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LGBTQ wrestling fans recently noted the triumphant same-sex relationship between wrestlers Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi, the New Japan Pro Wrestling duo known as The Golden Lovers. Though neither wrestler self-identifies as gay nor has displayed sexual attraction to the other, their story arc and recent reunification made us want to recount nine other gay wrestling characters in American pro-wrestling.
The Golden Lovers storyline saw the friendly tag-team partners split in 2014. Afterwards, Omega became a villain in a group of wrestlers known as The Bullet Club, angrily refusing to discuss Ibushi in interviews. When Ibushi tried to reestablish their friendship, his attempts angered another Bullet Club member named Cody Rhodes. Rhodes eventually attacked Ibushi in the ring, but before he could finish Ibushi off, Omega rushed in and saved his former partner. Finally reunited after four years, the two embraced as celebratory confetti rained upon them.
While not overtly gay, it was still a rare moment of male bonding, vulnerability and intimacy in a sport where machismo and homophobia largely rule the ring. Even Omega says that many wrestling fans have made homophobic comments to him online since reuniting with his partner.
Granted, this ambiguously gay storyline happened in Japan and not in America where queer wrestling storylines have been offensively jokey, sexualized and ham-handed.
Despite the fact that it’s the most theatric and homoerotic sport, American pro-wrestling has never handled gay and queer-encoded wrestlers with much tact. In fact, most characters have been outright homophobic, caving to sissy stereotypes while silently closeting real-life gay or bi wrestlers.
Nevertheless, here are nine gay wrestling characters who have appeared in American wrestling:
1. Gorgeous George (1941 – 1962)
The first and most infamous “gay” character in wrestling, his outrageously flamboyant character wore sequined robes and long capes, escorted by his own personal valet when walking towards the ring. He grew his hair long and dyed it platinum blond, had exaggeratedly effeminate mannerisms, demanded his valet spray the ring with perfumed disinfectant before he began wrestling and was a cowardly cheat, enraging live fans and television audiences by the millions.
He eventually became the most famous wrestler of his time, earning over $100,000 a year. His popularity culminated in a 1959 match against Canadian wrestler Whipper Billy Watson in which the loser agreed to have their hair shaved. George lost, of course, to the delight of cheering fans.
Nevertheless, George permanently altered pro-wrestling with his extreme dramatic flair and set a standard of pro-wrestling showmanship for decades to come.
2. “Pretty Boy” Pat Patterson (1958 – 2014)
A true trailblazer, Pat Patterson was openly gay from the start of his Canadian wrestling career during 1958. In 1962, during his time with Pacific Northwest Wrestling in America, he created an effeminate character who wore a beret, sunglasses, lipstick and made exaggerated gestures with his cigarette holder (think Cruella D’Vil).
He didn’t maintain this character for very long, and after he moved to World Wrestling Entertainment, his homosexuality never got a mention until the June 2014 finale of the streaming reality show WWE Legends’ House when he mentioned his longtime partner of 40 years. His partner, Louie Dondero, died in 1998 of a heart attack.
The only other queer highlight of Patterson’s career (that we know of) involved a June 25, 2000 “evening gown match” against his old tag-team partner Gerald Brisco. Both wrestlers ended up being beaten in the match by a male wrestler named Crash Holly who interrupted and pinned them both.
3. Adrian Adonis (1974 – 1988)
Although he started off his career as a brawler in a biker jacket, a 1985 an injury caused him to re-emerge as “Adorable” Adrian Adonis, trading in the leather jacket for bleach blond hair, pink rings, a sun hat, scarves, dresses and clownish makeup. Oddly, he never put on a feminine voice, speaking in a deep voice, save the occasional flitting hand gesture.
In May 1986, he eventually got his own talkshow segment in the World Wrestling Federation called The Flower Shop in which he interviewed wrestlers within a makeshift florist shop while using a microphoned bouquet. Jealous of the rival talk segment “The Piper’s Pit,” hosted by his one-time friend Rowdy Roddy Piper, Adonis and friends attacked Piper during Piper’s show, injuring his leg, covering him with lipstick and wrecking his set.
When Piper returned to The Flower Shop to announce that his segment, in fact, had higher ratings, Adonish destroyed The Flower Shop set in a fit of rage. The two eventually fought a hair match, with Adonis losing and having his golden locks cut off by Brutus Beefcake, earning Beefcake the nickname of Brutus “the Barber” Beefcake. Adonis then started a rivalry with Beefcake but was soon unceremoniously fired from WWE in May 1987 for “dress code violations.”
4. Adrian Street (1957 – 2005)
In the tradition of Mexican Lucha Libre exocticos, “Exotic” Adrian Street birthed his flamboyant villain character after once taunting his audience with effeminate gestures. “I was getting far more reaction than I’d ever got, just playing this poof,” he said.
And so, he began wearing brightly colored pastel costumes, bleached his hair blond, wore glitter makeup, pig tails and would escape pins by kissing his opponents. He also famously put makeup onto his defeated rivals to humiliate and emasculate them, his queer calling card. His real-life wife eventually played his ringside valet, as a sort of 1980s valkyrie.
Still alive, the wrestler is currently releasing his memoirs online with such titles as My Pink Gas Mask, Sadist in Sequins and Violence is Golden.
5. Goldust (1995 – present)
The son of the late WWE Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes, Goldust emerged as an enigmatic figure in the WWF in 1995. Also called “the bizarre one” and “the Prince of Perversion,” he wore gold and black makeup, a gold bodysuit, a gold-sequined robe, a platinum blonde wig and had slow, sexually suggestive mannerisms like breathily speaking, blowing kisses to his opponents, stroking the ring ropes and sensuously feeling up his own body while shuddering, angering his opponents and viewers alike.
Goldust has disappeared and re-appeared in various wrestling federations four or five times, in different incarnations since his debut. These days, he has dropped the breathy voice and disquieting sexual gestures and is more of a straightforward wrestler who speaks in a Texan accent.
6, 7 and 8. Billy, Chuck and their hairdresser Vito (2001 – 2002)
When the duo of Billy Gunn and Chuck Palumbo began wrestling together, they increasingly became physically affectionate with one another, eventually adopting matching red wrestling outfits and dyeing their hair blond. (What is it with gay wrestling characters and blond hair?)
The two often hugged and were filmed giving each other gifts and helping one another stretch backstage. They also had an enthusiastic hunky hairdresser-slash-manager named Vito who wore tiger-print pants and huge sideburns.
Though the two got engaged in the ring, their in-ring wedding ceremony — met with resounding boos and chants of “Just Say No” from the audience — ended when Gunn said announced that they weren’t gay. He then added that their pairing was only supposed to be a publicity stunt that went “too far,” to the cheers of audience members.
Gunn then attacked Vito. Then two other wrestlers jumped in the ring to beat up the couple and trash the makeshift wooden flower trellis that had served as their altar, effectively turning a sham gay wedding into a pseudo gay-bashing. This was especially offensive considering that the couple had initially been hailed as groundbreaking and real-life same-sex couples couldn’t marry at the time.
Gays and Lesbians Allied Against Defamation (GLAAD), who had advised World Wide Entertainment on the storyline, eventually released a statement about the debacle, which stated, ”The WWE lied to us two months ago when they promised that Billy and Chuck would come out and wed on the air.”
9. Orlando Jordan (2003 – present)
Jordan had been an openly bisexual professional wrestler for years before Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling repackaged him in 2010 as an even more overtly bisexual. However, they handled his bisexual persona in cheesy way.
In his bi debut, he descended into the ring from the ceiling in dreads and shades, clad in ribbons of TNA’s promotional “Cross the Line” police tape to a song whose lyrics stated, “The women love me and the guys wanna get with me. Orlando Jordan, DTF baby!” (DTF stand for “down to f*ck,” in case you didn’t know.)
He then prowled around cat-like for a bit, before whipping off his shades to reveal (gasp!) blue eyeshadow. Then, a screen with a pair of lips opened up to reveal a small room decorated with the bisexual flag, two male symbols interlocked with a female symbol, sculptures of male and female torsos and a scantily clad man and woman seated on a white couch. Jordan sat between them, lightly touching and leering seductively at the audience before the camera cut away.
Despite the weird intro gimmick, his bisexuality never really amounted to much in terms of storylines or characterizations. He once kissed his male and female valet at ringside, claimed to have a crush on a his tag-team partner and appeared once, his chest covered in silver splatters, to intimidate an opponent. In 2011, he left TNA to return to the independent wrestling circuit.