Up until recently, Fallon Fox was best known in the mixed martial arts (MMA) world for her takedown of her opponent in the women’s featherweight category after less than 40 seconds. However, in the last week, Fox has become notable for something less related to her athletic prowess: she is male-to-female transgender, and came out after media sources made the news public. However, instead of being lauded for blazing trails for the LGBT community, Fox is facing animosity from those in the MMA community as well as scrutiny from the Florida State Boxing Commission regarding her licensing as a female fighter. Regarding her dream of fighting in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), CEO Dana White has commented crassly that "[MMA] is not like golf or baseball, UFC is a full contact sport." It is assumed that Fox is the first transgender person to compete in an MMA event, a heavily masculine sport both in audience and participancy.
Fallon Fox’s case typifies a new movement of transgender athletes, as well as the challenges and stigma they must face in order to compete in the sports they love.
Jorge De La Noval, CEO of the Championship Fighting Alliance where Fox competes, says "where we stand as a company is that she's a female ... she's a female and she's definitely a fighter." But not everyone agrees.
Fox's athletic trajectory is representative of the battles most transgender people must face, both in athletic venues and beyond. Transgender people, the "T" of the LGBT movement, are often excluded from civil rights legislation and face discrimination not just in wider society, but within the LGBT movement as well. The most notable example comes from 2007, when Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass) proposed a bill that excluded gender identity from an employment discrimination bill, in spite of the fact that legal protection based on gender identity is crucial for the quality of life of transgender people. This is due to the incredible discrimination they face: 90% of transgender people report facing "harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination" on a regular basis. This leads to nearly half of young transgender people having seriously thought about taking their lives, and one-quarter report having made a suicide attempt. The transgender community needs role models and heroes more than anyone else in the LGBT movement. More openly transgender athletes can only help the transgender community.
Yet there have been relatively few transgender athletes who have come out, partially because of stigma that athletes like Fox are currently facing within sports circles. While the NCAA modified its regulation to include transgender athletes, many openly transgender athletes face challenges, including being accused of using their gender identity to cheat. A Sports Illustrated piece on the challenges facing transgender athletes demonstrated that, for most, their athletic ability "was proportional" to their gender after transitioning. Yet athletes like Fox continue to be scrutinized and demonized, viewed as changing their gender identities solely to be more competitive.
Some transgender athletes, like attempted Olympic qualifier Keelin Godsey, must indefinitely postpone their transition to their correct gender in order to be competitive in the sport they love. Others, like college basketball player Gabrielle Ludwig, are called "it" by national newscasters and mocked for their gender identity. This type of behavior, both from lone individuals and regulatory institutions, not only isolates and marginalizes athletes already struggling to compete, but undermines decent treatment of transgender people and furthers discrimination.
Fallon Fox continues to face discrimination, like transgender athletes and the transgender community as a whole, but hopefully will continue to fight. Otherwise, such a dismissal would be a set back not only for transgender people, but for fairness and equality in all sports.