It’s just under a year since the news broke that WWE Superstar, Darren Young, publicly came out the closet admitting he was gay when asked the question of whether it would be possible for a gay superstar to succeed in the company. Critics of professional wrestling commonly accuse it of being ‘gay’ something which will face aggressive opposition from loyal fans of this very unique form of entertainment; but is professional wrestling or sports entertainment, whatever you want to call it, ready for a serious gay storyline?
Pro-wrestling has no shortage of gay wrestlers and gimmicks with varying degrees of subtlety. From the perspective of storylines, perhaps the most memorable ‘gay’ storyline in the WWE was that which surrounded the team of Billy & Chuck, managed by their ‘stylist’ Rico. Very much fitting the stereotypical gay image, it became very much a question of ‘are they/aren’t they’ which culminated in their infamous wedding that ranks highly as one of my personal favourite WWE moments.
The crowd were openly hostile to this wedding, booing throughout, so there is a serious question that can be raised, are the WWE fans, or wrestling fans in general, ready to embrace a serious gay storyline? There were many wrestlers who would adopt a ‘gay’ persona just to get a simple rise out of presumably homophobic fans. The original Gorgeous George, a straight man, adopted a persona that, while not explicitly ‘gay’, very much fit the stereotype in a time when hostility to such a stereotype was inevitable. The indy tag team, The Christopher Street Connection, perhaps the most ‘openly gay’ team to ever step into a wrestling ring, adopted every gay stereotype in order to get a rise out of the fans, including flirting with their opponents and fans, and kissing one another. I have spoken to their former manager who has said that he believes this was all part of the act and was unsure of whether or not they were actually gay. The WCW tag team the West Hollywood Blondes also had a ‘gay’ gimmick, yet again this was implied, rather than explicit. However, if we turn to Japan, that is another story. A popular character, known as ‘Hard Gay’ is someone who adopts pretty much every stereotype in the book, from compromising sexual positions in the ring, to full on molesting his opponents, it is the Japanese equivalent of the Christopher Street Connection, turned all the way up to 11, but it doesn’t stop with him.
From Gorgeous George to Goldust, whether or not any wrestler with a particular gimmick may actually be legitimately homosexual, it’s historically clear that homosexuality is not taken seriously in the wrestling world, but I think it’s time for a change, and the WWE is the place to inspire that change.
Like it or not, whether you’re a ‘pure wrestling’ fan or a lover of ‘sports entertainment’, a storyline is what keeps you involved in a match or a feud. The impact a story has on its audience sometimes depends on whether there is any reality to the story, and this is where I think the WWE can take the opportunity to really make a positive difference. The WWE have partnered up with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (Glaad), as well as the B A Star foundation as a way of promoting acceptance and equality of all people. These are all great publicity campaigns for the WWE, but these campaigns very rarely translate to what we see on stage, where it is likely to have the biggest impact on fans both young and old. The debate surrounding sexuality is very much a hot topic in the political climate, particularly the US, and what a great way for the WWE to get some positive press and to send a really positive message than by showing an openly gay wrestler in a serious gay storyline?
You may be wondering precisely what I mean by a ‘serious’ gay storyline, so let’s formulate two examples in the WWE. Ryback’s persona is that of a bully who will simply attack anyone weaker than him or whose face he just doesn’t like. Now let’s say we have Darren Young, openly gay, encounters Ryback backstage. Ryback decides to target Darren Young, actually adopting homophobic slurs, or just generally making it clear that Young’s sexuality is very much the reason for Ryback targeting him. This rivalry could eventually end with Young winning and Ryback openly admitting that he had misjudged Young or that he was wrong to target him for that reason.
Let’s take another example. Last year, former Diva Kaitlyn was involved in a secret admirer storyline, the culmination of which it was revealed that AJ Lee was pulling a prank on her, by having Big E Langston come out first and pretend to be the admirer. Let’s say they did it differently. Let’s say there was no swerve and rather than AJ Lee being a prankster, it was revealed AJ Lee was actually a lesbian and was the secret admirer all along. The storyline could progress from there, but the assumption I’m trying to counter is that for a ‘serious’ gay storyline, there doesn’t need to be a change of gimmick. Darren Young could still be the same Darren Young who is just targeted for being gay, and AJ could still be the same AJ, who just happens to be in love with another woman.
People I have discussed this possibility with in the past have generally commented that it’s unnecessary, that sexuality doesn’t really have a place in the wrestling business, but this is something with which I disagree. Sexuality has always been present in wrestling. I mean, look at WWE during the Attitude Era and the way they promoted the Divas, or look at TNA and their Knockouts. It’s very sexualised and, while I’m not calling for the likes of Dolph Ziggler or Brad Maddox to be pushed for a Playgirl photoshoot (though I wouldn’t complain), a good way they can change the sexualised image of pro-wrestling is by having serious gay storylines presented in this platform.
The overall point of a serious gay storyline is that it be presented in a non-stereotypical way and just have sexuality be something almost of an irrelevance except for those directly involved. Such a storyline wouldn’t need a change of gimmick and wouldn’t need the particular gay characters to suddenly adopt stereotypes indicative of LGBT people, but would merely be driven by the fact of their orientation in some way. The WWE has matured a lot since they had the Billy & Chuck gimmick and in their partnerships with organisations and charities that promote tolerance and understanding, even if the general audience don’t embrace it at first, now more than ever is the time for them to take that risk, do something brave, yet positive and show that they really are a promotion for everyone.
– By Steven Stewart
What are your views? Is wrestling ready for a gay storyline? Does sexuality matter? Let us know YOUR views in the comments section below.