right that research will eventually confirm your theory – and if it does, I’ll happily revise my opinion.

      Finally – if you re-read my last point, I do feel for Fox, and I don’t disagree with her fighting per se. However, I do think that her opponents should have the right to weigh the (imperfect) evidence and make the decision for themselves. When Fox starts throwing around accusations that people don’t want to fight her because they’re either scared or they’re hate filled bigots, I start to lose sympathy a little.

      For the record, I’m nowhere near Fox’s weight class, so this doesn’t affect me directly.

      1. Eh, come on, mismatches in skill and strength happen all the time in all sports. I don’t see why MMA should go out of its way to avoid that. When I still used to play tennis I played opponents into the ground plenty of times AND the same happened to me many times. Did I hate losing that way? You bet! But I don’t think that needs to be avoided at all costs. It’s competition. If you happen to get an opponent who’s a lot better than you… well, what can I say… shit happens. Unlike tennis, MMA has weight classes anyway to level the playing field a bit. Granted, I never got punched in the face in tennis ;-) , but I also didn’t get to complain about me being 165cm and my opponent 185cm.

      2. There’s a difference between losing a tennis match and being elbowed in the face until you’re unconscious.

      3. But wouldn’t a superior opponent need fewer strikes until you’re out? Might hurt less. ;-) Kidding! I’m kidding! ;-)

        Well, in my opinion the purpose of competition is finding the best athlete, and catching an opponent who’s much better than yourself is simply part of the risk description of any sport.

      4. I’m afraid this shows a lack of understanding of MMA. The principle that mismatches should be avoided is well accepted by most people within the sport, with many athletic commissions actually vetoing matches between fighters with different levels of experience for this very reason. Mismatches are bad for the health of the fighters and can shorten careers.

        I think what’s needed here is some perspective – after 3 rounds of MMA sparring you may have a different opinion ;)

      5. haha Why do I have the eerie feeling you would enjoy being so kind as to help me revise that opinion? ;-) :D

        I train in Krav Maga, so I do know what a well-placed (or, worse, misplaced) strike to the face or a good choke feel like, including from a superior opponent. BUT there are no competitions in KM. The only time we get to “compete” is in friendly matches, for the glory of being the lot’s best. ;-) I well remember from my days of playing tennis how different even a very ambitious friendly competition can be from an actual competition (there’s simply no substitute for experiencing the latter first-hand), so my opinion about this is certainly open to revision. :-)

    2. “Eh, come on, mismatches in skill and strength happen all the time in all sports. I don’t see why MMA should go out of its way to avoid that. When I still used to play tennis I played opponents into the ground plenty of times AND the same happened to me many times.”

      This is, most likely, the dumbest thing I’ve read the whole week.

  20. There seems to be a misconception that the IOC has decided that ALL trans women will be allowed to compete as women no matter what. Or rather that all people who identify as female and have female range levels of testosterone may compete as a female. That’s the type of policy that I would prefer and I am happy that I compete within a sports association that has a policy very close to that. I’m a pretty smart person and a cautious one and I feel nothing even close to guilt about competing in my sport. (Please, I don’t want to hear about my ‘obvious bias’, that’s insulting)

    The IOC does, in fact, consider each case on an individual basis, using a panel of experts. I can’t actually find the IOC’s policy released to the public, but the reporting from Slate and the NY Times suggests that the IOC evaluates each case as of the 2012 Summer Games. I think that is totally an invasion of privacy and unnecessary, but obviously I am in the minority on this. The ABC seems to have followed the lead of IOC, so maybe we can assume that they will be considering each case individually.

    Considering each case individually would seem to be built in to MMA. Fox has to apply for a license in each state, giving many people the opportunity to evaluate her individual case. In addition to that, nobody is forced to fight anyone. Even if nobody knew of her medical history I assume a fighter could LOOK at her and decide. We know she’s passed a testosterone level test. Her record is public knowledge. A potential opponent can see how tall she is, what her reach is, how narrow her pelvis is and decide for themselves. If you can know (based on science) that her muscular advantage is gone, and you can SEE the shape of her skeleton, what danger does she present to her opponent that you aren’t aware of?

    I don’t see how there could be an internal, hidden safety issue that neither the licensing boards or her peers would identify. Even if the ABC said “all female-identifying people below a testosterone limit may compete as female” it seems to me that MMA has enough checks and balances against that. Do you not trust the ABC or the state commissions to look at her individual case and make the right decision? If you trust them to do MRIs and make those decisions, why not this? Does the ABC or state commissions EVER evaluate a fighter and determine not that her safety is compromised, but that her opponents safety is compromised? Why would your safety not be equally compromised stepping into the cage with anyone who is good enough to knock you out?

    There absolutely are enough checks in place that her career does not need to end. If it does, that is pure ignorance. Making a blanket statement that cisgender fighters are automatically safe (pending the rest of the criteria) and transgender fighters are automatically not safe is just discrimination. You brought up the MRI. All that makes me think is “well, if they would disqualify women based on their individual circumstances, why not let them make the decision in this case.” And if you, as a fighter, don’t trust it then don’t fight her. To pre-judge her situation is the definition of prejudice. Not in the malicious, racist, -phobic sense of the word, but the ‘making judgements before knowing the facts’ sense of the word.

  21. Not all advantages are so easily visible, especially early in a fighter’s career when there’s limited video footage available. I’m pretty sure testosterone levels are not public knowledge, and as I have pointed out several times already, there is no science that says her “muscular advantage is gone”.

    No, I don’t blindly trust athletic commissions to make the right decisions – there are plenty of things I have been very critical about in the past (testing for performance enhancing drugs being a notable example). That’s why we’re having this discussion in the first place.

    Finally, I have not argued that Fox not be allowed to fight, just that opponents should have been given the knowledge to make an informed decision about whether to fight her. Since that’s what you seem to be saying (“if you, as a fighter, don’t trust it then don’t fight her”), I’m not sure exactly where our disagreement is.

    1. Her hormone levels should be in the right range. They test that for everyone don’t they? The fact that she’s in the cage should confirm that her hormone levels are proper, right? Maybe they only do that after?

      I think the ABC and any state licensing commissions should not give her any extra scrutiny that they wouldn’t give to a cisgender woman. The fighters can scrutinize and decide on their own. So I guess if we agree on that, then we agree. But it seemed to me at the beginning of the discussion you were asking for a whole lot of evidence that is impractical to obtain, to prove something that is unprovable. If that information is for your decision or for other fighters to use, then great I’m all for more knowledge on this subject. If that unobtainable burden of proof is required for her license, no we definitely don’t agree.

      1. Nope. They randomly test for performance enhancing drugs, often after the fight. No guarantee that she’s been tested, or what specifically she’s been tested for. I would agree that *everyone* should be subject to more testing – but there’s also more to athletic performance than current hormone levels.

        In a nutshell, my argument is that her opponents should have been made aware of her medical history before agreeing the fight, so they could weigh the evidence and make the decision for themselves (perhaps under an NDA if necessary).

  22. If a naturally birthed man can defeat a naturally birthed woman foram award or title, then can a naturally birthed man defeat defeat that naturally birthed man to obtain a women’s title to the men’s side? Obviously this is obscure! I, over the last 13 years or so, have directly and actively watched the sport of wrestling, both collegiate and Olympic, evolve to separate into a women’s division to make the sport equal, safe and more fulfilling for all of its competitors. I know the men and male coaches (Vlad Iziboinikov, Tim Byers, Alex Conti), who helped pushed for this, and I know some of the female athletes who I am very proud of (Marcie VanDucen, Trinity Plessinger, Victoria Anthony, Ashlee Evans-Smith), who paved the road for these opportunities. I feel this is a completely disrespectful marketing sham. This does nothing positive for MMA or any associated discipline. I have no issues with ones (Fallon Fox) personal choices, however your personal choices should never negatively affect the amass. If Fallon’s choice is to proceed into MMA, then a new “open” class must be regulated, governed and embodied, just as the women have fought for their independence! Thank you for reading my opinion.

    1. Btw… My friend Ashley Evans-Smith is in this tournament on the other side of the bracket. She won her first pro fight in this tournament….what a rough way to start a career!

  23. I guess you could look at this from different viewpoints:

    – Fox should be just as strong as an average women to be allowed to compete
    or
    – Fox should be within the natural occurring variation among women to be allowed to compete

    The point that weight classes are there for security of the fighters is a very valid one and I understand your concern. But obviously even in one weight class, nature isn´t fair. Some have been dealt better genes than others.

    Let´s say we profile the DNA of all fighters and some have a certain gene giving them an advantage, would you split those out into separate classes and be able to pass fighting on them?

    I guess the notion that the fight should be fair by everyone having the exact same starting point is hard to achieve. The question is not if your genes give you an advantage or not. The question is: “Is that advantage is out of the normal bound of variations among women?”

    1. In terms of looking at whether Fox falls within the “naturally occurring variation” among women – this is a very hard question to answer, because there are so many different factors to be taken into account. You can’t just look at the variation for each individual factor separately; because many of the factors are related, you have to look at the variation when all the factors are considered together. For instance, let’s say you can find women who are stronger, and you can find women with a higher VO2 max, and you can find women with better muscular endurance – but unless you have an example of a woman who simultaneously has all three, it’s hard to say that she’s within the “naturally occurring variation for women”. Now add all the other relevant attributes and you’ll start to see the scale of the problem.

      In addition, you have the question of how exactly you’re going to reliably measure all those attributes (or, in fact, whether that’s even possible). Then you need to decide on your reference class – are you comparing her to *all* women? Or to all female fighters? Or all 37 year old female fighters? This matters, because for example someone with a 15 year history of powerlifting is likely to be stronger in absolute terms – but most fighters will not have this background, because they’ve had to make the trade off to spend training time developing technical skills as well as raw strength. And how do you check that the women in your reference class actually developed their strength naturally and not with the help of banned substances? For example – if you’re going to take female powerlifting world records as your upper limit for strength, for example, you’d have to ask some serious questions about whether those numbers should really be considered within the range of “naturally occurring variation”!

      This is a very complicated problem, and not something we’re even close to being able to answer conclusively.

      In short, we simply don’t know enough to reasonably take the decision out of the hands of the people who will be most affected by it – i.e., Fox’s opponents.

      1. I think we agree that it´s a tough call.

        Please note that I did not (and wouldn´t dare to) make any judgement on if Fox should be allowed to fight or not (I´m no expert and obviously experts consulted disagree anyway).

        I was trying to sort my thoughts on this:

        We´re debating basically weather Fox genes give her an unfair advantage.

        Every Human has advantages and disadvantages due to their genes. That´s why we group people into categories of gender, height and weight in fighting. With weight being probably the only one not only affected by genes.

        This will never level out 100% of the gene differences but it´s as close could get in the past. There might be more or different groupings in the future based on DNA testing.

        Now we´ve got the case where someone for good reasons medically altered effects of their genes. This is by any means a tough call.

        This decision is complicated by the strong correlation of gender and personality. I can´t even begin to imagine how it would feel going through all of that to become a woman and then not being accepted as one by being told that you can´t compete in that category.

        There is one step that can be taken on that side though:
        I´d imagine it´s best to show Fox support her struggle by accepting her as a woman. And trying to as much as it´s possible separate that from the discussion on wether she´s got a advantage due to her genes that is way out of the class she´s competing in.

      2. I realise that not being able to participate in a sport of your choice may be disappointing, but I’ll reiterate – nobody has the right to compete in MMA. People are denied a licence to fight for all manner of reasons – for example, Dan Hardy has just been pulled from a UFC card because of an abnormal ECG in his medicals which indicated he had a (completely asymptomatic) heart condition that was highly unlikely to affect him in any way. The burden of proof is on the fighter to prove that s/he is safe to fight.

        The reason for gender classes is because there’s a big difference between a well trained male and a well trained female, independent of weight. I’m painfully aware of this when I spar good guys in my weight category.

        Now, looking at the argument that for a fighter to fight in a female category, s/he just has to identify as female and lie within “normal female range” for strength and other relevant attributes – well, the world record deadlift for my weight class is over 220 kgs. It’s safe to say that several of my (very male) training partners can’t do that. So should they be allowed to compete in a female category too? That line of reasoning clearly leads to absurdities.

        Also, weight classes are nothing to do with advantages or disadvantages of certain genes. It’s because weight, in and of itself, gives a strong advantage in a combat sport. I’m harder to take down when I’m at 64kgs than I am at 57 – yet my genes haven’t changed.

      3. Rosi,

        These discussions can get heated sometimes. It´s great with how much nuance you discuss the topic, clearly you thought about it a lot.

        I´ve actually fully agreed on you that there are good reasons for gender classes.

        Most classes with the exception of weight are based on the things we can´t change about ourselves due to our genes – It´s not an argument, it´s just stating facts for calming down the discussion. I´d say it´s even a bit on the negative side for Fox participating. As stated, it´s a tricky task to assess if chaining the effect of your genes with drugs bringing you into the other category. I would not make a judgement on that.

        The last statement was simply a hint on what I admire about great athletes: Compassion. It doesn´t actually requiere you to change your stand on the argument. It´s merely a way to reach out to the other side while disagreeing on an issue. Trying to see a issue from the other persons perspective helps to achieve that.

      4. I certainly agree that the subject should be handled respectfully – see my number (1) point at the beginning of my post.

        I don’t perceive the discussion as being heated – mostly I’m just trying to be logical and clear. If that comes across as abrupt, I apologise! :-)

  24. I think one point being missed about the fact that transsexuals can compete in the olymics and have been for several years is the fact that there has not been a transsexual female athlete to qualify. Even if political pressures may have influenced the decision, the fact remains that not a single transsexual female athlete has won any events. If there truly was a significat advantage to going through male puberty wouldn’t you expect that at least one transsexual athlete would demonstrate that advantage? And why didn’t Renee Richards destroy her opponents when she was allowed to compete in women’s tennis? True hitting a ball is a little different, by the biomechanic advantages should be the same.

    1. There are lots of other equally plausible explanations for the lack of a world champion transexual athlete.

      Having an advantage isn’t the same as buying the winning ticket. In sports that require a high level of technical skill, having a significant size and strength advantage isn’t the only thing to consider. As I understand it, a top level female tennis player will beat a male club level player more often than not.

      The fact we haven’t yet seen a truly world class transexual female athlete may also be to do with the small baseline number of transexual athletes compared with the total number of female athletes. Let’s say I travel back in time to last week and tell 100 people the first 3 numbers from the next lottery draw. If none of them win the lottery (still fairly unlikely!), would that prove they did’t have a significant advantage?

      1. Thank you for responding. I’m a bit confused though and admit my limited understanding of MMA fighters, but I always understood it to be a highly technical sport and therefore like you said size and strength shouldn’t be the only consideration. Perhaps I’m misinformed, but I didn’t know the smaller weaker fighter always lost. I also don’t think I understand your comment that most professional female tennis players would beat most club level men. I had always assumed a professionally trained female MMA fighter would probably beat a club level male MMA fighter, but again don’t know too much about MMA.

        Additionally, the Olympics had a wide variety of sports that range from the more strength based (i.e. weightlifting) to the more endurance based (ie cross country running) to the more explosive/reflexes based (such a sprinting). My point is that if transsexual athletes had an unfair advantage I would expect to see that at least one would qualify for anything and given the way most MMA people are talking about it I would expect the transsexual athlete to destroy the competition. That simply has not happened and that is evidence in and of itself.

        I was completely lost about the time travel thing, but i think its important to remember the question cannot be does Fallon have any advantage but rather does she have have any unfair advantage. Otherwise how do we then accommodate how different athletes have different life histories. Do we need to go so far as requiring height parity as well as weight? What about accounting for economical differences growing up? Don’t privileged who were rich children with access to healthy nutrition and proper equiptment and training get to fight poeple who grew up poor and without?

        And if size and strength matter so much, shouldn’t a 6 foot female MMA fighter destroy Fallon at 5-7? I suppose I should learn more about MMA before putting in my two cents, but I think all people should have access to sport.

      2. I think we’re lacking a common frame of reference here.

        While MMA is certainly a highly technical sport, strength and power play a significant factor – hence the reason for weight classes. It takes a considerable skill difference to compensate for a difference in strength; I regularly spar with men near my weight class, and I’m aware of just how big the gap is. In my experience, even a top tier female fighter typically has her hands full with a mid-level male of the same weight class. But that’s not really the point. When skill levels are close to equal – as they tend to be at the top levels in any sport – strength matters a lot. The absence of a transexual athlete with a world class level of skill doesn’t prove that an unfair advantage doesn’t exist, any more than you can prove chimpanzees don’t exist by failing to find one in your back garden.

        I agree that there’s a lot of uncertainty here. But given that there’s uncertainty, the safety of the fighters must come first.

        As for my refusing to fight Fallon – there’s no question of me fighting Fallon, we’re totally different weight classes, so it’s unlikely ever to arise. But any fighter has the right to turn down a fight against any opponent for any reason.

        I also don’t think you could make the issue of “discrimination on the grounds of gender identity” stick against the athletic commissions if they declined a licence to fight, owing to the points I raised in my post. But we’re going round in circles, so I’m going to draw a line under it here.

      3. Do you really believe you can refuse to fight any fighter for whatever reason? Do you think you can not accept a fight against someone based on their race of national origin? And while you may, the organization certainly cannot.

        And your argument that the burden of proff should be with Fallon is patently unfair. What other groups of fighters will you insist on similar standards for? I mean seriously, your argument in essence is in the absence of evidence, discriminate. Why not treat people as equals until proven otherwise.

      4. And while there may be other explanations and I agree that there are not as many transsexual athletes as there simply are not that many transsexuals, but given how marginalized and poor transsexuals are as a whole, don’t you think someone would try to take advantage of this? It’s not exactly a new thing (see Renee Richards story).

        Plus, I would urge you to speak with an attorney before deciding to refuse to fight Fallon. While I can respect your decision not to fight, you should understand that in several states (16 and growing including California and Nevada to name a couple) there are anti-discrimination statutes that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity. In these rather large markets, the MMA organizers will have to accept transsexual athletes and I would hate to see unfounded fear derail any fighters career.

      5. Yes. A fighter can refuse to fight someone. Of course, the hypothetical organisation s/he was fighting for might not like it, and if they’re not happy with the reason given, then there might be consequences in terms of future opportunities (in particular, turning down an opponent because of race is unlikely to go down well!), but you cannot compel someone to accept a fight.

        As for why the burden of proof lies with the fighter – I cover this in point (7) of my blog above. In MMA, part of the objective is doing physical damage to another human being. The safety of the sport depends on fighters being evenly matched. Fox’s last opponent was knocked out rather brutally – whether that was as a result of an unfair advantage, or not, we simply don’t know. It’s not enough to say that it’s “probably” ok.

        Incidentally – fighters are routinely denied a licence to fight for all manner of reasons. Anything which poses a possible threat to either the fighter’s own safety or the safety of his or her opponent is grounds for refusal. This is not a double standard.

  25. I just read this article and the associated study and I remembered what you said about the IOC and social pressure here. Nothing new for me in it, but I thought I would share it with you:

    http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2013/03/22/analysis-trans-suicide-and-the-way-the-media-reports-the-trans-community/

    Yeah, I think the IOCs bones must’ve already been cracking from all the social pressure to admit trans athletes. -_-

    I think we can safely conclude social pressure wasn’t a factor in their decision.

    1. Social pressure isn’t just a single simple entity. It comes in different forms from different groups. The threat of being sued (e.g. Renee Richards), for example, is certainly one kind of pressure!

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