Transgender boxer Patricio Manuel was on the verge of making history when he stepped into the ring on Saturday night, and it didn’t even faze him.
The 33-year-old felt right at home when he made his debut as the first transgender male professional boxer in the United States, defeating Mexican super-featherweight opponent Hugo Aguilar in Indio, California, after three judges scored unanimously in Manuel’s favor.
“I am both happy and relieved to finally start this next chapter in my life,” Manuel told Gay City News one day after holding a victory party to celebrate his win.
Manuel endured a mixed big of disappointment and joy during the time leading up to his monumental victory this past weekend, which capped off a six-year journey during which he transitioned to living as a man. Along the way, he not only dealt with the macro- and micro-aggressions faced by so many transgender people, but he also said he had to navigate the wildly gendered expectations permeating the sports world.
The prevalence of toxic masculinity in the sport was on full display earlier this month when Mexican boxer Dario Larralde said in a since-deleted tweet that gay people “are a plague,” “make me sick,” and “I hate them.”
Yet, no matter his gender identity or the public’s perception of him, Manuel’s dedication to the sport he has enjoyed for 15 years remained as strong as it was when he turned to boxing to overcome gender dysphoria as a teenager.
“Boxing has shown me the world and given me a sense of pride in my accomplishments,” he explained. “I knew I was far from done with my career once I decided to medically transition.”
A five-time national amateur champion, Manuel is no stranger to success. After competing in the 2012 Olympic trials, however, he was sidelined by a shoulder injury — and that time away from the sport gave him a perfect opportunity to focus on his transition.
But he was presented with newfound challenges, including questions about whether or not boxers would even be willing to face a transgender opponent. Aguilar publicly stated that he had no issues facing Manuel, but future opponents might not be as welcoming.
“I have struggled to remain active in boxing since medically transitioning and I hope the days of not finding willing opponents is behind me,” Manuel said.
Still, his victory on Saturday undoubtedly gives him a major boost in his effort to show the boxing world that he can compete — and beat — cisgender opponents. He never doubted that he would beat Aguilar, but nevertheless said it felt “very satisfying to prove to those who claimed there was no chance I’d win.”
Manuel isn’t sure exactly what’s next— he’s taking a break and hopes to return to the ring by the end of February — but in the meantime, he hopes others can look to him and realize that dreams are possible regardless of hegemonic social norms.
“I hope my story can serve as an example to all people, both cisgender and transgender, that we are not limited by the labels society assigns us,” he said. “We all have the ability to make our dreams a reality.”