This guest blog post comes to us from mixed martial artist Liz Carmouche, who is about to become the first openly gay fighter and one of the first two female fighters in the history of UFC.
By Liz Carmouche:
On February 23, one week from this Saturday, I will be competing for the Ultimate Fighting Championship Women’s bantamweight title at the Honda Center, Anaheim.
The UFC is like the NFL or Major League of the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA). MMA is a combat sport comprised of five Olympic disciplines – Greco-Roman wrestling, boxing, freestyle wrestling, taekwondo and judo – plus traditional martial arts like jiu-jitsu, karate and Thai boxing.
You win by knockout, by forcing your opponent to concede the match with submission holds like an armbar, or by judges’ decision after 5 x 5 minute rounds are completed.
I fight in the main event of the UFC 157 card, taking on the world champion and Olympic judo medalist Ronda Rousey. It is a fight of firsts: it is the first women’s fight in the UFC, the first women’s title fight in the UFC, and the first time a UFC event has ever been headlined by a female fight.
I’m also getting a lot of attention because I’m the first openly gay athlete in the UFC. I’ve had unbelievable support from the sport and my fans – who I call my “Lizbos” – and want to shock the world by beating Ronda for them.
I first realized I was gay when I watched movies as a kid. There would be a kissing scene between the hero and the girl playing his love interest, and instead of wishing I was the girl, I’d wish I was the hero kissing the girl.
I had to live a very closeted life up until three years ago, though, because I served in the Marines for five years. It was during the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era and while I know some other gay people who had massively positive experiences in the Marines, I wasn’t so lucky. How homophobic your experience was depended entirely who you were serving with. Some Commands weren’t homophobic at all – but the Command I was in was completely negative. They would gay-bash all the time. If something wasn’t good it was “gay” and if someone wasn’t the best Marine they were a “faggot”. I knew that if I ever admitted to being gay in that environment I would lose my rank, my career, and be dishonorably discharged from the Marines. So I lived a lie.
During this time I had amazing support from my family, my mom and sister, and my girlfriend, but in my working life I had to be careful. People would try and trip you up into admitting you were gay, there were a lot of people trying out gays like it was a sport. So am proud as I am of my time as a US Marine serving my country, I was very happy that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell went away.
I’ve not had the chance to talk to anyone who is gay still serving but from what I’ve see online, with gay and lesbians coming back from combat and getting off the plane and being able to embrace their partner openly, that’s awesome. That’s a huge difference – to see a man in uniform come back from Iraq or Afghanistan and be able to hug his boyfriend. That is so amazing to see, it is so awesome.
It was different for me. I had to wait until I was home to hug my partner. And – as I’ve been asked to repeat in a lot of interviews - I had an experience where one of my best friends in the Marines, I will just call her “Kim”, she said that gays should be on the front line so they’d be the first to get killed. After I left the Marines, I had a very direct conversation with her and, ultimately, she did a full 180 and now feels embarrassed to have even thought like that. She said she’d just never known a gay person before. We are still great friends now.
But being gay isn’t the defining characteristic of who and what I am. Who I love and who loves me is a huge part of my life, but I don’t think who am an or am no attracted to sexually defines me. But, having been forced to live a lie in the Marines, when I became a professional mixed martial arts fighter, I swore I wouldn’t do so again.
And I thought about Kim. Just by showing her gay people aren’t anything weird or scary, she went from being a homophobe to the furthest thing from. If I could do that for a fight fan, or reach someone who followed me as an athlete, that would be something worthwhile.
Plus, I didn’t want to be “that athlete” who gets “busted” down the road having a girlfriend.
Now I am getting a lot of attention, being a gay person headlining a show which will be seen in 150 countries around the world, I am happy to say the MMA community has been very supportive. I did have one sponsor a while back say I should downplay being gay, but other than that everything has been 100% supportive. My trainers at teammates at the gym all laughed when I came out to them. They’d known all along…
Liz Carmouche challenges Ronda Rousey for the UFC women’s bantamweight championship live on Pay-Per-View, Saturday February 23.