Dear Nathan,

Let’s start off with the simplest of things: there are heels and there are babyfaces. Good guys and bad guys. You should always be a babyface in your own life. You might be someone else’s heel, someone else’s foil, but in your own story, you are the babyface.

Wrestling is a lot of things to different people, and it will probably take a while to figure out what it means to you. If it’s not as important or all-consuming as it is to another person, that’s okay. Some people say “casual fan” like it’s an insult, but it isn’t. You can be any kind of fan you want, as long as you’re a respectful one.

There is so much wrestling out there for you to experience. If one thing doesn’t suit you, keep trying new things. Taking time to understand why you like other things outside of wrestling will help to steer you toward different styles or promotions. You are a complex being, and wrestling is a complex art form. There is no right or wrong way to experience or fall in love with it.

And you will fall in love with it. When you do, it will be amazing. You will experience such incredible highs and amazing catharsis, it will be sort of like a drug. But like any great love, it can also hurt you. When booking changes, when wrestlers move on, when styles fade, you will feel forgotten and lost. It’s okay to be sad when a thing that brought you such great joy suddenly only makes you sad or angry. But that just means it’s time to find a new kind of wrestling (or a new wrestler, or a new place to see wrestling) to fall in love with. And you will, on repeat, your whole life.

You might love wrestling so much that you want to try doing it yourself. You might want to become a wrestler, or start your own promotion. You might want to write a blog or do a podcast. You should. You should do all of those things, or some other things that no one has tried yet. You should do them, and fuck them up, and try them again. Don’t ever let someone tell you you’re the wrong size or your writing’s too flowery, or you don’t have the right equipment or enough money. Don’t listen to people who tell you wrestling is silly or childish or that you’re getting worked up over something trite. People like that have always existed, and all they are is envious of your passion and drive. You will outlast them, I promise.

Be good to the people you meet through wrestling. We are a community of misfit toys. But we are also loyal and loving. Take care of your wrestling friends, because they accept a side of you that a lot of your school mates or co-workers might not. They understand your excitement, they understand why you yell and scream at shows, they understand why you like one wrestler better than another. Your wrestling friends will take care of you, too. If you drink, they will make sure you get home safely. If you travel, they will make sure you have a place to stay and food to eat. They will become your wrestling family and they might be anywhere in the world. That also means there will always be someone awake at 3am on a Tuesday when you need to talk. Or just know someone is there.

Be good to the people who are not your friends, too, though. Respect that everyone comes to this thing from a different place – a different background, a different path – and maybe you will disagree. But a wrestling show should be a place where you can go and be yourself (whatever yourself might be) and that means you have to allow others to be themselves, too. Stick up for the people who need a voice. Listen to the people who are trying to tell you when they are hurting. Don’t leave anybody out, or anyone behind. But don’t stand for any nonsense, either.

Don’t worry if you fall away from wrestling. Sometimes life gets in the way. But wrestling isn’t going anywhere. When you want to come back, it will still be there, probably with a new coat of paint and a lot of new faces, but it will still want you to be a part of it. When life gets ugly, when days are grey, it’s a good way to escape or have a laugh. When life goes to shit, there’s a really good chance it will make you happy, even for a moment. And you should be happy. Everyone deserves to be happy.

You are in a unique spot in time. You were born in a place where wrestling is having a renaissance, amidst a very welcoming and progressive fanbase. You have parents who will happily guide you as you find your own fandom. You will easily be connected to people all over the world who already love and care about you because of how wonderful, generous, and kind your family is. If there are things in wrestling that interest you that they don’t know about, they will find you someone who does to help you. Those people are going to teach you other cool things, too, about music and food and books and theater and film and all that life has to offer. All because of wrestling.

Before you came into this world, we weren’t sure what you would be. And to be honest, I don’t think anybody is ever sure until their time in this place is through. But because we knew so little about you, we called you Bumpasaurus, because you might be anything – even a dinosaur. (Side note: if you turn out to be, in fact, a dinosaur, I’d avoid Jack Haskins at all cost.) But now you are here and you are a Nathasaurus – still capable of becoming anything and everything. And in the best possible place to achieve whatever that may be.

Wrestling’s the best, kid. Trust me.

– The Lady J

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Imposter Syndrome

A few days ago, my roommate (who works for NASA) was discussing a concept known as Imposter Syndrome as it relates to the science world.

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In this case, she was discussing how women feel, even with post-doctorate degrees and fully-funded research projects, that they will eventually be discovered to be imposters in the science community. It’s something many of the women she works with are constantly struggling to overcome.

As I was listening to her speak, I realized that I struggle with my own Imposter Syndrome in the pro-wrestling world as a writer. I’m sure there are plenty of writers (particularly non-male-identifying) who suffer the same thoughts: that what we do is somehow less than, or that suddenly the community will wake up and realize our opinions are invalid.

I always try to qualify my writing with my own experiences or with my “place” in the wrestling community. How many of my posts have included the phrase “Now, I’m not a wrestler/promoter/referee/etc”? Plenty, though I’ve never counted. I make an attempt when creating these pieces to be forthcoming about how much information or experience I possess, and whether or not my opinion can truly be subjective.

Recently, Tommy End made some waves on Twitter with the following statement:

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I’m going to step right over the use of the phrase “valid opinion” in order to make a slightly different point here about objectivity. I believe Tommy’s argument here was actually about the fact that people who comment on wrestling can only give an outsider’s opinion, which lacks a certain insight having never wrestled a match/booked a show before. That is fair, as you are looking in from the outside instead of the other way around. But what I see as a fan and a writer is that Tommy is also forgetting that as a someone who is a wrestler, often times his own opinion (and not his specifically, but anyone inside the business) can be equally as subjective because their own preferences/experiences color their opinions, just as a fan’s does. The only difference is that his opinion is colored by his physical experience instead of his voyeur-based preference.

As a fan and writer, this argument is not entirely unlike the one I run into often regarding my role as a “feminist writer” with an “agenda” (oooh, scary!) I’ve been told many, many times that I am attempting to view wrestling through a lens that it was never intended for. Naturally my counter to that is that none of human history was ever intended to be viewed through the lens of strong female empowerment, so get over it. But the implication there is that the male perspective on wrestling is more valid than the female because they are the “target audience”. And how often has we, as readers of articles and consumers of content, found that men are more likely to rush into half-baked articles, unafraid of their lack of research or proper sources before hitting “publish”? That’s not to say there aren’t women who are also guilty of it, but in an environment where the validity of a woman’s opinion is already in question, many of us feel a need to double down on the “science” side of our work, the quotes, the research, etc., before allowing the general public in.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not advocating for anyone who is so inclined to suddenly stop checking themselves. I AM however advocating for everyone else to stop wrecking themselves by giving in to a furious desire to be “first”. (This was recently discussed on the Talking Sheet Podcast rather eloquently by hosts Les Moore, Hugh Little, and Sealia Bloom.) But I am also advocating for women, for anyone who is not a cis-gendered white dude, to find their validity. Take a deep breath and silence that voice inside you that says someone is going to “find you out”. You are a wrestling fan, and a talented content-creator. You’re not an imposter; you’re the real deal.

The Lady J Says

2016

Amid an absolute swarm of year-end lists and review podcasts (Facelock Feministas included) I decided to do one more blog post for 2016 but wasn’t sure what to write about. I got a number of great suggestions (by far, my favorite was “best hair of 2016”) and it was hard to narrow down exactly how I wanted to round out the year.

This morning, I received a tweet from a friend’s locked account (so I won’t be sharing a screen shot here.) It was very simple, and not a response to anything I, or anyone else, had said. It was the sentiment that moved me very nearly to tears, though: the presence of the #PWGrrrlGang had helped this person enjoy wrestling in 2016.

My contribution to the wrestling community is limited. I don’t have a lot of money to travel often or see as many shows as I’d like. I certainly am not athletically gifted or of the body type where you’d ever see me inside a ring. I don’t possess a mind for business that would lend to running a promotion. But I know how to advocate for people who need help, and I can write. That, in its most basic form, was how the #PWGrrrlGang was born. I wanted to create something that brought people together, that created positive discussions, and that gave people that had been feeling alone in the fandom a sense of community and belonging.

Inadvertently, I helped myself along the way. Writing and podcasting as often as I do has bettered my craft. I have also made a lot of wonderful friends who I know I can count on for thought-provoking conversation, for checking my ego, and for encouraging me when I get down on myself. There is a family here; one I am so proud to be a part of.

Many thanks are owed to EVERYONE who has used the #PWGrrrlGang tag, who has responded to or shared my work, and/or who tunes into the podcast. You are each incredible and the community would not be the place it is now without you. You’ve all inspired me with your varied backgrounds and outlooks to give me, to work harder.

In 2017, the PWGrrrlGang will be giving back – to the fans, the promotions, and the performers. There is much more work to be done, so please know I am here for the long haul. We have built something amazing this past year, all of us together, and I feel strongly that we have set into motion tremendous changes for the industry and the fandom. One day, there will be people of all walks of life who feel safe and included at independent and large-scale wrestling shows; people who maybe won’t know what we all did together, but who get to exist in a safe and inclusive fandom. By then the phrase “PWGrrrlGang” and even The Lady J may be long gone. But that’s the thing about a legacy. “It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” Who knows what the world might look like then. For now, I have high hopes that next year is going to look pretty good.

Best wishes for health and happiness for all in the coming year (and always).

With kindest regards & gratitude,

The Lady J

 

To Give Thanks

2015 was a hell of a year for me. I spent the last four months of it trying to adjust to my new life in northern Virginia: starting a retail job, tagging along with some close friends who showed me around, and getting lost (a lot). It wasn’t until January 2016 when a friend from work mentioned he was going to check out a local independent wrestling promotion that I had even heard of NoVa Pro Wrestling. Nat went and really enjoyed it, so I tagged along to the next show in March.

Eight months ago, I had interacted a bit via Twitter with a few of the individuals behind NoVa Pro, but could not see where the whole promotion would be now. If you happen to have purchased that March show, Last Exit to Springfield via Smart Mark Video, you’ll get an eyeful of my horrific reactions to the main event match between Logan Easton Leroux and Sonjay Dutt. I don’t sit in the front row of wrestling shows anymore.

After I came home, Sarah Slam and I fired up the Facelock Feministas machine and did a podcast on our live indie experiences that weekend (Sarah had been to an AAW show a few days earlier) and got great feedback from our listeners. In May, we did another “Indie Darlings” podcast along with a special guest who had attended an EVOLVE show, our friend Jess. It wasn’t until after the third “Indie Darlings” episode (entitled “Indie Darlings Among Us” after my own AAW experience in Chicago) that we started to bounce around the idea of combining the podcast and the NoVa Pro events. After Mike King, who is the promoter and matchmaker at NoVa Pro, and I talked it out, we decided I would broadcast the Facelock Feministas live via Google Hangout from the show and interview some of the wrestlers on the card. I was joined by Kate Foray and that day we interviewed Bobby Shields (who turned heel later that night), tag team and crowd-favorites Cutie & the Beast, and even had our first interaction with commentator Emil Jay. It was one of the most fun and fulfilling experiences I’ve had at a wrestling event.

As the months went on, and the pre-show grew and morphed with time. Eventually, it became a real learning experience for me. I’ve interviewed a lot of talent that’s been booked, all of whom have not only helped the promotion by being candid and insightful, a key to getting fans engaged in a card, but they’ve helped me develop my own interview skills and a passion for it. I only hope that talking to me gives them more experience as the interviewee, in a medium they can go back and reference as they prepare for other podcasts and promos. I’ve gained so much from them all. I am still growing as a host and interviewer, and I appreciate all of the opportunities and patience they have with me.

In the past eight months, I have developed a new connection to the promotion – an emotional one. We all come together only once a month, and it’s like a reunion of old friends whenever another show comes around. When I walk in to the venue, I don’t feel as shy or nervous anymore. I will always be a fan first, but it helps to ease my pre-podcast jitters when someone says “Hey, Ms. J!” (I will never get used to the hand shaking thing, though. Sorry, pro-wrestling, I love you but I am 100% going to get a cold this way.) There is a genuine feeling of camaraderie among the individuals at these shows, and it extends to the fans as well. There is a great relationship between the performers, the fans, the promoters, and the technicians. They are all there because they love wrestling, and they respect what one another’s role in that is.

Respect is a big deal for me. I know that when I show up at a wrestling event and people see me talking to the talent, there’s more than a handful of small-minded individuals who assume I am romantically linked to one of the performers. I’m hyper aware of this fact, and I hate it. I hate that my status there as a writer, a journalist, a podcaster, a member of the team are all in question because of my gender. But everyone at NoVa Pro treats me with respect. They know I love their product, and that I am trying to contribute to it in what I feel is the best way I can. New opportunities are always presenting themselves. Money Green came and sat down at the pre-show table at random one time and delivered one of the best shoot interviews I’ve ever heard. His passion for the industry and the art form along with what it can give back to its community is equal parts astounding and infectious. Watching the character work being done between Innocent Isaiah and Beau Crockett of Cutie and the Beast makes me miss my days in theatre. (Spoiler alert: Beau & Isaiah are having more fun than you.) Discussing the tactics of dastardly heels like Logan and Brandon Day, or navigating the thoughtful assertiveness of NoVa Pro heroes Chet Sterling and Arik Royale constantly help me to reassess my concepts of good and evil within the storytelling of professional wrestling.

Last night at Paradise by the Dashboard Light, NoVa Pro had their last show of the 2016 calendar year. The card included not only all of the regulars who push to outdo one another and themselves every month, but names we all know, admire, and respect. Names like the returning Donovan Dijak who had an incredible match against Jonathan Gresham. Rachael Ellering joined me on the pre-show to discuss her career and her debut at NoVa Pro against Brittany Blake. Undefeated Ace of the Mid-Atlantic Arik Royale took on a knockout of a challenger in Chris Hero, in a match that I spent most of with my hands over my mouth in shock. The entire promotion continues to grow and become more. It is a testament to independent wrestling at large and its success is anchored in fanbase made up of people like you and me supporting the individuals working hard to showcase themselves, their fellow performers, and this art form.

I don’t run a wrestling promotion. I don’t book wrestlers or make matches. I don’t do commentary (except that one time, heaven help us) and I don’t ring announce. I can’t work a steady cam or put the ring itself together. I don’t know insider secrets or finishes to matches; I still get embarrassed and shy when my favorite wrestlers come to town. I am not, and likely never will be, cool. I’m a writer with an affinity for radio, who loves independent wrestling. At NoVa Pro Wrestling, I was embraced not just by a community, but by a family. I was lost once, but now I’m home.

The Lady J Says

P.S. If you feel disconnected from the wrestling community at large, allow me to give you one piece of advice: the solution may be right in your own backyard.

EVOLVE72 – Stand Up and Be Heard

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I was surprised and proud when, a block away from La Boom tonight in Woodside, Queens, I discovered via Twitter that Joey Styles’ abominable comments at this evening’s EVOLVE 72 show resulted in his termination. It helped ease the sting of such a harsh, disgusting, uncomfortable moment among an otherwise killer live event. I don’t want this night to go down in my memory as The Night Joey Said That Thing.

If time allows, I do hope to do a mini cast about tonight’s card, as well as what I’ll be seeing tomorrow in Joppa, MD. I took a close friend who has limited experience with wrestling to this show, and we had a wonderful time. This experience set the gears turning in my head, and I’d like to make some notes so I can clearly share them with you all. But I don’t want this nonsense with Styles getting in the way, so I thought I’d write about it.

In the aftermath of it all, I believe strongly that Gabe Sapolsky did the right thing in firing Styles. But I would like to encourage him NOT to let this be the final comment on this issue. While EVOLVE may be a promotion that does not feature women’s matches, it DOES employee women on its staff, and has a fairly mixed audience of men and women. Making sure these women – ALL of these women – feel safe at their shows is part of Gabe’s job. Terminating Styles’ employment with EVOLVE sends a strong message to the staff and performers, but I wish a clear one was sent to the audiences, not just of EVOLVE, but of all pro-wrestling.

There are many different manifestations of privilege in our culture. In the industry of professional wrestling, men (in particular, white men) are afforded a bully pulpit, which they may avail themselves of if they should choose to do so. With EVOLVE being in a working relationship with WWE, as well as its new relationship with FloSlam, and Sapolsky’s own reputation after years in the industry, it could make serious waves in the favor of equality should he extend his comments on tonight’s events to include that EVOLVE is adopting a zero-tolerance policy for racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic commentaries, both from the staff and from the fans. What if EVOLVE stood up as a promotion where everyone can feel safe, whether you are in the ring performing or outside the ring observing?

“But he already fired Styles, and set an example. Why should he say anything else?” Because he can. He has the power to not only put at ease all of the fans who skip live events because they’re afraid of what the fans will be like, or that some dialogue in the ring will be triggering to them, but to set an example for an entire industry. When tiny promotions are nervous to lay down such intense policies because they’re afraid of isolating a portion of their fanbase and losing revenue, EVOLVE can stand up and say “yeah, some people won’t like this and won’t come to our shows. That’s fine. We don’t want their business if they need to shout offensive, cruel things during our events.” They can be leaders by example, and set a new tone for promotions that are inclusive and safe.

I don’t run a wrestling promotion. I am a fan who tries to advocate for the things she believes in. Perhaps my idyllic notions about integration and equality in wrestling are impossible to achieve. But, I have hope. I feel strongly that encouraging those with power to speak on our issues is key in the fight for equality. I know that Gabe Sapolsky and other promoters like him will continue to do what is best for their companies, and hopefully what is best for their companies will continue to be what is also best for their communities.

The Lady J Says

An Artist Debuts

This past weekend was an absolute whirlwind of wrestling for me. It was my first time making the trip to see two separate promotions in two separate cities on back to back days. If you’re interested in checking out NOVA Pro’s NOVA Project 2 pre-show, that’s up here on the Facelock Feministas YouTube channel. If you caught Chikara’s The Black Goodbye either live or on Facebook, just know I’m going to do a blog post about that later on in the week.

My friend Kate (who most of you know as MakeItLoud on Twitter, and from her fabulous RAW Breakdown Project) and I have had plenty of time lately with all of the long car rides we’ve been taking to discuss wrestling at great lengths. We’ve talked about bookings, about promotions, about storytelling, about women as wrestlers, creatives, and fans. But the topic we seem to keep returning to is the unique relationship between the performers themselves and the fanbase. In wrestling, the way we as fans interact with promotions and wrestlers is unlike the way the fans of just about anything else interact with the things they are a fan of. Not only are these individuals and companies available to us through social media and video productions that are widely accessible, but also through live and in-person performances and interactions. Many fans feel a connection with specific promotions or performers, and while most often that manifests itself in terms of admiration, some cool fan art, and really wild cheers at live shows, it can also contort into a sense of entitlement and ownership.

Spoiler alert: I don’t know any wrestlers personally. You could argue my most direct connection to any wrestler is through attendance at the NOVA Pro shows and through doing the podcast. I don’t know anything about these people’s personal lives and we don’t socialize outside of that environment. I am just a fan. But I feel a deep sense of pride in them when they achieve something within this industry – even without titles or tournaments. When they have a particularly stupendous match and you can see it on their face afterwards how proud they are, it’s infectious.

I’m a lady with a blog and a podcast. I like to discuss the performance aspect of wrestling (see also: my Facelock Feministas review of the Weapons of Mass Destruction match on Lucha Underground.) I like to discuss the gender biases within the industry and within the fanbase (see also: the #PWGrrrlGang.) I also like to have fun, which is why – if you are a wrestler – there is a chance you’ve heard me talking about your butt on Twitter. Sorry. (#NotSorry) I am deeply appreciative of the fact that the first (and hopefully only) person who has called me out on this in person is Cedric Alexander.

I’ve seen Cedric Alexander perform live in three different promotions now: I saw him at AAW in Chicago back in June, I saw him wrestle at Chikara’s King of Trios earlier this month, and for the better part of this summer, Cedric was appearing at the monthly NOVA pro shows, wrestling our own fan favorites as well as outside talent, like Shane Strickland. Cedric never once had a bad match with anyone. Cedric’s style, his presence both in the ring and outside of it, and his willingness to interact with fans whether they are lining up for an autograph and photo or yelling Kota Ibushi’s name at him while he’s wrestling, paint a picture of someone who is truly dedicated to his art form. That’s the best way I can describe Cedric: he’s an artist.

When he was announced as being a part of the Cruiserweight Classic, it was natural for me to cheer for him. Before a single episode had aired, none of us were 100% sure what the outcome would be – not only who would win, but what the prize would be. I had hope that Cedric would do well, whatever the bigger picture might have in store for all of the participants. So to then discover that while he did not win the tournament outright, that he WOULD be debuting today, September 19th, on Monday Night RAW as part of the new Cruiserweight division made me incredibly proud. Not all wrestlers have the same goals or aspirations, but we as their fans and supporters hope that they make their craft sustainable; we want them to be able to do nothing but wrestle and feed their families through their art. We know that for many of them, working with WWE is not only a childhood dream, but the place where money and wrestling come together to create that sustainability.

From my tiny place within this giant industry, all I can hope is that hardworking individuals who genuinely love their fans and want to create a body of beautiful work with a variety of opponents are the people who reap the rewards. The current list of cruiserweights making up this new division is quite diverse – the styles and background of each competitor speak for themselves – but I feel strongly that Cedric will rise as a leader among them. I look forward to what their division will bring as a whole to RAW, and who they may inspire to pursue a career in wrestling. They have also left a sizable hole in the independent scene, and I eagerly anticipate who will fill the space they’ve left behind. (I’ll also be keeping an eye out for the new best booty of the indies, of course. Don’t think I’ve totally turned into a mush.)

It is hard to be a wrestling fan a lot of the time. It’s an expensive fandom to exist in where your heart will be broken, bad decisions will be made, other fans will make you crazy, and people you care deeply for will get injured. You can often feel like a tiny, unheard voice shouting amidst a sea of other opinionated characters, with just as much passion or fervor as the next person, but no one to listen. Sometimes the nonsense that goes on will make you want to walk away from the whole thing. Kate & I have joked we should make a shirt that says “Your fave is problematic and your fave is pro wrestling.”

I’m so very proud to say my favorite isn’t problematic.

Mine is Cedric Alexander.

– The Lady J Says

 

 

 

The Storyteller

 

The wrestling hangover I suffered from post-King of Trios was a doozy. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt that burnt out after a show before. Granted, it as 3 days of incredible wrestling coupled with the discovery of a promotion fairly close to where I live that expertly utilizes all of the aspects of wrestling that I adore: theatrics, linear storytelling, complex characters, and a suspension of disbelief. Never having spent quite so much time immersed in the pro wrestling community, I think I left with more questions than I entered, so I tried to sum it all up and ask Twitter for some thoughts. One response in particular stuck out:

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The front row was still too far away.

That blew my mind. I know that feeling.

This is not to say I want to be a wrestler. I can’t possibly stress enough that I don’t want to be a wrestler. Besides my confidence that my body would never withstand the things a wrestler must do, I also suffer from enough anxiety that my own fears about injuring whoever I got in there with would almost certainly come true. If I got hurt, that would suck. If I hurt someone else, I would be inconsolable. This is not the job for me.

I’m a storyteller. I have an overactive imagination that can outrun my own speech. I dream up things faster than I can put words to breath or pen to paper. My brain never shuts off, not even when I’m sleeping (see above mention of anxiety). My computer is full of half-baked notes and voice memos about characters and backstories, about plot lines and connective tissue; more of it than I could ever use in a lifetime, and more of it is being born every minute. This can make me awkward to encounter in person; I’m either going a mile a minute, or I’m quiet because my mind’s gone into overdrive and I’m hopelessly trying to retain even an ounce of whatever’s being created.

Being a fan of Lucha Underground has been incredible for me because it gives me something to focus on. I enjoy doing the Facelock Feministas podcast because I can take notes on the show and refer back to previous episodes, and know that there’s a definite amount of time before my hypothesis and questions are answered. I appreciate the interaction with the people both behind the scenes and the wrestlers themselves. But I have never been to The Temple in California, and with my wretched fear of flying, I may never get there. Attending Chikara’s King of Trios event last weekend sent my mind into a tailspin of ideas. Then someone posted a link to the history of the promotion and all of its characters and storylines. Now I’m in it.

I love the word “Nazmaldun”. I love the Hexed Men’s entrance music. I love Ophidian’s mask and Thunder Frog’s hammer. I love The Colony and all of their individual stories. I love how Cedric Alexander, Johnny Gargano, and Drew Gulak played to the story of them being “Team CWC”. I know there are many, many people like me who have a lightbulb go on in their heads when they see something like Chikara or Lucha Underground, the same way some people are inspired by reading Tolkien or seeing the musical Hamilton. If you can take that inspiration and channel it into your own work, that’s incredible. I’m sure some people would say, “well, J, why don’t you write fan fiction, or just write short stories inspired by the stuff you see at wrestling shows?” I could do that. But then the only way for an audience to consume that art is to read it. When I watch wrestling programs with intricate, deep storylines and characters, they are performance based and they inspire me to create art in the same forum. When I watch wrestling, I don’t think “I want to write stories that feel like that.” I think, “I want to help other people tell stories like that.”

I don’t know how I’m perceived by others in this community. I’m not sure it would serve me at all to care. I don’t know if people think I’m some weird superfan (I am), or some aggressive, opinionated feminist sjw (I’m that, too.) I certainly hope people don’t think I’m trolling wrestling shows for a lover, or to get famous. I’m not at a wrestling show to blow someone’s cover or get behind the curtain. Even with kayfabe in this strange limbo stage now, I prefer not to know who is behind a lucha libra mask if I can help it. It doesn’t enhance the experience for me to be “in the know” – unless that knowledge is how the performer has created their character and chosen to tell that character’s story. A discussion on the artform of wrestling and the storytelling that drives it is my idea of a good time.

A few years ago, a friend of mine was doing a project on “creators” and what was at the heart of their art. For me, it was about being an arts facilitator – a storyteller. I like being a writer, and don’t plan on giving up the creative non-fiction I write. But the thing I miss about theater is the interaction with other creators. The minds behind LU and Chikara are just as much arts facilitators. They are less playwrights, as playwrights create a thing that simply is, and will be interpreted differently by every director, actor, lighting designer, and creative team that takes the work on. Those behind a wrestling promotions stories know the character, more often than not, is intrinsically connected to the performer. One character is usually not played by many people, therefore it is a collaboration. A story has to consider the strengths of a performer and what they can bring as that particular character. When a performer moves on, so must a character. There are obviously exceptions, but this is truly the heart of places like Lucha Underground and Chikara – the art of wrestling in these promotions is an immaculately choreographed dance in which we, the audience, never see all of the work that went in, but simply witness the beautiful gliding the performers across the smooth surface of a tight storyline.

Is there a place in the professional wrestling world for a writer, with no aspirations to actually wrestle, to be the storyteller? Can wrestlers trust the foresight of someone whose sole responsibility to the art form is making sure the magic that is laid over the athleticism remain cohesive and untangled? Can this storyteller be a woman? I don’t know what the answer to any of these questions are. I do know that if any of them is “yes”, that’s where you’ll find me. I’ll be banging on the door with a notebook in her hand shouting “let me in – I have a great idea.” Until then, I’ll be the one taking notes in the back of wrestling shows.

The front row is still too far away.

– The Lady J Says

 

Mad As Hell

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” – Howard Beale, Network

I was already wound up about WWE’s Fastlane Pay-Per-View hours before the show actually got started. As a dedicated Dean Ambrose fan, I felt sick at the thought that WWE had worked hard to create doubt – they took Ambrose’s Intercontinental Title on Monday, thus making us believe he had a real chance to win last night’s Number 1 Contender-ship match – but knew they had no intention of actually paying that doubt off. But the show as a whole was largely unappetizing to me, and I ended the night angrier than I have been with the promotion in months.

The last time I was this aggravated, it involved all of the same characters that are giving me a headache now: Ambrose, Roman Reigns, The Wyatt Family, Charlotte. Back then my argument was basically the same – WWE has absolutely no idea how to build an organic story and pay it off. They have no idea how to develop strong characters. They have no idea how to write compelling dialogue, or create parameters where their performers can improve exciting promos. It occurred to me after Fastlane was over and I was snuggled warmly in bed that I only tuned in to see how bad they could screw the whole thing up. The answer was “spectacularly”.

Don’t get me wrong – there were other problems with last night’s show. There were several messy in-ring errors that were terrifying to watch, particularly with all of the recent discussions surrounding concussions and other injuries. It is not just WWE’s responsibility, but the responsibility of the wrestlers to protect not just themselves, but their co-workers as well. If we’re going to openly discuss these things, then you need to be prepared for your audience being sensitive to certain types of moves. Besides that, there is also an atmosphere to PPVs that was seriously lacking last night. Was watching Roman Reigns get booed out of the building in Philadelphia at the 2015 Royal Rumble ideal? No. But it was an incredible sight to behold – and any reaction is better than no reaction, and no reaction is what we got out of Cleveland for most of the night.

Professional wrestling is a unique thing to be a fan of. It’s like sports, but it’s not sports. It’s like scripted weekly television programming, but it’s not. It’s like a lot of things, but the only thing it is, truly, is itself. There are a lot of ways to produce a pro-wrestling show, and no one way is right or wrong. But, like with any good art form, self-awareness is key. What makes Lucha Underground so popular, for example, is that it has hard and fast rules about where the parameters of the world it occupies are. The world of LU includes magic and mysticism, but does not include current events or even an expansive connection to its location (they never, for example, shout out the local sports team.) There are no titan-trons in the same space as the ring, so no one in the Temple should/could be privy to the backstage segments that the television audience gets to see. There is a certain amount of continuity that fans can rely on.

None of this exists in WWE. The issue that I am always going to have with WWE is that I am a writer, a storyteller by nature, and WWE does everything in its power to flagrantly disregard the rules that have been drilled into me. These are rules I’ve learned not just from years of schooling, but from experiencing the work of great authors (playwrights, screen writers, etc.) who created compelling and all-encompassing worlds for us to explore. There are a lot of arguments I’m hearing about letting yourself get worked, or giving in to the story line in front of you and not to think you’re smarter than the people who run the company. That’s a fair argument – one I’ve actually made myself. I know I’ve referenced before that I always think of my late grandparents – my grandmother telling my grandfather, who was voicing his displeasure and confusion at her preferred daytime soap opera program, that he didn’t “know how to watch this.” That could be a valid argument for someone who doesn’t like LU, because it has magic in it. But it’s not a valid argument for WWE because they don’t know how to tell a story at all anymore.

The “tweener” nature of just about every character on the roster, and the loss of faces and heels is a problem. Tweeners are useful, but not if you have a whole roster of them, because you’re not telegraphing to the audience who you want them to cheer for. (Not that you can guarantee who the audience will cheer for, but it’s hard to turn someone in order to fit the crowd reaction when they have no true affiliation to begin with.) The imaginary world in which what goes on backstage on Monday Night Raw is not projected for the entire arena to hear is a problem, particularly when this is a rule that is regularly broken. How often do we see backstage segments in which people make reference to things announced in the ring that they were not present for? If you can hear in-ring announcements backstage, isn’t it fair to say the wrestlers in the ring can see what happens backstage and is projected onto the titan-tron? Running a website in which you regularly run kayfabe and non-kayfabe stories side-by-side is a problem. The “fake” world of your wrestling program is not something that should be placed over reality, like a painted transparency. I have never once been confused by Ricochet tweeting about something that Prince Puma did on Lucha Underground. And why is that? Because it’s clear he is a performer portraying a character. Insisting that performers where there in-ring personas all of the time creates more problems than it solves in this day and age. The fact that WWE runs programming on the network where kayfabe and reality crash into each other, shows like Breaking Ground that are half shoot and half work, is a testament to their dedication to their 21st century version of kayfabe. What could be sillier than taking something that doesn’t work and doubling down on your efforts?

Of course last night’s main event was just the latest in a long line of scenarios that highlight WWE’s inability to conceptualize the trainwreck they’ve created by continuing the involve the actual owners of the company in the main event (or really any) storyline. The Big Bad Businessmen are always going to be heel characters, whether it’s Triple H or Vince McMahon at the heart of it. Therefore, anyone they’re up against are babyfaces. But if we as fans know how hard those same people are working to create storylines (including involving themselves, like we saw with Vince back in December/January) we have to assume the people they are trying to get over are associate with the higher ups, and thus heels.

“Easy, J. Just separate the Paul Levesque the businessman from Triple H of the Authority.”

I could. But you know what? THAT’S NOT MY JOB. It’s theirs. It is the job of the company to clearly define the characters, to give me a story I can follow. No, all of the stories they are telling don’t have to be geared to me as a fan. But they should be something I can understand. If I wrote a story, a novel, where my characters had (what basically equates to) multiple personalities, the book would be panned for being an analytical mess, impossible to untangle. And that’s what WWE is – a gigantic maze of overlapping stories inside and outside of the product that create more confusion and frustration than excitement. To be considered a successful wrestling promotion, I expect you to be selling seats, yes. But I also expect your product to be interesting and something I (or anyone) can become invested in. There is no reason for a new fan to become invested in the WWE main roster product. Yes, there are great matches, but if you’re just looking for good matches there are plenty of other places you can go. A company that makes as much money as WWE does should be able to pull off something more balanced: high production quality, clear storytelling, interesting characters, AND good matches. And if you think that’s me asking for too much, then you have given up on WWE being a quality product and have settled for the sub-par trash they’ve been spoon-feeding us for years. And that’s not my problem.

For those of you who made it all the way down this far, thank you for reading! I am going to take another break from things like Monday Night RAW and SmackDown (sorry, Mauro. I love you!) and focus my attention on NXT (which I recently haven’t had the time to keep up with) and Lucha Underground. For those of you who follow me on Twitter or read this blog on Thursdays, you’ll know that my girl Sarah and I have been live-tweeting LU on Wednesday nights. We’ve been having such a good time with it, we decided to start podcasting about it. So “Facelock Feministas” is going to debut as a podcast, right here on The Lady J Says blog this Wednesday night/Thursday morning. Hopefully y’all will enjoy it (and so will we) and it can become a regular thing. Keep your eyes peeled for that, while I put my Explicit Ambrose hoodie in a drawer for safe keeping.

Listen, WWE. It’s not me – it’s you.

– The Lady J Says

 

 

A Love Letter

Dear Professional Wrestling,

We’ve been fighting a lot lately.

Some of that is on me – I tend to get frustrated when I think the people in my life are resting on their laurels and not rising to their fullest potential. This feeling usually manifests itself as being pushy, aggressive, and argumentative. I pick fights. I call people I love out on what I perceive to be bullshit. I know I am not perfect – will never be perfect – and I see many of my own weaknesses as unconquerable. I turn my attention to the people around me, because I’d rather emphatically encourage you to blossom in a phenomenal way than confront the vast ocean of my own failings. Maybe that could be the one thing I do right – help others to become all they aspire to be.

So, you and I fight. We fight about business practices and gender bias. We fight about inclusion and bad storytelling. We fight about character development and marketing. We disagree over and over, and eventually I get so frustrated with your unwillingness to bend, with your indignant attitude, that I walk away from you. I spend some time seething, trying to ignore the phantom-limb feeling that comes with the distance. Inevitably, I find that I miss you too much and I return. I sit quietly in the back at first, but eventually find myself in the throws of my brash, contentious behavior and we fall into our routine. Between the moments when you challenge and surprise me, you still drive me mad with your tendency to return to your tired old habits. The cycle continues.

When I’m cutting promos on you or arguing with other people who try to stick up for your outdated drudgery, I am still being passionate. If I didn’t care so much, I wouldn’t bother. But I care a great deal – perhaps too much. Even in the moments when I am incensed, I still love you.

Yesterday, I was reminded why. I saw a man who loves you in a way I never could say goodbye. I saw him make a choice – a choice for himself, for his family, and for his future – to walk away from you in order to survive. He had to give you up so that he could live a full and long life. Fans like myself demand so much of the men and women who perform for us, so it is our responsibility to also support them when it is time to turn in. I sat and sobbed while I watched this man tell his story and say his farewells. He drank in every chant and every cheer, and in the end what he gave back to us was gratitude; not just his own, but the reminder that we must all be grateful for what professional wrestling has given us.

And I am so very grateful. Being a fan has given me a great deal. I have something that incites passion within me. There is a place I can go that makes the gears in my head turn, that extends the tendrils of my imagination further than they could ever go without it. I am a better writer because of it. Over and over I have been forced to explain myself – to delineate both what my views are on professional wrestling as well as why I am a fan to begin with. I’ve learned some patience. I’ve learned to let go and enjoy the ride. There were times when things in my every day existence were too much to bear, when perhaps even the mere thought of existing was too much. Those were the times that wrestling appeared to me – once when I was very young, and again as an adult. Someone or something lead me to happen upon an episode of RAW or Smackdown, and I became immersed in the program. For those two or three hours, I wasn’t me anymore. I was not being crushed under the weight of my life – I was free.

But it is not simply the ways in which I have been personally altered that I am grateful for. My gratitude is overwhelm for the people with whom I am connected because of this thing we call professional wrestling. I am lucky to be blessed with friends whom I have reconnected with or formed stronger relationships with because of it. These are the people whose texts flooded my phone yesterday afternoon and last night. I am floored by the people it has brought directly into my life – whether it was people I developed an intense bond with after relocating to Virginia from New York, or the people who were brought to me through Twitter and blogging, many of whom have become like family to me. These are people who encourage me, who argue with me, who love me fiercely, and who I would give absolutely anything for. I have met writers with whom I can lament the days the muse has abandoned me. I have met other women who struggle to wage war when our voices seem so small. I have met people whose histories mapped a concurrent path to my own, and people whose lives are more foreign to me than anything. I’ve met people of all walks who infuriate, stimulate, and challenge me – people I have fallen desperately in love with in every sense of the word. I suppose my love for them is rivaled only by my love for you – this all-encompassing thing that you are.

When I returned to watch WWE in 2013, the first face I saw on the screen of whatever early-summer episode of Monday Night RAW I was watching was Daniel Bryan’s. After asking who the hell he was (I’d been away for eight years) I asked where my favorite from the early 2000’s was – Edge. I had missed him. I had missed the majority of his singles career, and his retirement. I wasn’t there for him as a fan, and so I missed out. But I didn’t miss out on Daniel Bryan. I got to be there for him, just like he was there for me. Just like most of the wrestlers are – giving me a place to disappear into with my best friends. A place that can be better, yes, but a place that does, in fact, belong to me.

This is your love letter – the wrestlers, the bookers, the roadies, the stage hands, the writers, the interns who run the twitter accounts, the valets, the coaches, the make-up and hair people, the costume designers, everyone who works in the venues, the people who answer the phone at headquarters, the fans, the fansites, the kids, the podcasters, my friends – you have my utmost gratitude.

Gratitude, for the broken teeth and broken hearts
you stood and saw me through.
Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
– I Am the Avalanche

– The Lady J Says