Forward from Professor Mikal:
When I started Aces Jiu Jitsu Club one of my goals was to create a place that welcomed people of all walks of life and empower them through Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. That’s why when one of our LGBTQ members wrote this blog, I thought it was important to share. Not just because it highlights the open community at Aces, but because it highlights the transformation that takes place once a person realizes they can defend themself any real world, self-defense scenario.
As the head coach and founder at Aces Jiu Jitsu club, reading these words for the first time filled me with happiness and hope. I would like to extend my most heartfelt invitation to the LGBTQ community in and around the Austin area. If you are looking for a place to learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, you are most definitly welcome here. I’ll see you on the mats!
– Professor Mikal
There’s no easy way to begin this, but if you’re LGBTQ, you’re in need of self-defense. Just last year, on June 12th, 2016, a man walked into an LGBTQ bar in Orlando, Florida and shot 49 members of our community, wounding an additional 58. In 2017 alone, more transgender people have been killed than in 2016, and almost all deaths committed against transgender people are known to be brutal murders. If you’re a black transgender woman, your average life expectancy is only 35 years, and many who start transitioning, statistically only make it 4 years into a lifelong process. And if you’re one of the lucky ones to have not been murdered, chances are you have faced rejection from your family members for being who you are, have experienced homelessness, and live in constant fear of being identified or found out.
For those who are LGBTQ reading this, that first paragraph is simply our truth. Every day, LGBTQ people are faced with a wide variety of prejudices we cannot help nor did we put in place, given to us by people who do not understand our struggle, and who see our sexuality or our transition as a mental disease (which it is not), and a choice we made. The truth is, the only thing us LGBTQ people have chosen by being who we are is our happiness.
And that is why I am writing this. Because I want you to live, and I want you to find even greater joy. I want you to be able to feel confident going out on the streets, walking with your friends, living your life, and I want you to have the tools needed to defend yourself against those with hatred in their hearts and who carry weapons they may use to kill you.
You are not helpless, this I promise you. What if I told you that your LGBTQ body was capable of more than just existing? What if I told you that there was a self defense program designed to help those considered inferior, beat people of a much larger scale and size than you?
It’s called Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. One of the most effective martial arts in the world, widely seen in every UFC fight, and one that yes, even you, can learn to use effectively. As a small transgender man myself (5’7, 130 lbs), I can tell you first hand that this martial art works and here’s why.
(Note: This article will be divided into two sections- the first for any LGBTQ interested in starting BJJ and what you’ll need to know and look for going in. The second half, directed at anyone not LGBTQ, who may find themselves training with LGBTQ people in their gym and who is interested in how to be a better ally, teammate, and support system for their LGBTQ family. )
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a ground based martial art developed by the Gracie family, in particular Helio Gracie, to provide effective techniques against a larger and stronger opponent. BJJ uses physics and the science of leverage to provide a variety of ways to overcome an opponent with a large size or strength advantage. Unlike other martial arts, BJJ does not focus on the striking aspect, but more so on takedowns and what to do on the ground. For LGBTQ people who often find themselves in compromising situations with angry aggressors- and who may experience a higher risk of assault, more often than not, your fight and struggle with someone ends up quickly on the ground. And unless you’re already a trained martial artist, most likely your punches or kicks will not be the penultimate winning technique used to overcome someone out to kill you.
But learn BJJ, and I guarantee you, you’ll walk away from most all altercations alive.
How do I know this? Because I’ve trained. Unlike other martial arts, BJJ gives you the unique opportunity to actually practice the techniques you learn in class in a safe environment. From working on takedowns, to controlling another opponent and submitting them, you participate in what are called live rolls after class (to me, often they can feel like what a real fight would feel like). A year ago, I walked into my gym and was defeated in less than 13 seconds. I struggled, tried to escape, and found myself powerless. It was an eye opening experience to say the least. So I kept training, and in 6 months, I was able to control a drunk friend who never trained BJJ before (a former marine weighing around 180) during a friendly fight on New Year’s Eve. And now, over a year later, I am able to effectively defend myself against a wide variety of body types, egos, and less than pleasant mentalities, and I can tell you, BJJ works.
It is not enough to know just kicks and punches, you have to know how to defend yourself on the ground, and not just defend, but attack. In BJJ, the techniques you learn and the method of practice implemented in the art, will allow you to gain not only confidence, but provide you with the means to defend yourself against any type of situation, including but not limited to, knife attacks and close range street encounters. There is no martial art like it, and for any LGBTQ people who have wondered how they would survive if someone came up from behind them in a bathroom, or at a club, I am telling you, start training BJJ today.
What You’ll Need to Know
Practically nothing- just show up and train. Regardless of your physical abilities or handicaps, you can learn BJJ. If a one armed man with no legs can learn to defeat an opponent effectively, you can too!
In regards to mindsets, BJJ is a heavily male dominated sport, but it is slowly becoming less so. While the doors are opening for women, if you do a little research on LGBTQ participation, you may become discouraged. Skip scouring reddit or google, and focus instead on visiting gyms near you to find out what kind of culture that gym brings. One visit will be enough to tell you if you’re in a good place that cares about you and will put forth the effort and time needed to help you learn all you need to survive. If you’re in Austin, then you’re in luck, no research needed! Come out to Aces Jiu Jitsu Club (we have 3 different locations – Pflugerville, North Austin, and Downtown) and I promise you a safe, positive, and effective training system designed by Professor Mikal and his badass coaches, that will have you living your life more confidently and happier than you’ve ever been.
At Aces, you will learn how to defend yourself against knife attacks, gun attacks, close range encounters, and you will be respected on the mats for who you are. If anyone gives you any trouble, then they’re not going to survive long at our gym. So please come visit us today, as any LGBTQ person is a welcome member of our community. As a transgender male, I made my goals of survival known to my coaches and I have received a variety of support and unique attention that has not only helped my BJJ game develop, but has given me the confidence to live my life the way I always wanted.
What to Bring/Wear
If you are a cisgender LGBTQ person, just bring regular workout clothes. If you’re transgender, here’s a little advice:
If AMAB (assigned male at birth) transitioning to female, and pre-op, invest in compression shorts to help keep things down there more comfortable and secure. One of the benefits about BJJ is that while close contact, there’s so much going on in a roll that people do not focus on what’s going on down there much. I’ve personally been kicked “down there” and have faked a reaction, and no one has been the wiser to my lack of parts. And if you’re in a welcoming gym (like mine is), no one is going to intentionally try to ruin your day either.
If AFAB (assigned female at birth) transitioning to male, and pre-op, get a binder 2 times your size. This will effectively flatten your chest without the compression that happens from sweat which can crack your ribs if binding too much. I also recommend just wearing a sports bra and training in the gi, if you’re larger set and there are no binders big enough. Your safety is first and breathing is essential in BJJ. As a small trans man that is pre-op, I bind with an XL binder (you can purchase one via the link provided) and have had no issues. But I advise against binding if you have a larger chest and I encourage you to just train regardless because no one will really care, they’re all there to train just as much as you.
If you are a non-binary individual (someone who does not identify as male or female), dress however you’d like. Wear comfortable clothes you can breathe in and make sure to talk to your coaches about pronoun use, so that you are not misgendered on the mats and feel respected and safe, just like all of us.
And side note: Do not train with any piercings- take out any and all piercings as these can get torn out and potentially infected, and any infection is bad news.
Cisgender: Cisgender simply means that you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth. It’s a term only used to differentiate those who are transgender and those who are not. Note that I use the term- assigned at birth. This is because sexual organs do not determine gender. There are individuals who have both sex organs (intersex), and of course, transgender individuals who are still male/female regardless of what their initial sex organs are. By using the term assigned, and shifting your perspective from a person being born a gender, you become a greater ally to the transgender community. One example I love to use is- if you are a cisgender male and you lost your penis today, would you say that you stopped being a man? No! Now you realize that your gender and your perception of self has nothing to do with your genitals, it’s who you perceive and know yourself to be.
AMAB: Assigned Male at Birth (a term used instead of MTF- male to female) in regards to transgender women or non binary individuals who this applies to.
AFAB: Assigned Female at Birth (a term used instead of FTM-female to male) in regards to transgender men or non binary individuals who this applies to.
Nonbinary/Genderqueer/Gender Neutral: Individuals who do not identify with either gender. Many use they/them pronouns. If unsure of someone’s pronouns, ask someone privately (NEVER in front of others because you may be the only one wondering and you’ll risk outing someone). With the risk of violence and murder so high against transgender people, purposely outing someone or disclosing their identity without their permission is an act of violence. Do not put someone’s life at risk. If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, don’t assume- ask!
Misgendering: Using the wrong pronouns with someone. Using the wrong pronouns with someone after they’ve told you their pronouns is extremely disrespectful. If you’ve known someone for a long time and they’ve recently come out to you as trans, just make sure that if you do slip up, you correct yourself right away and apologize. Often pronoun changes can feel like a new language, and transgender people do understand this. If you misgender me, I won’t be angry unless you decide it’s not important enough to correct yourself. Show others the same respect they show you, especially on the mats.
Words to Avoid Using: Transvestite, Transsexual, “Transgendered”, Tranny, Faggot, Queer, etc.
- Transvestite is an outdated term that is used for someone who “cross-dresses” or is a male in female’s clothing, drag queen, etc. This is not the same as someone who is transgender-someone who transitions from the gender they were assigned to. Transvestite has been used as a slur more often than not as well, so it’s a term to best avoid when referring to someone who is transgender.
- Same with the word transsexual- which is a term used for people who undergo surgeries for their transitions, but is largely not used in the community since many transgender people cannot afford or do not wish to undergo such surgeries. It’s a term best to forget actually-as more often than not, you’ll be corrected instantly by a transgender person. While these terms are still somewhat used by older members of the transgender community, as language evolves, so does terminology, and the more respectful you can be in your terminology, the better an ally you are to your transgender friend.
- Transgendered- This is incorrect. Transgender is not a verb, it is an adjective. You wouldn’t call someone blackened if they were black, nor asianed, if they were asian. The term is transgender, without the ed, period.
- Tranny, Faggot, or Queer, (when not used by an LGBTQ person) are slurs, and do not in any means use them in reference to anyone.
And in addition, avoid asking your fellow transgender teammates about surgeries, how long they’ve been on hormones, etc. If you wouldn’t ask your cisgender male friend about his penis, don’t ask a transgender woman about hers. If you wouldn’t ask a fellow woman about her vagina, don’t ask me about mine! LGBTQ people above all else, are just like everyone else. Be respectful of your questions and google a question first before asking a potentially invasive one.
And for now, that’s a wrap folks. However, stay tuned for my next article in which I’ll tackle misconceptions about LGBTQ Athletes (in particular transgender athletes) and break down the false idea that the hormones we take play an unfair advantage in sport or competition. For now, love your LGBTQ teammates. Help them succeed on the mats, and stay tuned for the next installment in which I explain (with science and facts! All the science and facts!) about the truth behind transgender athletes in competition and what this should mean for IBJJF and for any transgender BJJ practitioner who read this article, started BJJ, and now wishes to compete.
Until then, happy training and here’s to the journey! Oss!
Andy Gonzalez is a coach at Aces Jiu Jitsu Club. He has earned his purple belt under Professor Mikal Abdullah. Follow Andy on Twitter at @GoGoGonzilla
Andy lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Amanda and their 3 beautiful children. Andy is also the father of a Marine who is honorably serving in the United States Marine Corps.