I haven’t posted for a while. I’ve been dealing with my illness getting worse, a lack of ability to believe that anyone could or would care about my work, especially the parts pertaining to disability, and haven’t been to any new venues or promotions, mainly because, as I’m getting worse, I worry about my ability to be safe there. There are times where I leave a show, and as I’m heading home, I think “this isn’t for me”. Poor Jack Sexsmith had to deal with me sobbing into his shoulder last Progress chapter, after a multitude of strobe lighting, and me wailing “this is supposed to be my home, my family, and they don’t want me here, they don’t want me here”.
This has been a pretty prevailing attitude for me, when it comes to accessing wrestling. Maybe it’s imposter syndrome, maybe not, but I’ve felt too queer, too femme, too disabled, and sometimes all of the above, all at once. Sometimes it’s hard to visibly see that you’re the minority in the room – a reason my wife hates being at wrestling shows (aside from her dislike of both watching theatre and sports), as she often feels like the only person of colour there, or one of only two or three in a large crowd. It sucks to look around and think “what am I doing here? People like me shouldn’t be here!”
I don’t mean to suggest that anyone shouldn’t be able to access wrestling, or that the community has been vocally unwelcome (aside from a few), but educating promotions about disability has been, at times, heart-breaking, alienating, terrifying, and left me wondering why I’ve bothered. Whether anyone’s going to change anything based on what I’ve said, whether I should be speaking about it, and whether I should just shut the fuck up.
When I started getting ready to burrow into BritWres, March 2017 (having been to two shows in 2016), I was unsure if I would have a place. I was scared, everything made me worry, and the previous two shows had been… well. We’ll say ‘WCPW’ and leave it at that for the way the crowd were, and also add that if you’re going to shout something, make it intelligible. I remember sitting there thinking “but dog nonce doesn’t make sense, I mean, there’s no age of consent for that”. Pedantic, but it was better than thinking that they were only really shouting abuse at the wresters of colour, or that the guy behind me kept putting his hand on my arse. So heading towards DTTI last year, I was pretty fucking tense.
Something that didn’t help with that? Jimmy Havoc turning up in my DMs to ask me why I was complaining about Progress and their ways of doing things, after an altercation on Twitter with Sebastian. Safe to say, these days I’d have done it somewhat differently, although friends on there know that if I’ve messaged a wrestler with “could you pop into my DMs?” it generally means I want to address something they’ve said or done that might be unintentionally ableist. But I still remember haring into the group chat at 2am with “this is not a drill, what the fuck do I do?” and quietly freaking out in an attempt not to wake my wife, terrified that my favourite wrestler was going to tell me to shut the fuck up, get out of wrestling if I didn’t like heel discourse on Twitter, and that this would kill a burgeoning want to belong somewhere again.
Turns out, I didn’t need to worry. Jimmy was the first person to say to me that he wanted me to have a place in wrestling, that he wanted it to be for everyone – but he didn’t pander to me. It was a debate, neither side angry, neither side casting off the other’s view as unimportant, both of us giving a little ground in order to meet in the middle. He was the one who gave me options to talk to him if I was struggling with something to do with wrestling, to ask if promotions weren’t getting back to me about access. He let my voice matter, and in turn, I started to believe that it did. He didn’t blindly tell me I was right and that I didn’t need to change my stance on some things, but unlike many other men, he didn’t tell me that my experience wasn’t relevant. While he said there were things he’d never feel like me, because of my past, he never said that it wasn’t something I should be feeling.
Today is the tenth anniversary of my illness. On this day, in 2008, I was told I had glandular fever. I spent six weeks in bed, and… never got better. I wasn’t yet 19. Sometimes, when I want to think about the world, I think about Tyler Bate winning the UK title, a little older than I was when my whole life seemed to up-end, and everything had to stop. People look at me, and they don’t think that I was an actor, I did musical theatre, I was a dancer, did cheerleading, was in choirs, went to the gym four days a week alongside all my other activities. It can be difficult for people to see me as anything other than, well, a cripple. I get that. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to believe it, too.
When Jimmy spoke to me, there wasn’t any supposition that I didn’t know what I was talking about – well, not outwardly! There wasn’t any suggestion that my point of view was something I shouldn’t have, or that I was being over-sensitive and foolish. The discussion we had, and the points where we’ve disagreed since, have always been exactly that. Rather than trying to demand the other person agree with us, we can manage to see that we each have a point of view, due to lived experience or knowledge, and find a way to have an accord. For the first time in many years, I wasn’t afraid to disagree with someone who I felt had more of a “right” to speak on such things than I did.
He’s not a perfect human being, far from it, but for me, Jimmy Havoc, with the axe, and the bleeding… yup, that one, will always be someone I feel safe with, who I trust, and where I feel we have a communication built on mutual respect. Which is why I’m distracting myself from this bullshit anniversary with writing this, while watching while my favourite wrestler threatens to take Will Ospreay’s ear off. Wrestling is far from perfect, Jimmy’s far from perfect, but he tries. He wants to make things better, wants things to change for the better, and the more I see that in him, the more I see it in other wrestlers, too, the desire to make their business a little less seedy, a little less fraught with scandal. Which reminds me to keep on trying, too.
Also, anyone who’s ever checked a gents toilet is empty so I don’t have to walk halfway around a building whilst drunk and in pain to get to the ladies? Totally in my good books forever.
Tomorrow is the anniversary of Jimmy showing up in my DMs, then I get to watch him wrestle Sunday, and it’s his birthday Monday. Strictly speaking, I should try to be less annoying as a birthday present to him, but that’s not really my style. So instead, I’m using this weekend to think about all the good things in wrestling that I’ve had over the past year, and how many more I want, rather than how it’s been so long since I was well that I no longer remember what healthy felt like.
So; Jimmy, hellcat, weird uncle to all my wrestling kids, the one I sort of think of as the older brother I never had and who isn’t that brilliant at adulting either, I hope your birthday weekend is enjoyable, your knees don’t bother you any more than usual, and it involves plenty of beer. Thank you for a year of discourse, discussion, debate, and that time you crawled under a table to hug me. I’ve said this before, and I stand by it – you’re the only wrestler I’d never expect to bend down and pick something up off the floor for me.
And if you manage to fuck yourself up in New Orleans or Australia, just know there’ll be Words when you get back, and that it won’t get you out of seeing me and Sucat in May. Just to make that clear.