It was four years ago when Patricio Manuel, a multi-time amateur champion and Olympic hopeful, stepped into the boxing ring for his first pro fight. He won an unanimous decision that night, and became the first transgender man to win a professional bout.
What powered that win was a lot of training, perseverance, and pair of well-worn training gloves.
“They were part of what I used day in day out to get me to the point of being the first in 2018,” Manuel told Outsports. “They symbolize all that work and all that grit that I had to endure.”
Those gloves will find a place in the upcoming second volume of Trans Hirstory In 99 Objects. The project, started in 2013, is dedicated to preserving and documenting the history of transgender people. The next volume, which is being edited by Chris E. Vargas, Christina Linden and David Evans Frantz, is scheduled to be released in Fall 2023.
In this week’s episode of the Trans Sporter Room, Manuel looks back at the distance he’s traveled, looks ahead to a potential long-awaited second bout in 2023, and digs deeper into how a pair of gloves shaped his journey.
The gloves represent both past and future for Manuel. In 2014, he was teaching boxing to kids at an LGBTQ center while also navigating his own transition. “At the time I was pretty broke and (the center) helped me get those gloves,” he said.
Those gloves were part of every sparring session and his first amateur fights post-transition. With each bout, he gained a greater affirmation of himself.
“I always appreciated the ‘drag out’ fights when people would have wars with each other and a particular type of toughness,” Manuel said. “That would become such a cornerstone whether I had realized it or not.
“Because of that cornerstone and my own pride of being that tough fighter when I would get in the ring. It allowed me to be that tough as I was growing and forming who I was going to be as a man,”
The gloves were Manuel’s constant amidst a lot of change. Shortly after coming out, Manuel’s longtime gym told him he wasn’t welcome to train there.
He would push through learning how to box in a body that would be different, while also trying establish himself and find opponents who could get past viewing him as a trans boxer, and just see him as a boxer, as he’s always been.
Manuel eventually found his community at Duarte Boxing Club in California. State boxing Hall of Famer Victor Valenzuela, who once coached a fighter Manuel sparred with back in his days in the women’s amateur ranks, extended a hand to help Manuel make his new way forward.
“There is a reason why that saying ‘in your corner’ is so important,” Manuel said. “I wasn’t fighting by myself. Victor Valenzuela and my whole team were with me and relished that victory as much as I did.”
That victory, a four-round bout against Mexican fighter Hugo Aguilar, happened on Dec. 8, 2018. Much of fight is a blur for Manuel now, including the mixed crowd reaction to his victory.
There were a chorus of boos among some fans in attendance, but it didn’t faze him at all.
“I hear some fans aren’t happy; it’s OK, I’ll be back. I’ll make you happy then,” Manuel said in his post-fight interview.
Manuel hasn’t stopped pushing for another chance to make those fans happy. A mix of injuries and the COVID pandemic has scuttled his opportunities for fights in recent years; but now, Manuel says he’s in his best shape in years, and is aiming for a return to the ring in 2023.
Even through the frustration of getting that next bout, Manuel says the pride of being in the ring authentically keeps him staying fight-ready.
“I love the honesty of this sport,” he said. “Two people with gloves. Same weight category settling out who will be better. In boxing, you settle it and then you hug each other afterward. I wish more of the world was like that.”
He’s also inspired by that special pair of gloves.
“I don’t think there is anything else that sums up my story more than those gloves,” he said. “You can see the journey they’ve had. You can see their scars, but at the end of the day they still do what they are supposed to do. They are exactly what they are in spite of everything they went through.”
In this week edition of the Trans Sporter Room, Patricio Manuel caught us up on plans for a second fight, what boxing has meant to him throughout his life, and had a lot to say about issues involving trans inclusion in sports. Catch the full interview. Now available on Megaphone, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple podcasts, and many other platforms for Outsports podcasts as well.