World Wrestling Entertainment last week announced that it would begin incorporating LGBTQIA storylines into its product.
“Throughout my life I have grown up knowing gay [WWE] superstars and executives," Chief Brand Officer and heir to the WWE throne Stephanie McMahon said at a Beyond Sport United event in New York.
"It's always been accepted, but now it's about getting that message out there.
"When it makes sense … absolutely we will integrate LGBT storylines into our programming… in the near future," she continued.
While this is a promising development, one has to wonder how much of it—like the “Divas revolution”—is lip service and how much will actually go towards increasing positive representations of LGBTQIA characters and issues on TV.
WWE hasn’t exactly been known for its progressive stance on these topics in the past. For example, two of wrestling’s biggest stars,
The Rock and John Cena, employed homophobic rhetoric in the lead up to their feud at WrestleMania 28 in 2012. In 2002, tag team wrestlers Billy and Chuck engaged in an on-screen same-sex wedding, a storyline that was heavy on the humour, ’cause two men in love is hilarious, right?
WWE commentator Michael Cole landed in hot water in 2011 when he tweeted a homophobic slur at fellow announcer Josh Matthews, while Bubba Ray Dudley (then working as Bully Ray for rival wrestling company TNA) hurled similar aspersions at a fan in 2013.
More recently, WWE Superstars constantly make reference to what makes someone a “real man” in promos and Paige insinuated that woman wrestler Tamina was in the wrong division due to her masculine stature (above) so things don’t really bode well for this new initiative.
The timing is also striking: the memoir of openly gay former wrestler and current WWE employee Pat Patterson, who came out publicly in 2014 on the WWE program Legends House, is released this month.
Apart from Patterson, there’s only one openly gay wrestler on the roster, Darren Young, who came out in 2013, though his character and storylines don’t address this.
One-time WWE Superstar Chris Kanyon struggled with being closeted and in 2010 he committed suicide. Rosa Mendes, who is on maternity leave from in-ring action and the reality show Total Divas, talked about her bi-sexuality on the show, but it bled into other storylines about her body image and substance abuse issues, painting her as the crazy lesbian.
Perhaps the queerest wrestlers in WWE are the group New Day, who covertly challenge what it means to be black performers in wrestling.
This effort to incorporate LGBTQIA storylines is part of a more progressive path WWE is taking of late, including centring its female performers.
On the one hand, WWE may face some pushback from its largely conservative fanbase, as it did in 2015 when Young was barred from competing on a tour of the UAE.
But wrestling is nothing if not homoerotic and camp by nature, with fans from all walks of life.
Representation is important, and provided they do it right (no doubt with some stumbling blocks along the way, à la the women’s wrestling revolution), this could be a milestone for professional wrestling and its fans.