Pat Manuel, a Southern California fighter, last year became the first pro boxer to fight as a man after having fought as a woman. But for Manuel, finding peace with himself has been a hard struggle he is finally overcoming.
“It’s hard to describe if you’ve never been so uncomfortable in your own skin. It’s like I’m finally living my truth,” Manuel told the Los Angeles Times. “For a long time I forced a narrative that I didn’t really believe just because I didn’t feel I had another way around it.”
Manuel’s story is beautifully told by reporter Kevin Baxter and photographer Wally Skalij, who have been following the fighter since he decided to transition three years ago. The story is told with insight and compassion, but please avoid the awful comments by idiotic readers at the end. (A point of disclosure: I work part time as an editor at the Times and know Baxter personally).
Manuel fought at the U.S. women’s Olympic Trials boxing in 2012, but was sidelined by an injury. He started his transition in 2013 and had surgery in 2014.
“I’m a masculine person but I don’t want to be a man necessarily,” Manuel said at the time of the surgery. “I want to be, I guess, free of those binds. But because we live in a world where it’s male or female, I have to shift over. … I want to be able to compete with males.”
He struggled to find a gym that would let him train, and faced discrimination by potential employers. But one trainer, Vic Valenzuela, was very supportive.
“Honestly, he’s just one of the guys,” says Valenzuela, who would softly correct boxers when they referred to Pat as “she” as he completed the transition.
Manuel — who identifies as gay — met the criteria for fighting in the men’s division, but then had trouble finding opponents. After landing a bout last year, Manuel won via a decision, but the bigger win was being himself.
“I still have split seconds of not recognizing myself. But for the most part, I feel more comfortable than I ever have in my body,” he said.
The entire story is well worth your time. Read it.