Unfair or Discriminatory? Deciding the fate of trans-female athletes

By Grace Pointner


Is it fair for a man to beat up a woman? Is it fair to prohibit someone from doing what they love, just because of a past issue? These are questions that transgender supporters and transgender critics are asking themselves as they decide whether or not trans-athletes should be allowed to compete against the gender that they’ve reassigned to.


Regardless of how many surgeries they’ve undergone to change their physical and chemical makeup, is it ethical for a person who was born a man to race against a woman? Or box against a woman? Conversely, are females (men who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery) forever banned from sports because of their sexual orientation?


As a transgender athlete herself, Fallon Fox has things to say on the topic. Fox competes as a female mixed martial arts fighter (MMA) and found herself to be successful in this sport early on.


Although never intentionally hiding that fact that she is transgender, she didn’t publicly come out right away. She wanted her career to be about fighting, not about her sexuality. And with the sometimes negative connotations the term “transgender” carries, Fox stayed away from revealing her past so soon. But, “You just can’t go through life with a microscope on your career without someone delving into your past a little bit” Fox commented in an interview with The Guardian.


So, Fox “came out” on outsports.com in 2013, changing the face of her career forever.


Now, all of Fox’s wins are questioned and scathing articles are written about her. She’s condemned as a woman beater and a cheat while her fellow competitors refuse to fight her.


In response to this, Fox solicited doctors and scientists to support her theory that, through enough hormone treatment and cosmetic surgery, muscle strength and bone mass will decrease and thus level the playing field between born females and trans-females. Furthermore, the nature of sports is that individual competitors will have their own advantages. Some women are taller than other women; some have longer limbs, stronger muscles or quicker feet. This does not exclude them from sports? So why does a hormonal difference?


With science seemingly on her side, Fox continues battling against those that still view trans-females in sports as unethical or unfair.


There is another side to the story, however, often voiced by female born athletes like Ronda Rousey, a fellow MMA champion who has fought against Fallon Fox herself. Like Fox, Rousey has solicited science to back up her opinion on the matter.


Ph.D. Alison Heather, argues that muscle memory, heart size, lung capacity and, even some muscle mass cannot be completely made equal to that of a biological woman. More importantly, testosterone levels cannot be exactly matched either. This is a problem because new rules state that trans-females can compete with a testosterone level of 10 NMO/L but “a CIS female (a born female) can reach nowhere near the testosterone level of 10 NMOL/L. The average female sits at 2.8 NMOL/L  and the average male 23-25 NMOL/L.” Thus, although trans-females contain significantly less testosterone than they were born with, they still hold more than born females. This gives trans-females an advantage!


Additionally, some trans-females have opened up that their sex-reassignment surgery was purely cosmetic and does little to change their thoughts or normal body functions. Andrea Long Chu


So, with two convincing sides, how does one discern the correct one? Is there a correct side? Or will the answer forever be subjective, ambiguous and reliant on scientific discoveries yet to be made? Perhaps—but for now, we must at least hear both sides, acknowledge the personal feelings involved, and seek to understand each other’s opinions while simultaneously separating opinion from fact.