Mark My Words · mark my words

Mark My Words: Coming Up, or Coming Out?

I’ve been a fan of Tyler Breeze ever since his main roster debut, and when he teamed up with Fandango earlier this year to form the most gorgeous and delicious tag-team on the roster, one of the thoughts very present in my mind was…

…this is a bit phoned in, isn’t it?

Tyler Breeze and Fandango was a tag team few people saw coming, because neither wrestler was particularly high-profile prior to the storyline. Apart from a shared history with Summer Rae, and gimmicks that weren’t what you’d call stereotypically masculine – a model and a dancer – it didn’t look as though they had a lot in common. They made their first appearance in the pre-existing storyline of “The Golden Truth” after it had been going for five months; Tyler as the tag partner of R-Truth, and Fandango pairing with Goldust. Both men turned on their partners and teamed up with one another when R-Truth and Goldust refused to fight, and thus, Breezango was born.

From the beginning, it seemed to me as though the tag team was formed as something of an afterthought to The Golden Truth – someone built into the story as The Golden Truth’s first feud as a tag team, to quietly vanish once their job as making The Golden Truth look credible was done. Their tagteam name, “Breezango”, is a simple portmanteau of their names – and with such promising prospects as “Beauty and Grace” right there for the taking. Their official music is a combination of #MMMGORGEOUS and ChaChaLaLa, their themes from when they were both singles competitors. I didn’t expect that they would last long past the cessation of their feud with their former tag partners, and certainly didn’t think they would survive the brand split.

The fact is, however, that Tyler Breeze and Fandango have a surprising amount of chemistry and comic ability that has really made an impact, despite their shaky beginnings. A lot of people, myself absolutely included, have jumped in with both feet on this tag-team because they’ve proven to be legitimately entertaining – both on the weekly wrestling programs, and in online products such as exclusives, UpUpDownDown, and social media.

So, the second question that occurs was… should Breezango be the WWE’s first gay couple?

I doubt I need to explain why this question has arisen. A lot of Breezango’s promos, vignettes, and in-ring appearances could be conservatively described as quasi-homoerotic – more so than usual. Tanning nude together, stroking each other’s faces in the middle of a match, describing their relationship as being like “two gorgeous magnets [who will] always come together”. Somewhere along the way, it seemed like these moments stepped over from ‘humourously suggestive’ to ‘these two might actually be a couple’, probably around the time the WWE posted a Snapchat video of Fandango scrunching Breeze’s ponytail.

But the first gay couple? A few of you with some historical knowledge of the WWE will note that there really should be an asterisk attached to that question. Back in September 2002, Chuck Palumbo proposed “life partnership” to his tag-team partner Billy Gunn and the two men scheduled a commitment ceremony on SmackDown. In the build-up, the two men were physically affectionate and behaved romantically towards one another, and began to wear matching outfits. (There are definitely shades of this in Breezango; it seems with every passing week that Breeze and Fandango are dressing more similarly and behaving more intimately).

However, during the commitment ceremony, they revealed that the ceremony was a publicity stunt and the affection and intimacy they’d been demonstrating up to that moment was fake – that they weren’t actually interested in men at all. Given that WWE had approached the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) about the storyline while it was in process, assuring them that it was legitimate and would be treated respectfully, not to mention seeking their help gaining mainstream media coverage, GLAAD denounced this ending to the storyline and WWE generally. After Billy Gunn experienced a shoulder injury in October, the two separated into singles careers.

With that debacle in mind, it’s easy enough to see why a lot of people, both in and out of WWE, would shy away from a similar storyline in the future. Certainly, we haven’t been shown up until now that WWE are capable of addressing the subject matter with due respect. Consider that even now, the stereotypically unmasculine aspects of Breezango’s gimmick are subject to mockery within storyline. A perfect example of this is the tanning booth incident leading into Money in the Bank. Despite being the faces in the feud, Goldust and R-Truth tinkered with the dial on Breezango’s tanning booth, causing severe kayfabe burns that were played for laughs through to their match on the kickoff show at Money in the Bank, which they lost due to the Golden Truth capitalizing on the injury.

On the other hand – it’s 2016. People are clamouring for, and deserve, appropriate representation in media. And frankly, the way that Breezango are being presented right now feels a little like the WWE are trying to have their cake and eat it too; implying that there’s something homoerotic between Breeze and Fandango, but never outright saying it.

If they’re going to do that anyway, yes, my belief is firmly that they should simply codify it. Breezango should be a kayfabe couple.

I can’t end the article on that note, however. There’s been many arguments raised for and against, and I’d like to briefly address some of them.

But both Tyler Breeze and Fandango have been romantically paired with women in the past!

I feel as though this isn’t a counter-argument at all, but in fact a perfect opportunity. Sexual orientation is not a binary matter, where people are interested in either men or women but not both. There’s no reason in kayfabe why Tyler and/or Fandango couldn’t be simply interested in both men and women. This also means that neither man has to live the gimmick after their time as a tag team is up – they’ve been with women before, they can be again, but at this point in time, they’re with a man.

But neither performer is gay!

As far as we know, yes, that is correct, as neither man has indicated otherwise. But I can’t help but feel that perhaps that might be a benefit, not a flaw. That’s not something I would say a lot, that it might be better if non-straight characters were played by straight actors, but I feel like this case might be an exception.

I follow Tyler Breeze on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Unfortunately, this has given me a front row seat to some truly awful homophobia in the comments every time he posts a picture of the two of them together — and remember, Breezango, right now, aren’t officially a gay couple. That hasn’t stopped people. Just the hint that there’s something effeminate and homoerotic about Breezango has dragged a lot of bigotry out, and I definitely wouldn’t want to put any performer through that wringer that wasn’t comfortable with it, and honestly, a straight ally might be the best person to take the initial brunt of it. Obviously if either performer in this case is uncomfortable with it, it would be best to steer clear of this direction with Breeze and Fandango; everything in this article about this particular couple is assuming that they would be comfortable with the subject matter, though I don’t have any information to indicate whether that is true.

That’s not to mention the awkwardness of specifically looking to a non-heterosexual performer. Darren Young came out as gay in 2013, making him the first wrestler to come out while signed to a major promotion. That is something that I applaud, and if he wanted to embark on a related storyline I would endorse that. However, is it fair to ask that he do that, that he be identified as “the gay wrestler”? If the man wants to do other things with his career and his character, as it seems that he does, he should be able to do that and not be boxed in.

Isn’t the vaguely effeminate and stereotypical characterisation of Breezango a little offensive?

Potentially. It’s not ideal. The two have been characterised so far as self-absorbed, vain bad guys who like bright colours, sparkles and frozen cocktails. There’s a lot of stereotypes in that list, and it would be great if the WWE could handle a male/male romantic storyline that didn’t lean heavily on those tropes.

On the other hand, as previously noted, it isn’t as though Breezango as a tag team aren’t heavily leaning in this direction anyway, and certainly from where I’m sitting, it’s more awkward for them to be such a stereotype with their relationship being the way that it is than it would be if they were a couple. Right now, a lot of the vague homoeroticism is played for laughs and I’m definitely proposing toning that down. Not suggesting that Breezango should cease to be a comedy tag team; just maybe when we’re looking for laughs, we lean more heavily on “shooty hoops” and “arrow-gigantic” than on “get it, it’s funny because they’re acting a bit gay”. Being unmasculine, or being intimate, shouldn’t be a punchline. It should be just a fact about their characters.

The third, and I think very important point here, is that of erasure. Right now, it appears that we have a choice: codify the subtext of the rather stereotypical Breezango, or continue without any storyline representation. (Darren Young and Rosa Mendes standing out as wonderful exceptions as far as representation in the industry goes; however Young has gone on record saying that him being gay does not mean that his character is, and Mendes hasn’t been on a wrestling program since October of last year). That’s not to mention that people are already jumping on board with the pseudo-representation that we are getting in the homoerotic subtext of Breezango, which I think proves that it’s sorely needed and sought after by some number of fans.

I am not in a position to decide whether a lack of representation or stereotypical, potentially offensive representation is better; there are very valid arguments in both directions. I am simply noting that is an important question that ought to be asked on this subject. If Breezango ends up being a bit awkward, that might still be a stepping stone to something better. On the other hand, it has the potential to be every bit as offensive as the last time the WWE thought to approach an on-screen gay romance. I don’t have a definitive answer, here.

So how should they do it?

Every time I’ve had this discussion with someone, the question has been inevitably raised: so how would you have Breeze and Fandango come out?

I’m not sure that I would, as such. Not in the way that people usually mean when they use that phrase, anyway.

If WWE had been willing to launch right into a romantic storyline, I think you could have written a legitimate “coming out” where they announce to the world in no uncertain terms that they are a couple. However, I also feel like the time for that kind of moment has passed; after all, we’ve already seen them share selfies, cocktails, tanning booths and, if their appearance on UpUpDownDown is to be believed, showers. It’s past the time to make an announcement on the subject, and in any case, actively drawing attention to it in a large, scripted moment is probably the wrong move. That approach would seem hamfisted, and more importantly, reductive – making the tag team “a gay couple” rather than the whole list of things that we presently love about them. The last thing I want to do is lose Tyler’s vanity or Fandango’s poor grasp of science into that.

So that’s how I wouldn’t do it. How would I?

My ideal path to this story is simple. In another backstage promo, like we’ve seen before, I’d simply script a moment of physical intimacy or emotional dialogue that makes the homoerotic subtext of their relationship textual. Quietly, without fanfare. A kiss, a romantic piece of dialogue between the two of them, something like that. A couple of weeks after that, so as not to lean on it too hard, have other characters begin to acknowledge their relationship in promos or interviews. Perhaps Breeze or Fandango have to correct people for misidentifying the relationship. Perhaps a team they are feuding with tries to dismiss one of them by suggesting that he is “just” the other’s boyfriend rather than a credible threat in his own right. (Fandango might be a good target for that line; a lot of his previous gimmick has been subsumed into a very Tyler Breeze-esque new image).

The important detail is no big moment: no stunts, no drama. They shouldn’t “come out”, they should simply be.

Don’t you think they’ll mess it up?

I kind of expect that they will. There’ll be mistakes and missteps, and it won’t be perfect. But it not being perfect is no reason to not try. Sooner or later, they will have to approach this storyline earnestly, with some tag team or another – they can’t back away from it forever. So why not now? I’m not saying that WWE have to do everything brilliantly on the first try. They won’t, but as long as they’re approaching the storyline in good faith and are willing to learn, that’s good enough for the time being. There’s always going to be a first attempt (not counting Chuck & Billy; backing away from the storyline at the last minute kind of invalidates it).

I’m also not saying that Breezango as a couple have to last forever. I’m not even saying it has to last until the end of the year, much as that would be nice. Couples break up, for a variety of reasons. They might fall to adultery, jealousy, competitiveness, or maybe just to an amicable agreement that it’s not working out. It would just be really nice if in the meantime, we acknowledged that some people aren’t heterosexual, and reflected that in the storytelling on the program.