Trans man Angel Martinez plans to make his mark in the world of CrossFit, and be an example for others
Angel Martinez’s resume already included a 2006 boxing championship and a 2016 CrossFit championship going into the WOD — Workout of the Day — CrossFit couple’s competition in February.
The difference, however, was that when the boxing championship and the CrossFit championship were added, Martinez was competing as a woman. But Martinez began to transition last December, and the February competition, with Dawn Hall as his partner, was his first competition as a man.
Martinez and Hall placed second in the Masters division. They might well have placed first, but after another contestant — one that Martinez had beaten when competing as a female — complained, Hall said, “we had two judges watching us the whole time.
“They always judge the competitors from Jerome’s (the Richardson gym where Martinez and Hall train) more harshly, because the athletes from Jerome’s are tougher than everybody else,” Hall said. “And they know who Angel is. So they were already watching him.”
The February event may be Martinez’s last CrossFit competition, at least for a while. For one thing, he has been saving up money from his job as a bartender at JR.’s Bar and Grill to pay for his top surgery this month. But he’s also waiting for the CrossFit competition rules to catch up to reality, too.
CrossFit is a branded strength and conditioning workout regimen that is made up of “constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity,” according to the CrossFit website. The CrossFit brand extends to a series of competitions, like the one pre-transition Martinez won in December and the one he and Hall competed in in February.
Despite a lawsuit filed in 2014 by transgender athlete and trainer Chloie Jonsson, CrossFit competition rules only allow athletes to compete as the gender they were assigned at birth. But since taking testosterone is part of Martinez’s transition, and use of hormones is prohibited in CrossFit competitions, he couldn’t compete with the women even if he wanted to.
Martinez said he found a loophole that let him compete in the couples competition with Hall in February: “The rules apply to ‘CrossFit-sanctioned’ competitions. These local ones are sanctioned. So I just signed up without asking if I could.”
Martinez said he has always known he was male. But as a child, the world wasn’t willing to accept that. He said that when he was in middle school, he refused to go into the girls’ locker room or the girls’ bathrooms; he wasn’t, after all, a girl.
But when he tried to explain, school officials labeled him as “emotionally disturbed.” They finally called his mother to school to discuss with her some “other options,” Martinez recalled. “I remember, I heard them say that, ‘other options,’ and when I asked her, my mother told me not to worry. She told me, ‘I’ll come back for you later. They’re going to fix it.’ I said, fix what? I told her,
‘I’m not broken.’
“But she still left me there, and they institutionalized me for six months.”
Martinez learned then he would have to blend in to get by. “After that, I never spoke a word of it again,” he recalled.
But he didn’t try to change into something he wasn’t. “I’ve lived the life of a trans person all my life. I just wasn’t out about it,” he said.
Instead, he focused on “masculinizing” his body, succeeding to the point that “a lot of people already thought I was a man.” Still, living the lie — presenting as a masculine lesbian instead of as a man — was taking its toll.
“Not coming out damn near killed me,” Martinez said. “It did cost me my last relationship.”
In 2006, Martinez won the Women’s Intercontinental Boxing Association title in the welterweight division. That didn’t fill the need to be as masculine as possible, so Martinez began bodybuiling.
“I wanted to bodybuild and just be a huge motherfucker,” he said. “Then my boss at JR’s told me about the gym he worked out at. He said he doesn’t usually tell people he works with about it, but he could see that I was serious about working out. CrossFit wasn’t even on my mind then.”
As intense as he trained, though, Martinez said the move to Jerome’s was hard work. “There’s a reason why a lot of people come and go at Jerome’s Gym, because it’s hard! Jerome is a beast, and he expects you to be a beast, too,” he said.
Jerome Givens, owner and trainer at Jerome’s Gym, has also always been one of Martinez’s biggest supporters. “When I came out to him, told him I was transgender, it didn’t matter to him. He told me, ‘I don’t see gender. I have athletes, and I train my atheletes to out-do anyone, male or female.’”
Givens, for his part, doesn’t hesitate to express his support.
“Angel is family to me, which makes it very easy to support him in whatever he wants to do in life,” Givens said in an email to Dallas Voice. “What’s amazing about Angel is he would give a total stranger or an animal the last dime in his pocket to help them [if they needed it]. You just don’t find good people like that now days.”
Givens also isn’t shy about making it known that other trans athletes who are serious about their training are welcome at Jerome’s Gym.
“My goal is to have [Angel] be the flagship for all female-to-male trans athletes, proving [to them that] they can do anything a man can do and [showing them] not to feel intimidated in sports,” he said.
“Life is hard enough as it is on transgender people as it is. You have people that will not ever support or accept [them]. All everyone wants is to be treated with respect, without prejudice. No matter what race or gender, gay, or trans, we should all have the same rights,” he added. “My personal goals for Angel is to prove with hard work you can accomplish anything you set your mind to, and for trans kids to look up to him and show that it’s OK to come out and be who you are on the inside and compete in sports as an equal to any man.
“I love this dude, and he will be my brother for life,” Givens concluded. “If anyone out there feels uncomfortable about going to a gym and wants to be treated with respect, please come see me. I’m here for you, with open arms.”
Hall, his partner in the February competition, is also a big Angel fan. “I did talk to my husband and my daughter first, because what I do affects them, too,” Hall said. “But I didn’t think twice about the fact that Angel is trans. I just wanted the best, most bad-ass partner possible to compete with.
“Angel is a beast. He’s the best, and I think he should be able to go up the ranks in CrossFit, compete at the regionals and the nationals,” she added. “And I think it’s stupid that they won’t let him.”
For Martinez, not being able to compete is difficult, but he knows there are others out there — especially transgender youth — who have it much worse.
“I’ve been there. I know what it’s like,” he said. “And when I saw on the news about [transgender teen wrestler Mack Beggs from Euless, who was forced to wrestle in UIL competition as a female], I knew I had to speak up. I knew I had to say something.
“Mack Beggs tried to do the right thing; he is a guy and he wanted to compete against the other guys. But the people that run the UIL are fucking idiots and they wouldn’t let him do the right thing. It almost seemed like the UIL was trying to humiliate him, trying to make him quit,” Martinez said.
Beggs, at the end of February, won the Class 6A girls state championship in Texas high school wrestling. His victory, however, is weighted with controversy, since many people have complained that he wrestled against girls, and UIL rules force student athletes to compete based on their birth gender.
“I want to be an example for [Mack Beggs] and other transgender athletes,” Martinez said. “I am trying to make a statement, to say to them all, we can do this. I want people to look at me and know that if you want to do something, you just do it.
“So many people are so scared. I want to hug them all, protect them all,” he said. “But most of all, I want them to know they can do whatever they want. They can be themselves, and still be whatever they want.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 7, 2017.