For those who are trans, nonbinary, or gender-nonconforming, even going to a gym can be a nearly insurmountable hurdle. That’s why Nola Hanson founded New York’s Transgender Boxing Collective.
Two boxers face each other beneath a tiny crystal chandelier, skin and gloves lit up in primary colors. Nola Hanson, who’s half of the size of Muhammad Ali but walks through the world with something like his casually worn, hard-won confidence, holds up two padded palms. Nicky Smith, a 23-year-old boxer with close-cropped dandelion hair, aims a gloved fist that flies into Hanson’s open hand like an envoy: trying to determine where everything that follows should land.
As they wind through the ring, Smith tries to maintain eye contact while steadily directing punches.
“Keep your hands up, that’s good,” Hanson says, voice calm and firm. “Don’t look down — that’s it, come on!”
Smith and Hanson are members of the Transgender Boxing Collective, a group of transgender, gender-nonconforming, and nonbinary amateurs who meet once a week at Overthrow Boxing Club in downtown Manhattan. The building used to be owned by the Youth International Party, a countercultural movement from the ’60s. Now it’s a boxing gym for the Instagram era: all neon signs and vintage posters and stage lights. The Transgender Boxing Collective rents space for an hour at a steeply discounted fee; they get room to train, and the gym can claim residual ties to its transgressive roots. In thick white letters, on a brick wall leading down to the basement training room, are the words “The only way to support a revolution is to make your own.”
Hanson, who uses the pronouns they/them, created the Transgender Boxing Collective in July 2017. Fourteen people showed up to the first class, and 20 or so come regularly to the weekly meetings, but some sessions have drawn nearly five times that many. Outside Overthrow, the boxers work as students, artists, and service and social workers. As soon as they cross the gym’