Nola Hanson finds boxing to be an intrinsically mindful sport. There is “a framework of spiritual discipline” to it, even if people tend not to think of boxing as a particularly introspective physical practice.
Hanson, who uses they/them pronouns, is the founder of the Trans Boxing Collective, a Brooklyn-based group that offers boxing classes exclusively to trans, gender nonconforming, and gender nonbinary people. TBC meets weekly, but because of anonymity and confidentiality commitments to its participants, doesn’t make the meeting time and location widely public (anyone interested in joining should email firstname.lastname@example.org). The collective will be having a fundraising party this Saturday at C’Mon Everybody in Bed Stuy, largely because they are committed to keeping their classes free or donation-based.
Trans Boxing Collective has five “core members,” who make up its decision-making apparatus. But there are around 25-30 regular returnees, plus brand-new people who show up for class every week. Plenty bring zero previous boxing experience with them: Hanson said that many had been interested in boxing for a long time, but encountered obstacles before discovering TBC. “I always wanted to learn some form of martial arts,” said Aiden Tianchon, a core member who joined the collective in 2017, the year it was founded. “TBC is making the sport more approachable to those who are intimidated or even afraid to enter a gym because of the way they identify or present themselves.”
Greer Dworman, also a core member of the collective, echoed the sentiment that TBC takes the intimidation factor out of boxing for gender nonconforming people: “I had always been really curious about boxing, but never felt that there was a space that was safe, that wasn’t toxically masculine. Finding TBC was a game-changer.”
There are not a lot of spaces that, like TBC, cater exclusively to trans and gender nonconforming people, and are not clinical, medical, or centered around shared pain. This isn’t about boxing for self-defense; while Hanson notes how vital self-defense training can be, particularly for trans women, it’s simply not TBC’s project. Instead, TBC wants to offer boxing classes that are “an additive thing, a creative thing,” as Hanson described. “We can connect with one another through physical practice. And do something fun.” The importance of fun should not be overlooked: in both fitness spaces and exclusively trans spaces, Hanson noted, fun can too often get deflected or deprioritized. So they wanted to create a group in which it was highlighted.
Fun does not come at the expense of looking inward, though. In classes, Hanson and Liv Adler, TBC’s other trainer, prioritize thoughtful connection between physicality and interiority. They place emphasis on breathing, on conscientious placement of body parts, and on quality of movement—all things that help participants establish a strong sense of bodily awareness. “What is very satisfying for me is that all your systems kind of kick in,” Dworman said. “There’s an attention that the work is demanding.”
Some trans or gender nonconforming people experience bodily dissociation or disconnect. “Our relationships with our bodies have been denied to us, by a binary system that doesn’t make space for our sense of self,” Hanson explained. Developing a mindful sense of bodily presence can be really important. For Hanson, the sport provided a way to mend what was long a rocky relationship with their body. Now, they’re helping other trans people do the same.
In this way, TBC aims to be a lot of things. It helps boxers “develop more confidence, physical and mental strength, and mindfulness,” as Tianchon said; it provides a fun after-work place to hang out, and to meet other trans people; and it offers a particular kind of empowerment, the kind only available in an exclusively trans space.
“There’s a lot of interdisciplinary stuff going on—it’s a physical practice, it’s wellness, but it’s also creating and organizing and socializing.” Dworman summarized. “I feel grateful that it has come into my life because the collective as a whole is not one thing. It’s very trans, itself.”