Fallon Fox faces more challenges outside the ring than inside. (courtesy of fallonfoxmma.com)

Throughout the physical trials and tribulations of MMA fighting, fighter Fallon Fox has encountered a level of difficulty many of her competitors haven’t had to contend with.

Fox came out earlier this year as a transgendered woman. This has created quite a bit of controversy, as few viewers truly understand the implications of her gender.

UFC Fighter Mike Mitrione called Fox “a lying, sick, sociopathic, disgusting freak” insisting, “he’s chromosomally a man. He had a gender change, not a sex change. He’s still a man.” The UFC has officially renounced these remarks, even suspending Mitrione, but what does the science say?

Fox had to take testosterone blockers before her transition. The average amount of testosterone in a man’s system is 300-1,000 nanograms, while the average woman has between 10 and 70 nanograms. Fox has revealed her testosterone levels are typically around 7.

Currently, she continues to take oral estrogen. At this point, if Fox would stop taking the estrogen, she would essentially experience postmenopausal hormone levels. Her testosterone wouldn’t rise.

With her higher levels of estrogen and lower testosterone, Fox finds it more difficult to drop weight–something that can be vital for MMA fighters. In fact, in her six years of transition, most professionals would say all physical advantages that Fox would have had as a man fighting women in MMA are gone, including strength, speed and bone density.

Gender roles have always been a strong part of the lens through which we view sports. Some sports are more or less manly than others, some are inappropriate for women, men must compete against men, and women must compete against women. So if a person later becomes either a man or a woman, what has changed? When does it change? Should it change?

Embodied Masculinities in Global Sport is a textbook in the works that takes a look at how these views of gender and masculinity affect our view of sports, as well as how our view of sport affects our ideas on gender and manhood. It tackles this in a worldwide perspective, including views from New Zealand, Uruguay, Brazil, the U.S., and others.

Sometimes, these issues are obvious, at the forefront of the public view, like Fox. Occasionally, though, our ideals are so embedded into tradition that we may not even consider them. But the fact remains: sport and gender are closely linked in all societies.

Fox’s biggest challenges may not even be in the ring— in order to be successful as an athlete, she is going to have to fight outside her bouts. The resistance she will doubtless face holds the potential to further strengthen her. It’s just a matter of facing outside opponents like Mitrione who insist, “[s]he’s obviously got some mental issues and wants to beat up on women.”

As of now, the Florida Boxing Commission shows no signs of revoking Fox’s license, and fighters are still entering bouts with her. But one thing’s for sure: Fox has opened a national dialogue about transgendered athletes and gender in sport. And the people are talking.

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