Thanks to my grandfather, I grew up hand in hand with Mexican wrestling. In his youth, he was part of this group of athletes who fought in the ring twice a week, up to two or three rounds every time. The fights were broadcasted on national television making Mexican wrestling almost a religion; in my family and throughout the country.
I lived in a big house with my brothers and cousins. My grandfather raised us doing flips on the floor and teaching us to do wrestling holds to defend ourselves when we had an argument. Every Sunday (no exceptions) we would go to the arena to witness that exciting and magical spectacle, where I could see men with athletic bodies and skin-tight lycra suits have close body contact, until one beat the other. Mexican wrestling aims to reflect the social plurality of the country by having matches with men, women, small people and even foreigners as protagonists. However, during my extensive visits I had never seen someone with whom I, a 5-year-old, could feel represented by.
But then, one day it all changed. I vividly remember the day the referee announced a group of flamboyant wrestlers with feminine and even more colorful bodysuits, glitter, wigs and make-up, known as Los Exóticos, or The Exotics. It was as if part of that social mirror was opening a space for those who break the hetero norm and contravene the traditional models of masculinity in a sport linked to the well-known machismo of men carried in a country where patriarchy was not only tolerated, but celebrated and disseminated as an immutable way of living in society. The fights inside the ring usually symbolize the fight between good and bad, los rudos (villains) against los técnicos (heroes). The villains will not respect the rules and seek to get away with them. Sometimes they win, and sometimes they lose. The heroes respect the rules. They can be victims and suffer until their good deeds are rewarded, and ultimately justice wins.
However, Los Exóticos fight for something more than good or bad. They do not represent heroes or villains, but rather members of the queer community fighting for inclusion and respect inside and outside the ring, just by being themselves. Pimpinela Escarlata (taken from The Scarlet Pimpernel, dressed like a woman, completed with make-up, and acting effeminate towards cis men opponents), Cassandro (named after a Tijuana brothel keeper, and known as the Mexican Liberace) and Mamba (inspired by Kill Bill’s Black Mamba, with long hair, and actively being involved with TV shows and events proudly using the LGBTQ+ flag), all three infamous members of Los Exóticos, have described how difficult it was to earn respect from the straight wrestlers. They would only get it when they ‘proved’ that they endured the grind with the same strength as straight cis men, fighting some battles under the ring even. In a country where wrestling has transcended to the dance floor with the salsa song Los Luchadores (The Wrestlers) by La Sonora Santanera, it is mandatory to have gay representation, and maybe even more important to say it out loud, it is mandatory to turn the ring into a platform of visibility and advocacy for LGBTIQ+ rights.
I can see the evolution of society within the history of Los Exóticos. The first of them appeared more than eighty years ago, being threatened and beaten, not only by their opponents but also by the audience when entering the arena. Thirty years ago, my father, like most of the cis men in Mexico, believed that they were only performing through a gay character. It was impossible to think that a real homosexual could fight in the ring with such charisma that appealed to the masses, not to mention the neat technique and wrestling skills that only a few had. Nowadays, we can witness them as an interesting testimony of how the fight for LGTBIQ+ rights does not have to be fought on the same fronts everywhere.
Today, the public is able to see beyond the fighter, the athlete, and to leave sexual orientation aside. Los Exóticos have shown that in the wrestling universe, where brute force and violence prevail, those who were traditionally seen as weak, or even cowards, have made their way through hard work, discipline and perseverance. They have managed to excel at the highest level like Cassandro, who has won a World Champion title and is the inspiration for a film that bears his name in it (to be released in 2023 with Gael García Bernal in the leading role). In addition, they are paving the way not only for gay men, but also for trans women, non-binary people and other members of our community, by generating acceptance of the LGBTIQ+ community, in Mexico as well as in other Spanish-speaking countries.
Mexican wrestling, which does not represent high culture but rather belongs to the masses, regardless how harmful it may sound, paradoxically can change many lives and the world we live in. And it’s all because of representation and diversity, showing once again, that gender identity and sexual orientation doesn’t stop us from being wherever we want, and the importance of precisely being everywhere.
The only thing left is to thank my grandpa for bringing me to the arena every Sunday, and for teaching me, directly or by pure casualty, about inclusion, representation and fighting (literally and figuratively) for the rights that belong to us but are not granted, and for giving me the strength and conviction to always wrestle my battles.