Fallon Fox is the world’s first openly trans MMA athlete. Born in Toledo, OH and had struggled with being assigned male at birth as young as five years old. Fox spent her childhood unsure of what exactly the feelings she had meant, initially identifying as a gay male in her teens until first learning about the term “transgender”. She lived as a heterosexual male, even marrying a woman at age 19 which resulted in the couple having a daughter.
Fox went on to join the Navy as an “operations specialist” to support her family for several years. At the end of her service Fox enrolled at the University of Toledo but dropped out shortly after due to stress resulting from her ongoing struggle with gender. It was then Fox realized she was a woman and took a job as a truck driver to save money for gender reassignment surgery In 2006 Fox traveled to Thailand to undergo gender reassignment surgery. She has since lived as a woman.
Fox began her MMA career in 2012, turning professional she saw success in her first three fights but losing her fourth (and only lost) fight to Ashlee Evans-Smith. After her fight with Smith, several different media outlets caught wind of Fox having transitioned and now living as a female. While Fox was not ready to come out to the community as a trans-UFC and MMA fighter, the potential implications of being outed were too great. Fox decided to come out before the reports were released. Speaking with Cyd Ziegler from OutSports as well as Sports Illustrated. Ready or not, Fox officially came out as the first trans MMA fighter.
Coming out as trans created a lot of controversy for Fox. Ranging from her official license and status as an MMA fighter to the potential “unfair advantage” of a person assigned male at birth fighting in a female sport. In addition many people saw it as “a man beating up women”. Many fighters refused to fight Fox and many questions were raised about her legitimacy as fighting as a woman in the UFC. One of the most significant examples coming from Evans-Smith claiming that Fox had an unfair advantage over her opponents (remember, Evans-Smith had beaten Fox in their match prior to Fox coming out)
Many people were reaching hard to find reasons why Fox should not be allowed to fight women in the UFC, one of the funkiest being that “men were born with higher bone density than women from birth” and “were more fragile” despite their being no scientific evidence to back that claim and many examples supporting the opposite. UFC Commentator Joe Rogan came out in strong opposition to Fox retaining her fighting license stating…
“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. You look at a man’s hands and you look at a women’s hands and they’re built different. They’re just thicker, they’re stronger, your wrists are thicker, your elbows are thicker, your joints are thicker. Just the mechanical function of punching, a man can do it much harder than a woman can, period.”
Ultimately Fox kept her license and had a fight scheduled that was postponed but did indeed happen with CFA co-founder Jorge De La Noval stating that the organization will “not turn our backs on her… As long as she’s licensed, she’s always welcome in our promotion. We stand behind her and we give her all of our support.
The criticism and transphobic remarks continued to pour in from many people in the industry, indeed Fox’s trans-coming out was not well received. Most notably Ronda Rousey made several statements against Fox, flat out refusing to fight her claiming “unfair advantage” but at the same time declaring that she would beat Fox.
Despite all the controversy, many medical experts have shown that Fox would have no more of an “unfair advantage” than any other woman in the sport and that the claims of “increased bone density and muscular strength” as a resulted of being assigned male at birth ultimately had no impact on Fox’s capability as a female fighter.
After Fallon Fox came out, the Association of Boxing Commissions clarified their policy regarding trans-athletes. Having modeled it after the IOC’s trans-athlete policy. Eric Vilian, Director of Institute For Society And Genetics at UCLA worked with the ABC on their trans-inclusive policy. To be licensed to fight in the UFC, trans athletes and specifically male to female trans athletes must undergo gender reassignment surgery and have minimum of two years of hormone replacement therapy administered by a board certified specialist. Fox had fulfilled all those conditions and has continued to fight, having struggled however to find opponents as well as promoters.
Nevertheless Fox has had two fights since coming out, having won them both. She was inducted in the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame in 2014.
By David Smith