Talk about wham, bam, thank you ma’am! Meet los exóticos, a gay, campy sub-culture of the Mexican wrestling community lucha libre. While the wrestling style of lucha libres is similar to the standard staged, slamming and jamming we are used to seeing in America, the los exóticos are something WWF fans are not likely to embrace as they prance around stage.
As it appears south of the border, Mexican wrestling has a much less homophobic opinion of wrestlers, despite the still seemingly homoerotic nature of the sport. Journalist Stayton Bonner immersed himself into the world of lucha libre and introduced us to renowned exótico Cassandro, the first openly gay winner of a championship belt (3 in fact!). His story is uplifting and, at times, horrifying, but at the bottom of it, there is nothing but pride and love.
The luchadores (wrestlers) stick to the traditional masked-character covered in spandex, but when it comes to the los exóticos, forget the masked menace identity, these guys prefer garish make up and a gallon of glitter typical of RuPaul. Despite the drag cover, los exóticos are just as serious as the rest of the culture, and take pride in their work by way of breaking boundaries, confronting machismo, promoting feminism, encouraging the youth of Mexico, and delighting fans both straight and gay.
Author Heather Levi studied and wrote extensively on the culture of lucha libre, arguing in her book The World of Lucha Libre that “the broad appeal of the sport lies in its capacity to stage contradictions at the heart of Mexican national identity: between the rural and the urban, tradition and modernity, ritual and parody, machismo and feminism, politics and spectacle.”
None of this could be possible without the los exóticos, and it wasn’t always this way, of course. When the los exóticos first came on the scene of lucha libre in the 1940s, they were purely seen as an introductory entertainment act - much like their American sisters in bikinis - and while effeminate, they were not outwardly gay. In the 80’s, the los exóticos began to come out, loud and proud, forcing the culture to accept the challenge to social norms in Mexico.
Because lucha libre is a predominately working class act, exóticos have a characteristically resilient nature to them that seems to resonate with their fans. Even though matches are often filled with anti-gay slurs, they are not entirely hateful. The crowd gets rowdy, and the exóticos are there to take the jabs in stride. Levi says, "Exóticos represent some things that are retrograde, but they also represent this way of being that challenges ideas of sexuality and gender. They've done a good job of putting these contradictions on the table, of being people who are defined by their inability to fight, yet still fight."
Proving that anyone can break through a typically machismo environment and succeed offers hope to those who need it most. This includes the gay community and women alike. Exótico Pasion Kristal says, “The gay community is very proud of me because I inspire a lot of young people. We exóticos inspire them to keep going, to pursue being singers or writers or models or whatever profession. It's all about your determination."
If that isn’t feminism, then I don’t know what is.
Images via Details.com