TALES FROM THE MAT – 06.07.2018: Wrestling with Sexuality

By Kris Levin, Columnist


30727478_10216490683089152_6565602714531659776_n“I have seen more acceptance from the wrestling community than anywhere else.”
Anonymous closeted fan

Despite its outward appearance, in many ways, professional wrestling has a history of being stunningly progressive. I won’t deny that a long-lasting, traditional attribute of the genre is its cliched tropes and ingrained archetypes, many of which are rich in amplified ethnic and racial stereotyping. Certainly, there was a period where every performer who bore passable aesthetic similarities to the ethnicities of those whose countries acted as World War II or Cold War adversaries to the United States faced a heavy amount of typecasting (all the way to the bank, I might add). Wherever a societal tension existed, one can rest assured that it was played to within the theatre of professional wrestling. However, for all of those lamentable, borderline or outright racist portrayals, one could also mention figures such as Sputnik Monroe who, as one of professional wrestling’s top stars of the golden era, boldly combatted racial segregation in the Jim Crow South. His refusal to accept contemporary societal norms led him to regularly socializing and publicly associating with people of color — at the time a huge cultural taboo. Monroe also refused to compete in segregated arenas, and I imagine at the cost of sizeable paydays. For these shining acts of civil disobedience, he nobly accepted the hardships of recurring jail time and court fees. He is just one example of many admirable individuals whose legacy of doing the right thing make me proud to be a part of this industry.

Just as the exploitation of ethnic and racial backgrounds have long played a part in professional wrestling, so has that of sexual orientation and gender identity. Professional wrestling has a long history with the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning or queer) community and, with the benefit of hindsight, some aspects are noticeably brighter than others. In the past, slights were frequently made that questioned the target’s sexuality, treating anyone and anything that deviated from cisgender (note: The Oxford Dictionary defines cisgender as “a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex.” AKA anyone who does not identify as transgender.) and heterosexuality as an insult. While content has often been produced that would (in the modern era) be considered distasteful, I find somewhat of a balance occurs in how those within the industry treat co-workers that are members of the LGBTQ community. My decade in the business has led me to witness and experience harmony with the business’ past transgressions in the form of behind-the-scenes acts of acceptance that are exemplary of social progress. Mind you, I am not trying to imply that the way individuals are treated backstage somehow acts as a mea culpa for how the LGBTQ community have largely been negatively represented on camera to the millions watching at home. I am just making note that professional wrestling is not quite as backwards, unaccepting, and pandering to the lowest common denominator as it is often stereotyped to be in mainstream media and culture. Like all art and entertainment, professional wrestling is solely a mirror of society contemporary to which it was forged. Or, as irreverent, Virginia-based professional wrestler Nyla Rose described it: “Pro wrestling has never been politically correct, it’s the entertainment business and tends to hold a mirror to society. Sadly, in the past, that mirror was a funhouse mirror.”

“Historically, I think all marginalized groups were represented poorly or at least ‘the idea’ of that group, for decades. Stereotypes were the acceptable thing. And no matter how close to truth or how greatly exaggerated the stereotype is, it would greatly shape the attitudes of people who had very little exposure to them.”

-Anonymous closeted fan

These observations are admittedly based on my own anecdotal experiences as an outsider. I recognize that, as an outsider, my experience largely differs from those within the LGBTQ community. With the goal of reaching a deeper, more authentic level of understanding, I reached out to friends and co-workers who are members of the LGBTQ community in an attempt to grasp what their experience was. First, I queried them about how they felt regarding the historical portrayal of the LGBTQ community within the wrestling world.

Personally, growing up I never saw these characters as a representation of the community at large, more-so a larger-than-life exaggeration — as are all things within the world of wrestling. This sentiment was shared by charismatic, Pennsylvania-based professional wrestler Jamie Senegal (who will be appearing on a free LGBTQ-friendly event, A Matter of Pride, in Rhode Island this Sunday), who was unfazed by LGBTQ representations: “Wrestling was and always has been based off of stereotypes. It’s no different than Lana and Rusev being portrayed as the evil Russians who hate America or Eugene portraying a person with a mental disability. So, as annoying as it can be to see people still do this… It’s wrestling.”

“The LGBT community in wrestling, for the most part, has always been displayed either as a joke or as a person with severe mental illness.”

-Kaitlin Diemond, professional wrestler

However, for many a generation of children, these damaging caricatures served to add credence to the public stigmatization of everything LGBTQ being, as professional wrestler Kaitlin Diemond describes the backward perception, “sick and perverse.”

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Nyla Rose leaps from the top rope during a recent tour of Japan. Photo Credit:  Marvelous.

This was acutely felt by many within the LGBTQ community, including emerging, Maryland-based professional wrestler Killian McMurphy: “Historically, the perception was always negative. I remember my reaction always being negative, along with the reactions of those around me. There was a lot of homophobia in how the audience interpreted it, at least in my circles as a kid. It definitely didn’t help me come to terms with my sexuality.”

Welterweight Wrestling promoter and longtime Pennsylvania-based commentator Joe Dombrowski had similar thoughts as did I regarding the comparative treatment of the LGBTQ community and how other stereotypes are portrayed in wrestling. With his analysis, he was able to provide a critical understanding of its emotional toll: “Historically, the portrayal of the LGBTQ community in wrestling is unfortunately not necessarily a positive one and in many ways mirrored its portrayals in many areas of pop culture and society as a whole at the time. It was stigmatized, it was stereotyped, it was marginalized.  Much like many of the foreign heels of the day, it was behavior strange, unknown, or hard to understand for the viewer, so it was easy to market as a villain. I cringe watching back older footage of audiences of all ages and backgrounds — including children — gleefully chanting slurs at gay-themed heel characters. Growing up, I didn’t personally know any gay people and I didn’t have a lot of positive gay role models to look to. But, what was always readily available to me was pro wrestling. Hearing a wrestling crowd chant those slurs gave me the same reaction when I’d hear someone use those same slurs on the street or anywhere — it scared me. It was a constant reminder that I was different, that I just wasn’t able to have so many ‘normal’ things that others are able to and that my true behavior, for whatever reason, just wouldn’t be accepted and tolerated. Those were things I struggled with for a very, very long time and still cross my mind on occasion.”

“It was almost like I was embraced by some individuals… I felt blessed because, even with the negativity and hate I’ve faced, I’ve certainly received more than enough love to help me in the hard times.”

-Nyla Rose, professional wrestler

The dynamic, Florida-based professional wrestler who has been taking the indies by storm as of late, Effy, accurately surmises: “In the past, LGBTQ wrestlers or wrestling characters seemed to fall into very distinct categories. Supposedly gay or feminine heel characters were mostly portrayed by heterosexual people. Actual homosexual wrestlers hid and put up a hetero front. There wasn’t really a category for an LGBTQ wrestler to identify as themselves and also not have that define their entire character.”

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Owner of The Sanctuary Stunt Studio, Jon Trosky.
Photo credit: Johnny Gee

One of my mentors, Pennsylvania-based Angry Wrestling Vet Jon Trosky who, in the past, performed as Supreme Lee Great and utilizes skills acquired from his career in the film industry to promote The Sanctuary Stunt Studio, saw eye-to-eye with Effy’s stance on multidimensional LGBTQ characters: “I never wanted to be defined as gay. When I was actively wrestling, it was a time when a man could build one thousand bridges and if he sucked just one dick, that man wasn’t known as a bridge builder. He was known as a cocksucker. I didn’t want my legacy defined by that. Today, it’s ‘accepted,’ but there still hasn’t been a masculine male competitor that identifies as gay, which seems ridiculous, as almost all other cultural minorities have had someone to represent their group in a positive light.”

With an intimidating strongman physique and wrestling style to match, the solution to Jon’s problem may have been found in burly, Florida-based wrestler Mike Parrow. On that topic, Mike says: “The independent Wrestling scene has been doing some great work trying new things and being more inclusive. Like with me trying a non-stereotypical gay character. They went with what I am good at, but not hiding that I’m openly homosexual.”

“My fear was people ever finding out about me. I was so deep in the closet that I was in Narnia.”
-Mike Parrow, professional wrestler

In the past, Mike had a difficult time coming to terms with his sexuality: “I’ve played sports my whole life, I played football in college, so I’ve been around locker rooms and that kind of talk my whole life. My fears come from a combination of many things: going to Catholic school most of my life, everything that was portrayed on television, and what very little I knew about homosexuality. I had many misconceptions about the LGBTQ world because I had no gay friends, only what I heard in class, locker rooms, and TV. People like to think the gay world is a certain type of way. It’s not. It’s a whole spectrum of people.” For him, “growing up, I had no strong role models on TV, making me feel alone and lost. The Billy and Chuck storyline (note: a faux gay wedding that, in storyline, was ultimately revealed to be an elaborate publicity stunt being performed by two straight characters) was one of the most heartbreaking moments in wrestling for me. It crushed me because the way the whole thing ended, making it this joke: being a gay character was not cool, but gross. I would say it was one of the reasons I was afraid of being out in wrestling.”

Portrayals of lesbian women did not fare much better. When not travelling the globe, professional wrestler Kaitlin Diemond splits her time between Ontario and Rhode Island. She describes to me the damaging representations of overt lesbianism that have been regularly used since the mid-nineties, often solely for purposes of one-dimensional sexual exploitation: “That was there to remind us that women who like women are nothing more than a straight man’s fantasy.”

On that topic, Washington, D.C.-based professional wrestling photographer Ami Moregore cheekily mused, “ECW seemed to thrive with teases of bisexuality in women, but I wonder, what would the crowds that cheered have thought if Tommy and Raven kissed instead of Kimona and Beulah?”

The plucky and animated, Rhode Island-based professional wrestler Ashley Vox, who competes in CHIKARA as Oceanea, initially had a rough road to traverse: “When I first started wrestling, I was afraid my mother would find out I was a lesbian. Mostly because I felt like I could be myself around friends in the locker room or just in general. I knew I didn’t want to hide any longer with a double life. Hiding who I was with my family, that is. Wrestling has given me so many roller coasters, one of them was being able to come out to my family two years ago. I never felt judged for being gay in wrestling. The only time I felt judged was in middle school, where I lost one of my best friends because she couldn’t understand how I could be attracted to another girl. I remember being called into the school counselor’s office, seeing her face and being disappointed in me. I remember going back to class, putting my head down and crying. We were never friends again. I also felt judged by religion. My parents are Christian. Being in church throughout my high school years overwhelmed me, the idea of needing to ‘change this bad phase’ was always implanted in me. The church I went to believes being gay is an illness.”

“At the time, when I saw so much shame on the LGBTQ community on TV, I couldn’t really express how I felt towards it. Mostly because no one really knew I was gay as a teen. I felt so hidden, like I didn’t have much of a voice.”

-Ashley Vox, professional wrestler

Things eventually turned around for Ashley: “It took so long to feel free and finally just be happy in life and with myself! The one person who has known for so many years has been my sister (note: professional wrestler Delmi Exo). I have her to thank for helping me through the years of living a double life. I never really put anything out there to express being gay — not that I was ashamed, but I was used to hiding who I was to my family for so long that I didn’t notice. I was more afraid of losing my family or being disowned by them for liking other girls. For the past few months, I’ve grown to more freely express and be proud of myself. This year, I get to be a part of A Matter Of Pride and I also get to be a part of PVD’s Pridefest! I’ve been able to go to gay clubs and adventure being around the LGBTQ community as a whole! I can finally just be happy in life!”

“It really hit me hard at WrestleMania in New Orleans earlier this year. When the Finn Balor entrance began, I just froze. To see the set light up in rainbow colors and everyone who was a part of Finn’s entrance, the T-shirt with proceeds going to charity, and the message of inclusion and love… It overwhelmed me for a minute and really struck me how far things had come.”

-Joe Dombrowski, professional wrestling promoter and commentator

Thankfully, as Ami Moregore puts it, “attitudes and ideas change over time.”

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Jamie Senegal captures Sonny Kiss in a rear chinlock.
Photo credit: Ami Moregore @HappyPeep

Many feel more positive about the current and ongoing portrayal of LGBTQ characters, including the wildly popular, New Jersey-based Sonny Kiss, who currently performs on Lucha Underground as XO Lishus: “my thoughts on the contradistinction of LGBT community in the past versus now is the amount of authenticity we have. Just a few years ago, there still wasn’t enough authentic representation. Since then, we have had both masculine and feminine wrestlers come out of the closet — so now there’s representation everywhere! That makes me proud.”

Killian McMurphy concurs, “more recent depictions have helped. Like Darren Young, who is just a wrestler that happens to be gay. Just a guy. That was good to see as the years progressed.”

Joe Dombrowski also agrees: “The portrayal now is so positive and so constructive and so supportive. In a way, I’m jealous of the LGBTQ youth of today. I don’t ever want to say it’s easier for them because things like this are never easy. But there are so many more doors opened to go to for help and support, so many more understanding people in the world, and such a better representation in culture and society as a whole.”

“Queer folk tend to develop a thick skin by the point you’re living your life in public.”

-Ami Moregore, professional wrestling photographer

For many, their experience in the business was generally a positive one. Per contra, Jon Trosky recalls his experiences entering the business in the nineties: “I heard several of my trainers use the phrase ‘don’t be a faggot,’ directed at me and dozens of others. It was the nineties and that was a common emasculation technique of the time used to socially stature and find ways of breaking down the younger students and making them quit. It wasn’t a good time to be gay and in wrestling at all. That was the world I lived in: sub every other social culture in the business.”

Jon continues: “I’m not proud of the fact that I was in the closet most of the time as an active performer. I just didn’t want that to define me. I wanted to be great — period. Today, I’m unapologetically gay and work to be a role model for any other LGBTQ worker and, beyond that, any dreamer who doesn’t want to be defined as what they were born with. Whether it is ‘just a girl,’ ‘just a minority,’ or something else all together. I want to help define people and their characters by what’s in their soul, not what I or others perceive is in their soul.”

Performers such as Effy look to take an alternative route to professional wrestling’s traditional masculine characters: “I knew getting into wrestling, especially in the south, that I could get heat from just being an over the top version of myself, but people seemed to latch on to my confidence. The reactions I got were, most of the time, extremely positive. Then, I kind of knew there was a market for just being me and not pretending to fit a role or have to act hypermasculine all the time.”

Speaking under the condition of anonymity to a closeted, long-time fan and friend of many within the industry: “Currently, I think there is a conscious effort on both sides of the barricade to not mockingly portray the LGBTQ community. I mean, even now, you have wrestlers like Ethan Page going out into the crowd to confront a fan who was shouting homophobic slurs at a show. That wouldn’t have happened a few years ago… And not because everybody was a homophobic asshole — it just wasn’t a part of everyone’s consciousness. Could it be better? Sure. But, as with anything, integration is better than hamfisting things down people’s throats.”

“I never felt like it was okay to be gay in the business and, while I wasn’t afraid of anyone fighting me over the issue, I was more afraid of the social exclusion.”

-Jon Trosky, former professional wrestler, trainer and promoter

Next, I asked if these portrayals caused or exacerbated any trepidations in regards to making the choice to enter the business. Effy tells me: “It’s hard to know the kind of challenges you are going to face entering such a competitive boy’s club when you don’t fit in with the rest of them. I worried about locker rooms treating me different or just not getting booked altogether. I played by the rules and kept quiet early on, just trying not to disrupt the status quo. You still live in this constant worry of not being accepted by those closest to you. You’re constantly playing a character and giving excuses for your basic actions. In that way, the true aftermath was being a very skilled actor through years of attempted hetero-normative method acting.

“If anything,” Effy continued, “the performance and character work that came with live improvised performance forced me to find exactly who I was. As I figured out myself, I became much more publicly a part of the LGBTQ community. I couldn’t be in a public position anymore and hide when there were people out there who struggled through the same stuff I did who paid to come see me.”

For Jon Trosky, who came to terms with his sexual identity later in life: “I was a pro wrestler before I was a gay man, so it didn’t discourage anything. I just came through at a time when you just couldn’t talk about it. I was an amateur wrestler in a town where you couldn’t be gay or at least be out about it, so the transition into pro wrestling and staying in the closet was pretty status quo for me.”

Nyla Rose, too, had her fears: “I thought there was no place for me. Or that I would be seen as a joke. It was and still is scary to be totally honest, but as simple and juvenile as it may sound, the way I overcame those fears…YOLO (note: “you only live once”). I never want to look back on my life and wonder what could have been. So I figured, no matter what happens, good or bad, I’ll be able to rest peacefully knowing I tried for my dream.”

“Professional wrestling is for everyone. It’s the only sport in the world that you can come from any walk of life and lose yourself in the show. Professional wrestling is able to effect social change positively, that’s why it’s so special. All people need is the right opportunity to change minds. I love professional wrestling for everything it is, it is giving me the opportunity to be open and see myself grow. No matter where my career goes, I will always be a fan of it.”


-Mike Parrow, professional wrestler

Joe Dombrowski’s concerns were substantial: “I think it’s very natural, perhaps unavoidable, to have nerves and reservations when entering into such a potentially life-changing situation as pro wrestling. Especially with putting so much pressure on yourself to succeed and fit in and do the right thing, and the high esteem and respect I held for every single person I’d be working with. There was nothing else I wanted to do so, if I blew my chance or wasn’t good at this, then what? It wasn’t a mentality of wanting to give it a shot, it was a mentality of needing to do it and figuring out any way I can to make that a reality. Did I have fears? Absolutely. I had fears about it in my everyday life; let alone wrestling, which I put on such a pedestal in my mind that I constantly was worrying and overthinking. Again though, at that time, I had really compartmentalized my life. My personal life didn’t cross into wrestling or vice-versa, so I was only focused on what I needed to be.”


“Overcoming those fears was a long process. It’s just like any work or social setting — the longer you’re around certain people, the more comfortable you get and, at the end of the day, with wrestling being the circus it is, everyone has their own baggage they deal with or albatrosses tied around them. There was no strategy, no method, no moment when it clicked. I just was fortunate enough to develop some very meaningful friendships and, as time went on, and I could be myself more and more, little by little, it helped me realize it wasn’t nearly as big of a deal as I built it up as in my own mind.”

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Kaitlin Diemond plying her craft in the United Kingdom Photo credit: British Empire Wrestling

I quickly began to see a pattern developing: there was often fear, but passion and determination rarely left any room for discouragement. Kaitlin Diemond told me: “It never discouraged my involvement, but I was also in the closet for awhile at the same time and never dreamed of coming out. I definitely had fears entering the business, but I kept them to myself. I was in the closet and planned to stay that way. As time went by, I just lacked the energy to care anymore. I never ‘came out’ or anything like that. I just eventually evolved into who I am.”

For others, such as Killian McMurphy, it was not that big of a factor: “No, just the opposite. Wrestling gave me the confidence to come out. I’d still be in the closet if not for wrestling.”

Jamie Senegal took a similar stance as Killian: “I was so focused on just wanting to be a wrestler that I truly didn’t even think at all that my sexuality would have any kind of effect on the people around me. And still, to this day, I can count on one hand the homophobic experiences I have had in this business.”

“Wrestling should always be an entertainment escape that’s fun for everyone and doesn’t exclude based on who you are.”

-Effy, professional wrestler

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Real-life couple Killian McMurphy and Sonny Kiss smooch at an event.  Photo credit: Brian Krieger BK Sports

Which raised a poignant question: with understandable amounts of trepidation and fear, had anyone else directly experienced homophobia within the wrestling community? The general consensus was there was almost unanimously overwhelming support. According to Sonny Kiss: “The majority of workers have always loved, respected, and nurtured me from the very beginning. I am very blessed and feel very fortunate to have had such an amazing support group.”

Kaitlin Diemond agrees: “I’ve received nothing but positivity from the wrestling community. Not so much as them being like, ‘you’re bisexual and that’s okay!’ But more-so just acting as if it’s completely normal.”

Killian McMurphy, too, had a similar experience: “Great support and nothing but love. Sure, there’s always homophobic people everywhere. But 90% of the time, the wrestling community is so supportive. The very small amount of homophobic people in wrestling are never homophobic to my face, so I’ve really been treated the same.”

Renowned ring announcer and event host, the grandiloquent, Maryland-based Larry Legend had this to share: “Through all walks of life, I have been fortunate enough to have never truly experienced any discrimination based on my sexual preferences. I believe this is due to my family always being supportive of anything and everything I’ve set my mind to and encouraging me to be myself at all times. Once, I was at a holiday party and we were all drunk as some skunks. The promoter decided it would be a good time to grill me in front of everyone at the party, wrestlers and partygoers, about my sexuality. By the time everyone at the party had noticed what was going on, I had a gathering of about eight or nine wrestlers circled around me asking me all types of intimate questions. Even in my drunken state, I knew that these were my fraternity brothers and that they probably were just curious and wanted to know more about me. So, I took it lightheartedly, but other wrestlers at the party were actually quite offended that had happened. One wrestler I remember leaving the party, approaching me later on in the night and letting me know that they wanted to punch some of the other wrestlers who were grilling me.”

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The Majestic Larry Legend.
Photo credit: Bliz Photography @ItsBliz.

Larry continues: “By the time I had ‘made it’ to the legendary 2300 Arena (note: formerly known as Philadelphia’s ECW Arena), I was three years in the industry and was already quite proud of the person I had developed into. This pride exuded from me when I was announcing for the Philly crowd — a very tough crowd, to say the least. As tough as they are, I never once in my numerous years of performing there heard so much as one ‘faggot’ exclaimed from the audience (directed towards me, anyway). I feel Philly fans can detect phoniness, and I’ve always been 100% real. In fact, I was even able to, in a tongue-in-cheek way, proclaim my adoration of the ‘male member’ when I would announce that the 2300 Arena had ‘the juiciest hot dogs this side of the Ben Franklin Bridge! Quite honestly, half the reason I come to Philly to do these ultraviolent showcases is to get my mouth wrapped around one of those juicy, plump, succulent wieners!’ The traditionally hard-nosed Philly crowd would erupt into laughter followed in-unison by a chant of ‘ju-see hot-dawgs!’ I marvel at this organic show of love to this day. It’s a testament to tolerance and losing yourself in the moment of the theatre of pro wrestling. As an emcee, I have shared with the audience, the locker room, and the various proprietors of many venues around the country that this industry is as real as it gets, with some of the most dynamic individuals to help make that magic for our people. Make them laugh, make them cry, make them feel, and bring them back month after month to experience the show. We collectively have the power to change things through this legendary spectacle we create.”

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Ashley Vox as Oceanea for CHIKARA.
Photo credit: Ami Moregore @HappyPeep.

For Ashley Vox: “No one has given me negative interactions. The fans that I’ve met through the years have been so supportive! I recently saw a young teen down in Pennsylvania and she had a rainbow bracelet. My sister laughed and said I should own a bracelet like that! It’s the little things that matter in life. That little girl made my night! She brought back some old memories of when I was her age and confused about boys. How I would dress with rainbow suspenders or bracelets — I was young and, at that age, I knew I was crying out to be free! I just hope that little girl is happy and that no matter what, her parents love her for who she is! I hope she doesn’t have to go years of hiding who she is and is able to express who she is!”

Effy experiences line up with fellow interviewees: “Once I was vocally out, I noticed a different group of fans at a lot of the shows that I was booked on. They were wrestling fans who may not have fit into that old category of what we expect a wrestling fan to be. On multiple occasions, people have come to talk with me after a show and said, ‘you being on this show let us know it was okay to attend.’ Like they hadn’t felt safe coming to shows because of the way they expected to be treated by wrestling fans and wrestlers alike. Now, there’s enough of us visibly working in the wrestling world and that opens so many doors for fans to attend shows and love wrestling without the worry of showing up as themselves.”

For Mike Parrow: “There’s been more positive than negative. I’ve been treated awesome by my co-workers, they’ve been the most supportive people to me. They didn’t change at all towards me and, in general, the wrestling world has been awesome. The most humbling experiences have been people coming up to me at shows, hugging me and just crying. At ‘Mania this year, a guy came from England to see me and we got to have a great conversation. It made me cry. So many letters of support from around the world of people sharing their own coming out stories, telling me I helped them come out. Straight fans telling me I helped them bond with a gay brother or sister, or asking me how to help their friends. The wrestling world has been awesome. My coming out journey has been long. It took me a lot of time to overcome my fears and, honestly, my wrestling friends have helped me through some tough times all because I allow them in. I’ve learned that my straight friends are not homophobic, they just have a lot of questions. Like I did. So my rule with my friends is to have an open conversation. I’ll answer any question they have. That has helped us and me overcome a lot.”


However some, like Ami Moregore, have had mixed experiences: “Part of my experience as a trans woman is hoping that I pass. I’ve internalized attitudes that I probably don’t and probably won’t ever, no matter what steps I’ve taken. And I think that’s mostly just taking in a lot of outside negativity and believing it. I’m called ‘Mantaur’ by some of the fans. I have no idea why they chose that obscure wrestler, but at least it’s not TL Hopper? I also recall a night where I got taunts of, ‘hey, I can see your dick!’ Followed by, ‘I’m talking to you, bitch!’ That amused the fuck out of me, with how he switched between transphobic and then misogynist insults. As for positives, the professional side of the community are really cool to me. Is it a weird thing that a positive I see is that I’m treated like a human, decently and by well-mannered people?”

“I think that the rejection of gay in the business is because pro wrestling was one of the last bastions of straight, alpha America. I know how men treated women in the nineties in this business, as sex toys and disposable entities. It would be incomputable for a straight guy to picture themselves as the disposable commodity to a gay guy. Meaning, they couldn’t process being treated the way they always treated women.”

-Jon Trosky, former professional wrestler, trainer and promoter

Joe Dombrowski tells me that his positive experiences overwhelmingly outweigh the negative ones: “When it become public knowledge it was one of the most relieving, ‘weight-off-the-shoulders’ feelings I’ve ever felt. Everyone was extremely positive and supportive, overwhelmingly so. I was very emotional when it first happened and, in the back of my mind, I felt like I would get that outpouring of love, but you’re never really totally sure. The support I received was amazing. Of course, you have your very occasional negativity here and there. But honestly, I hesitate to even mention that because, and I’m not just saying this, anyone who had given me a rude or judgmental comment is someone whose opinion held zero value to me before that. Or obviously since, anyway. What mattered was those I cared about, and things have only gotten better since that moment.”

Nyla Rose reveals: “This is a tough one because people rarely say such stuff to your face. All I can do is speculate as to why certain companies won’t hire me or have stopped booking me out of the blue, when everything was going so well between us. Occasionally, a shitbag fan will send hateful messages, but, for the most part, my experience has been overall positive.”

Like Joe Dombrowski and Nyla Rose, the good far outweighs the bad for Jamie Senegal: “I’ve had so many more positives than negatives. The real LGBT wrestlers are so different from anything people have ever seen and we are trailblazing for the people in the future. Our peers know that, so we get a lot of love. There have been times where I was told things like, ‘I’m okay with the gimmick, but you better not go out there and touch yourself or anything.’ I was at a convention and an unnamed talent asked me to move my table because I was ‘wearing lipstick’ and that was distracting the fans. But, with the exception of those two instances, no one has treated me differently. Those moments are annoying, but I always prove them wrong.”

To what I imagine will be the surprise of many people reading this that are outside of the business, the element of sexuality that many viewers perceive or attach to professional wrestling is rarely, if ever, felt or shared by those within the industry. Sure, at times there are theatrically added sexual elements to characters or performances, but in reality, the physical act of wrestling is not in itself an act of sexuality and is not considered as such by any true professional within the industry. I have never encountered a performer who had concerns of working with someone of the same sex who was homosexual, transgender, or, for that matter, the opposite sex due to concerns of sexually related acts of unprofessionalism. I will touch on this topic in-depth next week on Thursday, June 14th, for a special edition of Tales from the Mat that focuses on one of professional wrestling’s most controversial genres: intergender wrestling.

Embarking on this journey down a memory lane of self-discovery with my brothers and sisters in the big, dysfunctional family that is professional wrestling left me with much to ponder about. For me, the biggest thing I walked away with was how much negative stereotypical representations can affect underrepresented minorities. I mean, intellectually, I knew, but it’s another thing entirely to hear it from the source. And, conversely, how much the power of determination, love, and perseverance can do to overcome fear and hatred. I found that all the people involved who were gracious enough to donate their time and stories were eager to be involved and help with the expression of the subculture they inhabit. Similar to my experience with those in the deathmatch wrestling scene, the LGBTQ community seeks understanding and, with that, hopefully acceptance. Having the opportunity to explore these subcultures that I am involved in via professional wrestling, but technically an outsider to, has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Because of it, I am able to not only better understand professional wrestling, an industry that I love — as well as life in general — but, more importantly, my friends.

Until next time, I hope you enjoyed this tale from the mat.

Warmest regards, Kris Levin.

Note:  Looking for more information regarding LGBTQ-related issues? Just in need of someone to talk to? Please know that you have options. There are people who care, are ready to listen, and willing to help. If you feel this applies to you or someone that you know, please consider clicking here to peruse GLAAD’s LGBTQ Resource List.


Kris Levin is a professional wrestling referee est. ’07 and everybody’s favorite nephew. He can be seen internationally on IMPACT Wrestling as their most junior official, #KidRef Riley. Impact Wrestling airs every Thursday at 8PM EST in the United States on Pop TV and in over 120 countries worldwide. You can find Kris on social media at @RefKrisLevin.


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One thought on “TALES FROM THE MAT – 06.07.2018: Wrestling with Sexuality

  1. Pingback: TALES FROM THE MAT – 06.14.2018: Battle of the Sexes – Equal Rights, Equal Fights | The Gorilla Position

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