How Irma Testa's Olympic medal was a shield in her coming-out moment
Irma Testa, the first Italian woman boxer to go to the Olympics, says she struggled with her truth of being a queer woman for nine years before she could gather the courage.
Italian boxer Irma Testa, also known as 'Butterfly' after the documentary made on her, is one of the most sought-after names at the ongoing Women's World Boxing Championships in New Delhi.
Having steamed into the 57kg finals, the Boxing Worlds has seen the continuation of Irma Testa's brilliant run of form since a huge weight was lifted off her chest after her moment of truth two years ago. The first Italian woman boxer to qualify for the Olympics, Irma Testa, who beat the odds despite being from one of the most violent-afflicted regions of Naples, came out as queer after winning the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
It was a historic moment in many ways. She was the first Italian woman boxer to win a medal at the Olympics, but perhaps more importantly, she had managed to tell the world who she was.
"It was a conscious decision to announce it after my win. The bronze medal at the Olympics acted as my shield. Nobody can question my credentials as an athlete now, so I decided to announce myself," the 25-year-old told The Bridge.
"It is tough in a sport like boxing to come out and say that I am gay. Everyone expects champions to be perfect and for many, homosexuality is still an imperfection. It is important to normalize it. Everyone has the right to tell the world who they are," she said.
An Italian hero
Hailing from one of the worst Camorra-controlled regions of Naples, Irma Testa has won multiple accolades since her bronze medal in the Olympics (Tokyo 2020). A silver medal in the IBA World Championships (2022) and a gold medal in the European Championships (2022) show the kind of form she has been in since her coming out.
But it took Irma nine years of an internal battle and an Olympic medal to tell the world about her identity.
"People are discriminated against on basis of their identity. It took me nine years of waiting to tell the world. When I told my mother, she accepted me wholeheartedly. Her first reaction was, 'I love you.' My whole family accepted me, making it easy for me," Irma said.
The response to Irma coming out as a queer athlete was phenomenal across her country.
"The people from the LGBTQ+ community told me 'thank you'. The response I received was truly heartwarming and it made me believe in myself more. I am hopeful my story will inspire people who want to express themselves," said Irma.
Coming from a family of six, Irma picked up boxing gloves at the age of 12 after watching her sister's passion for the sport. However, a career in boxing was not meant to be for her sister as she had to earn money to help the family at an early age.
"She had to stop when she was 14 years old to support our family. She stopped due to our financial conditions but she always pushed me to pursue my dream," added Irma.
The 'butterfly' who knew to wait
Apart from boxing, Irma has been a part of an award-winning documentary called 'Butterfly' which follows the journey of 18-year-old Irma who wants to hit peak performance but also longs for the life of an ordinary 18-year-old.
The title of 'Butterfly' is significant. The 25-year-old idolizes the legendary Muhammad Ali and the 'float like a butterfly, sting like a bee' quote has inspired her footwork in the ring, thus earning her the nickname.
"When I started boxing, I used to move so much in the ring - like Muhammad Ali - as he is my idol. My coach looked at me and told me that I move like a butterfly. So my second name is butterfly now," she said with a smile.
Silver medalist at the 2022 World Championships, Irma aims to change the color of her medal this time.
"I want to win gold this time and I am ready for it. My next target is qualifying for the Paris Olympics and winning there," concluded Irma who will face Karina Ibragimova of Kazakhstan in the finals.
Often during her matches, Irma is seen with her hands by her sides, an approach often called 'wait and wait' in combat terms. Having shown that she knows perfectly how to wait inside and outside the ring, Irma certainly used her experience to wait and announce her identity at the right moment in front of the world.