Pro wrestling has never really had a positive, healthy understanding of lesbian identities. The wrestling industry hasn’t shown a ton of kindness to the LGBTQ community as a whole, but its treatment of lesbian identities specifically ranks high in the same ways that all forms of media have historically: a cocktail of overt sexualization and expendability with a splash of societal othering and obsessive dispositions.
Examples are ample, from WWE storylines depicting Mickie James and Victoria holding queer-veiled obsessions toward Trish Stratus to multiple “Hot Lesbian Action” segments that ended in men assaulting in-character lesbians and WWE writers broadcasting their fundamental misunderstanding of LGBTQ identities (see Eric Bischoff’s “bisexual lesbians” line).
These depictions were damaging in their ability to define lesbian identities to wrestling audiences, but they also masked the industry’s actual lesbian history. Names like Susan Green and Sandy Parker defied women’s wrestling gatekeepers like The Fabulous Moolah that did their best to outlaw LGBTQ wrestlers’ public expression of their identities within their stables.
Parker became the first out LGBTQ world champion in wrestling history. Green held multiple championships. Most people that watched them in the ring never knew, but that didn’t mean they hid who they were. They may not have reached the highest stages in American pro wrestling during their careers, but they became the foundation for what was to come.
Now, decades later, the defiant spirits embodying that openness and desire for visibility among wrestling’s lesbian community refuse to keep their identities in the shadows. People like Ashley Vox and Rebel Kinney wear their identities openly in the ring without apology. Charlie Morgan’s promo in which she came out publicly in the ring at a Pro Wrestling EVE event is forever immortalized for its raw reality and ability to usher new LGBTQ fans into a welcoming wrestling space.
Some use their presence in the ring to shed light on other organizations that actively kept lesbian women obscured. The Great Bambina’s in-ring presentation is partially a radical response to the lesbian erasure perpetrated by the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, whose history was dramatized in the film A League of Their Own,
Even WWE, nearly 20 years removed from the initials “HLA,” now has prominent lesbian voices among its roster that are a driving force in pulling the company slowly into acknowledging LGBTQ identities. Names like Mercedes Martinez and Sonya Deville gives lesbian members of WWE’s audience figures to latch onto.
Deville, the first out lesbian wrestler ever to sign with WWE, created a lot of those in-roads specifically for WWE fans. Her inclusion on the company’s reality show Total Divas provided the most genuine look into LGBTQ identities ever to grace WWE programming. It worked to destigmatize lesbian relationships while giving Deville herself a vehicle to hold nothing back in her expression of who she is.
The image of Deville running through a Pride celebration on Total Divas exclaiming “I’m gay” is a GIF that plays on repeat in the minds of many (including me). The excitement in her voice perfectly matched with the joy on her face is both a landmark and an image that no one with knowledge of any mainstream pro wrestling programming from 1995 onward ever thought they would see.
None of this is to say that the current position of lesbian representation in pro wrestling is where it should be. Like everything marginalized in wrestling, there are still higher expectations to be met. But there is no denying that the seeds on undeniability Parker and Green planted are now being harvested by today’s growing population of out, proud lesbian wrestlers. And they’re ready to open even more eyes.