Let me begin by saying I was not at all concerned that an athlete who’s made a career of beating up other women was unhappy with me.
Fallon Fox, someone I admire greatly and a true trailblazer in the world of LGBT sports, is a friend, at least via social media. And she is all class. So I wasn’t worried that I was in for a beating. But it was clear she was upset when she reached out to my colleague Cyd Zeigler and me this week to raise an objection. I could tell her emotions ranged from dismay to disgust. The target of her ire was The Outsports 20, a list published on Dec, 31 of the most heroic LGBT people in sports from 2010 to 2019. I should add: her indignation was not only righteous, but totally justified.
She sent her observation via DM:
“Why are there no trans women on the list?” Fox asked. “Seriously, we were KICKING ASS THIS WHOLE DECADE! And not one single solitary one? WTF?”
And let me also add: it’s my fault.
As I explained to Fox, this entire decade-honors thing was my idea, and Zeigler and co-founder Jim Buzinski didn’t raise any objections to doing it, but they did have valid concerns about how many people we’d honor, whether we’d include non-athletes, and how we’d choose the honorees. Still, I was gung ho. At times, we had as few as five and as many as 50 names. Ultimately, it was up to me as managing editor and this project’s creator to make the cuts. But despite Zeigler including Fox in his top 20, my own list put Fox at 21, and the other trans athletes followed.
Given her history as the first out trans MMA fighter, and everything she faced to compete, there is no denying she deserved a mention, and as she observed, so did a lot of other trans women athletes whose impact on the decade was notable. Yet thanks to me, they all missed the cut. Ziegler’s warning that wherever we drew the line, someone would be angry or upset, came true.
To address her concerns publicly and transparently (no pun intended), I invited Fox to be our guest on this week’s episode of The Trans Sporter Room, one of the weekly podcasts from Outsports. I co-host this series with contributor Karleigh Webb. In this episode, I told Fox: “I have to be honest. When I looked at the list, I did notice we did not name one trans woman athlete in that top 20.”
So why didn’t we?
“As a trans woman, I have this split idea in my head, of ‘I need to raise the voices of trans women,’ but I also don’t want it to appear as if I’m stacking the deck in our favor,” I said.
“Lesbians and ‘Gay, Incorporated,’ in general, has been doing the same thing: stacking the deck, the other way,” Fox told me. “Transgender women really haven’t got much play, until recently. I really appreciate the things Outsports has done, like telling the story of transgender athletes, in the past. I’m really happy that we’re talking about it, and that you’re willing to talk about it and apologize.”
Unfortunately, it was not our first stumble in this arena. In July, my Stonewall Spirit tribute to Martina Navratilova was called out by trans athletes as an insult to the trans community, given her transphobic actions, which they felt negated Martina’s legendary accomplishments in tennis as well as LGBT rights. I still disagree on that one, believing that while her stance has forever stained her legacy, it should not erase it.
I do regret this particular mistake regarding the Outsports 20. Following my conversation with Fox, I thought about all the blistering attacks my colleagues and I have endured in the last month from anti-trans forces, first for naming two trans women in our year-end awards: NCAA Champion sprinter CeCé Telfer is Outsports Female Athlete of the Year and powerlifter JayCee Cooper shared Outsports Female Hero of the Year honors with Olympian Caster Semenya. And as any trans person will tell you, social media can be dangerous to your sanity when the TERFs come at you. In fact, they’re still coming at us, me in particular, for my New Year’s op-ed. But while trying to avoid blowback was not the reason Fox or any trans woman didn’t make the cut, I did think to myself, after the list was published: at least this time we won’t hear from the TERFs.
If only that were true.
Fox’s DM was a wakeup call, a reminder, we must never, ever, EVER stop supporting trans women athletes as well as our fans, and using our platforms to raise their voices and salute their achievements. No matter the cost.
I believe my only other mistake I’ve made this week was in how I phrased a question to Fox about me wanting to be better at understanding her struggles. It’s not the job of marginalized people, such as trans women of color, to educate me or anyone else with white privilege. It should not be their burden, and that was unfair. Fox, gracious and classy as ever, didn’t even mention this but in producing the episode it struck me how tone-deaf I was to ask her to teach me how to be a better person. That’s my job, not hers.
I’ve added an editor’s note about all this in our Outsports 20 story, which I’m now calling “The Outsports 20 (plus five).” Since I already honored four more heroes who didn’t make the list of 20; I figured, adding one more to make it five hurts no one, and goes a little way toward making up for a mistake. Check it out by clicking here.
I’m grateful to Fox for joining me this week, for sharing her thoughts on race and religion and her struggles to compete. Also in the episode, she discussed the infamous fight with Tamikka Brents, and revealed her love for anime. It’s a very compelling half hour or so, and I’m only sorry Karleigh Webb got stuck in a dead zone and couldn’t beam-in from Southern California. Details on her away mission next week on The Trans Sporter Room! Until then, tweet us your ideas, comments and suggestions at @TransSporterRm on Twitter.