Mark My Words · mark my words · Wrestling with Stairs

Wrestling With Stairs: All The Fucking Time

Apparently, we’re back with a vengeance, because it’s 1am when I’m starting this piece, and I’m angry. I try not to be angry a lot; it’s not a good look for me, because at 4’11”, being femme, and using a mobility aid, it’s like that chihuahua on the street yapping at the rottweiler – you know who’s coming off worst if that comes to a fight, and you know, too, that the big dog just doesn’t give a fuck.

Which is sort of what it feels like to do disability campaigning within wrestling. It’s like constantly yapping until your body runs out of energy, only to realise there’s a double-glazed window between you and the other dog, and it can’t hear you. And then you realise the window’s open, and it’s not that they can’t hear you – they’re just ignoring you, because they don’t care.

My first Wrestling With Stairs review was over a year ago, and while some small things have got better – Progress’ accessibility info, Riptide still being brilliant, Battle Pro having one of the most comprehensive disability info pages ever (even if the idea that I should be paid for this advice seems laughable to the owner), Lucha Forever closing down (they have the worst ever review) – there’s still a wealth of stuff that’s not acceptable but seems to be the standard business model for wrestling.

iiiiiiiit's WRESTLING!

This is where the title of this comes in. All. The. Fucking. Time. Because while some promotions are doing better, and some are taking advice, they do it on a piecemeal basis. And disability doesn’t work like that – I don’t do this shit 30 weeks of the year, or three days a week, I’m disabled all the fucking time. This doesn’t change depending on which promotion I’m at, or which city I’m in, so why should my accessibility expectations change based on these things? And it’s painful, too, to see friends who would never accept any other minority being treated like this, who sympathise with the odd post, here and there, posting things which utterly ignore the way I’ve been treated due to disability issues in the past.

Just the other week, Fight Club: Pro announced their new London dates for later this year, and my whole Twitter timeline was full of friends being so!!! excited!!! for these shows. But they’re in the same venue where Trent Seven insisted to me I could climb stairs, and where strobe was used, merch was upstairs, and I was treated like a massive inconvenience to everyone there. Not a single friend retweeted with “but I hope merch is accessible this time” or “I hope there’s no strobe” – because they don’t live this. And I don’t want them to live it, either, fuck knows most of the time I don’t want to live this, but it would be nice if, sometimes, people remembered I’m a person as well, and thought to back me up on this sort of thing. I’ve asked FC:P if they’ve re-structured merch to make it accessible, and got a “we’ll try”. Well, I don’t spend money on “try” – and I hope if merch is upstairs, it’ll be clearly marked so no one else gets the same treatment I did.

fcp tries

Another issue that’s come about is that, while Progress are doing better with access to the Electric Ballroom, and have run a new accessible venue in Alexandra Palace, they also run mid-week shows at The Dome, which is… well, it’s up a lot of fucking stairs. I went, once, because it was a women’s show, and that’s fucking important, and trying to get up those stairs was… well. I cried. I’m not ashamed of that, but they damn well should be. And they keep advertising these shows under the banner of ‘everyone welcome’, and my fave wrestleboys keep tweeting about these can’t miss shows – and I wonder, sometimes, if they ever stop and think about how that feels when those stairs are an impossible barrier.

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Excuse the blurry photo – it’s hard to take a good one when you’re also leaning on a stick!

And you can’t ask the lads to stick their neck out for you – you just can’t. Which is… uncomfortable, when you love wrestlers like Pansexual Phenomenon Jack Sexsmith, and wonder how he’d feel about a venue where queer people couldn’t get in. When you consider somewhere running a venue where people of colour weren’t allowed. When you consider running an event where women are discouraged from being there (you know, more than they are by how creepy male wrestling fans can be), it seems ridiculous – but this is what these places do. They take one minority and say “it’s too difficult to let you in here, we’re just not going to bother.” Trying to get to a wrestling show shouldn’t have me in tears, crying “why does the thing I love not want me” – and all too often, that’s the case.

One of the things I’m struggling to accept is that the wrestlers I support won’t help me shift wrestling into a more accessible era, and nor will the fans who call me friends – because wrestling is a business, and businesses don’t care. I can’t ask Eddie Dennis to advocate for more accessible venues, I can’t plead to Jimmy Havoc that he builds me a ramp out of tables to cover stairs, and I can’t ask my friends, the people who see me struggle, watch me cry, and sympathise to my face, to get themselves into hot water with promoters and wrestlers alike (sometimes the same person) for daring to agree with me. They like their positions, they like the trust and the approval they get, and they’re not willing to fuck that up for my sake. From wrestlers, I get that – this is your livelihood, this is what pays your bills, and this is your dream career. From fans, from friends… it’s a little more painful.

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This is the extent to which the door of an accessible toilet opened. Not okay.
Which brings me to what made me remember this sort of thing needed to be written. I went to Anarchy Pro the other day, a promotion I’ve been to before, at two different venues. Sadly, this was the one which is less accessible, but I knew, from my previous visit, that it had an accessible toilet. So, the interval comes, and I head towards the toilet – to find it blocked off by chairs and tables stacked in the way. I wasn’t expecting it, and I burst into tears. Sobbing in the lobby, some security noticed and asked what the issue was. When I explained, they went and opened the toilet door for me (I have a radar key, so I could have done that myself) but didn’t really move the furniture. I squeezed through the door, which was open just enough for me to get through. That’s unacceptable. No wheelchair user would have been able to get through that space, and as such, I haven’t booked tickets to the next show. I don’t want to go through that experience again, because the promoter has told me it’s at the discretion of the venue – who haven’t replied to any of my tweets or emails.

Looking ahead, there’s Progress at Wembley to think of, where they tell you that you have to have a card you pay for, or be able to show them that you’re on benefits in order to have accessible seating, and especially in order to have a free carer with you. A lot of disabled people aren’t on benefits (as I’m not at the moment – which is partially why I run my Patreon and think I should be paid for my disability consultancy work within wrestling) and won’t have a letter, and while the card scheme is inexpensive, it’s not accepted at all places, and there’s no legal requirement for anywhere to accept it.

And that’s my point. Wrestling with stairs doesn’t ever stop, and while there have been small victories, I need more people vocally supporting me to make larger victories a reality. I don’t want to be telling disabled people who ask me about venues or promotions “well, they’re okay but watch out for all these different issues” – I want to be able to tell them that they’re a welcomed part of this vibrant community which is capable of so many amazing things. And right now, I can’t do that – and so the fight continues.

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