Mixed Martial Arts - The Transgender MMA star fighting for acceptance

Widely derided since turning pro, Fallon Fox is now the unexpected role model for transgender athletes, writes Dan Wetzel.

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Mixed Martial Arts - Transgender MMA star Fox suffers first defeat
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Fallon Fox

Fallon Fox was a little boy, just 5 years old, when she first sensed the disconnect, that the body she had wasn’t the body she felt she should. “I wished I was like my sister,” she said. “I wanted to grow up and be like that.”

Through adolescence growing up in the Toledo, Ohio area, the confusion and doubts and, indeed, fear mounted. She was male, yet felt female. She tried to be a straight man, even fathering a child at 19, but nothing was right. After a stint in the military, she returned to find the stress of not feeling comfortable in her own body nearly overwhelm her. Finally she scoured the Internet for an answer and there it was: she was transgender.

She came clean to her family and friends – a painful, difficult ordeal that wasn’t met with understanding. “At the time, they weren’t supportive.”

She went through counselling. She became a truck driver to raise money for a procedure and in 2006, she flew all alone to Thailand for “gender reassignment surgery.” At last, Fallon Fox was the woman she always felt she should have been.

Fallon Fox is a survivor. That isn’t how many see her, but that’s the truth. The road to realization for transgender people is incredibly lonely and difficult. It is a trail lined with casualties. Suicide. Depression. Drugs. Alcoholism. There’s no way to even count everyone suffering from identity issues – so many just internalize the pain and destroy themselves quietly, their struggles unknown to even those closest to them.

“Our journey is hard,” Fox told Yahoo! Sports on Monday. “It’s incredibly difficult. It takes so long to realize it, then to understand it and then to be able to do anything about it.”

You make it through all of that and come out the other side at peace with yourself for the first time in your life and, well, you don’t want to hear about what some say you shouldn’t be able to do.

Such as competing – as a former man and now woman – in the fledgling sport of female mixed martial arts.

On Friday, Fox (2-0 as a professional) will take on Allanna Jones (2-1) at a Championship Fighting Alliance card at Miami’s BankUnited Center. The card will be broadcast nationally on US television.

While the 37-year-old fighter understands the questions and concerns from fans who find it unfair for a one-time man to fight a woman, she can only point to the science of a sex-change, about estrogen and testosterone levels, and about how when it's long after surgery being a transgender can actually be a hindrance, not a help physically.

The facts, she says, are clear.

“I do not have a competitive advantage when fighting another woman,” Fox said. “I hear that from the average person, but they haven’t looked into it.”

The finer points are meticulously detailed even by medical standards, but Fox’s chief defence is simple – the state commissions that are required to make a call on it have sanctioned her to fight as a woman.

After extensive study back in July 2012, the Association of Boxing Commissions set the standards for transgender athletes to compete, including medical background information and drug testing. On May 17, following a period of review after word broke of Fox’s situation, the Florida State Boxing Commission accepted the ABC’s rules.

The fight was a go.

“They have concluded I don’t have a competitive advantage,” Fox said. “That’s all there is to it.”

So she’s fighting no matter what anyone else thinks or says. She isn’t going to argue why the science clears her, she’ll let the boxing commissions – not historically known as groups swayed by political correctness – do it for her.

You don’t wait decades to truly start your life by engaging in a major medical procedure in face of condemnation by much of society, including many closest to you, to suddenly worry about what others think. Her entire life has been about ignoring how society defined her.

“I lost so much time,” Fox said. “After that, I do feel like I should be able to everything like everyone else could.”

That’s why Fallon Fox is something to appreciate, something to cheer.

She wasn’t seeking to become a professional athlete when, in an attempt to shed some pounds a few years back, she went looking for a good workout routine. She stumbled upon MMA and began putting together disciplines.

In 2011, she entered some amateur competitions and won all three fights. Then, she turned pro and won twice more. She never told anyone about her background. It finally broke earlier this year, when the Florida commission discovered something unusual.

The sport of MMA was rocked. Is that fair? Is that right? Who is Fallon Fox? The world blew up around her.

“I knew it would come out eventually,” she said, “and I always expected a certain amount of backlash.”

She let the fight commissions sort it out and they did. For anyone arguing that they don’t want to hear about an athlete’s sex life, let alone the past or present state of their genitalia, well, Fox is in full agreement.

This wasn’t her idea.

“I wanted my private life to be private,” she said. “I just wanted to be a fighter.”

She knows that will never be the case again. She is now an unexpected role model for transgender athletes. While she remains a cautious speaker who is presently doing select interviews, she understands the obligation. She’s content in life. Her 16-year old daughter now lives with her in Chicago. She’s found an American society, while still with distance to travel, becoming more welcoming almost overnight. She's chasing a dream.

That’s the story she wants to tell.

One of the great obstacles in the life of a transgender, she said, is the sense that they are hopelessly different, that there isn’t any normal future. She wants that helpless kid or teen or even adult to understand it can get better.

“I would say to those kids that were like me not to give up,” Fallon said. “I know they are young now and they may be in a position where bullies are against them, but if they don’t give up, someday they’ll have the opportunity to be themselves, to finally have a body that they love.”

On Friday, Fallon Fox fights. That's all she ever wanted – just an unlikely mixed martial artist, battling like she has all her life.

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