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A Mark’s Eye View: Wrestling with queerness

A short look back at how wrestling has portrayed the LGBT community.

A Mark’s Eye View‘ is a weekly look at some of the things that made me a huge fan of professional wrestling.

June is Pride Month, so for this edition of A Mark’s Eye View I wanted to change things up a little. Instead of focusing on the territory days, this article will take a wider look at how professional wrestling has dealt with the LGBT community. It is by no means comprehensive, and is composed of my memories of how the issue has been handled over the years.

Professional wrestling has never been accused of being forward thinking. In the 1950s and 1960s, Nazi villains were all the rage. This would morph into generic foreign heels, with Russian bad guys being especially popular in the 1980s. Another issue that professional wrestling handled indelicately was the LGBT community. This was especially clear in the 1980s when homosexuality was at least more openly discussed, if not more tolerated.

The most blatant example of wrestling’s poor treatment of gay characters was “Adorable” Adrian Adonis. When he began his career, Adonis played a New York street tough guy who would come to the ring in a  leather jacket. As late as 1984 Adonis was teaming with Dick Murdoch in the North-South connection to win the WWF Tag Team Titles.

By the time 1986 had rolled around, Adonis’s weight had ballooned to over 300 pounds. He barely resembled the same person who terrorized Bob Backlund. Even though he was overweight, Adonis remained a solid worker. Unfortunately, this did not matter to the image-conscious WWF.

In a company filled with odd rules and strict enforcement, the treatment of Adonis still remains egregious. The company decided to punish Adonis for his weight gain. His punishment? He was to play a stereotypical gay character. His ring gear was all pink and he wore flowery hats and dresses along with ridiculous amounts of makeup. To this day it remains one of the most disgusting promotional tactics from a company filled with them. Ridiculous outfits, homophobic slurs, and even a weekly talk show named The Flower Shop were all a part of the character.

Never one to let a bad angle go unused, World Class Championship Wrestling took its own stab at a gay character in the late 1980s. “Beauty and the Beast” sounds like a good tag team on paper. Have one member of the team be a mat expert while the other is a straight up brawler. World Class decided they had a better idea: Beast spoke in grunts and wore fur-lined boots while Beauty came to the ring spraying cologne in the air and would not wrestle unless the ring was covered with a pink mat. The gimmick was designed to play on the homophobia of southern wrestling crowds. It worked so well that Beauty and the Beast became a comedy mid-card team in the dying days of WCCW.

Bill Watts is legendary in professional wrestling for both good and bad reasons. In the mid-1980s, Watts had a legendary feud Jim Cornette and his Midnight Express. It had many memorable moments. Mid South crowds hated Cornette as much as they adored the “Cowboy.” Watt’s would constantly question Cornette’s masculinity while referring to him as “one of those sissies.” This all culminated in a series of matches in which Cornette had to wear a dress after his team lost.

(Watt’s slurs would continue in the UWF. Michael “P. S.” Hayes of the Fabulous Freebirds served as a color commentator for the UWF weekly show. On each episode, what would make sure to remind everyone that PS stood for “Purely Sissy”.)

This attitude it’s not one that remained in the 80s; it regrettably maintained steam throughout the 1990s as well. D-Generation X is one of the WWF’s most beloved acts — it was an nWo ripoff, yet somehow managed to be cutting edge. However, cutting edge does not equal forward thinking. Before he was shown the importance of equal rights by Stephanie McMahon, Triple H was not above insulting an entire group of people. Meanwhile, lesbians were only tolerated as long as they participated in Hot Lesbian Action.

It has been a long road, but the wrestling industry has taken several steps forward in the past few years. Darren Young came out as gay in 2013 and remained employed until 2017. Young was the first openly gay wrestler in WWE. Sonya Deville is an openly gay woman on the current roster, and is not treated as a joke or trotted out for PR purposes. At last year’s WrestleMania on pro wrestling’s biggest stage, Finn Balor made a bold statement that would have been frowned on even couple years prior. Time will tell, but things seem to be looking up in the WWE.

Much like racial issues, professional wrestling has never portrayed LGBT characters with any sensitivity. In recent years, even favorites like CM Punk and AJ Styles have shown the wrestling bubble does not include many open minds. The days of Hulk Hogan walking around limp-wristed to mock heels may be over, and the days of Billy and Chuck have passed, but there is still room for improvement.

Next Week: The hypocrisies of wrestling aren’t new.

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