What You Don’t Know Can’t Hurt You

This year, I turned 30. Being 30 is very odd, and brings with it a sensation that has seemed to seep into every aspect of my life – in particular, wrestling. That sensation can best be summed up thusly: I am suddenly acutely aware of how very little I actually know.

Over two years ago, I wrote this angry post in response to an interview Triple H gave to a radio station in which he said, regarding the booking of WWE, fans “don’t have 1/100th of the information that it takes to make those decisions on a daily basis.” I remember feeling so angry and the best thing I could do to deal with that anger was to sit down at my computer and write about it on my blog. This blog has been a place I’ve put what I’ve been feeling in regards to wrestling for a long time now, but I’m not so sure it’s the right place for what I’m thinking or feeling anymore.

In that same blog post, I lamented a lack of a “path” for what, at the time, I thought was the career I so desperately wanted. There were no schools or courses to take to become a wrestling writer; there were no female mentors or role models who I could go to for advice. I wanted help, I wanted guidance. I wanted someone to tell me what to do or how to begin.

A year ago, in my Year in Review post, I foretold something new coming with the PWGrrrlGang hashtag that I’d been using for nearly all of 2016. I didn’t explain what that would be, other than to say I’d be using it to give back to the community – I just did it. There’s a good reason for that, too. I didn’t know what PWGrrrlGang would become, or how it would affect the independent wrestling community, if it would at all. But it did, and now there is a wonderful community of people trying to look out for one another, who are trying to take care of their wrestling family. It’s not perfect, and it cannot insulate the independent wrestling scene from all Bad Stuff. I don’t know what the PWGrrrlGang will become, but I hope it will always be, at it’s core, what it is I first wanted it to be: a calling card that lets people know they are among other devoted wrestling fans who just want to go and have a good time, and will do their best to just be good to the people around them, no matter what. That is all we can ever ask of the other people in the crowd, because at the end of the day the match is over, the show ends, and everyone goes home.

I have struggled lately with the existence of this blog, and with the continuation of the Facelock Feministas podcast, though those few hours each week I spend recording with Courtney have been some of the best evenings I’ve had this year. My relationship with wrestling as an art form, as a performance, as a business, has all evolved over the past 12 months. It has evolved so much I find myself teetering upon a line I didn’t even know existed before. I used to believe there was kayfabe, the stories we saw told in the ring, the larger-than-life personas and the roar of the crowd, and then there was reality – wrestlers in airports and photos of weddings on Instagram. But actually, there is a third place that exists between those two things. I don’t know what you would even call it, but it’s the place where wrestling is both business and ethics and mechanics. It’s the place that holds the answers to why certain people work certain places and not certain other places. It’s the place that knows why some stories play out better than others. It’s the home of the magician’s assistant, who doesn’t know what side of the bed the magician sleeps on, but knows how the rabbit got in the hat, or if it was ever in there at all.

It is not so much that I feel like I reside in this bizarre grey area now; I certainly do not. But rather, I know now that it exists. I know there is so much more information about how wrestling works – how the gears are turning and the cogs fit snuggly together – and that is what has left me feeling displaced. I know that for every time a fan asks “why did you do it like this?” there are at least 100 different answers, all valid and all things that had to be considered before a decision is made. I don’t know that I feel more empathetic toward wrestlers or promoters or anyone else than I did a year ago, but I suddenly feel uncomfortable discussing my opinions on wrestling when I am suddenly overwhelmed by how minuscule what I know is. I am also suddenly aware how far-reaching my audience is and how, at times, there is an expectation for me to announce to that whole audience how I feel about one decision or one tweet or one podcast or one promo. Perhaps after years of shouting into the nothingness that is the internet and all of its millions of users, I am now far more in awe of the power of what can happen when said to someone in private, or to just a few people, and how that can create more change – move more gears – than a bully pulpit ever could.

I’ve learned one other valuable lesson this year, and that is to be careful about making promises. Sometimes you let other people down when you can’t keep them, but sometimes the person you really let down is yourself. So I won’t be making any New Years Resolutions, dear reader, and I can’t make any promises to you. What I will say is that I don’t have any idea what comes next. I’m going to keep trying to be an okay human being. I’m going to keep trying to make sure that everyone who also wants to try to be an okay human being, in particular at indie wrestling shows, can get the chance to do that. If that’s the most I do in 2018, I think that would be a win for me.

As for what happens between reality and kayfabe, I cannot say. But I know it’s there, now. And that it was always there all along. I don’t know if finding out about the rabbit and the hat will help me to affect positive change in this thing we all love so much. I don’t know if, perhaps, it would make me not love it anymore at all. But I am acutely aware of how very little I actually know – for now.

– The Lady J Says

 

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The Other Side of the Table

You know what a long drive through Western Pennsylvania needs? A pop-punk playlist, a particularly stunning sunset, and a friend to do the driving while you write a blog post about the incredible weekend you just had. Check, check, and check.

My roommate and I drove the nine hours from Washington, D.C. to Toronto, ON on Friday in order to attend Smash Wrestling’s F8tful Eight event on Saturday. The trip was an absolute blast – I absolutely recommend Smash to anyone who finds themselves in Toronto – and it’s hard to go home now. But I learned a lot the last two days, about myself and my perspective, so there’s a lot of work to do when I get back.

I became the Lady J nearly three years ago, simply to create a separate place to discuss my thoughts on wrestling that wasn’t going to annoy my friends who weren’t part of the fandom. What that name means has grown exponentially since then, as I find each aspect of my life becoming more and more tied to the wrestling community. I assume, going into this trip, that I was going to Smash in order to accompany some new fans, advocate for inclusion in their promotion, and see some great matches. But you know what they say about assumptions.

My roommate has two friends from his graduate program that live in or near Toronto, and I found myself sharing a few meals with the three of them. These are brilliant science people, who know little or nothing about wrestling. They have many advanced degrees between them, and one of them had just been working toward becoming an astronaut. I was, intimidated at first, sitting across the breakfast table from all of their knowledge and I felt a little silly saying I was in town for wrestling. But once I did, they asked questions and wanted to discuss the community and my place in it. They wanted to know everything about the PWGrrrlGang and what it’s like being a female fan. One of them told me, when I insinuated what I was doing was nothing compared to becoming an astronaut or being an astrobiologist, that “every community, even science, needs an advocate.” In this community, that advocate is me. I should be proud, she told me. And I am.

Once at the show, I quickly discovered Smash Wrestling didn’t need me to advocate to or for them. They are a self-aware promotion and work hard to create a welcoming environment. The fans are quite diverse and very much like a family – they take care of one another, even if they’re on opposing sides of a match. They love their wrestlers, too, and are grateful to everyone who comes to their home to bless them with the gift of a beautiful match. It felt more like I was meant to be there to learn something than to teach anything. Right now, the PWGrrrlGang is a me, a twitter handle, a t-shirt shop, and a promotion in Canada. But people will adopt it and make it their own. It will evolve and change to fit the needs of the community. I won’t be at the next Smash show because they don’t need me. The PWGrrrlGang is in safe hands there, and I hope Karyn and Dan can help to welcome lots of new faces into the crowd.

I also learned, standing at a merch table, that if you want to have an influence on your community, you have to accept that people are going to be listening. You can’t be shy about who it is that reads your blog or listens to your podcast, even if it’s the promoters or wrestlers themselves. If we want to bring attention to issues we think are important in wrestling, it is not enough to simply discuss them among ourselves as fans. It is essential to be willing to have these conversations with people who have influence or power of their own, to stand up and say in both an eloquent and digestible way what we feel the problems are and how we would like to see them addressed. I endeavor to never become complacent with what I have already achieved, and know there is still more work to be done, more ears to bend, and to speak up whenever I can. More than anything, I hope to encourage other people to do the same. Talk to your local promoters when there is a problem, and also when something is going great. Work toward speaking to the wrestlers you admire at shows: treating them with respect and gratitude can breed the same in return. A mutual admiration society is a great way to create a safe space and an open dialogue, should you need one.

Finally, I found myself sitting with my mentor at a small cafe in my tiny old college town before the six hour drive back home. We spoke at length about what I was doing, and his interests in all of my projects. He has no connection to wrestling as a fan, but finds the sociological aspects to be fascinating. As we discussed the weekend and my experiences, he asked what was next; what was my goal? My answers were long and meandering, as I was really answering them for the first time – even to myself. I thought about sitting across from the scientists in Toronto, and standing next to the wrestlers at Smash, and then looked across the table at him. I thought about how my position has altered in two and a half years, and where I am now. And where I can be.

I know what it’s like to be a female wrestling fan. I know what it’s like to be marginalized, sexualized, harassed, and ignored. I know what the PWGrrrlGang does is important and I know that it will grow with time. I don’t know what it’s like to be a wrestler, or a promoter. I don’t know how to reconcile the things we, as fans, want to see happen at shows in order to feel safe and welcome with the way a wrestling business is run. But I want to. I don’t want to know the finish to a match, or who is winning a title. I want to know how wrestlers feel about working in places where the crowd uses racial slurs. I want to know how promoters deal with crowds or performers who can get out of control. The only way to find these things out is to keep writing, keep talking to people, and do it tirelessly. Maybe there is no perfect solution. There are probably tons of people out there who don’t want to talk to me because they don’t believe in what I do, or they think I expect them to martyr themselves. There might just be, however, a few people who are willing to discuss these things with me. Whatever it is they have to say, I am willing to listen and work with them.

A few months ago I wrote a post about how there were no mentors for women writers, there was no one who could tell me, or anyone like me, what to do in order to get people to listen. There was no precedent for something like the PWGrrrlGang in our community. Now we’re here, on the other side of the table. We’ve done a lot together already. So where do we go next? That’s easy.

We go further.

The Lady J Says

 

Safety & Inclusion: A Crowd-Sourced List

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This is how we started off tonight. The response was so overwhelming it took me FIVE HOURS to get through all of the suggestions. A great big thank you to all of the fans, and all of the promotions that participated in the conversation. Hopefully we can continue to add to the list and it will be a constantly evolving resource for fans of all walks of life.

The list currently contains just under 30 promotions in the UK, US, & Canada. Each promotion (where possible) includes information about where they are located, what their Twitter handle is, whether or not they book women & how they do, and whether or not they are family friendly. As more first-hand accounts come in, I’ll include some quotes from people about their experiences there.

If you have any questions or comments about this list (if you felt unsafe at a promotion and think they should be removed from the list, or if there is a promotion you would like to see added) please feel free to comment, email me (theladyjsays at gmail dot com) or DM me on Twitter.

The PWGrrrlGang Promotion List

– The Lady J Says