On June 24, 2022, IMPACT Wrestling star Gisele Shaw came out publicly as trans and found herself speaking to a captive audience at Toronto Pride.
It was an immediate dive into LGBTQ prominence for a woman whose experiences in living as and expressing their gender felt more defined by fear than other emotions. In the span of a few hours, Shaw felt the freeing nature of overcoming that fear and met with the warm embrace of a community excited to welcome her with open arms.
“It was really quite liberating for me,” Shaw said on a recent episode of the “LGBT In The Ring” podcast. “My whole entire life, I’ve always had this feeling of I can’t go to a restaurant and not just enjoy the moment … I’m always constantly in high alert.
“That’s been amazing to just not feel that way anymore and not care,” she said. “After I disclosed my story, it’s like there’s just this feeling of a huge ‘Alright, I did it. I told my story and it’s there.’ But then it was also like ‘Oh, my God, now people know it.’”
Saturday will be one year since that day, and what it represented to Shaw has only grown stronger.
“I think after disclosing my story, the thing that I really just focus the most on now is just really living my life authentically. You know, generally my true self. I never really had the opportunity to do that,” Shaw said. “Just being able to just be me and not care and be unapologetic; I’m just happy.”
Shaw, an accomplished pro wrestler before signing with IMPACT last year, thrived in the ring during that time, challenging for both the IMPACT Knockouts World title and Knockouts Tag Team titles and forming an alliance with fellow historic LGBTQ IMPACT signee Jai Vidal and Savannah Evans. Shaw and Vidal were heavily featured in IMPACT’s first Pride photoshoot earlier this month, yet neither wrestler’s in-ring persona is centered on their identity, something far more likely now than in previous eras of pro wrestling.
“I’m going to be honest, in the back of my head, I was like, are they putting us together because we’re both from the community? I’m not really quite sure, like, is this just a thing? You know what I mean? But, you know, then I thought, wow, this is really powerful. You know, this is something that hasn’t been done,” Shaw said. “It’s been amazing working with him. And, you know, we just really want to represent the community as best as we can.”
After her Toronto appearance, Shaw quickly understood the power of her platform and hasn’t shied away from using it as a tool for LGBTQ advocacy. Shaw is using her lived experience to educate audiences on trans identities and experiences as a growing number of states pushed trans-exclusionary bills and laws that threaten trans lives of all ages.
She spoke at the opening ceremony of the 2022 Gay Softball World Series in Dallas, touched on trans issues in interviews and delved even further into her own story in a powerful episode of IMPACT’s documentary series “Diary,” a series squarely aimed at pro wrestling audiences.
“It’s really important to tell my story in ‘Diary’ that this is what I go through every single day for the longest time in my life so that people can actually understand that and hear from my perspective,” Shaw said. “People don’t really know how I feel. And they don’t know how people in the community feel. So I think it was really important for me to say that and be vocal about it.
“It’s a reality check for people that, like, let’s say, for example, some people go, ‘You know what, trans people are’ insert negative connotation there. I’m not gonna say it myself. And then I go, ‘You know what, Don’t you guys think that I wanted to be born ‘normal’ or what society thinks ‘normal’ is?’ Did you think I woke up one day and go, ‘You know what, I really want to go through all this hardship and be bullied and just feeling on the edge all the time.’ No, I don’t,” she added. “I think it’s really important to just be understanding and caring for people because, whether you are in the community or whether you’re not, we’re all human beings, and I think the most important thing is just to be loving and caring for one another because we’re all humans.”
Shaw also recognizes that the personal exhalation that came with that moment in Toronto and the “Diary” episode is just one part of the change brought by the last year. She now provides the representation to trans and gender-diverse wrestling fans that she didn’t have while watching her heroes in the Knockouts and Divas divisions growing up.
Prior to coming out, Shaw felt anxious when presented with the topic of transness in conversation because of the fear of being clocked and the fact that she hadn’t shared her own story yet. That has changed since last June. Now, Shaw recognizes the responsibility she holds for “the next generation.”
“I need to remember that all the time, that whatever I do going forward, I’m representing a community,” Shaw said. “I want people to feel comfortable to have conversations, those hard conversations, because those are the most important conversations we shouldn’t be having. That’s how we keep going forward, and that’s how we get educated. If we don’t talk about that, then you’re not going to open people’s minds.”
“The Quintessential Diva” put that representation on display earlier this month in a special moment. Shaw wrestled her first match with IMPACT during Pride month since coming out at the promotion’s annual “Against All Odds” event, which oddly enough was the same event that she wrestled on last July in her first match after coming out. The bookended nature of those matches made Shaw joke that “Against All Odds” was her event, but it also frames her journey over the last year.
“I feel like I’ve evolved, right, and grew and matured as a person. And, you know, I think part of it is that, yes, I told my story last year, but also I have to move forward from that,” Shaw said. “I feel like that’s what we need to do as people. We can’t be stuck with the past. The past is what makes us but it’s what you do going forward with it. That’s the most important thing.”