Over the weekend, British politician and former boxing manager Frank Maloney came out as transgender in an interview with the Mirror. Best known for managing former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis from 1989 through 2001, Maloney, who has changed her name to Kellie, officially retired from the boxing world last October.
One could attempt to parse the 62-year-old's past statements about LGBT individuals (she previously said that she does not believe gay people "do a lot for society," and that she had a problem with them "flaunting their sexuality") and conclude that she's a hypocrite. While that is certainly within the realm of possibility, it's just as likely that her public disdain for LGBT individuals stemmed from her own internalized transphobia and homophobia. (In no way would this excuse Maloney's past homophobia, obviously.)
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According to reports, Maloney came out publicly only after learning that at least two newspapers were planning to tell her story without her input. It shouldn't surprise anyone that Maloney was forced to out herself as a means of staying ahead of the public story. Sadly, this happens far too often in the sports world.
In March 2013, MMA fighter Fallon Fox came out as transgender in an interview with Outsports' Cyd Zeigler. As was the case for Maloney, Fox came out only after receiving calls from at least one reporter set on outing her publicly.
"For years I've known at some point it's very likely the shoe would drop," Fox told Outsports.
What followed was a public gauntlet. Comedian and MMA commentator Joe Rogan went on a lengthy rant about Fox, referring to her as a "man" and a "freak," and accusing her of having an unfair advantage over fighters who were assigned female at birth. Potential opponents, fans, state licensure boards and members of the general public opined on whether or not she should be allowed to compete. Crowds at matches would hurl transphobic slurs and demeaning insults her way, chipping away at her emotionally.
Of course, the accusations of an unfair advantage were baseless.
"If an individual is on female hormones, and she's been on them for several years, the hormones decrease the muscle mass, bone density, strength, libido and aggression," surgeon Sherman Leis said in an interview with MMA news site Bloody Elbow. "Those things are attributed to testosterone, and if she no longer produces testosterone, then she would have the level that an average female would have. She's been doing [hormone therapy] for so many years that she probably does not have a significant advantage, if any at all." Leis also said that Fox "more than likely has the muscle mass, bone density and strength of most females."
Even so, the public remained skeptical, ignoring the consensus of major medical associations, the International Olympic Committee and the NCAA.
Earlier this year, 34-year-old CrossFit athlete Chloie Jonsson was disqualified from the 2014 CrossFit Games after organizers learned about her transgender status.
"We have simply ruled that based upon [Chloie] being born as a male, she will need to compete in the Men's Division," CrossFit general counsel Dale Saran said in a letter to Jonsson. "The fundamental, ineluctable fact is that a male competitor who has a sex reassignment procedure still has a genetic makeup that confers a physical and physiological advantage over women. ... Our decision has nothing to do with 'ignorance' or being bigots — it has to do with a very real understanding of the human genome, of fundamental biology, that you are either intentionally ignoring or missed in high school."
Saran's letter, which cites Encyclopedia Britannica for backup, has been debunked by medical experts like Eric Vilain, director of the Center for Gender-Based Biology and Chief Medical Genetics Department of Pediatrics at UCLA. "Research suggests that androgen deprivation and cross-sex hormone treatment in male-to-female transsexuals reduces muscle mass," Vilain said. "Accordingly, one year of hormone therapy is an appropriate transitional time before a male-to-female [athlete] competes on a women’s team."
In the end, Jonsson did not compete in this year's games, and her gender identity became the topic of daytime television debates.
This macho, ignorant attitude leveled against any athlete who dares to come out will prevent others from being open about who they are. As far as issues of sexism, homophobia and transphobia are concerned, the sporting world seems to be at least a decade behind the rest of the world, as evidenced by the NBA's first female assistant coach being hired just recently, the NBA's first gay player debuting just last season and Michael Sam becoming the first out gay man to be drafted by an NFL team.
We should strive for a world in which people like Maloney aren't forced to hide away, stewing in self-loathing. We should strive for a world in which trans athletes like Fox, Jonsson, Kye Allums, Bobbi Lancaster and Renee Richards are welcomed for who they are, and given the chance to compete without judgement or baseless accusations of advantage. As heartening as it is to see a public figure come forward as transgender, it's sad that we live in a world where that remains a newsworthy item.