Professional MMA fighter Fallon Fox has come out as a transgender woman. The announcement came after Fox scored a KO win 39 seconds into a match during CFA 10 in Coral Gables, FL, and after a reporter began asking questions that led Fallon to believe he was going to report on her transgender status. (There are ongoing reviews of two separate license applications for Fallon, one in Florida, one in California, which don't seem to be directly related to her trans status – but rather confusion over an application receipt. However, Sports Illustrated reports that her trans status will likely be taken into consideration in both cases.)
GLAAD has been working with Fallon and various media outlets to make sure that her story is told accurately, respectfully, and in a manner that educates audiences about the unique challenges and harmful myths that trans athletes need to battle through.
Fallon said about her decision to come out as transgender, "This wasn't something that I wanted to come out…I consider it my personal business, part of my medical history. It's not something I like to discuss with people, but I've been bracing for this for years…" Fox has previously competed in three amateur bouts and two professional bouts, all of them wins., While some media might be tempted to play up a 'controversy' angle as to whether Fallon should be able to compete as a woman, the answer to that question is actually a very clear-cut "yes."
The Association of Boxing Commissions, for one, has implemented strict requirements to which transgender athletes must comply in order to meet their standards for membership. This would mean that a female transgender athlete like Fallon would be required to "produce medical documentation of the relevant surgeries and procedures she underwent during transition" in addition to providing " detailed paperwork from a board certified endocrinologist or internist showing that (the athlete) underwent hormone therapy for a minimum of two years following a gonadectomy and the levels have been within acceptable range for a female." Fallon qualifies.
Additionally, Fallon fits into the requirements laid out by the International Olympic Committee and the NCAA to compete as a woman. Since 2004, the International Olympic Committee has allowed transgender athletes to compete as long as they have undergone genital reconstructive surgery and at least two years of hormone therapy—and if they have obtained "legal recognition of their assigned sex" by the "appropriate official authorities." These policies, though seen as a big step by many, have still seen criticism from trans advocates, who say that the requirement of genital reassignment surgery is an unfair precondition. In August of 2011, the NCAA developed different guidelines for their athletes, concluding that genitalia has no effect on performance. According to Sports Illustrated the NCAA requires that, "trans females need to undergo only one year of testosterone suppression before they can compete against women."
Many transgender women actually end up having lower testosterone levels than is the average in females. "The testosterone levels of a normal male can be anywhere from 300-1,000 nanograms. For the average female, it's 10-70. Mine is around 7," says Fallon, adding that she actually has to work harder to keep muscle on because of the estrogen she takes. Helen J Carroll, Director of the National Center for Lesbians Rights Sports Project, confirmed this:
"(a) transgender woman is a woman, and when she transitions, she takes testosterone-blocking hormones, so when she does end up competing, she has less testosterone in her system than her competitors do"
It is the responsibility of the media when reporting on Fallon's story to present these facts to the audience. There is simply no evidence that transgender female athletes who have gone through a medical transition possess any competitive advantage over other women, which is why the IOC, the NCAA, and the Association of Boxing Commissions all agree that Fallon should be able to compete as a woman.
Any media that does not present this information to its audience is at best, presenting an incomplete story. At worst, media could be leaving this information out purposefully to make the story more exploitative and controversial. We've seen some media already (offensively) posing the question "should Fallon be able to fight?" But this is a question that has already been answered.
There is no controversy here; only consensus. Women who have transitioned should be, and are, able to compete alongside other women.
GLAAD interns Elliott Moore, Mari Haywood and Hannah Moch contributed to this story