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Not That There's Anything Wrong With That! Matt Barnes

Homosexuality has always been a part of pro wrestling, both in front of and behind the camera…

Hot guys in tight trunks, baby oiled to the nines and oozing testosterone – it’s enough to make even the most ardently heterosexual of men have second thoughts. Well, maybe not, but it’s certainly an environment in which certain wayward promoters may find themselves having untoward thoughts about their workers, and one in which performers may feel inclined to stay firmly within the closet. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but, you see, wrestling attracts all sorts of bigotry, and it sometimes makes for an interesting concoction behind the scenes.

In a world in which our favourite sport portrays an outward image of comedic campness and even outright homophobia in relation to gay grapplers, what chances are there for homosexual men to make it in the wrestling world? Quite a few, actually. You see, there are many, many gay men who have been involved in professional wrestling on some level over the years – some very quietly, some spectacularly flamboyantly – and many such men have made it to the top of the business both in front of and behind the curtain.

In almost every way, wrestling is a home for men and women of every persuasion and deviation; it takes in the freakishly large and unfathomably small, it takes in the simple and the intelligent, and it takes in the gay and the straight. At the back of every promoter’s mind isn’t a performer’s shape, size, intellect or sexuality, it is his ability to draw at the box office. Granted, a few bookers (as we will discuss) have attempted to use sex to their advantage but, in contrast to what certain parties would have you believe, homosexuality and wrestling can often work in unison.


SAY IT LOUD, SAY IT PROUD

Manchester’s Simon Sermon was one of the world’s first openly gay pro wrestlers. He was out of the closet when he began wrestling in 2001 and has since gone from strength to strength, winning titles and even releasing a DVD, Changing Perceptions – Profile Of A Gay Pro Wrestler. A private investigator specialising in insurance fraud during the day and a charismatic, globetrotting British brawler by night, Sermon says he has never found a wrestler who wouldn’t work with him due to his sexual orientation. World travels fast on the wrestling circuit, so most guys know well in advance that Sermon is gay and most, it appears, just “man up” and get on with the job. Well aware of the stereotypes and prejudices that prevail in the grappling game, Sermon has spent his five-year career fighting the odds and making it happen for openly gay athletes, never making any excuses.

Unlike Chris Klucsarits, better known in WWE and WCW as Chris Kanyon. Klucsarits made waves when he came out of the closet (initially only “in character”, as he hoped to parlay the extended question of his real-life sexuality into a job with WWE or TNA) during a Canadian independent show in February 2006. Since then he has proceeded to lambaste the business that brought him fame and wealth for what he claims is its bigoted attitude towards gay men. Klucsarits has cried foul at every opportunity, from MySpace to Howard Stern (where he even debated the subject with Ric Flair) claiming prejudice and harassment to elicit sympathy from the gay media. But when the facts are laid out on paper, however, it’s an entirely different situation.

Not only was he hired by and given a strong midcard push by two major federations, he also got over with a lot of fans, earned a six figure salary and, in truth, was the master of his own demise. His most recent publicity jaunts have seen him attempt to resurrect his career, trying to carve a niche for himself as the first openly gay wrestler – which, bearing in mind men such as Simon Sermon, is completely nonsensical. Turning up at WWE house shows holding placards asking whether you were fired because of your homosexuality is generally not the best way to endear yourself to the company’s top brass.

If homosexuality really were such an issue, there wouldn’t be so many people behind the scenes who are openly (albeit not demonstratively) gay. Legendary Mexican promoter Antonio Peña was one, “The Brooklyn Brawler” Steve Lombardi another, and the list goes on and on. In fact, it seems that wrestling is more than willing to give a home to homosexual men – that is, provided they do not make an issue of it and are willing to accept the blatant stereotyping that is pitched in the on-screen product. The impact that this and comments made by the likes of Kanyon has, however, is to make being gay within the wrestling business seem something of a dirty secret when, in a lot of ways, nothing could be further from the truth.


HLA AND COMEDY GAY

Whether sensitive to behind-the-scenes homosexuality or not, wrestling’s on-screen take on same-sex situations ranges from the camply comedic to the outright absurd. Take “HLA” (Hot Lesbian Action) in 2002 as just one example, where the WWE Divas were booked in brazenly chauvinistic and exploitative depictions of female homosexuality. What goes through the minds of those in the creative department minds when they think up something like this – is there a set checklist? “Degrading to women? Check. Degradingly sexual? Check. Featuring a pervy, middle-aged madman brand owner? Check. Okay, cool, it qualifies – let’s make it happen!” And so, we see Eric Bischoff demanding that several female members of the roster play tonsil tennis with one another. Outwardly, the girls commented that “it’s all part of the show,” but backstage, there was a very real air of discomfort over the direction.

Equally, what writer sits in the “creative” office and says, “Hey, I’ve got an idea: we’ll do a gay wedding! We’ll turn two guys gay, stick them in robes and hot pants, get the gay and lesbian media on-side then swerve everybody and bury the wrestlers in the process! Genius!” The whole Billy and Chuck debacle was one mad, bad, sad experiment that did nothing for WWE’s public relations, save for making them look dated and homophobic. (Still, at least it was only Billy Gunn and Chuck Palumbo – before they became the hugely popular team Too Cool, Brian Christopher and Scot “Too Hot” Taylor were an inch away from being booked in the gay wedding role themselves.)

WCW also tried its hand with this (although, as usual, with far less success), with the duo of Lenny Lane (once regarded as the next Chris Jericho) and Lodi as “The West Hollywood Blondes”. To this day, Kevin Nash maintains that the angle was going to be a swerve and that we were going to found out that they were actually brothers, but the gimmick bombed and succeeded only in provoking a huge backlash from gay rights group GLAAD. Likewise, WWE’s Heart Throbs were the most recent example of a camp, homosexually-charged tag team being rammed down the throats of the masses and failing miserably before disappearing from our screens.

Ring Of Honor’s rebuttal to the mainstream’s take on same-sex sports entertainment came in the form of The Christopher Street Connection, and in truth it wasn’t much better. Buff E and Mace, managed by storyline lesbian Allison Danger, were openly gay wrestlers who would kiss at live events and come on to other performers. Named after Manhattan’s famous Christopher Street (scene of the infamous Stonewall Rebellion in 1969), the team was quietly dropped shortly after the scandal surrounding former ROH co-owner Rob Feinstein (more on that in a minute).


SINISTER ALLEGATIONS

WWE legend and former Vince McMahon Stooge Pat Patterson, for those of you who don’t know, has been very openly out of the closet for a long time. Contra to all those people who believe WWE to be an entirely judgemental and disrespectful organisation, his close ties to Vince McMahon and others have meant that this has never been a real problem. At one point, however, Patterson found himself mixed up with accusations that very nearly became a big problem for the company…


For the rest of this feature, check out issue 11 of FIGHTING SPIRIT – available at WH Smith and all good retailers. (For US readers we are now carried at Borders, so check for local availability or click here to subscribe.)


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