A Look At LGBTQ+ History In Wrestling

8 months ago by Brian Joyce

A Look At LGBTQ+ History In Wrestling

Written by: Dave Bradshaw – WrestleTalk Magazine December 2020

I am gay. It might not seem like a big deal for someone to tell you that in 2021, but it’s certainly a big deal for me: even now, almost thirteen years into an amazing career as a play-by-play commentator and journalist on the European independent wrestling scene, this is the first time I have let it be known in public and I still feel a little bit anxious writing it.

While most (but not all) of my family and close friends have known for years and I have been fortunate to never face any negative reactions, it has still always felt a step too far to talk openly about it in the hypermasculine world in which I work.

Indeed, when I did tell a few close confidants in the industry about a decade ago, most of them agreed that it made sense to be cautious about how widely I shared the information.

All of them had my best interests at heart and shared the same fears for me that I had, some of which may be familiar to any wrestling fan who is a member of the LGBT+ community.

Principally I worried that people would think my only interest in watching men wrestle was a sexual one.

It seemed to me that straight fans watching wrestlers of the opposite sex are usually given the benefit of the doubt that their enjoyment is purely platonic, and that anyway there would be less stigma attached to any straight person whose fandom did seem to have a sexual edge.

After all, if a straight man commented in passing that he was attracted to a female wrestler, others would not necessarily jump to the conclusion that his reasons for being a wrestling fan were in some way seedy or inappropriate.

I doubted whether the same broad-mindedness would be so readily granted to gay fans.

Additionally, as someone who works on shows and sometimes shares a locker room with male wrestlers, I worried that some might have a problem with me being there if they knew my sexuality.

I was concerned that if influential colleagues were uncomfortable – however unfounded and prejudiced their concerns were – that it might affect my reputation and stop me from getting bookings.

To some degree, I still harbour those fears while writing this now.

Of course, the stakes in my case are pretty low: I am not a well-known name outside of the relatively small corner of the industry in which I operate, and as a commentator rather than a wrestler I don’t have the added anxiety of whether my opponents will be uncomfortable about the physicality of working with me inside a ring.

I am also fortunate that attitudes across society towards LGBT+ people have been shifting at an accelerating pace for the past several years – changes that have undoubtedly been reflected in the wrestling business.

Don’t get me wrong: my own situation has been more than enough to cause me plenty of angst through the years and even now it is scary to be open about it.

But my own journey to this point would never have felt possible if the trail had not been blazed by people much higher than me in this industry who therefore had much more to lose.

Both in the “major leagues” and on the independent scene, the past few years have seen an encouraging number of people who have found the courage – long before I did – to tell their truth.

Pat Patterson was one of a minority who found that courage even earlier, if not in public then at least among his peers, and found that he was mostly accepted for who he was.

Yet heel wrestlers have routinely tried to draw heat from audiences through the years by behaving in an effeminate way, and homophobic slurs have, until quite recently, been commonplace among live crowds.

This is surely one of the great paradoxes of wrestling’s history – that behind the scenes the industry has (at least sometimes) shown a tolerance and inclusivity that was way ahead of its time, while its track record of presenting positive LGBT+ characters and storylines on-screen has been mostly awful, even into the 21st Century. Why has that been the case, and is it still true today?

A quick disclaimer before we start trying to answer that question: here we will focus mostly (although not exclusively) on how gay male characters and performers have been treated.

That is absolutely not because the experiences of anyone else in the LGBT+ community are less valid but because, for example, the history of lesbian representation in wrestling is an important story in its own right, and one that deserves an author who is better placed to tell it.

Even by narrowing the focus like this, there is still an enormous amount that could be said and no article could hope to cover every significant gimmick or angle. That being said, let’s jump in…

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