X Legion Grappling is in a nondescript beige building under the Colorado Avenue bridge, right next to the train tracks running north and south along Sierra Madre Street. When I arrived, part-owner and instructor Chris Metzgar was overseeing a cross-training session involving absurdly heavy tires and a lot of sprinting. Metzgar is 5 feet 3 inches tall and 140 pounds of what appears to be solid muscle. He looks every bit a man whose life has revolved around judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu since he was 16. He's now 42 and a large row of judo medals hangs on the wall in his gym under a shelf of trophies he earned while fighting at the national level. He is excited to talk about a free self-defense class he's offering called "No Fear," specifically for queer people.
Beyond being a fighter, Metzgar is a bisexual burlesque performer in Peaks and Pasties (P&P), named Romeo Uncaged, and his gym doubles as a pole dancing class space and kink party hall. When he's not teaching arm locks and over-the-shoulder throws, Metzgar gets dolled up and performs "boylesque," which are risqué, flamboyant performances by men in the vein of female burlesque performers. He chose to take on boylesque to face his fear of public performance, but he's now a contender to win a burlesque championship — seemingly angling for trophies for both aspects of his life.
As we talk about his involvement in P&P, he mentions that the queer self defense class was inspired in part by his seeing that his gay friends were "too afraid to hold hands and kiss in public." ... "I have a skill set they do not have," as professional fighting is dominated by the "typical red-blooded American man."
This world seems to justify his friends' fear of making public displays of gay affection. Violence seems too often to follow queers. Last year, an angry man walked into Orlando's Pulse, a gay nightclub, on Latin night and shot 102 people, killing 49 of them. According to The Advocate, 27 trans people were murdered last year. A 2015 FBI report found that of 5,462 single-bias incidents during 2014, a little more than 1,000 were due to sexual orientation, 98 due to gender identity. Just this year, a gay couple was beaten in a train in London. In their statement to the Evening Standard, one of the men said "I'm not a violent person at all. I've never been punched so I didn't even know how to defend myself."
I was bully bait in high school. Not only was I painfully awkward, but I felt they could smell the closeted gay in me. I endured months of relentless bullying until a kid named Brock (who grew up to be a douchebag Realtor) finally pushed me too far. After elbowing him in the nose, hard, on the school bus, I was not bullied again. I found myself gravitating to martial arts and self-defense classes for the rest of my life, floating from one karate class to the next Krav Maga session, preparing for violence.
I asked Metzgar if he had ever been attacked for being bisexual and he replied that he had been in "many altercations" in his 20s. He wasn't sure if he was being attacked for his sexuality or because he is a shorter man. Though he knows he is "really good at it," he "will avoid fighting at all cost," and counsels others to avoid fighting as well. He believes that everyone, especially queers, should learn to "do enough for 10 seconds to get away" from an attack. Even while surrounded by trophies of judo victories, Metzgar tells me that, as a smaller guy, "I can't beat someone bigger than me who has training, even though I am very good at fighting." The best course of action is to run when faced with mortal danger.
"You're not going to train in two to three hours to be a trained killer," but, Metzgar says, "you can learn the best place to put your body" and how to defend yourself.