Last month, transgender male boxer Patricio “El Cacahuate” Manuel, formerly the highly decorated amateur female boxer Patricia Manuel, finally got the chance to officially compete against a male opponent. He fought in the annual Teamsters Cinco de Mayo show in El Monte in the lightweight amateur men's division against fellow amateur Adan Ochoa — and won in a three-round decision.
The bout came more than two years after Manuel embarked on his battle to be recognized as a male boxer by USA Boxing, this nation’s governing body for Olympic-style amateur boxing. Before his sexual reassignment surgery, Manuel was five-time female amateur champion and a favored 2012 women’s boxing Olympic hopeful.
“USA Boxing was pretty supportive,” Manuel says. “As far as I am concerned, they have no legal right to deny me my ability to compete.”
According to USA Boxing’s Julie Goldsticker, Manuel is the first known transgender fighter approved to fight in a USA-sanctioned amateur boxing competition.
Manuel, who turned 30 last year, says he has no designs on Olympic competition. “My Olympic dreams died when Patricia died,” he says with a quick laugh.
After a shoulder injury forced Manuel out of the 2012 women’s Olympic boxing trials, he looked very closely at his life and his identity — and realized he no longer wanted to live as a woman. “I thought I was going to go to the Olympics, and the next thing I knew I was sitting on the sidelines with my arm hanging out of its socket,” he recalls. “I realized there’s more to the sport, and I’m a person beyond just being a boxer. ”
He also points out that “love of the sport” kept him from facing “the painful things that I didn’t want to look at.”
“It was a distraction,” he says. “And when it was taken away from me, I was kind of forced to deal with all the things that I was basically distracting myself from.”
Three years post-surgery, Manuel has become a vocal activist and proponent of transgender rights. “I’ve never been in the closet,” he says.
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Now, after having officially fought another man, Manuel believes that true equality for transgender people lies in having the choice to "out" themselves and not have any repercussions based on that choice: “I should have a choice to choose whatever I want and not be seen as lesser because of that choice.”
The day after his first fight against a male opponent, Manuel posted a victory speech of sorts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram:
Last night's win wasn't just about the match. I never stopped believing in the 4 years I was out of boxing that I would be back. I made a promise to myself to keep fighting. And nothing was going to stop me from keeping my word. Not my decision to medically transition and compete as a male athlete, not the relationships I lost as a result of this decision, not the questions of others wondering if I could compete against men, not all the matches falling through at the very last minute. Not any of the bullshit that has tried to stand in my way. Last night, more than anything, validated my belief in myself.
He says he is more sure of himself than he’s ever been. “I don’t really miss anything,” he says of his life as Patricia, both inside and outside of the ring. “I’m glad I went through those experiences, because they made me the man I am today. But I’m good. I’m good as Patricio.”