All Elite Wrestling’s “WrestleDream” pay-per-view on October 1 was another in a long line of solid major events for the company in 2023.
The event featured a classic bout between Bryan Danielson and Zack Sabre Jr., statement performances from Swerve Strickland, Eddie Kingston and “Hangman” Adam Page, another welcomed Golden Lovers reunion and a smattering of LGBTQ talent (Anthony Bowens, Mercedes Martinez, Diamante) on the pre-show.
The whole night was capped off by AEW founder Tony Khan’s latest coup, Adam Copeland — better known to wrestling fans as WWE Hall of Famer Edge — making his debut with the company during the closing moments of the show. It was five-plus hours of wrestling bliss for those in attendance and a pretty monumental show for me to be at in person for my first AEW event as a member of the media.
Contrary to what many may believe, covering pro wrestling for a living doesn’t always mean that the financial means are available to attend major events like this, especially since most of AEW’s pay-per-views have centered on locations like Chicago and Las Vegas that aren’t easily accessible to someone like me, who lives in the Pacific Northwest.
Having “WrestleDream” emanate from Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena made it the perfect opportunity to do so and I pounced on it. You have to when working in this field, even when your focus of coverage isn’t as wide as traditional wrestling media outlets.
I cover queer figures and topics in pro wrestling and I’m proud to do so. Covering a subset of wrestling doesn’t make anyone less of a member of the sports’ journalistic field. That truth also applies to sexual orientation and gender, especially as pro wrestling and sports media continues to diversify along those lines and recognize the perspectives of voices other than cis-het men.
My voice belongs in those spaces, and covering “WrestleDream” felt like a big step toward showing that to the wider pro wrestling media space.
But that wasn’t the feeling I had when I got back to my car at around 1am, post-event. I felt othered, disrespected, emotionally distraught and pained with a sense that I didn’t belong in that space despite those aforementioned beliefs.
I sat down in my car, called my spouse and cried.
I discussed the events of that day in some specificity on my queer pro wrestling podcast, LGBT In The Ring, this week.
The quick summation: Instead of being seated with other members of the media during the show, I was somehow placed with the seat fillers despite informing every member of arena staff that I was a credentialed member of the press. I didn’t even find out about the mistake until I found my own way to the post-show press conference and was nearly denied entry.
From 3pm until roughly 9:30pm, I thought I was being treated equally despite what, in hindsight, were clear red flags (being sat in a section where I potentially would need to move to another section, multiple people in my designated group wearing AEW merchandise, having to find my way to the press conference via paper signs taped to the walls). In one moment, in front of a collection of people I view as my peers in this media space, I learned that I fell through the cracks.
I felt lower than dirt.
I was ultimately permitted into the press conference once the misunderstanding was cleared up, but my mind wasn’t present. I left the press conference early in order to catch the last train back to my car, but I wouldn’t have been able to focus on doing my job even if I stayed to the end.
All I felt was this deep sense that that room wasn’t a place for me. I just kept replaying everything from that day, trying to find a reason why it happened.
From AEW’s perspective, it was a mix-up that they had no idea occurred. I hadn’t even seen the company’s PR team until I showed up in that room minutes before Khan and Copeland entered. I’ve since cleared the air with them. It was just a mistake.
Granted, it’s a mistake I’ve never experienced despite covering everything from Division II college sports to independent pro wrestling shows to major esports events.
What I haven’t been able to understand is how the multiple members of Climate Pledge Arena staff — whom I told I was with the media from the moment I entered through the building’s press entrance — ignored my statements and separated me from my media peers.
From the person helming the metal detector who gave me odd looks, to the multiple staffers who slipped a wristband on me and wrote my name in the margins of what I now assume was their seat-filler roster rather than direct me to AEW PR to the line of people manning security checkpoints... I still feel so foolish for flashing them my wristband and telling I was press. I feel embarrassed that, where they sent me, I thought I was with press colleagues.
It all added up to me feeling profiled as a non-binary person who presented that day in gender non-conforming fashion.
There weren’t any outright statements to that end or homophobic/transphobic remarks directed toward me from arena staff, but what occurred made me feel othered, as if someone who mixes what is traditionally seen as men’s and women’s clothing (clothing doesn’t have a gender), or presents themselves in a visibly queer and gender-diverse fashion, couldn’t be there to cover something as macho as a pro wrestling show.
I’ve sent multiple emails to Oak View Group, the organization that runs operations for Climate Pledge Arena as well as 300-plus other major venues internationally, asking to speak with someone about what happened.
Unlike AEW, Oak View Group hasn’t responded to any of those messages.
But Oak View Group’s lack of acknowledgment is simultaneously beside the point and feeds into my major takeaway from these events. Pro wrestling and sports media is evolving the same way culture and society are, with people whose voices have historically been marginalized becoming not just more prevalent but more valued. BIPOC, female and LGBTQ figures within the media landscape have carved out their own space to bring about that change, and surely have had similar experiences where they were made to feel as if they didn’t belong in a given space. I’d argue plenty still do despite the advancement during that time.
Now, non-binary, trans and gender non-conforming sports and wrestling journalists are entering the picture to claim their space in larger numbers. I know for myself, I partially define my career by my ability to be one of those people to take doors off hinges for others within my subset of the community and highlight other LGBTQ people in the field that are doing the same thing right there beside me.
Part of that evolution is the people on the other side of the equation understanding what that means. Because even when inadvertent mistakes happen or someone is made to feel like they’ve fallen through the cracks in a professional setting such as what I thought I was in for most of the day during “WrestleDream,” it can impact those of us who don’t subscribe to the gender binary and proudly express it to our own individual definition in ways you may not know.
To those I interacted with, it was simply a mistake. To me, it was devastating.
I’m positive this will not be the last time I cover a major pro wrestling event, much less a major sporting event, and it definitely won’t be the last time that I express my gender in a way that is authentic to me while doing so. The onus isn’t on me or other trans and gender-diverse reporters to change. It’s on those in the media and event landscape that aren’t on the same page, because that change is already here.