Thursday, June 30, 2022

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Non-Binary in Wrestling

Gender is a hot button issue. Everyone from gutter-trash like Steven Crowder to J.K. Rowling has a garbage take on what it is to be a man or a woman. Gender has become a political debate. Supreme Court appointees are being questioned on what it means to be a woman. There is a strange fixation on children’s sports and who can and cannot play in them. What it means to be a man or woman on a physiological and emotional level is currently under question. 

For some, gender identity is clear cut. There are two genders, he and she and nothing else. Always has been. Always will be. No wiggle rooms. It’s a worldview I envy. To naively see the world in the monochrome of objective good and evil, like the world, is a giant philosophical exercise. Even an emotionally intelligent seven-year-old can tell you that is simply not the case. Reality is messy. A murky grey zone filled with contradictions. The sight of your best friend’s engagement ring can fill you with happiness while making you green with envy. You can love an artist’s music while acknowledging they are a loathsome cockroach. The world does not operate on a binary scale, and gender is no different. 

My Journey

Like any non-binary person, this decision did not come overnight. Instead, it was a relatively slow process of self-reflection. I never neatly slotted into male or female categories. Too masc. to be a woman and to femme to a man. I was never one of the lads. Going to the boozer after the match was never my style. I’ve never been to Magaluf on a stag or been to a strip club. As classmates at my all-boys Catholic school gawked at the hot student teacher, mumbling, “God she’s fit. I’d fucking smash her.” My thought process was slightly different. A level-headed “yes, she is pretty.” 

 I have always gravitated to femme figures. I have communion pictures of me standing next to my best friend, Charlotte. Me in a shirt and tie, her in a white dress and veil-like some strange child wedding. We were thick as thieves in the early years of primary school, right before gender norms kicked in. This trend continued as I grew older. Women were the people to who I poured my soul out. They are the first people I check in on, grab coffee with, and plan trips with are all women. I was considered ‘one of the girls’ at work, and I was happy with it.  

As I embrace being non-binary, my targeted ads are filled with maxi dresses and gender-neutral clothing brands. Not because of some ‘woke’ lib social media site’s agenda. But because of all my hours of scrolling, this is what the algorithm has determined I want to see. And it’s pretty spot on.

This translated to wrestling as well. I love CM Punk, The Bucks and Orange Cassidy. However, nothing makes my face light up more than seeing Kris Statlander or Asuka and Thunder Rosa. Not because they’re better wrestlers, or their storylines are particularly compelling. There just seems to be this indefinable magnetic force pulling me to women’s wrestling.

It was on this journey that something dawned on me. Despite openly embracing queerness and being considerably more progressive than other sports, mainstream wrestling has done very little to accept non-binary people. 

What is non-binary? 

If you are on a site about women’s wrestling, you probably have some idea of what non-binary means. However, it is worth reiterating. As Stan Lee said, every comic book is someone’s first. 

Non-binary refers to forms of gender that are not solely attached to male or female identities. Non-binary, gender-fluid, and gender-neutral all fit under the umbrella of gender non-conforming (GNC).

These identities usually manifest themselves in the form of gender euphoria and dysphoria. Gender euphoria may sound like a new HBO Max show, but it refers to the joy felt when corresponding to a gender other than the one you were assigned at birth. 

Gender Dysphoria is the opposite. It is the feeling of not fitting into your assigned gender. These emotions manifest in many ways. Most notability wanting the primary and secondary sexual characteristics of the opposite gender or feeling like your own sexual characteristics are in the way. 

Gender Neutrality in Wrestling

In the idyllic queer utopia that we are all pushing for, wrestling would be non-binary. It would be a place where men, women and anyone in between could all compete against each other freely. There would be no men’s and women’s divisions, just wrestling. 

However, gender neutrality appears to be a long off pipe dream. Both AEW and WWE still maintain the patriarchal status quo of two segregated divisions and have shown no signs of changing. WWE has steered clear from the issue altogether. They have yet to hire trans-wrestlers working in other companies or the independent circuit. With the recent overhaul of WWE’s developmental system, which now pulls its talent from college sports, there is little hope that will change soon. For them, gender-neutral wrestling seems to be considered a huge taboo. One that would have Mattel and Snickers tearing up their sponsorship deals and networks pulling them off the air. 

There has been some progress made in AEW. Nyla Rose is a staple of the women’s division. Sonny Kiss and Abadon also occupy a place on the non-binary spectrum. However, both people are confined to one division. Kiss, who identifies as gender-neutral, has been slotted into the men’s division. Abadon, who uses they/them pronouns, is confined to the women’s division. It is ironic that in a company that boasts about breaking down the forbidden door and the tried vestiges of wrestling, you would think that AEW would have a more progressive view on gender neutrality. Unfortunately, AEW keeps the forbidden door of intergender wrestling double bolted shut. 

The excuses used to justify these divisions are an archaic view of not only gender identity but wrestling too. At its core, wrestling is entertainment. Fans don’t come to see people win and lose, yes, that is a part of it, but it’s not the defining factor. People watch wrestling for fun and, like every form of entertainment, see some part of themselves reflected in the characters on screen. This is doubly important in the case of non-binary people who remain underrepresented in entertainment.

What’s more, wrestling is the perfect place for it. Compared to most sports, wrestling has a reasonably progressive fanbase, especially regarding gender identity and LGTBQIA+ rights. There is a prime audience who wouldn’t rebel against seeing more non-binary wrestling and wrestlers.     

Then there is the argument of male-female violence. A ridiculously outdated statement as wrestling is, and this might come as a shock to some of you, fake. This isn’t the 70s anymore, where wrestlers were told it’s a work before stepping through the curtain. Wrestling is entertainment and as real as Scarlet Witch cutting Reed Richards to ribbons. Yet, despite the entertainment moniker attached to it for the last two decades, it is still treated as a legitimate sport in terms of gendering. 

Non-Binary Wrestling’s Saving Grace

However, there is a place for non-binary people in wrestling. It is the indie scene. For the last decade, Indie wrestling has seen an explosion of queerness in all its forms, including Non-Binary. Aside from the previously mentioned AEW wrestlers, Edith Surreal (formerly Still Life With Apricots and Pears) is perfecting her craft after only a few years in the business. Meanwhile, you have Max The Impaler, with one of the coolest aesthetics in wrestling and Sophie King, who is tearing up the indie scene. 

It’s not just individual wrestlers too. Irish promotion Over The Top Wrestling has a gender-neutral title held by Session Moth Martina. TNA has the Digital Media Championship that has been held by Jordanna Grace and Matt Cardona. This doesn’t include the large range of promotions inclusive of LGBTQIA+ wrestlers. While some of these examples may not have any non-binary people, they are helping to dispel stereotypes. They offer an avenue for non-binary wrestlers to compete against both men and women. 

 

Ultimately the road to gender neutrality in wrestling is a long one. With the right-wing politics boiling down trans rights to children’s sports, the notion of non-binary people competing in both men’s and women’s divisions or, even better, having no divisions feels a long way off. Especially when one of the founders of the biggest wrestling company in the world is a man in his 70s and a close friend of former president Donald Trump.

Representation is an excellent place to start. A significant way to dispel the misinformation being spread is for non-LGBTQIA people and allies to get an insight into their experiences. Odds are the majority of people who have never come across a non-binary person in their life. Having them on screen helps normalizes non-binary as a concept and the people who identify as non-binary. If this top-down method is too passive for you, try supporting non-binary wrestlers or portions that provide them with uncompromising freedom and space to perform. Join Patreons, buy indie, and share events and wrestlers on social media.

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