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Girl-rilla: Meet the UFC's First Lesbian Fighter, Liz Carmouche

Feb 22, 2013 | Updated Feb 02, 2016

Splice The Hurt Locker together with Million Dollar Baby and Kissing Jessica Stein and you've already seen the movie of Liz Carmouche's life. At the age of 28, this mixed martial artist and former Marine has completed three tours of Iraq, and now she's about to fight in the history-making, first female match-up of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Known as "The Girl-rilla," Carmouche is poised to become the world's highest-profile lesbian athlete if she bests bantamweight defender Ronda Rousey on Feb. 23 -- not that she'd bother to watch her own biopic, even if she does take the title. "I live at the gym," Carmouche says. "I'm here everyday from 8 a.m. to about 11 p.m., so I haven't seen a movie in a very long time."

Will she still root for Kathryn Bigelow's military manhunt film, Zero Dark Thirty, at this weekend's Oscars ceremony? "I'm not one for war movies," Carmouche admits. "I don't think the way they're portrayed is similar to what the military experiences overseas. I don't want people to think of it as entertainment." Plus, she adds, "You can choreograph an action scene, but when it really comes down to getting hit, that changes everything."

Since leaving the Marines in 2009, Carmouche has risen at lightning speed through the ranks of professional mixed martial arts, winning the Strikeforce title against Marloes Coenen in 2011 while being the first LGBT fighter to openly compete in her sport. "My performance is a reflection of everything I put into it," she says. With that kind of dedication, Carmouche doesn't focus on how her sexuality is received or what she represents to the world of sports beyond her own fans, who call themselves Lizbos. "My responsibility is to be true to myself," she says.

Perhaps Carmouche learned the importance of self-identity serving in the military under "Don't ask, don't tell" and a policy excluding women from combat zones -- both of which have since been reversed by the Department of Defense. In Iraq, a friend and fellow Marine once remarked that gays in the military should to be put on the front lines because "they deserve to die." After leaving the forces and coming out, Carmouche called that friend to say, "I'm one of those people you wanted killed." Still, you have to wonder how she would've reacted if DADT had been repealed at the time. "I think my circumstances wouldn't have been very different," Carmouche says. "It's not a matter of whether you're strong enough or good enough. People think homosexuality is something contagious that's going to rub off on them. It doesn't matter if the policy is in place or out -- that doesn't change the way they feel. It simply gives them something to hide behind."

Carmouche, for one, won't be hiding when she comes for Rousey's championship title Saturday night. Nor does she see the barriers to women and the LGBT community in both sports and the military as impossible to overcome. "It's going to be difficult for people to adjust at first, but that's change."