The first year of All Elite Wrestling’s flagship program, AEW Dynamite, is littered with historic moments and memorable images for wrestler Nyla Rose. She faced down Riho in the inaugural AEW Women’s World championship match on Dynamite’s debut last October. She ran roughshod over AEW’s women’s division, cementing herself as its powerhouse. And she completed the dream of that first match with Riho by defeating her for the championship in February.
Those benchmarks are special in their own right, but having those attributed to Rose adds further significance because of the community she represents. Rose made history when she signed her AEW contract last year, becoming the first transgender woman to sign with a major American wrestling promotion. That “historic” moniker is firmly attached to every achievement she racks up as well, positioning her as a true trailblazer in an industry experiencing an evolution in LGBTQ acceptance.
“One year ago, October 2, was probably the first time a lot of people had seen a transgender person that they were aware of,” Rose said on the Outsports podcast, LGBT In The Ring. “Especially seeing one on television, during prime time hours, in a prominent role. That’s pretty much unheard of. It was a landmark event not just for wrestling but in every sense of the word.”
Beyond her trans identity, Rose is a living example of intersectionality. She is a Black, First Nations bisexual transgender woman and she provides a positive image for all of those communities every time she steps into the ring. “So many people have felt validated from that one single instance,” Rose said. “People want to see people like themselves achieve.”
Being a source of representation is important to Rose as she struggled to find that for herself within pro wrestling during her own period of self-discovery. “I had always known I was different but I didn’t have the language for that for so long because there was nobody like me to look up to in the mainstream. I had no point of reference,” Rose said.
She began feeling more comfortable having those internal discussions after discovering comedian Eddie Izzard. “There’s a breaking point: do I continue to live this lie for other people or do I finally truly, honestly, openly embrace myself and put it out there,” Rose said. “I had to be myself. I was nervous. I was scared. But I found the gumption somewhere … I cannot leave this world without any regrets.”
She ultimately found a figure in fellow transgender wrestler Marriah Moreno, even getting the chance to go one-on-one with Moreno in one of her last matches before joining AEW.
“Prior to me coming out and being unashamedly myself, [Moreno] was definitely an inspiration,” Rose said. “To my knowledge, she is one of the first, if not the first, out trans wrestlers here in America. To have that match with not just a friend but someone who I looked up to in a way, it meant everything in the world to me and I’m forever grateful I was afforded that opportunity.”
But above all else, Nyla Rose is a championship caliber wrestler and she is quick to remind anyone that her in-ring ability is why she is an anchor of AEW’s women’s division. “What I do in the ring, no part of me being trans plays into any of that,” Rose said. “That’s who I am but that’s not what I am.”
“I realize that [trans issues] are very new for a lot of people. While I’m not here to be your national trans Wikipedia… I very much am Nyla Rose. There’s a meld there,” Rose added.
And Rose has very much been herself during her time in AEW while highlighting issues facing the trans population directly and indirectly, especially those facing trans women of color. Rose has outlived the average life expectancy of trans women of color, 35 years, and hasn’t shied away from highlighting such tragic conditions facing the community.
“It honestly breaks my heart. I have a little bit of guilt … that I get to live this full, fruitful life when theirs were snuffed out so early. It’s incredibly heavy and something I don’t take for granted,” Rose said. “I can only hope and dream that things are changing for the better. To know people in my position and other people like myself, that hope becomes tangible.”
As AEW Dynamite enters its second year, Rose is determined to make that year meaningful. “I absolutely plan on taking that AEW Women’s World championship for a second time … it’s going to be a wild ride.”
Click here to listen to the full interview with Nyla Rose, including her thoughts on winning the AEW Women’s World championship and more about the importance of representation, on Outsports’ LGBT In The Ring podcast. Download and listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or search for “outsports” anywhere else pods are podded.