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Boxer Patricio Manuel has been fighting for most his life, but not just against fellow pugilists. Before he began the transition from female to male in 2013, he spent many years fighting against himself. “I always saw myself as being a boy who would grow up as a man,” he said. “I never knew I had the option to transition.”
Manuel, born Patricia, began boxing as a teenager, and the sport became a big part of his life almost immediately—such a big part, he says, that it’s what held him back from making the transition from female to male for so long. “I was afraid of losing the option of doing what I really loved,” he says.
Despite knowing he was in the wrong body, Manuel fought as a woman for many years and exceled in the sport. He was a five-time USA female national amateur boxing champion and competed in the 2012 Olympic Trials as a woman. He was considered one of the best women boxers in the country, if not the world. But it took a toll on him.
“I wasn’t happy with who I was,” he recalled. Finally, he had enough. Manuel bowed out of the Olympic trials due to injury, and during his recovery, he had a revelation. “I realized that I’m also a human, and not just a boxer,” he says. “That I really had to look at what I could do to make myself happy. I just couldn’t hear them announce me as a woman boxer anymore. I had to risk it all.”
The following year, Manuel began hormone treatment, and in 2014, he had top surgery to complete his transition to male. The risk, he says, has been worth it. Not only is he living a happier life, he’s now the face of Everlast’s “Be First” campaign honoring trailblazers in the boxing world.
“To have Everlast [an iconic brand of boxing equipment] say, ‘We see you, and we want to showcase your story,’ I’m really honored to be that face,” Manuel says. “I’m really happy … how can I not be happy?”
For the most part, boxing hasn’t been taken away from Manuel in the time since his transition, but he has suffered some losses. Several of his former training partners stopped talking to him after he transitioned, and his old gym no longer wanted to be associated with him. Why? He never found out, and he didn’t really care what the reason was.
“I didn’t need to hear the reason,” Manuel says. “I walked out and I haven’t gone back. I just keep moving forward.” He added: “I had a friend, a trans friend, tell me, ‘Rejection is unfortunately part of the transnormative.’ So, I wasn’t really surprised.”
His first fight as a man took place in 2016, and he won by unanimous decision. On Dec. 8, 2018, he won his first professional men’s bout by unanimous decision, becoming the first transgender man to do so. And with his ascension to the professional level, Manuel faced the expected barrage of hateful, transphobic online comments. Being African American, he says, prepared him for that.
“I’m used to people saying hateful things just because of who I am,” Manuel says. “That gave me some calluses to deal with the transphobic comments.” Nobody has said anything hateful to his face, he added.
Many of the online comments against him and other trans athletes claim that he has an unfair advantage because of the testosterone treatments he receives on a regular basis as part of his transition. “I’m heavily monitored, and my levels have to be at a specific level,” Manuel responded. He thinks that more education about the medical stressors trans athletes have to undergo could be one way to more widespread acceptance. “If more people knew what we had to go through medically, I think we’d go a long way,” he says.
More importantly, though, he says straight athletes—both men and women—need to stand up for their trans counterparts. “People, unfortunately, listen more to people who reflect their own identity,” Manuel says. “The more cisgender, straight men that say it’s OK for trans people to be in this space, I think we can definitely move the needle quicker.”
Right now, Manuel is recovering from an injury that’ll have him out of the ring until early 2020, but when he’s back, he’ll be ready to push his limits.
“I just want to see how far I can take this sport,” he says. His dreams of Olympic glory are over, but regarding training, he says there’s not much he does differently as a man than he did as a woman. That said, he notes that the style of boxing has changed. “Female boxers, there’s much more emphasis on finesse boxing,” he says. “I live in LA, which is very reflective of a Mexican style of boxing. So, you’re not looking for points, you’re just looking to knock someone out.”
Until his next fight, Manuel hopes to use his platform to inspire younger athletes to live their happiest lives—both as people and competitors. “You’ll have to decide what will make you happy outside of what society tells you you’re supposed to do.”