Image credit: Champion Fighting Alliance
The fight over UFC commentator Joe Rogan's comments on transgender fighter Fallon Fox's attempts to fight women in Mixed Martial Arts is picking up steam again, a year after the initial hullabaloo.
For those unaware of the bust up, here's what Rogan said on his podcast shortly after Fallon announced her ambitions to fight women:
She wants to be able to fight women in MMA; I say no fucking way. I say if you had a dick at one point in time, you also have all the bone structure that comes with having a dick. You have bigger hands, you have bigger shoulder joints. You’re a fucking man. That’s a man, OK?
In an article in Vice Sports on transgendered athletes, Parker Marie Molloy referenced the podcast and accused Rogan of hurling 'hate' at Fox, saying:
Fox continues to fight. Despite the hate hurled at her by the likes of Rogan, her opponents, and fans in attendance at her bouts, she pushes on.
Fox is also demanding an apology for Rogan's continued stance that she should not be fighting men, saying:
The world was wrongfully caving in on me, many of his fans attacked my social media repeating much of the hurtful rhetoric and misinformation that Joe said on the air. I was simply not feeling up to responding at that time. I also thought it might be possible that he would correct himself on a long enough timeline. I figured that maybe those around him might help see him through all that. It’s been a while. That hasn’t happened.
The Guardian's Hunter Felt went as far as to say that Rogan's comments were essentially 'transphobic scaremongering':
Unfortunately, many observers use such concerns as a way to reinforce harmful stereotypes about the transgender community. Saying that allowing Fox to fight is the same as letting a “man beat up a woman” – the gist of such arguments, when stripped of pseudoscientific dressing – is pure transphobic scaremongering. Joe Rogan’s use of hateful, hurtful terms and repeated descriptions of Fox as “a man” reinforces this.
Rogan's quote, taken by itself, is pretty abrasive and many have taken offense to his words. But as is now almost always the case, no context has been given and the actual facts distorted to fit various polemicists agendas, irrespective of the truth.
Firstly, if you've ever listened Rogan's podcast 'The Joe Rogan Experience', you'll know that Rogan is an enormously open minded guy who invites a vast array of odd and interesting guest, ranging from Egyptologists and professional fighters to the likes of Roseanne Barr. Sure he uses a lot of foul language, but he's a comedian, not a cable news talking head. It's raw talk, often with other comedians and it can get very rowdy and very funny. I've listened to his podcast for several years and have never, ever come away with the impression that he is remotely transphobic, homophobic, or prejudice in any way whatsoever.
There's also the fact that Rogan is being completely and utterly honest. Regardless of whether Fox has gone through gender reassignment treatment and views herself as a woman, she was born a man, and is still chromosomally - a man. This isn't transphobic, and it isn't scaremongering particularly given the context - which is professional fighting. If we were talking about going to the restroom (a point Felt ridiculously brings up), it would certainly be uncalled for and offensive. But we're talking about professional athletes hitting each other in the head with phenomenal amounts of force.
Transgender advocates have cited doctors and specialists who have argued that after gender reassignment and hormone treatment, Fox should have no apparent advantage over facing women. Speaking with Bloody Elbow, Dr. Marci Bowers, MD. a pioneering sex assignment surgeon (who is transgender herself) stated that:
Most measures of physical strength minimize, muscle mass decreases, bone density decreases, and they become fairly comparable to women in their musculature. After as much time as has passed in her case, if tested, she would probably end up in the same muscle mass category as her biologically born female counterpart.
This obviously should be taken very seriously, and there is much to support the case that transgender athletes face no real physical advantages - so much so that the International Olympic Committee changed its regulations back in 2004 to allow transgender athletes to compete two years after surgery. But that does not mean it is a closed case. Rogan tweeted out an interview with Dr. Ramona Krutzik, M.D., F.A.C.E., who had the following to say about Fallon's potential advantages:
It's actually very complicated, and I believe that the Olympics actually takes these on a case by case basis. In this particular instance, Fox might potentially have an unfair advantage over the females she faces, because she developed all the way into adulthood as a male. There would be increased musculature, and an increased ability to build muscle, so an advantage might be present due to years of conditioning and becoming more masculine, which includes differences in endurance and strength. The male body develops differently, both in skeletal structure and muscularly.
When pitted against an average female, I would say that there were probably some advantages that the hormonal blockade and subsequent replacement can't take away 100%, simply because she lived so much of her life as a male, and developed fully as such.
Krutzik also stated that:
Women also have lighter, child bearing hips because of the difference in hormones during the body's developmental years. Her skeleton and body mass and shape developed a long time ago. Those changes cannot be undone. They are permanent.
There's an endless amount of science on the subject, and as any neutral observer should be able to accept, it is at the very least debatable. Given I'm not a doctor or a scientist, there's absolutely no way I can determine with any certainty whether Fox should be allowed to fight women (who were not previously male). However, speaking from a good deal of experience in Martial Arts and years of training with high level women fighters, I would err on the side of not allowing transgendered athletes to fight women.
Over the years, if you train hard enough, you develop an instinctual understanding of human physiology. You get used to moving around (or being moved around) other fighters, and quickly learn to understand body type and inherent levels of aggression. Men and women feel different, both physically and psychologically, and that's why there is so much skepticism within the Martial Arts world. Here's what UFC women's bantam weight champion Ronda Rousey had to say:
“I think it needs to be case-by-case basis...On Fallon Fox’s case, she went through puberty entirely as a man, and though I do believe that her identity definitely is that of a woman, at this point in her life, it’s just not scientifically possible to make her body exactly equal to that as a woman...
“I don’t think you should be able to compete as a woman. … Just the bone density and bone structure you have after you’ve gone through puberty as a man, it’s just an advantage over a woman.”
Rousey is one of the fiercest competitors in the history of any sport and has no problem training and sparring with men. But she knows that sparring and fighting are two different things, and the risks going in the ring or cage against a man are far too high.
Just looking at Fallon Fox (pictured on the right below), you can see why fighters like Rousey are skeptical:
She very clearly has the bone structure of a man, which in fighting translates to more power and greater physicality. Here's what Fox did to Tamikka Brents in under a round in their fight in September of this year (a warning, it is extremely violent):
Brents suffered a concussion, a broken orbital bone and was taken to hospital to get 7 staples in her head. Speaking with WhoaTv after the fight, Brents stated:
“I’ve fought a lot of women and have never felt the strength that I felt in a fight as I did that night. I can’t answer whether it’s because she was born a man or not because I’m not a doctor. I can only say, I’ve never felt so overpowered ever in my life and I am an abnormally strong female in my own right,” she stated. “Her grip was different, I could usually move around in the clinch against other females but couldn’t move at all in Fox’s clinch.”
There's no way to really know whether Fox won the fight because she is biologically speaking, a man, but it is very clearly a possibility. She overpowered Brent incredibly quickly and muscled her around the cage with ease, and Brents' testimony must at least be taken into account.
In virtually any other sport, the ramifications of these potential advantages would not be particularly serious. Losing a race to someone who was once a male would be disheartening and professionally damaging, but you would leave with your health intact. In professional fighting however, the consequences could potentially be fatal.
While issues surrounding gender identity and transphobia are incredibly important, it would be absurd to say that they are more important than physical safety of female athletes who are already performing in a very dangerous sport.
No one should deny Fallon Fox's right to be a woman, and anyone genuinely hurling abuse at her should be deeply, deeply ashamed. It is hard enough as it is for those who do not fit neatly within society's gender norms without meatheads spouting off hateful nonsense. But as long as the science is debatable and the evidence mixed, she should not be allowed to fight women regardless of how upsetting it might be for her and other advocates of transgender athletes.
While Joe Rogan may have chosen his words poorly, his sentiment was right - it is simply not worth the risk.
RELATED: Speaking of Joe Rogan having Roseanne Barr on his show, here's how that turned out.