Should Transgender Athletes Be Allowed to Compete in BJJ or MMA?

Should Transgender Athletes Be Allowed to Compete in BJJ or MMA?

The topic of transgender athletes has been a hot topic issue over the years. Recently it has been getting more attention as more transgender athletes have begun competing. More specifically transgender women competing against natural born women is the issue being discussed.

Two important questions come up. How to regulate transgendered athletes in sports and is it fair for them to compete against natural born women?

This isn’t a new subject for the MMA and BJJ community. Transgender fighters has been a controversial issue hotly debated for years now.

Fallon Fox - The First Transgender MMA Fighter

Fallon Fox was the first transgender fighter in MMA history. She lived most of her life as a man and had children before her gender reassignment surgery in 2006..

Fox began training in MMA years after the surgery and having her first amateur fight in 2011. She won by submission and would later go pro and win her first two pro fights in 2012.

Rumors about her past starting to spread like wildfire. As a result, Fox decided to get ahead of the rumors and take an interview with Sports Illustrated to reveal the truth to her past. 

Fallon Fox Before and After

Controversy began to arise as it was revealed that she was a natural born male . As her first 3 opponents were not aware, this put Fox and the state of Florida, where she competed in a serious predicament. 

The legality of a transgender fighter competing against women was actually within the law. It is still a gray area for many athletic commissions today .

Many critics blasted her and the state of Florida for letting her compete against natural born women. 

Joe Rogan's Thoughts on Transgender Athletes in MMA

UFC commentator and comedian Joe Rogan weighed in with harsh criticisms of Fox. He believed that is was “f***ed up” for her to choose to fight against female fighters. He believes that just because a transgender women had surgery it does not make them women. They are transgender women and there is a difference.

In Joe’s opinion being born a man gave Fox the athletic advantage over natural born female fighters. Rogan noted how physically bigger Fox was to her opponent and that she still had a man’s physique. 

Even though she takes female hormones, Fox still has the bone density and power of a man. In Joe’s opinion being born a man gave Fox the athletic advantage.

Transgender health experts have disputed Joe’s claims of Fox having an advantage. Although, this issue is still fairly new and needs more research to know for sure.

Transgender MMA Fighter Breaks Skull of Her Opponent

Fallon Fox, ended her career with a 5-1 record. Her last fight was met with more controversy as she broke the orbital bone of her opponent Tamika Brents.

Brents made this statement after the fight:

“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’ve never felt so overpowered ever in my life and I am an abnormally strong female in my own right… I still disagree with Fox fighting. Any other job or career I say have a go at it, but when it comes to a combat sport I think it just isn’t fair.”

Fallon Fox Trans MMA Fighter Breaks Skull of Tamika Brents

As Fox was able to break the skull of her opponent, can we be certain that transgender athletes just have the athletic advantage over natural female born competitors. It wasn't clear for sure, but the risks were far too severe to find out. Fox's career ended shortly after. Even though Fox hasn’t fought in over five years, transgender fighters in combat sports is still a hotly debated topic to this day. 

Transgender High School Wrestler Wins 2nd State Title

Last year, high school wrestler Mack Beggs won his second state championship in Texas. It was met with much controversy, because Beggs is a transgender female to male athlete competing against female athletes.

This caused yet another uproar with transgender athletes, but this wasn’t completely the fault of Beggs. UIL has contradicting rules for high school athletics and none that address transgender athletes like Beggs.

The UIL rules for high school athletes state that students must compete against with the sex they were born with in their birth certificate. There’s also a rule bans students from using performance enhancing drugs/testosterone. 

Mack-Beggs

For Beggs’ transition therapy, he takes small cycles of testosterone to help with the transitioning process. This put him in a tough spot. He’s being forced to compete against girls, while also breaking the no steroids/testosterone rule. 

In videos of his matches, you can clearly see he has a size and strength advantage against the other girls. The girls were being thrown around and dominated on the mat by Beggs. 

Boos filled the gym as he won his 2nd state title against Chelsea Sanchez. He ended his wrestling career with a 35-0 high school record against girls.

However, Beggs did compete in the men’s division Team Texas in the junior division of a national event. He took third place in the Greco and freestyle divisions at 110lbs and became a walk on at Life University.

Is it Fair for Trans Athletes to Compete in Combat Sports?

With these instances of transgender athletes excelling at their sports it leaves an important question. Is it fair for transgender women to compete against biological women in MMA or BJJ?

From what we saw with Fallon Fox definitely not. She had a clear size and strength advantage against her opponents. 

Even though a transgender female changes sex, they still have the structure and bone density of a male. Hormone therapy does reduce strength, but there are still noticeable differences in strength between trans women and biological females.

It is well within their right as person to change their sex. However males are genetically bigger, stronger, faster than females and having testosterone clearly gives an athletic advantage to transgender females.

Should they be allowed to compete?

Absolutely, yes.

Transgender fighters absolutely deserve a chance to compete just like anybody else, but there are still some looming issues that need to be addressed.

Specifically in MMA, because there are more chances of permanent injuries with strikes being involved, there should be rules and speculations for trans athletes competing. 

In BJJ, on the other hand, men and women do sometimes compete against each other at times but not too common. Females are sometimes given the option to compete in the male division if there aren't many female competitors in their division. 

What are the Problems and Some Possible Solutions?

The problem with regulating transgender athletes is that there’s a gray area that blurs the lines between sexes. Do you regulate them as the gender they perceive to be, their biological gender, or make a new classification?

There’s no protocol for regulating transgender fighters and it is going to be a difficult task coming up with regulations.

We need to be inclusive and allow them to compete, while also making sure biological females aren’t at a disadvantage - not to mention safety reasons. 

There are possible solutions that could help with this complicated situation, but they aren’t without flaws.

  • Make a division for trans fighters: Having a special division for trans fighters is an idea, but there aren’t enough trans fighters to fill a division. They also aren’t all in the same weight class.
  • Testosterone tests: Just like promotions do with drug testing in all division have trans M to F fighters test their testosterone levels. In order to compete, their testosterone levels can’t be elevated to a man’s levels.
  •  Have trans fighters compete in their biological class: They could be made to fight according to their biological gender. Although civil rights groups would definitely have a huge problem with this.
  • Have fighters sign waivers: If a transgendered fighter wishes to compete have them and the opponent sign a waiver. By signing a waiver both parties agree to the risks involved and absolve the promotion of any wrongdoing. This could make it possible for them to fight male or female fighters.

Transgender Female BJJ Fighter Fights at the Male Division

With the controversy of Fallon Fox and Mack Beggs, there is actually a female transgender fighter that competes against males. Brazilian transgender fighter Anne Veriato actually prefers to compete against male fighters. 

Veriato is a brown belt that transitioned to MMA and competed against men well before going through sex change therapy. She doesn’t believe that she should be allowed to fight women.

Anne-Veriato

“It’s only fair to fight men,” Veriatos told MMAFighting.com. “It never crossed my mind to fight a woman because I think I’m too good. If I beat men my entire career, I can still beat them despite the hormone process.” 

So far Veriato has a professional record of 2-0 against male fighter with both ending in a decision. She hasn’t fought in 2019, but is looking to compete more against men.

Anne stated that training to fight men “makes me happy and hungrier to train. I don’t think it’s fair to fight women.”

FINAL THOUGHTS

So, what Does The Future Hold For Trans Fighters?

This complicated topic is far from being resolved and will continue to be hotly debated. Not just in MMA/BJJ, but in all sports in general.

We want to be inclusive and allow them to compete, but while also not taking opportunities or physical safety away from biological females. 

This issue will probably get worse before it gets better. In the future we will definitely be seeing court cases involving transgender athletes questioning if they’re protected under current laws.

Hopefully things will eventually get better where everyone is free to compete as they please regardless if they are male, female, or anything in between.