I am a professional wrestler. My “wardrobe” is basically a pair of creatively designed underwear that hugs my muscular frame and leaves little to the imagination.
My job description is to entertain fans through body language, story lines featuring over-the-top characters and, well, grappling other men dressed in a similar way.
Understandably, being openly bisexual could be perceived as a problem. It’s what kept me closeted to all but a few from the time I started wrestling as a pro five years ago. It took a Youtube video to make me see that coming out was not going to be the problem I thought it would be.
It was this past fall and I was three months into a relationship with my boyfriend, Michael Pavano. Mike and I had uploaded a video to YouTube on his channel called “The Laughing Challenge,” where he described me as his boyfriend.
The video was a blast to do, but I worried that someone from the wrestling world would stumble across it and learn my secret. I decided to let it be posted anyway.
Weeks later, I received a text that made my stomach drop.
It was from my best friend in the wrestling business, and someone I specifically made sure to keep my secret from. The text read: “Bro, why didn’t you tell me?” I knew exactly what he meant but I played dumb. “What do you mean?” I replied. He response was that he saw “the video.”
Much to my great relief, he told me he didn’t care and that I was one of his best friends in the business.
He also said that some of the other wrestlers had watched it too and tipped him off about it. I was relieved that he was cool with everything but a bit nervous because other wrestlers knew. It was after this that I came to the conclusion that I had a decision to make.
When I was a kid, I always said that when I grew up I wanted to make a difference in someone’s life. If you were to tell me that years later I’d be doing so performing in front of thousands of people each month in the world of professional wrestling, I would have called you a liar.
I first entered the pro wrestling world when I was 21 and a year later entered the modeling/acting business, signing a contract with BMG Models in New York City. I was living my dream and I should have been the happiest person in the world. The truth is, I wasn’t. Externally I was, but deep down I was struggling on the inside with my sexuality. I was afraid to tell the world that I was bisexual.
Ever since high school I knew that was something different about me. I started to notice that I’d see a couple walk down the street and think how attractive both the guy and the girl were. It would become more prevalent as college rolled around and I found myself with a crappy love life.
Long before the hours each day pumping iron at the gym or body-slamming 230-pound human beings for a living, I was a skinny, shy and lovable kid that everyone enjoyed to be around. Basically, I was “friend-zoned” a majority of the time. Without much of a love life, I experimented “on the other side of the fence” and was very comfortable with it.
I was comfortable with the thought of being bisexual but not the thought of other people knowing. At the time, I was playing baseball at Seton Hall University, where the whole team would shower together. I definitely couldn’t have them know my secret, because in my head I thought they would get a terrible impression. They were my brothers and my fears were irrational, but it’s hard not to think they wouldn’t feel a certain way.
This remained the same when I entered and journeyed through the wrestling world years late. I’ve loved pro wrestling ever since I was 5 years old and I didn’t want my experience ruined because of other wrestlers thinking I got into it for the wrong (sexual) reasons. Those thoughts have never crossed my mind. The ring is my sanctuary, where nothing else matters. I couldn’t bear to think that if I came out, I’d spend most of my time worrying if the person I was wrestling was uncomfortable and didn’t want to work with me.
It became worse because in my short time I’ve garnered a decent amount of success in wrestling. Over the past four years I’ve traveled and wrestled up and down the East Coast, internationally touring Canada and England, and appeared in multiple commercials for World Wrestling Entertainment as well as performing on their TV shows “Raw,” “Smackdown” and “NXT.”
I’ve even been invited to two exclusive WWE tryouts, which meant that I was on their radar, so the thought of them knowing about my sexuality scared the crap out of me. The only people who did know were my closest friends and my parents, all of whom were supportive.
Meeting Mike was a turning point in me being comfortable with myself in all settings. We met on May 27, 2016, the night before his birthday. We had a few conversations before via Instagram but never had hung out. I was on my phone and saw his name on my contacts list when I decided to reach out to see if he was around.
I met him and his friends at a bar celebrating his birthday and we instantly clicked. By the end of the night I knew he was someone I wanted to be around more often. Over the ensuing weeks, we saw each other quite often and after about two months we decided to make everything official. It was my first relationship and it was with a guy.
I told Mike coming into the relationship that I was very much on the DL because of my career, so I couldn’t do in public some of the things normal couples do. It was totally unfair to him, but he liked me enough to put that to the side. I did make a promise that it wouldn’t be forever. That time came when my wrestling buddy saw the YouTube video.
With my closest friend in my profession being cool with my orientation and having the continued love and support from by parents and best friends, I finally felt comfortable letting the world know. On Jan. 8 this year, I sent a message on Facebook:
I'm not going to make this a long winded post but I think it's time. Just wanted to let everyone know im Bisexual. I look forward to changing perceptions and breaking stereotypes as I continue on my journey. I have zero patience for negativity so if this bothers you please delete me. Thanks!
After hitting send, I immediately turned off my phone. I didn’t want to think about what people would write. After about 30 minutes I told Mike to check his phone. I hadn’t told him I was planning on coming out, so I wanted it to be a surprise.
He had the biggest smile on his face, our friends in the room cheered, and I made the decision to turn on my phone. The response was overwhelming positive — 986 likes and more than 200 comments, all positive; only a very few people unfriended me. I couldn’t help but cry as I let loose all of the years of stress, anxiety and fear of judgment. It was the best decision I had ever made.
I had three reasons for coming out:
First, I felt it was finally the right time for me. Second, I asked Mike to be in my life and the fact that I asked him to censor a part of his life because of me hiding was nonsense. He put up with that for five months and that sacrifice meant the world to me. I truly can say I love him.
The final reason goes back to way I started this article. I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. I realized I have a unique platform to spread awareness about ongoing issues in the world, to break stereotypes and show everyone that they can be themselves and do what ever they put their minds to no matter what their sexuality is.
I can’t even begin to tell you how many people I’ve spoken to over the years who are hiding and suppressing themselves out of fear of being judged. If I can help inspire at least one person to fight past their struggles through my journey or inspire at least one person to live their dreams, it’s all worth it for me. The journey and the fight is just beginning!
Anthony Bowens, 26, is a professional wrestler, fitness model and actor signed with Silver Model Management, which was recently taken over by BMG Models in New York. He played baseball at Seton Hall University and is a 2013 graduate of Montclair State University with a degree in broadcasting. He can be reached via Twitter and Instagram at @Bowens_Official or by e-mail: AnthonyMBowens@gmail.com.
Story editor: Jim Buzinski
Related: Listen to Anthony Bowens and Mike Pavano on our Podcast
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