A ray of light broke through for trans athletes in 2023, with a trans boxer taking center stage.

Boxer Patricio Manuel lit a path forward, with his first fight and win since 2018. For Manuel, being in that ring as an out, proud transgender man was worth the sacrifice then, and worth a four-year wait to compete again.

“One of the most gender-affirming things I think I’ve experienced is the affirmation as I walk in the gym. I spend most of my time not being a trans man, but just being a man,” he said in an interview with Outsports late last year. “There’s not a moment now when I’m in a gym where I ever do not feel just being a man, it’s not even about being cis or trans, but just being a man in that space. I take a lot of pride in that.”

That pride pushed him to be ready. After waiting four years for a chance to compete, he had two fights in the space of three months while also letting his voice be heard in the discussion concerning trans people in sports and life that matter.

His will to persevere met the skill to perform in 2023. Patricio Manuel’s unwavering commitment to self, sport and community is why he is Outsports’ 2023 Transgender Athlete of the Year.

Manuel puts Hien Hyunh on the canvas in the first road en route to a second win in his first fight since 2018

In The Ring: Manuel makes a dominant return

Manuel’s nickname is “El Cacahuete”, Spanish for “The Peanut”. Peanuts are considered a hardy plant, meaning they thrive in harsh conditions.

There are not many things more harsh than struggling to find who you are, then find out what you do with it, fighting to get back to what you love, and then having to be patient when it seems it may never come.

All the doubts and difficulties were part of getting to March 18, 2023, at The Pyramid at Long Beach State University. Manuel could look across the ring and see an opponent, in the case of super featherweight Hien Hyunh.

The frustration of the past gave way to a looping right hook in the first round that put Hyunh on the canvas. That jolt powered Manuel to a dominant lead on the cards throughout. Only an incidental headbutt between the two fighters stopped the bout early, due to a cut on Hyunh that forced a stoppage. Manuel won the fight by a technical knockout.

“There was some rust coming in, but I starting getting my rhythm,” he said happily in a post-fight interview. “I’m just happy to be in this ring. This where I am supposed to be.”

Two months later, he would be handed a surprise. In a deal that came about 48 hours before the fight, Alex Gutierrez signed to fight Manuel.

The fight was competitive and bruising, but it was also an example of what Manuel loves about the sport.

“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.”

Manuel outfought a game Alex Gutierrez in June to claim his third career win

Despite a game opponent and a bruising pace at points, Manuel led on all judges’ cards and earned a unanimous decision.

“Picked up another win, got some stitches, hung with some of my people, did the thing I love with sacrifices but not compromises,” he wrote on Instagram.

Out Of The Ring: Speaking out to keep sports inclusive

As he trained and sparred toward his return to the ring, one of the major governing bodies of pro boxing had designs on segregating himself and other trans boxers.

The World Boxing Council called for a ban on transgender fighters competing against cis boxers and would instead create a transgender category. The WBC’s president Mauricio Sulaiman tried to sell the policy as a matter of safety and inclusion.

“We are creating a set of rules and structures so that transgender boxing can take place,” Suleiman stated to the Telegraph last December. “In boxing, a man fighting a woman must never be accepted, regardless of gender change.”

Manuel’s response was strident against the proposal and the tactless words of the head of the WBC.

“The WBC is inherently dehumanizing transgender people by implying that trans men aren’t men and trans women aren’t women,” he said via Instagram. “This rhetoric flies in the face of both existing policies at the highest level of governing bodies in the world of sports and my own lived experience.”

“The WBC’s statement contradicts policies that have been crafted over years at the highest levels of sports governing agencies. I hope they will reconsider their policy around transgender boxers after properly consulting with experts who are truly knowledgeable about transgender athletes.”

Manuel plans to continue to speak out while seeking out the next fight opportunity. Even at age 38, he wants to stay active in both spheres. He sees it as doing what was done for him as he was struggling to find himself. Much of his team support around him have seen his journey.

“I am not a self-made man,” he said to those who cheered him on after defeating Hyunh. “I am the sum of everyone, not only my supporters and my friends but also my family and my team. I am so loved and supported that I feel unbeatable.”

Other trans athletes considered for the award:

  • Austin Killips was seeing her star rise as the calendar flipped to 2023. A first elite win in cyclocross, a stirring ride through snow to grab third at the USA Cycling Cyclocross Nationals last November, and a gritty European campaign were among the things making her resume shine.

She went from the terrain of Cyclocross onto the pavement. In the first week of May, she made history in her sport. An overall win in the 5-day Tour Of The Gila stage race made her the first transgender cyclist to win a Union Cycliste Internationale-sanctioned women’s stage race.

Austin Killips took to the road last May and became the first trans woman to win a UCI stage race. One month later, the governing body enacted a ban on transgender women in the sport

Two months after the win, the world governing body for cycling banned transgender women from competing as women. Much of the impetus was the reaction to Killips’ win and another win at Belgian Waffle Ride North Carolina in June.

The UCI stated their policy was designed to “ensure equal opportunity.” Killips, and many others who support inclusion, vehemently disagreed.

“I am devastated by the UCI’s decision to renege on the policy and framework they previously set out for inclusion,” she said via Instagram. “No one should be denied the opportunity to chase the same joy that I and others have found through racing.”

Previous winners of the Outsports Transgender Athlete of the Year Award

2022: Lia Thomas and Iszac Henig

2021: Alana McLaughlin

2020: Lindsay Hecox