Exclusive Interview With Kellie Maloney: British Boxing Promoter Turned Transgender Champion
The world’s most famous British boxing promoter, Kellie Maloney, made LGBTQ+ history with her decision to undertake gender reassignment surgery in 2014. As an icon of the sporting industry, her transition raised awareness and support for the transgender community.
Before her gender change, Kellie was the manager of the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion, Lennox Lewis. Her 30-year contribution to the boxing world saw Lennox rise to the top, helping him win and maintain the World Championship throughout the 1990s. After working with Lennox for over 10 years, she managed a further four world title-winning boxers, including David Haye and Randall Munroe.
Since retiring in 2012, Kellie has shown true courage in the face of adversity after openly undertaking gender reassignment in the public eye.
Kellie’s story is defined by the importance of authenticity and the power of inclusion, topics she regularly touches on as a highly sought-after speaker. Openly discussing the highs and lows of the boxing world, and her struggles before embracing her true identity, Kellie’s honest and eye-opening approach makes her a role model in the LGBTQ+ community.
In this exclusive interview, Kellie talks about the importance of open communication, the need for inclusion in sport and beyond, and the challenges she faced leading up to her transition.
Q: How important is it that people who are struggling seek help and talk to others?
“It’s not necessarily about seeking help, it’s about finding someone that you can talk to, someone that you can open up to, who you trust. I think the word ‘help’ is the wrong word to use – it’s about finding trust and faith in someone.
“It could be a family member, it could be a colleague at work or someone at the local gymnasium, or if you wanted, it could even be a counsellor. I had counselling for 10 years because at first, I couldn’t open up and I couldn’t talk to anybody because I was so afraid of the outcome. But the counsellor helped me overcome that, and then I began to open up, trust people, and take people in.
“Once I started doing that, it felt like a whole weight coming off my body. So to me, communication and support are the most important things in any struggle.”
Q: What part has support played throughout your journey?
“If I’m honest, if it wasn’t for the support, help, and kindness I got and the love from my family, I would not be sitting here today doing this interview, and I really believe that.
“I know how important support is, being a person that was very high profile and afraid to let the world know who I was when I went to that support group and found other people were going through exactly the same thing, but in a different way, it helped me because I was able to relate to them when I couldn’t relate to anyone else.
“The support groups and counselling helped me to build my confidence, open up, and then finally be able to talk to my family. For me, family was the most important part of my journey. I had the fear that if my family could not accept and support me, then how could I expect anyone else to accept and support me?
“So, my family’s support and love were the main things, and were the basic ingredients that allowed me to be the person I am today.”
Q: Why do you think the suicide rate amongst transgender individuals is so high?
“Due to the fact we’re a minority group, it’s still very hard for people to understand what we go through.
“I sit here today very happy and very content with my life, but I still do not understand what I went through, or why me? I often look up and I go, ‘God, why did you pick me?’ I had a great life. I was Frank Maloney the boxing manager, Jack the lad about town, manager of the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World, I had everything I wanted, but I didn’t have contentment or happiness.
“I have a quote I often say to people, ‘you have the right to disagree with me and to not understand what I’ve been through, as long as you do not disagree with my right to exist’. I have a great belief that we all have the right to exist no matter who we are.
“To me, it’s all about respect. There are certain things in the ‘diversity’ world I don’t understand, but if an individual feels a certain way and they want to identify in that way, then that’s their choice. As long as they respect me, I respect them. I don’t have to agree with them, but I don’t have to hate them at the same time.
“I think that’s the fear we all have in the transgender world, that we will not be accepted, that we could lose everything, and our suicide rate is high, our attempted suicide rate is even higher, because of that.
“I’ve attempted it at least twice on my journey, but I’m glad to say those days have passed because I can face myself now. I’m able to look in the mirror and see someone smiling back at me that is contented and cheerful.”
Q: What do diversity and inclusion mean to you, and why are they important?
“Diversity and inclusion to me mean acceptance.
“As I said, you don’t have to agree with what I’ve done, you may think what I’ve done is totally wrong or against your religion, and I have come across that, but as long as you respect me as a human being, that’s the most important thing.
“Every human being is different from another human being, so we’ve all got diversity in our life, but we all want to be included in the human race and that’s the most important thing – being included and accepted in the human race.”
Q: Why is it important to encourage gender equality in sport, especially boxing?
“I believe sport should be open to everybody.
“Everybody has a right to take part in sport, and no one should be excluded from sport. Gender or sexuality should not come into sport, but it should be a level playing field. I wouldn’t like to see women boxing men, I think that would be wrong. But women and men training together in the same gymnasium, that’s fine, you can help each other.
“I also feel in the trans world, transgender people shouldn’t be excluded from sport because there is a big debate about that. But it should be judged by the level they are at in their transition.
“As far as I’m concerned, if a trans woman or trans man fits the rules that are laid out then they’re entitled to take part in that sport.”
Q: Why did you wait until after retirement to transition?
“That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?
“I don’t know. All my life, I fought it. I think you have to understand, you are a product of your society. I was born into a working-class Irish family that was male-dominated. I was the oldest of three boys and my father was very sport-minded and very competitive.
“I went into sport and I was quite good in the world of boxing. The more successful I was, the harder it became to face reality. I just followed what was expected of me – meet a nice girl, get married, have a family, support that family.
“Do I regret not being able to transition earlier? Part of me, yes.
“Part of me regrets not being born in the right body to start with as I wouldn’t have had to go through all these problems! But then I think to myself, if I didn’t live my life as Frank Maloney before I finally came to terms with myself as Kellie, I would not have the love and support of my daughters and family.
“Also when I was growing up, there was no understanding or help and support for transgender people. I saw what the newspapers did to the two people that were quite high profile in the area when I was growing up, and I swore that would never happen to me. I swore I would never let them rip my life apart and I would keep the lid on Pandora’s box, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t live with myself; I couldn’t keep living a lie.
“Eventually I had to be honest with everyone because I was destroying everything around me, I was destroying the life I built, the family I loved, the woman that was my partner, and so I had to be honest with them and I had to be honest with myself.
“It was a necessity, if I hadn’t done it, I know where I would be, I would be in a wooden box, and that’s the reality of it. I remember when I told my oldest daughter, which was the hardest thing to do, and she just turned around and went, ‘I would prefer my dad in a dress than in a wooden box’.
“And when I get depressed, they’re the words I always think of because I may have upset my daughters’ life with my transition, but we’ve all come to terms with it now. If I took my life, my daughters would have lived a life never knowing the truth about their dad, and that would always be there. That would be a punishment for them, and it’s not something they deserve, or anyone deserves in my life.
“Although I had everything in my other life, I didn’t enjoy my other life. Now I do enjoy my life, and I am a much happier, contented person.”
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