Two people battle each other at Wrestle Yr Friends | Emily Carlson/WYF

Pro wrestling inspires its fans in many different ways. Most of the people who make the choice to become pro wrestlers were pushed to do so through fandom or drawing power from seeing specific personas in the ring. Artists depict their favorites with whimsy. References to the artform pop up in music, film and other pop culture avenues.

For Wrestle Yr Friends, the inspiration doesn’t directly come from pro wrestling, but rather a selection of its tenets filtered through a severely queer, radical lens in the name of giving all-comers access to the therapeutic power of pro wrestling’s pact of consensual violence.

“Wrestle Yr Friends is exactly what it sounds like,” WYF organizer Noah Filistowicz told Outsports. “You come, you sign up and you wrestle your friends.” Wrestling takes many forms at WYF events, from full-on wrestling (though standing isn’t allowed) on mats or kiddie pools full of jello to thumb wrestling, sock wrestling and staring contests.

And there are multiple reasons in Filistowicz’s mind why people keep coming back to engage in what WYF offers: testing one’s own physical limits, physical activity, community building, impressing someone you think is cute (Filistowicz’s reason for entering their first bout) or conflict resolution. That final reason is key to Filistowicz’s passion for continuing WYF in Seattle more than five years after they initially ran wrestling parties in Kansas City.

But a key aspect of WYF is breaking the cultural and personal image of queer fragility. “We’re pro resistance, pro catch-these-hands, pro ‘that sounds like they didn’t get their ass kicked as a kid and maybe they needed to.’” Filistowicz said. “That’s something that we play with in a queer space that makes people uncomfortable.

“I think ultimately everyone can get into it because everyone is more sick of being afraid of being perceived as X,Y or Z, whatever that thing that tender queers are going to call you abusive for engaging in violence when, in actuality, actually wrestling it out re-engaged the nervous system,” Filistowicz said. “You went through the polyvagal motions. You are outside your window of tolerance just enough to get your adrenaline pumping. That kind of play puts you back within your window of tolerance and you process complex trauma. There’s actual science behind why duking it out will make you feel better.

“I think that something like wrestling, on a personal level, even if you don’t win your match, you realize you’re a lot stronger than you thought you were. It opens a lot of doors to showing up really courageously in situations where maybe you’re expecting violence or not.”

Filistowicz also uses these events to provide education on queer history, evidenced by their forthcoming “Stonewall Brawl” event on June 25. “I think that, as queer people, we have a responsibility to uphold legacies of resistance of what it means to be queer: throwing bricks, finding Marsha P. Johnson’s killer, freeing Palestine,” Filistowicz said. “Bash back is dead. We hit first.”

Filistowicz believes that fighting the erasure of queer and specifically trans identities and history is “the whole reason that I exist.”

“Finding microphones for people that have felt silenced forever, that feels like my reason to exist,” Filistowicz said. “Building those spaces for people that are of the absolute margin feel that they get to be and just be without having to answer questions, just getting to exist, is so important to me.”

Filistowicz describes WYF events as brave spaces for queer expression as opposed to safe spaces. “I don’t believe in safe spaces. I don’t think that they exist,” Filistowicz said. “ I don’t think I can offer one. As a white organizer, I can’t purport to offer a safe space on occupied Turtle Island under a police state that kills Black people. I can’t do that.”

That brave space designation creates an environment where queer expression has no chains while simultaneously informing attendees about mutual aid, equitable causes, queer resistance and fun. That mix is what drew Seattle-area pro wrestler Lucy Lux to WYF events.

“Seattle has a very interesting queer scene right now where a lot of us are starting to learn how to get into self-defense and stuff like that, so folks are generally interested in combat sports,” Lux told Outsports. “As somebody who enjoys backyard wrestling and different forms of combat storytelling, what [WYF] were doing was already pretty legitimate, just not exactly pro wrestling. I’m also a huge punk kid, so I love DIY shows.”

After participating in WYF’s February event, Lux got involved with the group to develop a relationship between it and the pro wrestling world. “Stonewall Brawl” will be the first WYF event to hold bouts in an actual wrestling ring and Lux is programming matches with queer and allied pro wrestlers from around the Pacific Northwest to hold alongside the attendee bouts. Lux’s own participation in mutual aid and community outreach only strengthened that connection.

“I’ve grown up throwing hands, talking about my issues and doing both at the same time. I feel like sometimes folks, especially in the PNW, are OK with conflict,” Lux said. “Wrestle Yr Friends have created a space for all the gutter punks and even the kids who are like ‘You know what? I’ve never been punched in the face but it’s probably time that I get punched in the face’ to show up and resolve their issues.

“I’ve got sexual assault trauma and gang violence trauma in my past, and wrestling is really one of the only spaces where I can come and tell all of those stories and involve everybody in those stories in ways that are not only safe but I’m in control of what happens,” she continued. “It’s nice to be able to engage in that.”

That accessibility also lies at the heart of WYF and played a part in drawing Lux to working with the group. “I show friends wrestling clips and they love it but don’t have to the time or money to go to wrestling shows, which is a big reason why I’m excited to get more involved with WYF and really try to truly develop and flesh out the space and culture of WYF,” Lux said. 

“It’s for working-class people by working-class people. It’s for queer people by queer people …  I want WYF to embody all the people who have been pushed aside and cast away by society and marginalized. You can come to this space and see some fucking awesome wrestling, you can challenge your roommate who hasn’t cleaned the dishes in three weeks to go out there and fight because you’re tired of it or you can just come and meet new people and learn about different struggles going on in the city or find your new boo. Genuinely, it is just a space to exist based around love and support.”