On my last trip to New York City, I was fortunate enough to be in town for the 30th Anniversary of the House of Xtravaganza. For those of you who don’t know of this iconic entity, it is a huge drag “organization” that participates in “balls” where fabulous fem queens, transexuals, and butch queens walk the runway in an attempt to achieve “realness” in several categories which include, Trans Butch Amazon Warrior as well as Butch Queen Sex Siren. The balls started out as a voguing contest in the 80’s between different “houses” (sort of like gangs – but much more fabulous). They were made famous in the 1990 documentary, “Paris is Burning,” Madonna’s song, “Vogue,” and have been a beacon of light in the culture of the NYC club scene. I have high reverence for these men and women who walk the runway, believing that in that moment, they are The Most Real Trans Butch Amazon Warrior that ever walked the stage. When they believe it, we believe it too.
Perhaps I love them and relate to them so much because I often feel like at any given moment, I am trying to achieve realness as a filmmaker, a woman, or a boxer. There are some moments when I feel thoroughly real and others when I think I am a joke. That people watching me, or reading my words, or in my company aren’t buying it. I do have depression, which makes my mind think terrible things about myself and I have had to develop the skill of letting those thoughts go. Sometimes that skill isn’t as strong as I would like and I really believe the negative. I am fortunate to have solid people around to remind me and to have the resolve to keep fighting that depression.
My fight is two and a half weeks away. My training was thrown offtrack by a three day film shoot, a family reunion in New Jersey, and a trip to New York with my husband. Follow that up with catching a cold from getting up too early, plane rides, burning the candle on both ends, and a debilitating period. Five years ago, I would be a wreck at this point. But, I have had the quiet resolve to keep training my mind when my body wasn’t well, and to jolt my body back into sparring/fighting shape. I rest when I need to and don’t overtrain because I know that will just make me suffer in sparring. The most important thing I have been doing is letting go of the negative thoughts: the thoughts that tell me I am too old, too tired, or that my nerves are too fried from PTSD to keep doing this. I try to look at them and smile, put on my headgear, mouthpiece and go in for another round.
Yesterday, I went to Knuckleheadz Gym in Ventura to spar with Maureen Shea, a world champion, and an amazingly compassionate person, despite her ability to fucking obliterate girls in the ring. My coach wanted me to do real rounds in a real ring with a real boxer and Moe was kind enough to oblige. Coming off the cold and the period, I was nervous that I wasnt’ going to be able to do the number of rounds she would need. I would probably need a round off. If we went hard or were super busy, I was afraid I would gas in the second. I figured her sparring partner, Matt, would give her the real work, but he didn’t show up so it was just me.
The energy at Knuckleheadz is casual and friendly, unlike most boxing gyms. When you walk in, people smile and introduce themselves to you. My coach, Rich, brought his 6 year old son, who was welcome to hit the bags and shadowbox in the ring while we got ready. Hoss, Moe’s kind-eyed mohawked coach, stepped out to get something to eat while we were wrapping up. What I especially like about Knuckleheadz, is that once we were wrapped up, the headgear was on, mouthpieces were in and about to go, it went from casual sweet atmosphere to business. This is the office.
Maureen is a powerful woman and I always sense this whether I am standing next to her or across the ring from her. It’s not just that her body is strong, she has an intensity and a lot of knowledge. She is very tactical, scientific and savvy. For those who think that women who box just “brawl”, please take a look at some of Moe’s fights. Power and skill.
My training has mostly been in gyms, on mats, and outside on the grass. There aren’t many rings I have access to anymore so when I get in the ring, I do feel like I’m doing this “for real.” I feel the pressure to perform, but also know that I need to be really loose and relaxed in order for all the training I have been doing to work. This is a battle for me, especially when things get intense and I really start feeling the pressure of the other person. This feeling probably happens for everyone, but I have the additional little gift of PTSD that I have to breathe through and force myself to be present.
FACTS: I am a 46 year old woman who started boxing at age 40. I weigh about 110lbs. I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I have 6 amateur fights, half of which I won, and half of which I lost. I also run a small business and am only able to train hard on and off.
Maureen is a world class professional boxer with an 18 and 2 record. 11 knockouts. 16 years younger and a bit heavier, MUCH stronger than me. She also suffered from PTSD and has been through the wringer in life, but has worked through her struggles in the ring.
The facts are like the evil thoughts I have to let go of, and not give power to.
This is where “realness” comes in. I am learning through Maureen, my coach and “the doing” of boxing how to be a real boxer. The moments when I am in the “zone of realness”, my movements are good, they make sense, I can throw sharp combos and counter like a smart boxer, make her miss from time to time and absorb shots without freaking the fuck out. When the realness eludes me, I start thinking that everyone in the room is humoring me, that I’m embarrassing myself, and stiffen up. So, I let that thought go and again, try to be real.
After four rounds, I was breathing hard and we took a round off. I could feel that the breathing was from nerves, more than poor cardio, but it’s still tough to control. Most fighters will tell you that the mental piece is the hardest part.
We did another three rounds. When Rich told me to go back in there for the last round, I looked at him like this was REALLY the last one. Maureen intuitively knows how much to challenge me, how hard she can hit me, and when to back off. I was super tired in the last round, but made it my business to fight back. Because I trust Maureen so much, when she does unload on me, I am actually flattered! She knows I can handle this, so I must be able to. As faded and weak as I felt, I just used my will to keep fighting, defending, moving. The sound of that final bell ringing flooded me with relief. I got through seven rounds! I didn’t make a complete ass of myself and I was able to incorporate some things I had just learned in sparring. My coach was happy with what I did and I could accept it as growth. Maureen also complimented me, telling me that the physical is there. I just have to believe it. I just have to have the confidence to own it. To be real.