“Every day I wake up and see myself in the mirror, it’s a high moment, I know who I am. And it feels really good to be who I am.”

Those are the words spoken by transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox in an interview done earlier this year with TIME. There aren’t too many of us who take the time to look in the mirror each morning and cherish the reflection we see staring back at us. For Fox, it appears she has found peace within herself as a woman, but now faces the daily scrutiny of being a former male and fighting against women.

The general perception is that Fox holds an unfair advantage because she was born a man. For many, the resentment towards Fox will only grow if she continues to win fights. This stems from not understanding the entire picture of what one goes through when they decide to take the road that Fox has taken to be what she believes she was intended to be. Essentially, she was a woman trapped inside a man’s body.

UFC champion Ronda Rousey believes Fox has an advantage because she still has the same bone structure as a man. On the flip side, there is a medical reason to believe that one who undergoes a sex change will then have less muscle strength and bone density after the procedure. When you take both sides into consideration you’re still left with many of the same questions you began with. Does Fox have an unfair advantage over other female fighters?

As a society, we don’t seem to yet have enough information or a history of this type of situation to make a true decision one way or another. As it stands today, most are going to side on this issue with how they feel about transgender individuals in general. If you can do some soul searching and try to understand the emotional battle they go through, then you’ll most likely support another obstacle he or she tries to overcome. On the other hand, if the thought of somebody having a surgery to become the opposite sex sickens you, then I can almost guarantee you are equally as disgusted with the thought of Fox throwing punches at another female. In your mind, you are seeing a man hit another woman.

To be brutally honest, that is why the average person has a problem with Fox fighting against women. They see a man hitting a woman. What do you see? What do I see?

It’s hard for me to form an opinion on a situation that is so unique and encompasses so much emotion that I cannot relate to. The only precedence I can pull from is hearing the struggles of a gay friend and how this particular friend was sobbing uncontrollably one night because she couldn’t control “being gay,” as many people think they can or should be able to. She said, “If I could not be gay, I would, but that’s not how I was born and there is nothing I can do about it.”

I’d have to imagine these types of feelings ran parallel with Fox as she was growing up and finally as she decided to save up money to have the gender reassignment surgery. Why would anybody want to go through all the hell if they could help it? The more I hear about stories of transgender, the more I can’t help but be more open-minded than I have been in the past and try to really listen to their battles instead of just casting them aside as somebody “with problems,” as most of us do.

When it comes to fighting, however, Fox hasn’t done anything inside the cage that has made me get up in arms about her being in the women’s division. She hasn’t been dominant like a Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino or Rousey. She hasn’t even shown flashes of brilliance like we’ve seen from many of the fighters on either the UFC or Invicta rosters. The three fighters Fox has beaten have a combined professional record of 2-8. Two of the three fighters she faced were winless.

If nothing else, Fox is educating us on what can be deemed acceptable in the MMA world going forward. The more she fights, the more we get to evaluate if she truly does have an advantage over women. Even then, however, it’ll be hard to pinpoint whether or not those advantages are from a great training camp, athletic genes, or if it is in fact because she was once a man.

Unfortunately for Fox, she’s fighting a losing battle. It leaves a pit in my stomach to say this, but I can’t envision her ever being able to win over the majority of fans should she put together a successful MMA career. MMA fans will tune in to watch her fight because she is an interesting story, but the majority will no doubt be hoping to see her lose against a perceived “real woman.” The angst coming from other well-known fighters certainly doesn’t help her efforts in winning over mainstream MMA.

Those that believe Fox has an unfair advantage are basing their opinion not from facts, but rather on their fears, a way of thinking towards transgender individuals that is no doubt all too common for Fox and others who may be fighting the same kind of battle. Fox is going to need to have the will to become successful for herself with the hope that one day others will see her for who she really is—a female mixed martial artist with aspirations and a work ethic to get better each and every day.

Photo: Fallon Fox (top) delivers ground-and-pound (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

  • Dawn Underwood

    Well written Joe. Fallon may have a different bone structure but to her disadvantage is she will not have near the testosterone as her counterparts. Do you think any of those with the fears of transgenders can understand this enough to give this “woman” yes, WOMAN a chance at this sport? I personally am proud of her for making an effort to go through with this and attempt a battle of more than just the cage. GO FALLON! And the rest of you need to educate yourselves!