Ok, let me tell you a little about me…it was a long road to get to where I’m at now. Like very long, the worst part of the journey, so far, was the late elementary-middle school area…yeah…you know the years.
Picture it. Alabama. 1998. Jewish, glasses, fat, awkward, gay, but didn’t know what that meant yet, but nonetheless loud and flamboyant. Needless to say, I was an easy target…especially in the South. The taunts, the bullying, the cruelty was as unnecessary as it was daily. It seemed like I literally had no respite from it and hated myself for being this way.
….until Monday, December 7th, 1998.
That was the night I watched my first pro-wrestling broadcast: WCW Monday Night Nitro. I was hooked. What I saw in the world of WCW and WWE (F at the time) was a world of pageantry and drama…and you know I loved that cause, as you’ve no doubt guessed by now, I absolutely went to drama camp. I had found a place where men would sashay to the ring in a pink feathered and bedazzled robe, kick ass, and walk out the World Champion…and the best part, the crowd ate it up! I finally found a world where flamboyance wasn’t only celebrated but NECESSARY. A wrestler’s success depends on how they connect with the crow. If you know the names Ric Flair, “Ravishing” Rick Rude, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Stone Cold Steve Austin, or The Rock you know they didn’t get to where they were by being the quiet type. They did so with a lotta sass, a lotta shade, and a lotta “WOOOO!”
Despite the nature of the characters, the wrestling fandom never seemed to see it the way I did. No no, quite the opposite. If they didn’t like a character, the characters were “gay.” Chyna CONSTANTLY dealt with transphobic insults despite being a cisgendered woman. This continues today, two years ago, right here in Los Angeles, I heard people call Ric Flair’s daughter, Charlotte Flair, arguably the greatest women’s wrestler alive today, a “tranny.” I heard a bro sitting next to me call Brock Lesnar a “faggot.”
Whenever I go to a wrestling show I know it’s best to just ignore ignorance when I can (but speak out if I need to) because I always hear it. After twenty years of watching wrestling I accepted that despite the way it helped me through an awkward time and helped encourage me to embrace who I was, the world itself isn’t very accepting.
…then I saw this tweet.
Finn Balor, a global superstar, a fan favorite with a huge fan base…tweets that “Balor Club (what he calls his fanbase) is for everyone.”
I was stunned, I was always a fan of his, but I never expected this.
A few weeks ago Finn Balor announced that on WWE’s merchandise website, the rainbow version of his shirt was available for purchase with part of the proceeds benefitting GLAAD.* I instantly bought one. I couldn’t believe a wrestler I loved was doing this all while prepping for the biggest show of the pro-wrestling year, Wrestlemania.
At Wrestlemania he would be in a high profile match for the Intercontinental Championship. In the days leading up to Wrestlemania there is a 2-day fan festival called WWE Axxess where the fans can, among other things, meet their favorites wrestlers. Finn Balor wasn’t just all over, he was all over wearing his t-shirt….with his symbol in rainbow. I got teary-eyed at my desk. I thought this guy is unreal. He is walking around a major fan event in a shirt with rainbow and what’s even crazier, fans were also wearing them, smiles beaming…especially Finn’s.
Two nights ago on the biggest wrestling event each year, many fans were wondering if Finn was going to come out to his iconic “Demon King” entrance, perhaps me being the most curious among us. Normally WWE advertises that we’ll see “The Demon” since it’ll draw more fans, but they hadn’t advertised it yet.
….and I’ve never been happier to be so disappointed.
After Seth Rollins and The Miz (who, along with his wife Maryse were the first WWE superstars to do a NoH8 photo in 2012) had come to the ring, Finn’s music hits…and the crowd of nearly 100,000 people goes nuts. Finn walks out and it seems so typical until a crowd of people, LGBTQ people, wearing Finn Balor’s rainbow shirt, surround him.
As Finn turns to take in his first Wrestlemania moment, we see his leather jacket has his rainbow logo on it, his trunks have the rainbow logo, his boots, and even shin guards have rainbow on them.Finn walks to the ring as massive screens show his name, in GIANT rainbow letters, to the nearly 100,000 person Superdome… and all this in a red state.
Finn Balor didn’t capture the Intercontinental Championship that night (congrats Seth) but what he did was so much more important. This rainbow campaign wasn’t during Pride month, the other members of the WWE roster weren’t doing it. He did it.
At Wrestlemania Finn Balor coulda done the expected, he coulda done what everyone, myself included, WANTED to see but instead he did what he believed people NEEDED to see. He walked down the ramp walking the walk of an ally backing up his words. He sent a message to thousands in attendance, and the millions watching at home, many of whom are straight from middle America, that he, a straight man, PROUDLY supports the queer community.
At that moment I sat, tears in my eyes, thinking of how much I needed this when I was younger and how grateful I was that a younger generation, in a similar situation that I once was, now have a moment like this. I thought of every queer person watching this wrestler, their favorite, their friends’ favorites, the family’s favorite, just said, “I am cool with who you are, even if you’re LGBTQ.”
In an event that is known for iconic moments in pop culture, one if its most important ones just happened and not one person got slammed…well…save except after the entrance later…but still serving Rainbow Butch.
The fight for queer liberation is sometimes an uphill battle that seems like we have no one fighting other than ourselves. It’s moments like this that remind us that we do have others. We have allies. Allies are our straight and cis soldiers that believe we are as equal to anyone else and they have our backs against members of their community that don’t share their viewpoint. They are beloved to us and without them, there is no winning this fight.
As I began to write this, the post Wrestlemania edition of WWE’s Monday Night Raw is wrapping up and featured a 6 man tag match (three people on each team). One side is involving Finn, still rocking the rainbow, and one of Finn’s teammates, another fan favorite, Jeff Hardy, made his return to the ring following an injury, and Jeff Hardy comes to the ring, both arms wrapped in rainbow.
While this might only be a microcosm of the population that notices I hope what Finn Balor has done lights the fire that brings more allies to our cause on the road to equality because, as we have learned since 1969, the more the merrier.
Thank you, Finn Balor and thank you to all those who aren’t queer but also aren’t afraid to shine a bit in rainbow, and fight for equality because you know that this world, much like Balor Club, is for everyone.
*As of this writing after three week online, Finn’s rainbow shirt has sold out on WWEShop, I am told they are doing backorders.