In August last year, World Wrestling Entertainment Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon said at a press conference that the company would begin to incorporate LGBTQIA+ storylines into their product. WWE Fans have long been shipping wrestlers together, with favourites including Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, The Fashion Police Tyler Breeze and Fandango, and Billie Kay and Peyton Royce, who are Aussie women wrestlers on WWE’s developmental brand, NXT. However, these are ships have have developed in the WWE fandom despite any concerted effort on the part of the company. Personally, I would love to see less heterosexual romantic storylines, a stop to sexist, transphobic, and ableist taunts against James Ellsworth, and the hiring of more people who identify as queer, both as wrestlers and behind-the-scenes, to help implement these things.
Reaching out to my fellow wrestling fans - particularly those who identify as LGBTQIA+ - we came up with some suggestions as to how the biggest wrestling company in the world can actively include the queer community.
Emphasis on consent
For WWE to do a good job presenting LGBT+ storylines, it’s really important to negate a lot of the heterosexist stereotypes that they’ve previously leaned on when portraying queer characters. It’s important that the queer relationships shown display depth and affection, and also that the storylines are explicitly not used to humiliate anyone or mark them as a deviant. I would also argue, it’s a case in which the consent of the wrestlers involved is extremely important, considering that [portraying] a queer storyline is still a big risk.
This year, Dean and Seth’s dynamic is being handled on screen as a subtextual, 'wink-wink, nudge-nudge' sort of thing, where it treats their potential reunion as a tag team like two ex-boyfriends in [the] stages of getting back together. I honestly don’t think I would change that into a storyline that is more overtly queer. The way it is now, everybody gets what they want—Dean and Seth get to have the best storyline either of them has had all year, fangirls on Tumblr can continue to spontaneously combust, commentary can keep telling us that “Rollins definitely wants Ambrose”, and none of the straight people watching have to ask themselves any questions that make them uncomfortable, unless they want to.
More women managers
Why do we keep pairing women [with] men when they could be managing other women? Let Summer Rae manage Dana Brooke; let Alicia Fox manage Sonya Deville [WWE’s first openly lesbian wrestler] when she's moved up [from NXT] to the main roster. It would showcase the talents of the WWE ladies while adding a subtle queer element into the mix that would be very hard to mess up—though I'm sure the WWE writers could find a way.
—Nicole Brinkley, 24, on the ace spectrum. @nebrinkley on Twitter and Instagram.
Promoting WWE’s first openly gay wrestler
Darren Young has been so under-utilised. He should return on a strong build, with mostly wins, until he's attacked by Bo Dallas. Dallas goes on to explain that Young's only cheered because he came out. They carry on an intense feud [which] culminates in a Loser Leaves Town match. While battling, Dallas snaps and kisses Young, revealing his jealousy at Young’s ability to be both talented and out. In a moment of shock, Dallas wins the match but offers to leave instead. Young returns the kiss and neither leaves town, [instead] setting up a huge singles push for both wrestlers.
—Justin Hall, 34, badass, gay POC, who loves being social as much as he loves social justice. His gender is pizza and he dares anyone to disagree with him. @Chatterboxjhall on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat.
Wrestling with identity
My dream angle is a tag team that breaks up because one of them falls in love with the other. They have to face each other in a [tournament] or Royal Rumble-type match [functioning as a] sort of reconciliation with how something larger [and] fundamentally uncontrollable disrupted and guided their lives. That's what queer storylines mean to me: struggling against indifference and self-denial.
—Jetta Rae, 31, identifies as a queer trans woman. @jetta_rae on Twitter.
Gay people: they’re just like everyone else
I always felt the idea of two extremely “masculine" men like Sheamus and Cesaro together would be pretty interesting. It would play on the stereotype that gay men act a certain way, by just having these two huge Europeans going out there, whooping some ass and kissing each other in the end. It would cause a bit of a shock, however I think the more nonchalantly the two act the better. Gay couples are just like everyone else.
There you go, WWE. That wasn’t so hard.