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Trans Female - Learning to embrace the function and power of my body over the aesthetic through Muay Thai.


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I started late, 25 yrs old. I have recently found Sylvie's videos interviewing Angie and while that is a huge inspiration for me as someone now a few months into training, I have found the real hook that kept me coming back to class religiously is the impact of Muay Thai on my relationship to my body. I pass fairly well when I am conforming to western femininity but I actually gravitate towards tom/butch expression (undercut, little makeup, "men's" cloths) despite being MTF. For my whole life, and especially the last few years during transition I have had basically hypervigilance/hyper fixation surrounding my body and how its being perceived/gendered and how I exist in space. Surrendering to the grind/burn of Muay Thai has been one of the biggest non-medical transition tool for reframing my relationship to my body from one centered on the perceptions of others, to one centered around learning how to assert myself in space and exercise balance and autonomy over my body. I have a lifetime of sharpening ahead of me but I have found a great deal of relief and reward in the distance I have come so far. As I become more at home in my body I am able to understand how my natural tendencies match up to the various subdisciplines/systems of Muay Thai and serves as a salient anchor for these parts of myself I want to develop in my regular life, and for getting past traumas. Making this post to share this experience, as after the fact I thought it was very ironic that this thing that is so good for specifically trans mental health (in my opinion) is socially and sometimes legally off limits to us.

How does my experience compare to yours? Do you know any trans fighters that have had similar or different experiences?

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I will be sharing your words with Angie, as I'm sure they mean as much to her as they do to me. For me, personally, what drew me to Muay Thai was the performance of masculinity, with these simultaneous soft and fluid expressions. I've written on my blog about how masculinity does not belong to men; men "wear" it just as much as women can, it's not intrinsic or "natural" or inherent. Bev Francis, one of the most famous female Body Builders in the 70s and 80s pushed past the "acceptable" limit of muscles that "feminine" bodies into muscles that were heavily criticized as being "too much" for a woman. But Bev loved muscles and being strong for the exact same reasons males with those bodies love them: because it feels good. A pleasure not "belonging" to a gender, even if socially it is flagged or coded to the binary. As a cis woman, this is how I've navigated the very complex experiences of Muay. The parts that are masculine feel good for the same reasons they feel good to men, but I do get offended when folks comment that I "look like a man," or am "strong like a man." As a Cis woman, I have a more relaxed privilege to those offenses because I don't worry about "passing," but I do, at times, fret that I can never be unaware of being NOT A MAN in a man's arena. But vacillating in the in-between is where the real beauty is and, if Muay Thai allows you to explore and express your gender in a more nuanced way, then that's a wonder I have greatly appreciated as well. If you can find Superbank's stunningly beautiful Ram Muay, wherein he is pouring out feminine grace and at the exact same moment filling himself with masculine prowess...it's that. That's the perfect example.

 

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Thanks for responding and wow, what a beautiful ram muay. I think I really resonate with what you said about allowing yourself to occupy and utilize masculine and feminine energies without it having any bearing on your actual gendered existence. Being able to "go back" into masculine territory with Muay Thai has really let me take ownership over the parts of myself that I was running from and contextualize them into my post-transition persona. 

You and Angie are literally who I think of when I am overwhelmed and pessimistic about fighting. You both made room for me in the sport in your own ways and I am very grateful.

PS, Bev Francis is so dope.

Edited by Rosethorn
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A beautiful thread you have here. I am late to the party but Sylvie pointed me to it today. If I would ever care to analyze what MT does to me past the superficial "it is fun", this is what I would write, maybe not as eloquent though. 🙂  But as you made me self-reflect today, I realized how deep MT has rooted itself inside me and how it then manifested on the outside.

I am definitely in a better shape now than ever, both mentally and physically. People from outside can disagree when they see my sometimes bruised body and my obsession with pain and grind but for me that's the moments when I feel like myself. That's when my most genuine smiles happen. It's been the best tool to reintegrate my lost masculine part back in a healthy way and finally feel as a whole, self-reliant and resilient to societal expectations and pressure.  Who would think, right? That the best way to find yourself and your place as a woman could be through such a stereotypically masculine activity.

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On 5/18/2023 at 1:39 AM, Rosethorn said:

. Surrendering to the grind/burn of Muay Thai has been one of the biggest non-medical transition tool for reframing my relationship to my body from one centered on the perceptions of others, to one centered around learning how to assert myself in space and exercise balance and autonomy over my body. I have a lifetime of sharpening ahead of me but I have found a great deal of relief and reward in the distance I have come so far. As I become more at home in my body I am able to understand how my natural tendencies match up to the various subdisciplines/systems of Muay Thai and serves as a salient anchor for these parts of myself

This is probably far afield, but reading your thoughts brought to mind this thread I did on how Thailand's rigors of training, the very shape of its hyper-masculine practice, support a kind of trans- experience for Westerners. Lots of sociology and theory in this thread, but who knows it might connect up with other thoughts:

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On 6/6/2023 at 5:37 PM, Sellen said:

A beautiful thread you have here. I am late to the party but Sylvie pointed me to it today. If I would ever care to analyze what MT does to me past the superficial "it is fun", this is what I would write, maybe not as eloquent though. 🙂  But as you made me self-reflect today, I realized how deep MT has rooted itself inside me and how it then manifested on the outside.

I started at 36 and I have been doing MT for 2 years now. I am definitely in a better shape now than ever, both mentally and physically. People from outside can disagree when they see my sometimes bruised body and my obsession with pain and grind but for me that's the moments when I feel like myself. That's when my most genuine smiles happen. It's been the best tool to reintegrate my lost masculine part back in a healthy way and finally feel as a whole, self-reliant and resilient to societal expectations and pressure.  Who would think, right? That the best way to find yourself and your place as a woman could be through such a stereotypically masculine activity.

It is so refreshingly free of norms and so laden with them in some ways. I have fallen in love with my muay and see it as something I have a relationship with, a living expression of who I am, and shaping my muay has allowed me to 'celebrate' the parts of myself its expressing! Thank you for the response!

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On 6/12/2023 at 5:43 AM, Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu said:

This is probably far afield, but reading your thoughts brought to mind this thread I did on how Thailand's rigors of training, the very shape of its hyper-masculine practice, support a kind of trans- experience for Westerners. Lots of sociology and theory in this thread, but who knows it might connect up with other thoughts:

Thank you kevin this was an excellent read. Adopting cultural norms alongside shaping one's style and muay makes thailand's martial arts scene so tangible and traceable to the living humans who practice and teach it. Goosebumps.

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