A sexy, muscular stud in skimpy briefs, emblazoned with full, luscious lips, bends over so that all eyes focus on his supple butt. Slowly, gently, he runs his hands over his smooth cheeks, fingers twitching tantalizingly, as music fills the air: “I’m an ass man/I love to pick ’em/I love to stick ’em/so many asses, so little time/I’m a lover of every kind/the best surprises always sneak up from behind.” Mr. Ass, as he is known to his legion of lovers, then gestures to his crotch, commands all to “Suck it!” and entwines himself with another barely clad hunk.
A scene from some cheap, gay porno flick? A peek at the goings-on at a raunchy gay bar? Think again, for this is the world of professional wrestling—a world that can be seen in person at next week’s taping of Raw Is War at the Nassau Coliseum, in late June at the Garden, or on Pay-Per-View the last Sunday of any month—throbbing hard with homo-hotness and other gay references.
Pro wrestling’s flaming love affair with all things queer began well before Mr. Ass’s narcissistic butt fetish, and, like any relationship, has weathered its share of dropkicks and body slams. Although scantily clad men grabbing, throwing, and attempting to mount each other in spectacles of dominance resounds with obvious homoerotic overtones, pro wrestling has a long history of playing and preying upon gay themes and stereotypes. Homosexuality and pro wrestling first flirted with one another back in the ’50s, when Gorgeous George emerged as televised wrestling’s first major star. Regaled in a sequined robe, sporting artificially shaped blond curls laced with gold bobby pins, and, as announcers put it, “powdered to perfection,” Gorgeous George started his matches only after a valet had sprayed his opponents with disinfecting perfume. His prissy behavior would set the standard for decades to come for the rousing of fans’ homophobic jeers.
In the late ’80s, pro wrestling discovered that the use of gay stereotypes wasn’t the only way to provoke spectators’ homophobia. It began to zestfully stroke homoeroticism, bringing it to a climax with the World Wrestling Federation’s (WWF) introduction of Ravishing Rick Rude. This “sexiest man alive” strutted into the squared-circle flaunting a flashy robe and tights featuring a cartooned face of his opponent over the crotch or buttocks. After defeating his adversary, he would spread his legs seductively over his fallen competitor, flex his glutes and thrust his hips in sensual, circular motions, while caressing his chiseled physique. Such blazing displays of (homo)sexuality stimulated fans into a homophobic frenzy.
The WWF propelled homoerotica to orgasmic peaks and slammed homophobia down to an unfortunate nadir in the mid ’90s when it introduced Goldust. This ostentatious eccentricity sashayed into the ring in a platinum wig and boa, elaborate makeup, and a gold lamé bodysuit. In one defining match with Rowdy Roddy Piper, Goldust molested and groped Piper, simulated fellatio by repeatedly shoving his package into Piper’s face, and finally locked lips with the Rowdy One in a smoldering kiss. Goldust’s affections, however, had a very dire aftermath as Piper sprung back to life to seize and squeeze Goldust’s testicles, beat him senseless, and strip him of his suit, revealing black bondage lingerie. Countless fans were induced into a mammoth homophobic rage, yelling, “Kill the queer!” along with a plethora of other antigay slurs.
As Larry DeGaris, a pro wrestler (in a local federation)/professor of sports management at Washington State University, states, “The whole Goldust character was ritualized fag bashing.” The linking of the character’s apparent homosexuality to a host of darker gay stereotypes, namely violence, villainy, and uncontrollable sexual desire, prompted the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to declare that “Goldust is a horrible example of homophobia.” The dust eventually settled when the WWF “converted” Goldust into an honest family man, endowing him with a wife and daughter, which bored fans as if taking them in a somnolent sleeper hold. Although references were made that Goldust’s gay/freak alter ego would return, the character simply fizzled into oblivion.
Wrestling’s love affair with gay clichés was hardly doused, however. Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling (WCW) found itself in a battle royale with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) last fall over the portrayal of WCW characters Lenny Lane and Lodi, collectively known as the West Hollywood Blondes. Wearing pink trunks, body glitter, and pigtails, Lenny embodied a stereotypical sissy as he pranced and skipped around the ring, sensually crawled over opponents, and faithfully sought comfort in the arms of his partner, Lodi. Meanwhile, a deluge of fans screamed a variety of homophobic obscenities, especially as Lenny was pounded into the mat, impelling GLAAD to charge WCW with exploiting homophobia and promoting gay bashing, and to ask that the characters be terminated. “The character of Lenny was presented with the intention to incite the crowd to the most base homophobic behavior,” explains Scott Seomin, GLAAD’s entertainment media director.
“It was not an intent from the beginning to incite this type of reaction,” responds WCW spokesperson Alan Sharp. “We obviously felt like there was going to be some type of positive reaction to these characters, or they wouldn’t have been created. We understood GLAAD’s concerns and tried to come to a resolution that was in the best interest of GLAAD and WCW.” With GLAAD’s hand raised in victory, Lenny and Lodi were eventually yanked off the air. As DeGaris sees it, “The problem with Lenny and Lodi was that they weren’t just gay; they were faggots, playing up to every gay stereotype.”
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.