Transgender boxer Pat Manuel, who was born the daughter of a very present white mother and an absentee black father, sports a healthy Afro and muscles that bulge underneath a #blacklivesmatter tee. “I was raised to be a white woman, and obviously that didn’t happen!” Manuel says with a laugh. “Sometimes life throws you a curveball, and you come out a black man.”
The former five-time women’s national champion who suffered a shoulder injury during the 2012 women’s Olympic boxing trials ultimately lost out on his Olympic dreams that year, but in overcoming that disappointment he gained something greater. “It’s really hard for me to say my shoulder injury was good for me, because it cost me my Olympic dreams,” says Manuel, who recently turned 30. “I love boxing, but it’s also a sport that can end in an instant.” Because of the injury, Manuel says, he reached a deeper realization. “I decided that in order for me to be really happy with myself, beyond just seeing myself as an athlete, I needed to embrace my whole identity as a person and acknowledge that I wasn’t a woman.”
Manuel had been a self-described “masculine queer female person,” Patricia, before transitioning two years ago into “black trans man” Pat. Prior to his transition, Manuel says, “I would identify myself as a boy or a man in my head, even if I didn’t say it out loud to other people.” He’s now hoping to compete in his first U.S.A. Boxing–sanctioned amateur fight as a man. (Manuel does not yet have confirmation that his U.S.A. Boxing passbook has been switched from female to male, allowing him to compete.) If all goes according to plan, the fight will take place sometime in October and will be a first for U.S.A. Boxing, the feeding arm for the United States Olympic Committee; according to U.S.A. Boxing spokeswoman Julie Goldsticker, Manuel would be the first transgender fighter to compete in one of its matches. “U.S.A. Boxing is working closely with this athlete as the organization creates policy on this issue,” Goldsticker says.
For years prior to his transition, Manuel watched his male peers and Olympic team USA hopefuls — including Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter — with the desire to compete against them rather than other female competitors. Manuel recalls that, as Patricia, “I would look at the male competition around my weight class and be like, ‘Wow, I would love to have those fights!’ I didn’t think that that was possible, but now I’m sitting here like the sky’s the limit.”
Manuel spent two years outside of the competitive-boxing ring — a time that allowed his shoulder injury to heal and is in keeping with the IOC’s official timespan required for transgender athletes to become eligible to compete following sexual reassignment surgery. Manuel’s plan is to first compete next month in the U.S.A. Boxing–sanctioned tournament, in the men’s 132-pound weight class. He then hopes to advance to the professional male division, in the slightly lower weight class of 126 to 130 pounds.
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Manuel says he’s ready to test his skills against competitors of a different gender.
“Most people in L.A. knew me as a really stellar female boxer,” Manuel says. “If I’m using more intelligence and using a little bit more evasion, my bread and butter is still sticking to the body and throwing those hooks and throwing those uppercuts. I’m going to be the fighter who’s engaging a fight.”
And he says he’s equally eager to show the world what he can do.
“You can’t take away the core of what I am,” Manuel says. “I guarantee you I’m still exciting to watch.”