Being Trans in the MMA World

The Story of an Amateur as She Fights for Acceptance

Shana Carroll
Sep 20, 2019 · 6 min read
Photo by dylan nolte on Unsplash

The world isn’t safe for transgender women. 1 in 4 of us will face violence in our lives, and this statistic could be as high as 1 in 2 for trans women of color. In 2019 we have seen a rash of hate crimes and murders of transgender women and almost all of them have been women of color. As a way for me to keep my sanity in a world focused on exterminating me and my rights I have begun practicing MMA training.

As my wife and I prepared for our 10 year anniversary we both wanted to lose weight, and begin to get in better shape. We were both tired of the idea of running on treadmills, and lifting. So we found a marketing campaign on Facebook running a “free” Six-Week Weight Loss Challenge. This gave us both a kickstart, and over six weeks I dropped 20lbs and learned a ton of self-defense and Krav Maga and Kickboxing techniques. We thought this gym would be a great fit until I was sitting on Twitter a few weeks ago, and saw the gym owner, ranting against transgender women competing in sports. He essentially pulled out the same tropes and straw men as people like Joe Rogan and others that transgender women are “biologically male.” And trans women have an advantage over cisgender women.

For those that have followed any of the UFC’s rise to fame and an ESPN contract you would also note that Fallon Fox was a competitive champion, but her transgender status brought about a range of anger until she retired. Fox in a fight broke the skull of her opponent who then went on the record saying:

“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… 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.” — Tamika Brents

Now this quote led to a whole debate about who transgender women are, and there place in MMA and competitive sports. Brents herself claims she doesn’t know what caused Fox’s strength, but is also quick to attack her gender identity and “biology.” But her is the thing, strength training mileage varies, and focus varies. Fox beat Brents simply because she out-trained her, not because of her physique. However, it is easier to malign a minority group rather than to say you don’t know what you are talking about, and you got beaten.

Que my story — as I found the owner calling trans people “gender appropriators” and other derogatory terms there is this consistent talk of my biology, my hormones and my muscle definition. So let’s take a chance to break that down.

  1. No one else knows my biology other than myself, and my medical team. More importantly, my biology is female. Transgender women are not biologically male, it is a fallacy, and here in reality, not close to true. So, for anyone to start arguing about someone else’s biology is a joke. And it is comparable to cisgender woman Caster Semenya who is being told she is not really a woman and needs to be on a HRT regimen to compete as a cisgender woman in women’s running. These biology police are simply uneducated and love to be lightening rods to other ignorant followers. Caster, Fallon, and myself are all women. Biology has said so, gender research says so, and my medical team has the records to prove it.

2. Hormones don’t determine gender. Again, in the case of Caster, and Fallon, the argument is that testosterone gives these women more of an edge than those they compete against. But guess what? Transgender women on HRT are medically TESTOSTERONE FREE. That means every six weeks when I have blood work done, my testosterone is in the lowest level it can be for women. News flash, before I started HRT my hormones told the doctor I was a woman as they did bloodwork and I was infertile, and testosterone free. So if I have no testosterone, how does testosterone make me a “male” and stronger? It’s not there, so round two goes to transgender women again as biologically and medically female.

3. Strength is not a gendered capability either. For example Becca Swanson holds a record for female dead-lift at 672 pounds! She can also be found lifting over 800 pounds. How did she get there - working out, working out, and building a routine. Again, many men with testosterone can’t even match this, so does that mean she is a man? No, that argument is ridiculous because people understand how weight lifting goes. Many women that are working out and doing Crossfit and training for strength completely change their physique but are not told they are not their gender either, even though they develop broader shoulders, bigger biceps, and thicker back and neck muscles.

Crossfit Woman, Training on Deadlift

So as I enter and continue in the world of MMA, Krav, and other martial arts and fitness training gyms I know I may face some bias. However, I hope to continue to better educate the people I train alongside. Just because I am tall, and still losing weight does not mean I get an automatic win. Further, others ignorance, or better phrased, refusal to enter reality, should not limit me from competing with women. I am one.

I am also extremely thankful for other trans fighters and wrestlers out there training and being visible because together we are making the gym a more equitable arena. I am forever indebted to Fallon Fox because she trained, and trained, and won because of it. She opened doors for us all.

Fallon also in her own writings has addressed many of these same faux arguments and highlights how bad they truly are in terms of making rules and regulations for sport. Even comparing herself to other female fighters and their physiques.

Julia Budd (Left) Fallon Fox (Right)

Seeing these two women below it is obvious how much HRT impacts us, Fallon on the right, is less muscled and has less of a powerful physique than the comparison to Julia Budd. And I mean if you compared me to Budd, yikes, I’m a fluffy chibi girl versus a warrior. Even more so, my size is less than UFC female fighter Gabi Garcia.

6'2, 235 lb UFC Heavyweight Gabi Garcia
Gabi Garcia Cisgender UFC fighter highlights

So that leaves the question, what makes a UFC, or MMA fighter successful?

Training. Tenacity. Determination. Heart.

In the world of sports, and gym memberships, and training, we need to move away from the false narratives of “male power”. Transgender women don’t have it, when on HRT our muscle definition and muscle density lessens, our bone structure lessens, our ability to be strong becomes more and more of a challenge, seriously ask me to open a pickle jar, it’s comedic. And we are constantly monitoring our own hormones levels, things that these cisgender women are never doing.

So let’s end the stigma and push for inclusive communities. We all just want to be able to be fit, and protect ourselves and the ones we love.

Shana Carroll

The Transition Transmission

The place to embrace the Triumphs and Tribulations of those who Transitioned and risked everything to live authentically.

Shana Carroll

Written by

My journey as a transwoman navigating life in the Bible Belt, living as witch, and fighting the cistem.

The Transition Transmission

The place to embrace the Triumphs and Tribulations of those who Transitioned and risked everything to live authentically.

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