Tag Archives: queer

From ‘Flaming Fag’ to Lesbian Stalkers: Wrestling’s sordid affair with Queer Identities

Last night, WWE aired the first episode of its new season of reality TV show Tough Enough – in which contestants who aren’t professional wrestlers compete for the chance to win a $250,000 contract from the company and join developmental. Prior to this episode, they aired a ‘competition special’ to introduce the audience to potential competitors- one of which was Daria Berenato. Daria is an MMA fighter and, seemingly unplanned, came out as a lesbian on WWE programming. It’s an interesting turn of events when they are handed someone who is gay, and they are aware of it prior to hiring them. This is obviously not the only determining factor on whether or not Daria lands a career with the WWE, but it’s definitely something to watch for.

There is a storied history of how professional wrestling views the LGBTQ+ community, and there has been a push as of late to turn over a new page, so to say. It’s a rough gamble when there are these crossed wires. Currently, the NXT superstars are tweeting in support of GLAAD in a campaign called #WWEqual, while simultaneously housing storylines in which Diva Paige uses transphobic jokes to gain crowd support, and a whole other slew of homophobic bigotry in the past few years. As of the 2015 Money in the Bank PPV, WWE now has its first openly gay male tag team champion in Darren Young. Yet, on commentary from RAW they can be heard saying “…and Darren Young, we know his story, he’s a tremendous role model as well.” He’s gay. His story is that he’s gay. Say this were an injury, or anything else pertinent to the viewer, there wouldn’t be a moment in which the broadcast team would gleam over the finer details. But this isn’t the first time they’ve skirted around mentioning anything with regards to non heteronormative sexual identities on broadcast- in the original broadcast of the ’96 IC Feud between Goldust and Razor Ramon the moment when Lawler asked if Goldust was ‘queer’ was bleeped out. At the same time, there was no issue in the King using slurs in a directed manner during a promo.

These are not the only instances of gay wrestlers in the main stream, although a lot of them haven’t been out during the height of their careers: for instance Pat Patterson and Chris Kanyon- who claimed one of the reasons for his WWE release was his homosexuality (the statement was later revealed to be a publicity stunt, but his fears of homophobia were well founded and rooted in truth), and Sandy Parker from AJW.

For the fraction of sports entertainment that is heavily focused on the theatrical mockery of masculinity, it’s curious to see such blowback against legitimately queer performers yet support for gay panic gimmicks. There have been a multitude of straight performers playing gay dating as far back as the original Gorgeous George- an act that was an allusion as it was never uttered aloud on broadcast. Adrian Street, regarded as the spiritual successor to George, sported makeup and a garish wardrobe in order to elicit heat from the crowd and make fun of this over aggressive machismo. Heck, even Macho Man Randy Savage was billed as this savage manly man… yet came out in glittery robes to the tune of Pomp and Circumstance.

Turn it to the women, and lesbian story lines are utilized to elicit titillation from the male audience and fear from the women. One of the more notable moments being with Mickie James’ ‘obsession’ with Trish Stratus. Not only does this venture into the territory of poking fun at those with any mental illness, but feeds into our good old friend Gay Panic.

In the world of Lucha Libre, there is the tradition of Exoticos- men who wrestle in drag. Unlike in mainstream American pro wrestling where these men in a dress matches are used as a form of humiliation, Exoticos- although often viewed as rudos and not tecnicos – are well respected. It’s not common for exoticos to be gay, but Cassandro is one, and his career has been a fruitful and open one.

The indies aren’t too far off from mainstream pro wrestling when it comes to this lack of representation. There are a lot of homosexual advances in the ring utilized in order to gain cheap heat or a pop from the crowd, and the bullying that makes its way into the locker rooms. Thankfully, despite this permeating culture there are openly queer positive performers and leagues that come out from behind all of this such as the League of Lady Wrestlers or Go Deep! Lube Wrestling put on by Red Hot Burlesque in Oakland, California.

There is absolutely room for multiple openly gay performers in all facets of pro wrestling. So, seeing how Daria fares on Tough Enough may open doors for more people to been seen and represented on TV. Wrestling needs to continue to make strides towards being and open and inclusive safe space for all involved: from those shown in the ring to the fan sitting in the front row whose story isn’t known. This needs to come at the cost of men fretting over how they’ll be received in “kiss me arse” matches and punches to the face if someone is alluded to be queer in a promo. We’re not your insult, we’re not your punchline, but we are people who would love wrestling even more if you eased off the slurs and just got to the bodyslams already.

Steven Universe “Tiger Millionaire”

If I were to tell you that one of my passions was watching television, especially kids’ shows, you’d probably be none too surprised. Most of us have been introduced to the wonderful world of wrestling through watching it on TV at home. My first wrestling match was a PPV that I watched with my dad while eating off brand chicken nuggets and barbecue sauce in his basement apartment. It doesn’t quite compare to seeing it live, but it still has it’s own unique magic to it that many other sporting events can’t compare to over a television broadcast. Another layer of the wrestling world that I love is that which is portrayed within the confines or non sports entertainment related programming. From cartoons that have the characters portraying their own crafted wrestling personas, to in ring wrestler cameos on beloved sitcoms, reality competitions with a pro graps themed challenge, I’m going to be reviewing episodes and determining whether or not they’re title worthy or if they’re no selling jobbers.

Cartoon Network show Steven Universe has been getting a lot of attention and love lately for all the right reasons, and I’m going to continue that love by highlighting one of it’s earliest episodes: Tiger Millionaire. Having returned from a mission in which Steven gets covered in blood polyps due to Amethyst’s recklessness, the gems all get into an argument and Steven ends up falling asleep encrusted by the polyps in the kitchen alone. Amethyst sneaks out of her room to sneak off into the middle of the night and Steven follows hot on her trail.

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Secret Wrestlers

Cut to the Beach City Underground wrestling promotion, The Purple Puma is introduced as the single most hated wrestler in the promotin’s history. Proving to be a force to be reckoned with in ring, Puma defeats the Lochness Blogster with ease. Amethyst leaves the event extra charged and excited when Steven sneaks up behind her and she gives him a snapmare down to the ground. Steven asks if Amethyst is a secret wrestler with the same expression of joy I receive in response to whenever I reveal to anyone I meet that I’m part of a queer women’s wrestling league. If only we could all be secret wrestlers. Amythest’s explanation as to why she’s a wrestler accurately captures part of the beauty of the art: “In the ring, nobody can tell me what to do, and if they try I hit ‘em in the face with a chair!” Maybe I identify well with this storyline because she plays a vicious heel, and well, but it’s even expressed that: “They love it, well, they hate it but it’s all part of the fun, you know. Everyone here gets that.” Feeling babied by Pearl and Garnet is an excellent excuse to give her this outlet to express herself, and Steven, feeling stifled himself, asks to be a wrestler too. Since Amythest has yet to win the tag team belt, the most superior belt of them all, she obliges his request.

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Introducing: Tiger Millionaire!

Steven heads off to prepare for one of the most important parts of pro wrestling: developing your character and choosing your costume. What good is fighting in front of a crowd if you can’t look awesome doing it? He pulls out a dress shirt, some suspenders and ponders over a tiger mask and a little tiny tiger nose before choosing the nose. To get that sleaze factor that all wrestlers need, Steven slicks his hair down with margarine before rushing over to a sleeping Amethyst to show off his new kicks. His back story is meticulously thought out:

Rich feline industrialist from Jungle Island. Once the single child of the wealthy Tiger family, he clawed out his own destiny making money in the coconut mines.

The Purple Puma’s backstory, however, is solely: Pumas are cool.

Back at Beach City Underground we meet the first tag team of the evening: Concrete Heat and Chunk Truck! The crowd meets, and boos, Tiger Millionaire and we see Lars and Sadie speculating on whether or not Tiger Millionaire is Steven and if it’s going to get creamed or not. Before Steven can climb in the ring, Amethyst stops him to alert him that she’s only using Steven to obtain the belt and she’ll do all the fighting. His biggest concern is whether or not he still gets to wear the costume. Puma knocks out Chunk Truck with ease, but Concrete Heat comes in from behind and slams a pylon on his head. Steven expresses with great upset that “That’s not fair!” and the announcer assures him that “It may not seem fair, but hey, anything goes in wrestling.”

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The Heel Turn

Being the sweet kid he is, no one expected to see Steven play a heel, but he takes this opportunity to bribe Chunk Truck into throwing the match in exchange for a million jungle bucks. What an offer! Excitedly ready to take the offer, he rushes over and Tiger Millionaire opens the briefcase in his face knocking him back. Lars jumps up excitedly, and it looks like our contender has his first fan. Puma knocks out Chunk Truck and lifts Tiger up in celebration for having won the match.

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What would a wrestling show be without your obligatory 80s montage? This features cuts of Tiger Millionaire’s most gruesome feats interspliced with shots of Steven and Amethyst trying to keep their wrestling careers a secret from Garnet and Pearl. Ignoring a match while talking on an a cellphone larger than he is, serving coconuts into an opponent’s jaw with a tennis racket, tossing pages of the Wall Street Jungle down on the mat making the opposition slip and fall are among some of Steven’s most menacing moves. But nothing compares to when record breaking heat comes down on the auditorium and Tiger Millionaire buys out the entire soda stand, and instead of sharing it with his thirsty fans he throws all the soda down on the ground and stomps in the puddle with galoshes. Wanting to maintain kayfabe, when approached by Lars to sign his soda cup, Tiger swats it out of the way onto the ground shouting “you couldn’t afford it!” Lars tosses his Tiger Millionaire tie on the ground and sulks away, because Tiger truly is the cruelest creature on the planet.

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Can’t we just wrestle?

Steven has a hard time separating his wrestling persona from real life and how he is perceived. Puma and Tiger are paired up against a gorgeous, hyper masculine tag team duo. The crowd has turned completely against Tiger, including prior fan Lars toting a “Tiger is a jerk!” sign. Garnet and Pearl show up to stop the match, upset that Steven and Amethyst have been sneaking off to this circus of violence. It’s the final straw when Garnet tells them to go home, Amythest pushes her and they have a violent brawl utilizing their powers. Steven attempts to calm things down and make a genuine face turn for the betterment of everyone involved. He picks up the mic to tell us Purple Puma’s backstory:

He was the wildest cat in the jungle, so wild the other cats couldn’t take it. So she, I mean he, went to look for somewhere he fit in, somewhere with other people who felt misunderstood. That’s why we’re all here: to be wild and free, and bodyslam each other, and wear cool costumes, and make up nicknames!

The most important question levied by Tiger is “Can’t we just have this? Can’t we just wrestle?” Taking that sweet, sweet heel spot Garnet steps in to reveal she is part of the Notorious Order of Wrestling Haters and they can’t allow that. This gets the crowd on the side of the Jungle Duo, including the sour Lars. But wait, The Good Looking Gang show up with the ladder, are they going to steal the belts? No! They help the Jungle Duo up and help save wrestling.

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On a list of shows that portray wrasslin’, this one is definitely of main event quality. Heck, they could do an entire spin off series about Tiger Millionaire and The Purple Puma and I’d buy it.

Foreign Objectification: Toyota/Yamada vs Ozaki/Kansai |AJPW Dreamslam II

At WrestleMania 31 this weekend, the entire Divas division will be compressed into a single tag match with no payoff or forward motion for any of its competitors. This bag of crumbs callously offered to long-suffering believers in women’s wrestling in America will purposely underwhelm in the undercard, making assured shit show stoppers Sting vs Triple H and Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns seem like a stumbling attempt to provide an earnest near-miss of what the WWE audiences actually want.

WWE has gotten hip to the social media, but the overwrought hashtags belie veritable tears in the veneer modernity.

A combined age of 167 in your upper card is not progress. Putting 6 of your 8 wrestlers of color on the pre-show is not progress. Shoehorning women into a tag match whose booking goes contrary to the storylines of the wrestlers involved is not a victory lap for diversity and “reaching the people”. It is a stumbling, begrudged forced march into the dark ages of tone deafness that has sunk the industry again and again.

In 1993, one week after Hulk Hogan won the then-WWF title in a main event he wasn’t booked in, Manami Toyota, Toshiyo Yamada, Mayumi Ozaki, and Dynamite Kansai put on a women’s tag match in Osaka that broke the gender barrier like a shoot kick to the face behind the referee’s back, earning the first Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Match of the Year for women in the sport.

When brought up, the match is often weighed down by hobbyist wrestling historians as an example of how far wrestling had fallen in that time. And, for real: WWF had shit every bed at the Sleep Train with their non-televised title changes, mismanaged younger talent, and letting Hogan job to a fireball.

But this was the same year that Shane Douglas won and then rebuked the NWA Heavyweight Championship to announce the formation of Extreme Championship Wrestling. AAA put on their first TripleMania and NJPW’s Fantastic Story in Tokyo Dome brought in 63,500 attendees.

A bleach-proof blemish in WWE’s history, 1993 was nonetheless a formative year for professional wrestling across the world.

This match is not the low hanging fruit of an industry in decline. It is, even without the benefit of understanding the commentary, one of the greatest matches in the history of the sport. Full stop; fight me.

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To Set the Scene

This match was the second of a trilogy of contests between AJW’s Toyota/Yamada and JWP’s Ozaki/Kansai. While WWF spent the mid 90’s (and really, the whole of their ouevre as an organization) pilfering talent, no matter how useless, from their competitors, fans of joshi puroresu (primarily women) witnessed rival promotions kick and scream through a series of wrestling clinics that cinched Japan’s fourth consecutive Match of the Year award.

David McLane struggles to keep a women’s promotion open in America–there are 12 listed-as-active women’s promotions in Japan, notwithstanding women who appear on the more mainstream “men’s” promotions. The competition in Japan is mayhaps more collectivist than individualist–but it is yet, as Dynamite Kansai’s face will attest, strong style stiff.

Continue reading Foreign Objectification: Toyota/Yamada vs Ozaki/Kansai |AJPW Dreamslam II

Divas Do Double Duty

Monday Night RAW starts and it’s my weekly internal debate of “Do I sit through three hours of poorly booked wrestling or do I follow my twitter feed and live off the recaps from my followers?” I decided to give it a shot to see if Vince was actually going to follow through with his vague promises.

#GiveDivasAChance started trending on twitter 2 weeks ago and it still shows no sign of going away. The WWE tries really hard to be on the ball in terms of staying current, so every week Michael Cole will address anything related to the promotion that is trending on twitter. It popped up during RAW as a result to the Divas match clocking in at less than a minute; that’s right, we have male “Superstars” who have longer entrance sequences on the show than the women were allotted to fight a complete match. Despite all this, the announcers stayed mum. Fast forward to the next day and we see good ol’ Mr. McMahon tweeting the following:

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Does Vince hear us? Is he actually going to take a chance to let us influence the narrative of his product or are we going to see a small glimmer of hope and just slide back into the way it’s been. Their current motto is “WWE: Then. Now. Forever.”; if that doesn’t show a resistance to change, I don’t know what does. Take a skip ahead to last Monday, Michael Cole was given the go ahead to address the hashtag which was trending yet again. He addressed it on air by mentioning that it was trending, but nothing further than that. It seemed your typical RAW with drawn out matches and in ring babbling and added in celebrity appearance since Wrestlemania is just around the corner. This week’s celebrity was Wiz Khalifa who got EIGHT minutes of airtime. The Divas got five minutes total. A five minute match isn’t that atrocious, it’s at least four minutes more than they got the week prior… except this was combined between two matches.

Vince McMahon heard our cry, we kept watching and he “Gave the Divas A Chance” by letting the women have more than one match one the show… but they needed to combine both matches to be shorter than an adequate men’s match. To put some icing on this bittersweet cake, partway through the second match featuring Naomi and Natalya, their husbands (Tyson Kidd & Jimmy Uso) started brawling at ringside and the cameras followed the men. What you’re telling us, Vince, is you hear us but you don’t care.

Who knows if this is a tipping point for WWE in how they treat women, but we need to remember that the buck doesn’t stop with them and they aren’t the end all be all of wrestling. This problem has trickled down to indie level promotions as well. Unless a promotion is all women, such as SHIMMER, League of Lady Wrestlers and Valkyrie, or it’s a women’s event as an exception, it’s extremely commonplace for there to be one women’s match on a card… if any are included at all. Bonus points if your sole women’s match is intergender! There are more than enough talented wrestlers who aren’t cis men that can be booked on your show; what’s the harm in mixing things up?

Women’s wrestling is moving up from what is seen as the mid card “bathroom break” and I will continue to bitch and moan until people like Vince are sick of hearing me and actually make an effort to change. Let’s see if this trend continues and whether or not it’s a genuine effort, or if they’re just pandering to keep us quiet.