“There are three things you hear as pro fighter,” Patricio Manuel says. “Keep your hands up, let your hands go, and be first.”
Being first comes naturally to Manuel. He’s the world’s first transgender boxer to compete professionally, with a record of 1-0.
Originally from a small town directly south of Los Angeles, Patricio, 34, starting boxing at 16, well before he medically transitioned. At the time, he was deeply depressed, struggling with gender dysphoria, and “really feeling like my body was not aligning with how I always saw myself mentally,” he tells Men’s Health over video chat. Most days during high school, he recalls simply watching himself going through the motions.
Inspired by games like Street Fighter and the TV show Dragon Ball Z, Patricio asked his grandmother for boxing lessons, and she agreed. After that, everything changed: “I fell madly in love with the sport.”
Over the course of a dozen years, Manuel rose to prominence as a female fighter. In fact, Manuel is a five-time USA female national amateur boxing champion.
However, he didn’t embrace his gender identity until he was disqualified from the Olympic trials due to an injury in 2012. It was something Manuel had been training for his whole life. In fact, he even beat many of the boxers who’ve won the Olympic Games in exhibition matches.
Finally, after some deep soul-searching, he came out to the his friends and family as transgender in 2013 and began gender affirmation surgery shortly after.
“It’s been an interesting ride,” Manuel says. “I lost my gym that I had been a part of because of transphobia, and I had to relearn my body to become the best fighter I could be.”
Nevertheless, Manuel believes the people in the boxing world who say toxic things about the LGBTQ community are in the minority. “I’ve been really embraced by the boxing community for the most part, and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I earned a lot of respect as a fighter [before transitioning], so people know who I am.”
He continues, “They saw me as the same fighter who worked hard, never complained, and gave it my all. I never asked for anything special either before or after transitioning.”
As a testament to the acceptance of the queer community, Patricio has joined Everlast, the leading boxing glove brand of over 100 years, for its new campaign appropriately titled: Be First. The campaign is designed to challenge consumers to carve their own path to success—something the fighter is all-too familiar with.
Watch Manuel share his entire inspirational story for the Be First campaign below.
Zachary Zane is a Brooklyn-based writer, speaker, and activist whose work focuses on lifestyle, sexuality, culture, and entertainment.