Harry Garside is a tough man in the ring but on the other side of the rope he  has made headlines for ducking the rigid gender expectations he feels box  people in.  Garside spoke with Star Observer from Tokyo, the night  before his bronze medal winning fight. It was the first medal in boxing for  Australia in 33 years.  

Garside, 24, has been the recipient of some sidelong glances from the sports  press who seem befuddled by a boxer who also enjoys ballet dancing. 

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Indeed, a recent profile piece by ABC news opened with “heard the one  about the ballet dancing plumber setting the standard in Australian boxing?”  You could almost hear the snickers from sports reporters in their cubicles.  Garside rolls with the punches, however. 

 

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‘Mom Got Me Ballet Classes For Birthday’

Garside says his involvement in ballet came about as part of a part of a  larger challenge he had set for himself.

“I do something once a month that  makes me uncomfortable. I’ve been doing that since the start of 2019 and I  was running out of ideas. My mum knew I always found ballet really  interesting and so she got me some ballet classes for my birthday to push  me and see how I would go. I fell in love with it…A few years on I still have a  great relationship with my school (Elancé Adult Ballet Studio in Mitcham,  VIC) and they support me heaps.” 

 

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When asked if the grace of ballet reflects the fluidity of boxing and aids him  in the ring, Garside says, “I’m not 100 percent sure if my favourite fighter  Vasiliy Lomachenko did ballet, but he definitely did a form of dance. He  inspired me to think outside the box and do something different…it’s pretty  unquestionable why I’m doing it.”  

Garside says he “always wanted to dance. I always wanted to try ballet…I  fell in love with it instantly and I really enjoy it because I’m really bad at it,” he  says with a laugh. “It’s really humbling. I feel sore the next day; it’s a really  good challenge.” 

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What’s surprising is that, with all of the talk his ballet training has sparked in  the press, Garside says he’s only taken 20 classes in two years. Now his  ballet training has seemingly come to define him in the minds of the media  who often refer to his dancing at the beginning of stories about him. 

Breaking Down Gender Stereotypes

 

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Garside remains unfazed by the subtle criticism. “The goal is one day to be  good enough to do a performance. It’s a goal on my bucket list and I’m a  man of my word. I like to get things done. I have to improve a little bit.” 

Garside is an active campaigner for breaking down gender stereotypes and  encouraging young people to fully express themselves. Garside even  decided to wear painted fingernails during his Olympic competition. “I’ve got the Olympic colours; the Olympic rings on my nail polish,” he says.

“I was  planning on wearing a dress to the Opening Ceremonies to challenge  stereotypes,” a move he ultimately decided against.

“I didn’t want to offend  anyone and I didn’t want to take the spotlight away from the Australian team  because the Opening Ceremony is a beautiful moment for everyone; the  whole team, and I didn’t want to try and grab the spotlight in any way, shape, or  form. I’m grateful I didn’t do that.” 

‘I Started Boxing To Gain Respect’

 

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Garside says the nail polish was an idea that grew from his association with  Melbourne-based Reach Foundation.

“The foundation has been in my life  since I was about 15. They gave me the freedom to delve inside and really  understand myself a bit more. I feel like I played a role. You get given labels  when we’re human. You get given a label that you are male, males do this.  You’re a female, females do this…I don’t feel authentic where I am doing  these things but I feel I have to because I’m a male. I used to hate that  growing up.” 

“The males where I come from are old fashioned; old school. I just didn’t feel  like that. I neglected my true self most of my school life because I felt like I  wouldn’t have been accepted. I’m the youngest of three boys and when I got  to school they were like ‘oh, you’re a Garside’.

My brothers were two tough  manly men and I felt I had to play the same role that they played. I didn’t  relate to them as much and I felt a little bit misunderstood. I was more  interested in the things my mum was doing and more interested in musicals  and the performing arts. I find that stuff really beautiful.” 

“I was classed as the wimp of the family… I started boxing to gain respect  from my dad and my brothers and then I fell in love with boxing within the  first week. The reason I did it was to gain respect and then I fell in love with  the sport.”

Family Changed Themselves  

It wasn’t until Garside came into contact with the Reach Foundation that he  was better able to begin to be more open with how he actually felt inside.

 

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“I  was able to delve into myself and I am slowly and surely learning to love  every aspect of who I am. I’m grateful Reach [gave] me the tools to express  myself and be a little bit different. My hope in doing what I’ve done is to  inspire a young person out there who may feel they might want to be a little  bit different and challenge stereotypes and shine some light on people who  are different and being ok with who they are.” 

The process of fighting back against gender norms didn’t come easily, even  within his own family who had ringside seats. “Obviously at the start there  were raised eyebrows and they didn’t fully understand what I was doing and  I felt they, in a sense, rejected me but slowly they have changed themselves  because of how open and expressive I am. It’s allowing them freedom to also express themselves in the way they want to express themselves.” 

Garside says his brothers are perhaps “a little bit trapped in playing the role  of the male they feel they have to play.”  

 This growth has not be limited to just his brothers but his father as well.  “We’ve been to a musical together, we went to the orchestra together. I have  the best time with my dad and my mum. I’m grateful. He wouldn’t have done  that when I was younger but he’s doing that with me now.” 

Garside is passionate about the Reach Foundation which encouraged him to  realise his full potential.“I honestly believe I wouldn’t be where I am now if it  wasn’t for Reach,” says Garside. “I’m a massive advocate for the work they  do. More young people need a voice, especially in the world we live in now  with social media and all the stresses of life that go on in this world at the  moment…[My] greatest hope is to inspire a young person to chase their  dreams and hold on to their dreams with everything they have.”

 

 

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