(Image via CFAFights.com)
By George Shunick
For those of you who don’t know, Fallon Fox happens to be a female fighter who was born a man. As you can probably infer from that sentence, there’s been a little controversy since then. Most recently, UFC announcer, professional comedian and…uh, podcaster (is that a thing?) Joe Rogan went on a rant about Fox. Rogan can be abrasive, but he’s an entertaining figure in the sport and generally inquisitive enough to question established narratives. He’s also subject to conspiratorial fancies from time to time, but no one’s ever claimed Rogan’s entirely sound of mind. But given his enthusiasm for the bizarre and his overall tolerance of homosexuality, his recent comments about this situation were rather disappointing. Let’s go through them piece by piece…
“She calls herself a woman but… I tend to disagree. And, uh, she, um… she used to be a man but now she has had, she’s a transgender which is (the) official term that means you’ve gone through it, right? And she wants to be able to fight women in MMA. I say no fucking way. I say if you had a dick at one point in time, you also have all the bone structure that comes with having a dick. You have bigger hands, you have bigger shoulder joints. You’re a fucking man. That’s a man, OK? You can’t have… that’s… I don’t care if you don’t have a dick any more…”
First off — Rogan’s simply incorrect here. If you’ve been on hormones for as long as Fox has, your bone structure does change. And while the hands of Fox might never be the same size as Kim Kardashian’s, that doesn’t matter. There’s a spectrum of physical discrepancy across female athletes, and the question isn’t whether Fox’s physique is larger than most, but whether it fits into that established paradigm. In this case, she does. But more than this, the problem with Rogan’s statements is his tone…
“You can’t fight women. That’s fucking crazy. I don’t know why she thinks that she’s going to be able to do that. If you want to be a woman in the bedroom and you know you want to play house and all of that other shit and you feel like you have, your body is really a woman’s body trapped inside a man’s frame and so you got a operation, that’s all good in the hood. But you can’t fight chicks. Get the fuck out of here. You’re out of your mind. You need to fight men, you know? Period. You need to fight men your size because you’re a man. You’re a man without a dick.
I’m looking at a man with a dress, OK? And you don’t… you can act as a woman, I will call you a ‘her,’ I will, uh, call you ma’am. I’ll be respectful but you can’t fight women when you have a man’s frame. PERIOD. Women aren’t that wide, that generates to increased punching power. Women don’t have that sort of muscle structure. I don’t know what you’re doing, I don’t know, you mean obviously if you’re transoperational it means you removed your testicles so your body’s not producing testosterone any more. I don’t know if you’re supplementing testosterone. If your body’s not producing testosterone, why are your arms so big? What’s going on here? There’s a lot of shit going on there and you can’t fight women. No fucking way.”
I can empathize with the general uneasiness people feel about transgender operations; it’s a new technology that completely alters the way people approach sexuality. To many people, it’s unnatural, which implicitly means it’s bad. But ultimately, Rogan’s comments are the same crap you heard about blacks marrying whites in the 60’s, and gays in the 70’s. (And 80’s, and 90’s, and even still today.) Just because something makes you uncomfortable doesn’t mean you’re justified in disparaging it. Fallon Fox — by most forms of biometric data we have available — is a woman, not a man. Period. As technology has advanced, the differences between post-op transsexuals and their counterparts has gradually diminished. Rogan isn’t obligated to acknowledge this, much like you’re not obligated to acknowledge the theory of evolution. But he comes off as an uneducated buffoon as a result. And, again, his assertion that Fox’s muscle structure and bones have retained their masculine characteristics has no evidence to support it.
“She’s won two fights by brutal knockout. So, she’s fighting women. … There’s a variety of small companies that, um, that are willing to allow a person like this to fight. I say it’s fucked up. You can’t fight women! You can’t. And just to look at her record, she’s crushed two women inside the first round. I mean, she’s crushing these girls…”
Those two fights she’s won? Her first opponent is 0-3. Her last opponent, whom Fox knocked out in 39 seconds? She’s 0-2, and got knocked out in 36 seconds — 3 seconds less — in her first professional fight. So perhaps this isn’t a case of Fallon Fox having an advantage because she was born a man and more of having an advantage because her opposition was terrible.
“Look, she’s huge! She’s not just huge, she’s got a fucking man’s face. I mean, you can wear all the lipstick you want. You want to be a woman and you want to take female hormones, you want to get a boob job, that’s all fine. I support your life to live, your right to live as a woman. Fight guys, yes. She has to fight guys. 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.”
Fallon Fox is not “huge.” She’s no bigger than her opposition. Moreover, it’s not like size discrepancies are an issue in MMA; Anthony Johnson competed at welterweight, remember that? And it didn’t matter if he towered over the likes of Dan Hardy or Charlie Brenneman because he made the cut. (Well, sometimes.) But beyond this point, Rogan’s just resorting to his previous, incorrect talking points, and dismissing the validity of Fox’s gender. I’m not sure how he wraps his head around acknowledging Fox can live as a woman, but isn’t a “she.”
“I support, 100%, anyone’s right to be transgender. This is not where it lies with me, like I’m not a prejudiced person.”
There is Nick Diaz-level contradiction going on here and the entirety of what Rogan has said thus far.
“I don’t know what you feel in your body. If you really are a woman trapped in a man’s body, I support your right to do whatever you want to do. Go for it. If that’s what makes you happy, I would not try to stop that at all and I support it 100%. The real issue comes with violent competition with women and the reality of the physical structure of your body. The reality of the physical structure is not fair. You can’t say that a 145 pound woman and a 145 pound man are even. That’s like saying, you know, a 30-pound poodle and a 30-pound Pitbull are just two dogs — because they’re not. One of them has distributed its mass in quite a different way. It’s built for quite a different purpose and men are built for smashing shit.”
Totally agreed. And if Rogan had communicated like this throughout his argument, this would be a much more nuanced, legitimate discourse. But Rogan’s missing the point; Fallon Fox isn’t a man anymore.
“Women are built for getting held down by the stronger male monkey and, you know, women are built for carrying babies and doing work and whatever other non-hyperexplosive physical things you would want to do with your body. But they’re not built for hyperexplosive physical violence, they’re just not. They have more dainty frames, their hands are smaller. And even if they are big, they’re not big like a big man is. It’s not fair. I’m not trying to discriminate against women in any way, shape, or form and I’m a big supporter of women’s fighting. I loved watching that Ronda Rousey/Liz Carmouche fight. But those are actual women. Those are actual women. And as strong as Ronda Rousey looks, she still looks to me like a pretty girl. She’s a beautiful girl who happens to be strong. She’s a girl! [Fallon Fox] is not a girl, OK? This is a transgender woman. It’s a totally different specification.”
I’m not going to touch “women are built for getting held down by the stronger male monkey.” But really, “those are actual women”? Is Rogan’s qualification for a being an “actual” woman that “she still looks to [him] like a pretty girl”? That’s misogynist bullshit. Fallon Fox is a transsexual who became a woman through a surgical procedure and years of hormone therapy, it’s true. But that’s irrelevant; what matters is if her physical “specification” falls within the accepted paradigm of female athlete physiology. The evidence available to us says she does.
“How about some crazy dude who wants to beat the fuck out of chicks, so he gets his dick chopped off? I mean, that’s not outside the realm of possibility.”
Actually, it is.
“There’s a lot of suicidal fucks out there. There’s a lot of people that are like on the edge anyway. Like getting your dick chopped off, you know you’re going to pay attention to me? OK, I’ll chop my dick off, I’ll be a girl for a while. There’s people out there that are fucking crazy and you can’t let them fight girls. You just can’t. So, if this chick fights on Indian land I guess they could do whatever you want. I don’t see the Nevada State Athletic Commission allowing a woman to fight a man, though. … I don’t agree with the (Florida) athletic commission letting this happen. I don’t know. I don’t understand it. I don’t know why anybody would ever allow it. When it comes to competitive athletics, that’s where you got to draw the line.”
Rogan claims to be completely supportive of transgendered individuals, and then compares them to suicidal self-castrators who harbor a compulsion to beat women, and will self-mutilate themselves to get the right to do. It’s absurdity born of willful ignorance and bigotry, which sums up what this entire rant amounts to.
Look, this isn’t a black and white case. What evidence has been afforded to us on this subject indicates that trans athletes compete on a level playing field, but this evidence is unfortunately in short supply. As Rosi Sexton argues, there are legitimate concerns that have not been addressed due to a lack of research, specifically the “ratio of type II to type I muscle fibres,” “lung capacity” and pelvic structure. Dr. Johnny Benjamin offers a similar critique, but without any specifics. (Although, he also thinks women shouldn’t be allowed to fight five minute rounds, so I’m not sold on his draconian standards for “safety” regarding female fighters.) And certain female fighters have spoken out against Fox, including Meisha Tate. (Again, take her opinion for what you will.)
What this really comes down to is a difference in philosophy. Fallon Fox and many other transgendered athletes meet the requirements of the International Olympic Committee and World Anti-Doping Agency. A peer-reviewed study concerning trans athletes enumerates three main facts concerning this debate; one, that by the metrics utilized in studies thus far, there is no discernible advantage trans athletes have over their competition. Two, that there is a natural “broad variance” that exists in individual sexes, and that the measure by which trans athletes may be included in sports is not whether they meet the mean of that variance, but merely whether they test within that variance. And finally, that there is insufficient evidence to definitively determine if there is or is not an unfair advantage held by trans athletes.
What does this mean? It means how you approach these facts determines whether or not you believe a trans athlete should be allowed to participate. Personally, I believe that evidence is required to withhold someone from participating in what they desire to do, and as the evidence currently available to us indicates that she doesn’t hold an unfair advantage, Fallon Fox should be allowed to continue to fight. Sexton believes that “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.” This too is a legitimate argument.
I think there are three things we can at least agree on. The first is Fallon Fox should have disclosed her biological past. While there is no evidence that transgender individuals possess an unfair advantage currently, it may one day come to light that there is. Should that day come, it would be necessary to draw a distinction between trans and female fighters, and that will require disclosure. Second, there clearly needs to be more research done on this subject, to determine if there is a measurable competitive advantage or disadvantage held by trans athletes. Hopefully the Fallon Fox controversy will help draw attention to this. And finally, that if any progress is to be made in transgendered rights, both in and out of sports, it’s necessary to treat transgendered individuals with respect, as people of the sex they choose to be. Immature bigotry spawned from an irrational fear of the unknown or unnatural only serves to lower the public discourse, contribute to misinformation and inflame prejudices. Whether it’s Joe Rogan calling Fallon Fox “a man without a dick” or John McCain calling MMA “human-cockfighting” back in the 1990s, it’s just the same uneducated nonsense that we’ll look back on a decade or two as the archaic gasps of a people desperate to hang on to how they thought the world ought to be.