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Friday, August 16, 2013

No Big Deal? Young's "Coming Out" Certainly Is!

I spent the afternoon of May 10, 1987, with some colored markers and a white bed sheet sprawled across my parents’ living room floor. That night, I would attend my very first live wrestling event, a WWF house show at the Nassau Coliseum headlined by Randy “Macho Man” Savage taking on Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat inside a steel cage. But one of the wrestlers I looked forward most to seeing in person was “Adorable” Adrian Adonis.

It wasn’t because I was a fan of “The Adorable One.” On the contrary, like most young WWF fans at the time, I despised Adonis—one of WWE’s top heels. So deep was my hatred for Adonis that I took marker to linen and drew an unflattering caricature of him accompanied with some taunting text. Unfortunately, Adonis no-showed the event, and I had ruined a perfectly good bed sheet for nothing.
Some 26 years later, I don’t recall exactly what insults I had written on that sheet, but I can safely assume what they were about. You see, about a year earlier Adonis—once a motorcycle jacket-wearing tough guy—bleached his hair, began wearing makeup, and put bows in his hair. 

In case Adonis’ transformation was a little too subtle for some fans, he clarified matters while appearing as a guest on the WWF's campy 1980’s talk show, Tuesday Night Titans. With WWF owner Vince McMahon sitting behind the host’s desks, Adonis stood up from a couch and proclaimed, “Yes, I’m gay.” A chorus of boos from the “audience”—comprised of WWF plants—followed.

In the subsequent months, Adonis did everything to get cheap heat out of his new character. He wrestled in a dress, which Hulk Hogan once pulled off to reveal a padded bra. He planted kisses on a life-sized cardboard cut out of Paul Orndorf. He hosted an interview segment named, “The Flower Shop.”

It was hardly new territory, as the effeminate heel character had long been a staple of wrestling, dating back to television pioneer Gorgeous George. And it always played out the same way: The flamboyant bad guy would prance around the ring. Fans would chant insults at him that I couldn’t print here. And the disgusted, macho good guy would teach him a lesson. 

It was a proven formula, and it worked on me all those years ago. To a nine-year-old me, Adrian Adonis was evil because he was gay, and I wanted nothing more than to see someone beat him up.

It’s with that backdrop that the news of Darren Young coming out takes special significance. It’s about more than being the first openly gay, active WWE wrestler. It’s about most people being okay with it.

As has been the case in all professional sports and fields of entertainment, there have undoubtedly been gay WWE performers over the years. A few are common knowledge among longtime wrestling fans, and many more have kept their lifestyles a closely guarded secret. 

But what we’ve never seen in wrestling is the issue—or non-issue—of homosexuality handled with dignity, until now. 

“I’m a WWE Superstar and, to be honest with you, I’ll tell you right now, I’m gay. And I’m happy, very happy,” Young matter-of-factly told a TMZ reporter. “To be honest, I don’t think it matters.”

Young’s right. It doesn’t matter. And, that’s why it does.

Although some people may dismiss Young’s announcement as a “non-story,” the truth is it is a big deal—not because he’s a gay pro wrestler, but because, ostensibly, he has been his whole career and it’s never been an issue. Judging from John Cena’s reaction in a separate TMZ interview, Young’s homosexuality was well known in WWE. And, yet, there’s been no evidence that it’s factored into the career of the "Prime Time Player," whose  Twitter profile boasts that his “life revolves around three things—money, women, and wrestling.”

So far everyone in WWE has handled Young’s announcement with class. Some may question why WWE felt the need to issue a statement all on the issue, but the fact is it was likely bombarded with questions from the media on the issue. The statement read  that WWE “is proud of Darren Young for being open about his sexuality.” Cena, Triple-H, and Stephanie McMahon all offered words of support and encouragement as well.

A cynical person may question the motivations of Young—a lower-card performer now getting more positive mainstream publicity than he could have ever hoped for. And you may even wonder why a TMZ reporter would be interviewing Young, who is hardly a mainstream celebrity, at all—much less on the peculiar topic of gays in wrestling. Did I mention SummerSlam, one of WWE’s biggest shows of the year, is this Sunday?

To be sure, there’s a bit of hypocrisy surrounding Young’s coming out—some of which I’m guilty of committing with this blog. After all, if it’s not a big deal, then why am I bothering to write this? Why has it, in just a few hours, become one of the biggest mainstream news stories coming out of WWE in years?

The answer is simple: because Darren Young is a public figure. And that’s where some real good can come out of this—just as it does every time any celebrity makes the courageous decision to go public about something that is intrinsically private, and, really, nobody’s business. It’s because if a pro wrestler, watched on TV by millions of fans each week, says he’s happy being gay, it makes it that much easier for some anxious high school student to do the same.

Young appears ready to embrace that opportunity.

“I’m hoping to be able to make a difference,” said Young, who is scheduled to take part in an anti-bullying event held by WWE in Los Angeles this weekend. “It’s very important to me that people understand that someone’s sexual preference shouldn’t really matter. It should be about the person.”

That’s a far cry from the constant jokes made by WWE commentators in the 1980s and 1990s whenever the subject of Pat Patterson or Terry Garvin came up. It’s worlds removed from the over-the-top antics that TNA scripted for Orlando Jordan after he acknowledged being bisexual. Even the late Chris Kanyon couldn’t come out near the end of his career without deliberately creating confusion over whether it was part of the show.

And it’s certainly a long way from “Adorable” Adrian Adonis. 

Al Castle
PWI Senior Writer

Photo: Darren Young interviewed by Matt Lauer on Today  (Peter Kramer/NBC)

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