May 21, 2013

Pro Wrestling's Gay Villains

My brother was a big fan of pro wrestling.  He bought lots of magazines with pictures of beefy men in tight shorts pummelling each other.  He watched the WWWF (which stood for World Wide Wrestling Federation)  on Saturday afternoons, and rooted for his favorite wrestlers. And if ever you were to suggest that it was a performance, a fake, he would slam you to the floor and put you into a triple headlock-double Nelson-whatever  on the living room floor.

WWWF wrestlers came in two categories: "The Babyface," handsome, charismatic, extremely muscular, with an obvious bulge in his spandex: Bruno Sammartino, Chief Jay Stronghold, Ricky the Dragon Steamboat (left), Tony Parisi.  He played fair and square and usually won the match.


And "The Heel," not particularly attractive (although just as muscular), who cheated and used illegal moves, but usually lost anyway.

Sometimes he was a foreigner who riled the crowd with anti-American insults: Nikolai Volkoff, Stan Stasiak, The Iron Sheik, Kevin Von Erich (left).

But often he was a narcissistic fop who riled the audience with his flashy clothes, flamboyant gestures, and air of "degenerancy"







Jesse the Body Ventura wore a pink suit with a yellow boa

Adrian Adonis, who wore makeup, pomaded his hair, and minced and limp-wristed into the ring.

Johnny B. Badd, who wore makeup (including lavender lipstick), a lavender boa, and various gay-pride rainbow colors.

Prettyboy Pat Patterson, who wore lipstick and carried a pink poodle.

These were nearly the only images of "gay" people you could see on tv in the 1970s.


The gay-stereotype heel character was invented by George Wagner, ring name Gorgeous George (1915-1963), a wrestling staple of the 1940s and 1950s.  He had long, expertly coiffed blond hair and wore a lavender robe with sequins. Before each fight, he sprayed the ring with perfume, "Chanel #10."

His valet, Boomerries, carried a gigantic mirror so he could check his appearance, keying into the myth of the gay man as narcissist.

 His ability to rile the audience into a homophobic rage made him the most famous wrestler in history, especially when the sport moved into television.

The characters weren't really "supposed" to be gay, or they would never have been allowed near a wrestling ring.  The gay-stereotype "hints" were enough to draw the homophobia of the audience, and elicit triumphant war-whoops whenever they were pummelled.