Fallon Fox received a lot of attention and abuse in March after she was forced to come out as a transgender woman. Fallon had been a professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter for six years, but as soon as she came out, she was faced with a barrage of transphobic comments, and many people accused her of having an unfair advantage because she was once physically a man. Some argued that she had more testosterone in her body than a cisgender (people who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth) woman. Others claimed that she would have larger or denser bones than a cisgender woman.
These assumptions and accusations do not just apply to Fallon Fox: lots of trans athletes are discriminated against because there’s an assumption that e a trans woman must have some physical advantage over cisgender women — but science says otherwise. In fact, an article on Outsports debunks a couple of these myths.
One myth about trans women is that, even after hormone replacement therapy, they produce more testosterone in their bodies than cisgender women. The truth is, however, that trans women actually produce less testosterone than cisgender women, Outsports explains. Testosterone, the hormone largely responsible for the production of muscle mass, is secreted from just three glands in the human body: the testes, the ovaries, and the adrenal glands. A cisgender woman produces testosterone in both the ovaries and the adrenal glands, which are located just above the kidneys. A trans woman, however, produces testosterone exclusively in the adrenal glands. What this basically means is that it is actually more difficult for trans women to build and maintain muscle mass than it is for cisgender women.
Another myth is that a trans woman has a “man’s body” so her bone structure must give her an unfair advantage in sports. This is also false. If you go outside and people watch for even just a few minutes, it becomes clear that people come in many shapes and sizes. Sure, men are larger than women on average, but there is no hard and fast rule saying that men have denser bones than women. In fact, bone density varies more by race than it does by gender. Bone density also does not actually provide a discernible advantage in athletic competition. Why do you think you’ve never heard about the bone density of other athletes before?
Right now Fallon Fox’s career is garnering an enormous amount of visibility for the trans community. “If Fallon has any advantage over her competitors it is her courage,” wrote Heather Hargreaves on Outsports. As long as these myths persist, there is still much work to be done for trans athletes to truly be on a level playing field with their peers.