Today on the site, please welcome Erin Finnegan, author of Luchador, an m/m Contemporary NA about a guy named Gabriel who becomes enthralled with the lucha libre, which releases today. (Buy links at the end of the post! And you can read the blurb and add it to your TBR here.) To learn more about the lucha libre, read on!
Grab a seat for the Sunday evening lucha libre matches at Arena México and you get a great show: Cheap and abundant Victoria beer flows; laser lights blaze; heavy metal blasts at ear-splitting levels; and bikini-clad ring girls ignite the testosterone-fueled weekly wrestling event.
It isn’t the first place people would look for an LGBTQ crowd in Mexico City—and they’d be wrong, especially if an exótico is on the fight card.
In the macho world of traditional lucha libre, exótico luchadores are flamboyant, gay, and out.
They have also become heroes of sorts in Mexico City’s LGBTQ community, to the extent that they have been credited with helping to advance Mexico’s equal rights movement. (While portions of the conservative country still fight marriage equality battles, the federal district of Mexico City approved marriage for all in 2010, five years before the US Supreme Court paved the way for nationwide marriage equality.)
The exóticos represent something not commonly found in professional sports, even “performance sports” such as lucha libre—an arena where gay athletes perform openly with their straight peers. As exótico luchadores like Cassandro and Pimpinela Escarlata gained fame on the lucha libre circuit, empresas found themselves with a new legion of dedicated, rainbow flag-waving fans.
Exóticos are the flamboyant and brutal drag queens of lucha libre, dressed in bedazzled leotards, skirts, and glittery makeup instead of luchador’s traditional tights and mask. They flirt with the refs, bump and grind to dancehall music, and are as likely to attack an opponent with a kiss as with a flying scizzors kick to the neck.
And this is where their story gets complicated, and why I was drawn to this world as the central conflict in my new book, Luchador. Because in lucha libre, gay is welcome to play—but it is often played for laughs.
It isn’t a simple matter of the costumes or makeup. Exóticos are the vamps of the ring, and they play to a crowd that is at once imploring them to attack their opponents or the referees with besos (kisses), while at the same time taunting them with homophobic slurs.
Máximo Sexy, one of the few exóticos who identifies as straight, has said that he decided to wrestle as a gay character for the money. His signature move is the kiss, meant to distract his competitor, and the skirted singlet he wears in the ring is often topped by a t-shirt that says, “KISS ME”. The moment he enters the arena, fans cheer, “¡Beso! ¡Beso! ¡Beso!”
Other exóticos like Cassandro—gay men who wrestle as campy characters—call their stage personas liberating and inspirational.
This is the issue for Luchador protagonist Gabriel Romero, a rising young star in Mexico City’s professional lucha circuit who is committed to being open about his sexuality both in and outside of the ring without trapping himself in a role that he does not identify with. Respectful of lucha’s traditions, he is also wary of the stereotypes it promotes.
The counterpoint to Gabriel is his mentor, Miguel, a successful exótico nearing the end of his career, who views his colorful ring character of La Rosa as a valuable outlet. He also believes that embracing lucha’s traditions have helped him get ahead as both a wrestler and a businessman.
Exóticos in lucha libre date back to the 1940s, when luchadores dressed as dandies handed flowers to female fans and preened as they entered the ring. Today, exóticos are far more sexualized—and athletic.
Do not mistake these luchadores for clowns. Their approach may be camp. Their secret weapon may be the beso planted on a supposedly unsuspecting opponent or referee. But they’re also skilled wrestlers who take down opponents with lucha libre’s signature acrobatic moves: flying scizzor kicks, spinning tornillos, and planchas.
Last winter, I had a chance to watch Cassandro wrestle at Lucha Va Voom, a Los Angeles-based burlesque-meets-lucha show. Lucha Va Voom should not be mistaken for the lucha libre of Arena México or Arena Coliseo. It is abbreviated, and even more showey than the lucha of the Sunday afternoon shows broadcast across Mexico and the US.
Cassandro demonstrated the skills that have earned him championship belts: high kicks, spins, and a swan dive from a balcony that—it was later reported—resulted in a cracked rib.
Though their technical skills can be overshadowed by their characters and costumes, exóticos fight with the same strength and finesse as other top luchadores.
As Miguel tells Gabriel, exóticos’ costumes may be loud, but their actions in the ring speak louder than any Lycra or glitter.
“We give people hope. … We’re not just entertainment. We give people something to rally for, and against. Lucha’s been a part of politics and our social order, always has been,” he said. “Do you know how many men have come up to me after a match and thanked me? How many kids have said we’ve given them courage to come out? We may not be your picture of the perfect postmodern gay or whatever your generation calls it, but we paved the road for you with our glitter and makeup.”
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Erin Finnegan is a former journalist and winemaker who lives in the foothills outside Los Angeles. A lifelong sports fan and occasional sports writer, she has had to dive out of the way of flying luchadores at matches in both the US and Mexico. Luchador was recently named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2016. Erin’s debut novel, Sotto Voce, received a PW starred review and a Foreword Reviews Indiefab Silver Book of the Year Award.
Connect with author Erin Finnegan at Erin-Finnegan.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/ErinGoFinnegan and on Twitter at @eringofinnegan.