In recent history, the world has seen the transgender movement- a movement to advocate the rights of trans people, as well as to eliminate the discrimination and hatred that they undergo in society.
Like all aspects of human lives, the movement has also seen its presence in world sports as a number of sportspersons have come out as transgender, with many of them identifying themselves as women, after being addressed as males earlier.
While it’s no doubt a sensitive topic and will generate a mixed response from the masses, there has been a number of athletes, who have seen massive success in their careers after undergoing transition and joining the women’s division of their respective sports.
While its prevalence is less in the world of combat sports compared to others, mixed martial arts has only seen two such instances. The first case was Fallon Fox, a former US Navy veteran who transitioned in 2006 and became a professional MMA fighter, retiring with a 5-1 record.
However, Fox’s name is linked with a controversial incident which dates back to her final fight against Tamikka Brents at CCCW (Capital City Cage Wars): The Undertaking in 2014, when Fox fractured Brents’ skull.
Now after seven years, MMA has found its second open transgender fighter in Alana McLaughlin- an ex US Special Forces soldier who transitioned after retiring from service and made her professional debut on 10th September.
McLaughlin faced Celine Provost in a featherweight bout at the Combate Global event which was hosted at the Univision Studios in Miami, Florida. She won the fight in the second round via rear naked choke.
The backlash is heavy? McLaughlin is termed a ‘cheater’
While this has come off of as a step towards progressiveness and inclusiveness of transgenders into mixed martial arts, many have considered McLaughlin’s case as unfair because of her opponent Provost being a biologically cisgender female, even though McLaughlin passed the medical tests conducted by Florida State Boxing Commission.
Following the fight, ‘Lady Feral’ McLaughlin revealed that she has been receiving ‘nasty’ comments on social media regarding the situation. Meanwhile, English broadcaster and television personality Piers Morgan, as well as UFC middleweight fighter Sean Strickland both have fired shots at McLaughlin.
In his Daily Mail column, Morgan termed the fight was ‘sickening to watch’ as well as calling it a ‘deadly disparity’ when it comes to a combat sports discipline like mixed martial arts.
“Regardless of her military record or personal struggles growing up, none of this justifies what happened on Friday night. I found the bout sickening to watch.
It was obvious very quickly that McLaughlin was too strong, and equally obvious that this strength came from the 33 years she spent as a biological man.”
“This creates a bad enough unfairness in non-contact sports like sprinting or weightlifting, but when it comes to combat sport like MMA it creates a potentially deadly disparity.”
Strickland took to his Instagram to outright call out McLaughlin as a ‘coward’ and asked her to quit women’s MMA.
“Change your name, call yourself a woman… but you’re still a fu****g man, get out of women’s MMA, coward. This is why the athletic commission is useless,” said Strickland on his Instagram story.
“I consider myself a classical feminist. If your religion or government has an unequal standard for women then I’m not with it. Testicles at birth == man. Ovaries at birth ==== woman,” he added.
This is a difficult situation for not just MMA or combat sports, but sports in general to solve. While its a fact that transgender athletes deserve to participate in each and every kind of sports, the problem arises after they transition and will have to compete in a different gendered division.
The way forward: Separate division for transgender fighters?
The problem is higher in case of a man transitioning into a woman and competing in female divisions, because men are biologically built stronger than women and in case of combat sports, it can create a large performance gap.
It can also be seen as why a cisgendered woman will almost never stand a chance to defeat a transgender woman in MMA or any other combat sports, and before McLaughlin’s opponent Provost, Fox’s opponent Brents suffered a fractured skull as a result of the sheer strength disparity between the two, even though both trans fighters ticked off their medicals.
Now, another thing to be considered is that both Brents and Provost themselves agreed to face a transgender woman fighter and the result was expected, so it can be argued that both of them, being cisgender females, were possibly aware that they were up against a much stronger opponent.
One solution could be a separate division for transgender athletes, included aside men’s and women’s divisions. However, due to the scarcity of transgenders in all sports, not just MMA or combat sports, that solution may not be feasible in near future.
Taking the approach of putting transgender women into cisgender women categories is surely to cause strength imbalances, only exceptions should be made and it should not become a norm that due to progressiveness and inclusiveness, women’s sports, in general, receives harm.