When it comes to difficult topics in sports, nothing is more sensitive and polarizing than discussions about gender equality. But just because a topic is sensitive doesn’t mean it should be ignored; in fact, sensitive topics should be discussed at length because discussion leads to progress and enlightenment.

One of the biggest topics in the world of MMA over the past couple of years has been the journey of MMA’s first openly transgender fighter, Fallon Fox, and where she belongs in the sport. This topic has faded into the background as of late, but make no mistake about it, where transgender fighters belong is a discussion that needs to be addressed head on by major organizations and major athletic commissions, because until then, the transgender fighter argument is not going away.

When it comes to transgender athletes and their desire to compete in athletic competition, I stand firmly with them on their right to do so, but where the argument gets hazy for me is which division they should truly be allowed to compete in.

In 2004, the International Olympic Committee clarified their guidelines for participation for transgender athletes, stating that participation is based on sex, and those wishing to compete against athletes not of their birth sex, are required to undergo sex reassignment surgery along with two years of hormone therapy.

While the Olympic policy is far from perfect because it doesn’t address transgender athletes who have undergone the hormone therapy, but have elected not to have an expensive, complicated and imperfect gender reassignment surgery, it has opened the door and paved the way for transgender athletes. But make no mistake about itthe policy that works for the IOC doesn’t make sense for MMA for many reasons. First and foremost, MMA is a competition in which athletes are looking to inflict serious physical damage on their opponents. A fighter like Fox, who was born male, potentially has a decided physical advantage over an opponent that was born female.

Some doctors will point out that hormone therapy will minimize physical strength and decrease bone density in transgender athletes making them comparable to female fighters. While that is very true, it is also very misleading.

According to endocrinologist Dr. Ramona Krtuzick, at what point in their life a transgender person begins hormone therapy can play a huge role in how significant the physical change will truly be.

In 2013, Krtuzick spoke to Bloody Elbow about Fox specifically stating,

“Typically, you’re looking at about 15 years after androgen suppression and sexual reassignment surgery to really start to see significant changes in bone density. It’s been too early for her to see much of a decrease in bone mass or to make her equal to that of a female. She started off with a much higher bone density than other women her same age, and therefore will maintain a lot of that for a while. Additionally, because she is taking estrogen, that will actually help to maintain that bone mass. Women also have lighter, child bearing hips because of the difference in hormones during the body’s developmental years. Her skeleton and body mass and shape developed a long time ago. Those changes cannot be undone. They are permanent.”

“Her testosterone levels are more than likely in the normal female range, since her adrenals are the primary source for it now. She didn’t undergo hormone therapy and surgery until she was fully developed. She had the potential to be significantly stronger because her muscle development reached several years beyond full maturity, giving her the potential to be significantly stronger than other age matched women. There’s really no way to determine how much her muscle mass will decrease over time. What can be said is that she has a naturally higher propensity to build and maintain muscle mass because she was once a fully developed, adult male. You can’t ever take that away from her.”

That’s my major issue with transgender athletes who want to compete with women; males simply have physical advantages over women and in a combat sports setting, those advantages can translate into serious injuries for opponents.

Does that mean that they should not be allowed to compete? Not at all. There are valid medical arguments that can be made in favor of it. But at the same time, there are a lot of unknowns about how long hormone therapy really takes to change bone density and muscle mass that needs to be researched further.

Fighter safety should always be the number one concern, and right now we just don’t have all the facts needed to make a truly informed decision about transgender athletes. We have the IOC blueprint, which is a great starting point, but it needs to be developed further and researched more.

My other major issue with transgender fighters and Fox in particular is the fact that she did not disclose the fact that she was born a man until after her first two pro fights. That is ethically wrong and it is damaging to the legitimate efforts other transgender athletes have made.

By not disclosing to her opponents, she put their lives in danger. MMA is a full contact sport and there is enough medical evidence to support the fact that Fox could potentially have a significant physical advantage over her opponents. I understand not wanting to publicize your personal life from the roof tops, but when you decide to compete in professional athletics against competitors who are not of your same birth gender, you need to disclose certain information.

At that point, it’s up to your opponent to decide whether or not they wish to compete against you; it’s a matter of ethics and honor. Withholding that information for her first two pro fights was dishonest and deceitful.

At the end of the day, if transgender athletes are going to be allowed to participate in a sport like MMA, there needs to be some serious research done as to the true effects of hormone therapy. Obviously it is the recognized treatment, but how long does it take to really change the physical makeup of a person? Also, perspective opponents need to have a say; they are the ones putting their bodies on the line out there and if they feel uncomfortable with competing against transgender athletes, that should be reason enough not to try and force their hand.

As it stands today, I am not in favor of transgender fighters being allowed to compete in MMA; there are just too many question marks about the potential physical advantages. But at the same time, if a fighter wants to compete against a transgender athlete like Fox and they understand the potential risks, then by all means it should be allowed to take place.

About The Author

RJ Gardner
Content Coordinator

RJ Gardner is a rabid sports fan and a long time MMA enthusiast. After watching UFC 1 at ripe old age of 11 RJ was hooked and his passion for the sport has continued to blossom over the years. RJ has been covering MMA since 2007 and has had work featured on Bleacher Report, SI.com, CBSSports.com and UFC.com. RJ is also a Petroleum Transportation Operations Manager during the day.

  • AutumnDenver

    If we are so concerned with bone density, why do we allow black athletes to fight white ones? It’s for the same reason we look at nfl players 50 meter time, vertical leap, bmi, and fat density but nobody ever tests bone density — because it doesn’t matter!

  • AutumnDenver

    All this article does is defend segregation and discrimination with unsubstantiated fears.

  • Jason Schielke

    I can guarantee you people would have a 100% different opinion if a female who had sexual reassignment surgery wanted to fight. People would cry that men would be beating up a “woman.”

    If you’re for a man who had sexual reassignment surgery fighting females, you must keep constant across the board.

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