How Boxing Helped Me Find My True Gender

DSC_0291-2-1Photo: Courtesy Of Catrina Jones.
My whole life can be described as a sort of odyssey of gender. Although I rebelled against my assigned female status from an early age, the real awareness of my masculinity came when I fell in love with boxing at a club in downtown Los Angeles. I was 17.
It was the end of December, and I had asked my grandmother for boxing lessons for Christmas. I remember my stomach tightening as I walked through the club's glass doors. I saw a man look at me and say, “I hope she’s here to box. She looks mean.” Pretty soon, I was hooked.
In truth, my interest in boxing stemmed from my inability to explain myself. As a teenager, I wasn’t exposed to the queer language I use now to comfortably identify myself. I knew I was masculine, but I was at a loss as to how to express this to the world.
IMG_3004-3Photo: Courtesy Of Lex Kennedy.
I looked to the images around me that seemed to embody the masculinity I enjoyed: anime characters, combative video games, and martial-arts movies. To me, masculinity seemed synonymous with the ability to fight. So, I set out to become a fighter. I loved the way boxing chiseled my body to look more like the way I pictured myself in my head.
Learning about queer culture also helped me begin to form and understand my gender identity. At the same time, I began training under an elite coach and was becoming a high-level athlete. The more confidence I gained in my abilities in the ring, the more I embraced my gender nonconformity.
Still, I secretly yearned to medically transition, but ironically boxing was the main obstacle standing in my way. Transitioning would put my career as a fighter in jeopardy. TRT (testosterone replacement therapy) is banned in amateur boxing, and I could lose my ability to compete. My fear of that potential loss outweighed my dysphoria.
2-1Photo: Courtesy Of Oliverio Rodriguez.
Coincidentally, it ended up being my body that threatened my continued love affair with my sport. When a chronic shoulder injury resurfaced during the Olympic Trials, I was devastated, and fell into a depression.
At a leadership training program with Brown Boi Project, I found myself again. I was in a setting, among other young trans men, straight men, and masculine-of-center womyn of color, where I felt safe to speak freely and process some of my issues. There, I began pairing a concern for gender justice with strength training, and my own visibility as an athlete — a combination that made me even more eager to be a part of, and contribute to, this community.
Still, I found my gender dysmorphia — that all-consuming anxiety that comes from not aligning with the way your body presents — becoming harder and harder to ignore. Thinking about continuing to compete in the female division only exacerbated the stress I had been grappling with for so long. I could no longer accept living in my current body; I finally made my decision to medically transition.
In the ring, my answer to a strong opponent meant biting down on my mouthpiece and standing my ground. I carried this same attitude into my decision-making; there would no more compromises.
IMG_2816-1Photo: Courtesy Of Lex Kennedy.
I knew there was no way I could transition without continuing to fight and truly be happy with my decision. To be authentic to my masculine identity meant I must continue to box competitively. And, though I no longer compete in the female division today, my dreams of being a champion have not faltered. In changing my body to present outwardly the way I feel within, it's almost as if my entire reality has been altered — with the exception of my professional, athletic aspirations.
I did find allies on this intensely personal journey. Those in the trans* community granted me the confidence to make this decision, and my fellow pugilists expressed their admiration for it, their respect having been earned years ago with an aggressive boxing style fueled by heart. A few members of the boxing scene have questioned why I would throw away a chance at dominating a familiar territory in exchange for venturing into the unknown, but their uncertainty is not for me to solve. I have worked toward my own certainty: That when I do return to the ring, it will be my truest form performing beneath those lights. And, when that happens, it will be too big to be called a comeback. It will be a celebration of my authentic self.

More from Spirit

R29 Original Series