Grappling With Homosexuality

Professional Wrestling: Simultaneously Homoerotic and Homophobic

But was homophobia flagrantly exploited, or was homosexuality merely dramatized in the campy, carnivalesque pageantry synonymous with pro wrestling? As Sharp explains, "Characters have always been larger than life. The key is to find the balance between entertaining your audience and not inflaming stereotypes that are harmful to any particular group." And stereotypes and prejudices have invariably been an inspiration for wrestling's archetypes, such as Soviet communist Nikolai Volkoff, the Ugandan butcher Kamala, and WCW's current Italian mobsters, the Mamalukes.

"Stereotypes help us bring the characters into different storylines," explains WWF spokesperson Jayson Bernstein. "I don't think we're exploiting any individual group of people. It's just a matter of entertainment." The WWF and WCW also deny purposely using gay stereotypes to encourage homophobic outbursts, but as a fan at a recent wrestling event disputes, "It's a very gay sport, and to keep it macho, homophobia must be and is incited."

Still, the WWF and WCW don't feel that they contribute to real-life gay bashing and discrimination. Nor do they think they should be responsible for their fans' behavior. Bernstein, who doesn't mind fans responding homophobically, explains, "We're not too afraid of provoking our fans. Our goal is to get reactions from them. It would be the same way for any audience, gender, sexual preference, or whatever."

But GLAAD firmly believes that wrestling's homophobic provocations have a tremendous effect outside the arena. As Seomin says, "If there is a 10-year-old boy, whose classmates perceive him to be overly feminine, he has a good chance of being called 'Lenny' and being beat up on the way home. And if it happens to one person, that's one too many."

Pro wrestling's homoeroticism and resulting homophobia continue unabated, however, as the sport emits innumerable crotch grabs, simulated masturbation and sex scenes, cross-dressing, and other clandestine gay innuendos. And another overtly gay personality could be down the line, once again bringing wrestling's queerness factor to a feral climax. "Anything is possible," admits WCW's Sharp. As one regular viewer of wrestling hopes, "It would be interesting to see a gay character who's cute, good at wrestling, and sexual, but doesn't look like a stereotype." But given the sport's history, a no-holds-barred queeny cliché is more likely.

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