This article originally appeared on VICE Germany.
It’s not unfair to say that the worlds of mixed martial arts, bare-knuckle boxing and drag don’t often intertwine. But in Diego Garijo – an upbeat 41-year-old covered in prison-style tattoos, who sees himself as a fighter, painter and all-round entertainer – these art forms have coalesced.
Born in Guanajuato, Mexico, Garijo was smuggled into the US as a child. After serving several prison sentences in his youth, Garijo’s career as a professional MMA fighter took off in 2006. He recorded seven victories in the ring until a detached retina put his progress on ice. But even a partial loss of vision couldn’t bury his inner fighting ego. In 2018 Garijo returned to an even bloodier sport: bare-knuckle boxing, where he has one win and one defeat.
In the ring, Garijo is known as the ferocious Dos Pistolas (Two Guns) but on the drag scene in San Diego, he’s the notorious Lola Pistola. He has performed as Lola for over a year now and sees it as a natural extension of his creativity. In his eyes, drag and mixed martial arts don’t stand in contradiction to each other. In fact, he thinks they work well together.
Keen to know more, we caught up with Garijo to chat about high heels, knockouts and toxic masculinity.
VICE: Hi Diego, what hurts more: being punched in the face or having your legs waxed?
Garijo: Waxing is bad, but you know what’s worse? Breaking an acrylic fingernail. It’s a nightmare. As for punches to the face, they don’t bother me.
You’ve normalised being punched in the face?
Yeah, I can take punches. I’m not a very technical fighter, but I really go all out in a fight. I just keep going, no matter how often I get hit. Because of that, I’ll often defeat fighters who are better than me.
Why did you start bare-knuckle boxing?
I retired from professional combat sports in 2012 after my retina detached. My doctor was able to save the eye, but it doesn’t work so well anymore. He warned me that the same thing could happen to the other eye. But I just wasn’t ready to give up fighting. So, I got into bare-knuckle boxing. I wanted to try it out without the gloves. I wanted to really feel it. I just love fighting. I would probably risk going blind for it.
How did you get into drag?
There is a photo of me as a six-year-old in which I’m wearing my mother’s bra and panties. She brought me up alone, and I had a couple of gay cousins, so I wasn’t exposed to many traditional masculine stereotypes. Maybe that’s why I can be very feminine. I think people wonder if I’m gay, but they don’t understand that femininity and sexual preference are two completely different things.
But what made you actually turn that into a passion for drag?
A few years ago I took a course on emotional intelligence. We were told we needed to leave our comfort zone. I really enjoy talking in front of lots of people and being the centre of attention, but when the word “drag” crossed my mind, I knew: damn, that’s it! I threw myself right into it. I took up dance classes, had my ears pierced and got my body waxed. I learned how to walk in high heels and someone helped me with the outfits.
What energy do you bring to your drag performances?
Before my first drag show, I felt just like I do before a fight. In the early days of MMA, I would sit in the same changing room as my opponent before the fights. We’d sit, staring at each other, wondering: ‘Can I beat him?’ It was the same at my first drag show competition. A tiny room, eight adults, everyone sizing each other up. I wasn’t nervous though. I have strong nerves. Or maybe I’m just too stupid to be scared.
Did the drag community accept you right away?
I got a lot of love from people in the drag scene, as well as the trans and gay communities. But also from big tough fighters. Maybe they are also hiding an element of themselves that they would like to bring out more.
Do you see similarities between professional martial arts and drag?
Martial arts show us the beauty of humans overcoming great resistance. In drag, it’s about overcoming toxic masculinity. Trans people of colour in particular are among the most oppressed people of all. And they have the highest suicide rates. They should be supported instead of marginalised.
Where does your thirst for extremes come from?
As a child, I was convinced the world was about to end. When I was about six years old, and we still lived in Mexico, a missionary rang the doorbell. I didn’t answer, but through the closed door he told me that we were “living in the end times”. That stuck with me. If a natural disaster was in the news, I was convinced the world was going to end. Maybe this is why I’m such an impulsive person.
So it isn’t a conscious decision to hunt out these thrills?
A lot of what I do has to do with being bullied as a kid. It made me feel small, like an outsider. I’ve always been ashamed of everything. Maybe that’s why I’ve created a personality that has no shame. I was humiliated so much as a kid that I swore to myself I would never let it happen again. That’s why I take a step forward in combat when others would take a step back… But I do carry my childhood trauma around with me all the time. I struggle with it every day.
But you do seem to have found an outlet for your problems?
Yes. Art and fighting. On a bad day, I go to training and do some sparring. Not because I want to hit someone, but because I want to take a few punches myself. Then I’ll feel better. When fighting, all other problems become meaningless; it’s all about getting through the fight.