Professional Wrestling and Drag: two worlds collide

Even though June is over, I wanted to do something for Pride month, which is a month that means a lot to me: I will always support and stand for LGBTQ+ rights, because I think it’s the right think to do as a human and also because I am a part of the community, I have always been, I realised it at around 18 years old. So to celebrate Pride month here on Donne Tra Le Corde, I though to myself “why not analyse the similarities between professional wrestling and wrestlers and the art of drag and its kings and queens?”. So here we are.

I wanted to tell you all about some interesting facts that apply to both professional wrestling and drag and I will talk about them from both a subjective and a more objective point of view, as I always do in my articles. I will be analysing material from the internet, books, tv shows, etc. that I have collected throughout the years and I will bring to you my own personal considerations as well.

As someone special would say: racers, start your engines, and…well, you’ll see! I hope you enjoy the read.

How did I become interested in drag and wrestling?

Let’s start from professional wrestling: I first heard of it when I was a kid thanks to the Italian TV channel Italia 1 which would broadcast episodes of the WWE. I was 8 years old at the time and my older brother used to watch it, so I started watching it with him and we would often “try that at home”, as I’m sure most of WWE kid fans did at the time. 

As for drag, the catalyst to my passion was “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, a TV show, a sort of “America’s Next Drag Superstar” type of competition that I had read about on Twitter and in 2017 I decided to start watching it with my girlfriend. We have not stopped watching it since: we are caught up on all of the various franchises and we also went to a couple of drag shows and conventions pre-pandemic, which we absolutely loved.

Pictured: my favourite drag queen, Violet Chachki, and I at her show in Milan

I must confess that I had no idea about the complexity and the wonderfulness of the art of drag before I started watching the show: when I was younger I used to think that a drag queen was a just middle aged man who dressed up and put a wig and make up on and I didn’t really care for it, but I was SO wrong. The drag world is so intense, so profound, there are so many facets to it, it can convey so much that it may make you feel overwhelmed and a little lost sometimes, but in a good way. I highly encourage you to start watching Drag Race and maybe look up a couple of movies and documentaries or books about drag, because it’s a world that is so worth exploring.

We’re all born naked and…

This might just be the most important part of this article, so please do read carefully.

It all starts from some lyrics to one of RuPaul’s (the creator of the aforementioned show) songs: “We’re all born naked and the rest is drag”. These words have a simple yet very deep meaning: when we are born, we are all naked, pure, our personality isn’t defined yet, everything that comes after being born is something that in some way we “put on”, it’s a costume, a mask, a character. Sound familiar?

Gimmick, costumes, make-up and hair

Charlotte Flair and Violet Chachki

Let’s start from the base, the foundation of it all, for both drag queens (and kings) and professional wrestlers: presentation. We can start by saying that both people bring a made-up (even just partially) character to the stage (or the ring). Wrestlers usually hold up a gimmick, an act that allows them to separate the person that they are in their everyday life from the sport entertainer; they put on a mask (some of them literally do) and they basically become actors once they hit the ring. The same thing happens to who performs in drag: they usually even choose a different name for their persona — just like most wrestlers do — and they act and sometimes dress differently from how they usually would. Disclaimer: I should mention that these things work a little differently for drag performers since someone’s drag is usually (but not always) tied to their gender identity, but this article is not the place to do a whole deep dive on that (however I am available in the comments or on social media for any questions or doubts you may have). Charlotte Flair is a great example of this duality as she has often spoken about how Ashley (her real name) and Charlotte are very different: Charlotte is “The Queen”, she is cocky and confident and playing her allows her to access her “evil” side, which is fun to play with on the ring but has no place or reason to exist in her day-to-day life.

Both in drag and in wrestling, these personas, these characters need to be presented to the audience in a particular way: they need costumes, a certain kind of make-up, a certain style of hair. With this concept, the link to drag is easy: drag performers usually express themselves through highly extravagant and very artistic make-up, amazingly constructed wigs and glamorous outfits, custom-made dresses or looks that pay homage to famous pop culture people or events (see the Lady Gaga, Madonna or Grace Jones inspired runways on Drag Race). Their looks can definitely tell a lot about how creative a certain drag performer is, as creativity is undoubtedly one of the most important skills to possess in that field of work.

So clearly, in drag looks are important: buy what about wrestling? Wrestlers may not need fancy wigs and elaborate make-up, but we definitely have had some iconic looks or even just elements that when you see them you immediately think of that one wrestler: I’m thinking of the iconic braid that Bianca Belair almost always wears her hair in, which is an integral part of her character, or when Bayley cut her hair to show that we were about to meet a new and improved version of her, etc.

Some gimmicks in wrestling do require make-up though: Finn Bálor puts on make-up when he shows up in his demon form; then we have Goldust, probably one of the greatest drag representations in professional wrestling; some samoan wrestlers use face and body paint; and how can we forget Sensational Sherri’s iconic eye make-up? That was drag.

Then we have — last but certainly not least — the gear, the costumes that wrestlers wear to perform on the ring. Some of them have additional parts for the entrance that come off once the wrestler enters the ring, but in every shape they come from they are all a drag symbol. Gears are a visual representation of the person that wears them, and sometimes they can also be used (as we mentioned with drag) to pay homage to past legends and their unmistakable style. Some designers even work for and with both drag queens and wrestlers: Jeffrey Kelly, for example, who created the iconic coat that Sasha Banks wore for her entrance in the main event of WrestleMania 37 against Bianca Belair, also designs and creates looks for Trinity The Tuck and Heidi ’N’ Closet, amongst other queens. HERE is his Instagram account where you can check out his amazing work.

Professional wrestling inspires drag queens

For the ones who are not familiar with how the episodes on Drag Race work, all you need to know is that the queens need to perform different challenges and they are critiqued by a panel of judges every episode to decide who needs to leave the competition. During season 14 episode 9 the queens were called to prepare a discussion panel on different “hot topics”, one of which was “men”. Talking about what turns her on about men, Daya Betty (one of the contestants) said: “The first turn-on I remember was watching WWE. You got the Chris Jerichos, the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnsons, you know, John Cena. I was always so enthralled watching them on the TV, getting nose-to-nose, drenched in sweat. You know they wore little tiny outfits and I always noticed they had rock-hard nipples. I made it my mission: […] I’m gonna find my WWE SmackDown wrestler”.

RuPaul’s Drag Race, season 14 episode 9

During the judging segment on that same episode, Michelle Visage told Daya Betty: “I really enjoyed the conversation about the WWE stuff. Because wrestlers are drag queens. I mean, think about The Undertaker and think about Ric Flair. They were full drag.”

Daya Betty’s response to this was honestly moving, as she recalls her first experiences watching wrestling which are very similar to anyone’s first taste of WWE on TV: “WWE was, like, a thing that I watched with my dad and so, I feel like that does kind of come into play with my drag a little bit. It has a very special place in my heart.”

RuPaul’s Drag Race, season 14 episode 9

All of this proves that there is a deep connection between these two worlds. As Michelle Visage says, wrestlers are always in full drag, especially the ones whose persona requires an elaborate gear, see The Undertaker’s coat and hat and Ric Flair’s flashy robes: gimmicks are drag. Daya Betty’s speech on how wrestling played an important role in her getting into drag is the perfect representation of what it means to take inspiration from that world and bringing its art in another field of work.

During an interview on StraightioLab, Drag Race season 8 winner Bob The Drag Queen also speaks on how the two things can influence each other: “Wrestling is inherently kind of gay. There are some really great, iconic wrestlers who spoke to my gayness of a young child. Goldust is a really great example. He was a wrestler named Dustin Rhodes. It was common for a wrestler to leave and then come back as a completely different person. I mean, a completely different person. Goldust was this wrestler that was basically, I don’t even want to say he was acting gay, the whole bit was…he was never gay, he had girlfriends. He was kind like Prince. He was this extremely effeminate straight man who was wrestling. Tell me this is not (Drag Queen) Gottmik. Tell me this person would not be on Dragula. Goldust was insane. Goldust was a really wild, regulatory moment for me as a young gay person watching wrestling. His dad [Dusty Rhodes] was also a wrestler.”

Performances and injuries

Tegan Nox’s injury

Performances and injuries are two more things that wrestling and drag have in common: a wrestler performs within the ring, whether it is by fighting or by doing a promo, while a drag queen (or king) usually performs on a stage, maybe with a lip-sync number, stand-up comedy, acting or actual singing (like Jinkx Monsoon, who not only has been on Broadway but has also recently joined the cast of Doctor Who). Obviously, we as an audience know that wrestler don’t just wrestle, many of them have tried to make it in show business as well, whether that be cinema or music (The Rock, John Cena, Dave Bautista, Mercedes Moné). And while performing, all of them can end up injured. Obviously, the accidents that can happen during a drag show are not comparable to the physical risk that a wrestler takes by simply stepping into the ring, but we have seen it happen multiple times on Drag Race alone: Eureka completely crushed her knee during a cheerleading challenge on season 9 and some queens even did a whole wrestling challenge were they definitely took some bumps (we will talk about it in a little bit). More often than not, a drag performance will involve some sort of splits, death drops, cartwheels etc, so getting injured is not so unlikely to happen. Some queens, like Violet Chachki for example, even do aerial during their performances (I’ve seen her do it live and it was unreal). So do not underestimate the physical risks in drag as well.

Drag pays homage to professional wrestling

As I said before, there have been plenty of tributes to wrestling in the various shows of the Drag Race franchise: I will tell you all about them going in chronological order.

Let’s start from the original RuPaul’s Drag Race, season 4: in the second episode, titled “WTF!: Wrestling’s Trashiest Fighters”, the maxi challenge consisted in the queens becoming wrestlers (even though RuPaul herself had previously said that “drag is not a contact sport”). For this challenge, the queens had to pretty literally become wrestlers: they were coached by a trainer who showed them how to perform in a tag team match. The queens did end up getting hurt a little while training, but seeing them coming up with a gimmick and a character (different from their drag persona, which already is a character) was very entertaining and fun.

Staying on the Drag Race topic, I have to mention season 10 queen Kameron Michaels impersonating Chyna on her season’s Snatch Game (season 10 episode 7). If you are not familiar with the show, Snatch Game is a game based on the iconic game show Match Game, where the queens have to impersonate a celebrity and answer questions while staying in character, improvising and entertaining as much as possible. Kameron did not win that challenge, but she did do an amazing job as Chyna on that episode.

Kameron Michaels as Chyna on the RuPaul’s Drag Race season 10 Snatch Game

Another instance where wrestling was mentioned in a drag context, my favorite one to be honest, was a challenge from the show Dragula Titans (season 1 episode 6). Before telling you about it, here’s a brief rundown on Dragula: this drag show is structured the same way as the original Drag Race, but it has a horror twist to it. The contestants all have a very dark drag style and the challenges are much more hardcore, sometimes even disgusting, but very cool and entertaining especially for horror fans.

Back to the challenge in question: during the episode titled “The Ugly Ladies of Wrestling” (a clear homage to GLOW, aka “The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling”), the Dragula contestants had to create their own in-ring persona, a look and a story for them, and then they had to wrestle it out in teams. The special judges for this episode where, would you look at that, Poppy, beloved singer and creator of the NXT theme song, and Katya, one of my favorite drag queens, who has a particular love for all things gory. This challenge was very similar to what they did on Drag Race season 4, however this time they did take it more seriously especially with the wrestling and the acting, which is why this is my favorite of the two wrestling-themed challenges.

Melissa Befierce and her gimmick on Dragula Titans

Let’s go back to the OG Drag Race: one of its many spin-offs is a show called “All Stars”, where the contestants are all queens from previous seasons that have particularly stuck out for their talent or charisma. In May 2023 the 8th season of All Stars started airing and one of the competing queens was Jaymes Mansfield, beloved queen who had originally been on season 9 of the show and who is well known in the US drag community for her talent in wig making, for both herself and other colleagues.

On this season of All Stars however, the competition had a little twist called the Fame Game: the eliminated queens from every episode had the chance to show off the looks that they had prepared for the episode following their elimination, and at the end of the season the audience would be able to vote for their favorite look and that queen will be winning a monetary prize. I personally really enjoyed this twist to the game, because I know drag is very expensive and time consuming, so at least the queens did not “waste” some of the looks that they had prepared for the competition.
SPOILER ALERT Jaymes sadly got eliminated on episode 6, so thanks to the Fame Game she had a chance to show her look for episode 7, which had the runway theme “Miss __”, aka a pageant queen of anything. On her YouTube channel, Jaymes told a little bit more about the look that she had chosen for “Miss __”: she wanted to go for a professional wrestler beauty queen because — I had no idea — she has a connection with wrestling: she has been a manager (in full drag) during an indie show in Chicago, which was a dream of hers, and she also said that she was inspired by Sable and Sunny. She said that she wanted to bring this “Miss” (and this topic) to Drag Race because it had not been talked about often, and her inspirations were mainly four wrestlers: Gorgeous George, Buddy Rogers, Ric Flair and, obviously, Charlotte Flair. The Queen was her main muse for the look, because male wrestlers can win the title “King of the Ring” and they kind of enter the royal sphere of wrestling when doing so, so she wanted to create (and pay homage to) a Queen of the Ring. Here is the LINK to the video where she explains her outfit, make up and hair in full detail and where Jaymes also mentions all the people that have helped her with this look and give them (and Jaymes) your support.

What I loved about this discourse is that Jaymes explicitly pointed out, as did Michelle Visage, how wrestlers like Ric Flair were dressing extremely feminine for the societal standard, especially at the time: robes with feathers, sequins, stones, perfectly styled hair, etc. However, they were still considered very manly men, almost a casanova type, who could have any woman in the world if they wanted to: this duality is what Jaymes wanted to represent in her look. My favorite part of the video though was when Jaymes talked about how she also wanted to pay homage to women’s wrestling, which has reached unthinkable levels in the last few decades, with Charlotte Flair (who she calls “the GOAT” and “fabulous”) being one of the pillars of the revolution that made these changes possible. This is why the look can basically be considered ad a tribute to the Flairs, the most “drag” wrestlers that there are, because father and daughter are the perfect examples of these to sides of wrestling that Jaymes wanted to represent.

How long until a Makeover Challenge?

The Makeover Challenge is one of the staple challenges that we can find in almost every single season of Drag Race: the queens get paired up with “regular people” (their relatives, their friends, crew members of the show, people who are part of a specific group or organisation) and have to put them in drag so that in the end the judges can see a “family resemblance” between the two people. Whoever gets the best result, of course, wins the challenge.

Now, wouldn’t it be amazing if wrestlers (men, women or non-binary folks) were part of a Makeover Challenge on Drag Race? I would die! I’m sorry, I’m fangirling right now, but honestly it would be SO fun. Wouldn’t you want to see how Roman Reigns would look like as a drag queen? Wouldn’t you like to see Charlotte Flair’s style taken to the extreme? I would! It’d be super entertaining to see how the athletes would look in drag, but I also think it would be interesting to see drag queens and wrestlers interact and talk about themselves and their life experiences to each other. Usually during this challenge in the show, while the queens are working on their partner’s makeup and hair, they all talk together about what they do for a living and the struggles they have faced in life. Seeing the two worlds of wrestling and drag interact like that, having noted how the two actually are way more alike than one would think, I feel like it would be fascinating for all parties involved and it would also break many stereotypes and give a lesson to the viewers about how any person can use make-up or heels and how clothes and objects don’t have a gender. Last but not least, I think it would be great advertising for everyone involved, since both wrestling and drag are core elements to pop culture in the United States.

The drag world meets the professional wrestling world

Washington Heights, wrestler New Jack’s daughter

Cheryl Hole and Pretty Deadly

When these two world meet, magic is guaranteed: we saw it when Cheryl Hole (Drag Race UK season 1 contestant) sat down to talk to Pretty Deadly, WWE Tag Team who was first on NXT UK, then later moved to NXT, and now is in the main roster.

While talking about the similarities between drag and pro wrestling, Cheryl Hole said: “At the end of the day, I think we can all agree that there is this element of character and performance and, yes, the Main Stage of RuPaul’s Drag Race is a stage but the ring in WWE is one of the biggest stages. These people that go into the ring, they’re putting on drag, they’re stepping into a character, they’re stepping into a persona. So that is how the two worlds collide together because we’re all putting on a bit of a show, are we not?”

To this, Kit Wilson replied: “You hit the nail on the head. These large characters come to life, whatever field you’re in, whether it’s wrestling or drag.”. Elton then added: “I think it’s that release as well for people where it’s an hour, two hours of just taking yourself out of your ordinary day, that might not have been a good day and you can just relax and just watch something you just get pure enjoyment from.”.

As we said earlier while talking about the makeover challenge, Cheryl Hole was ready with drag names for some WWE Superstars: Drew McIntyre would be ‘Eatma Haggis’ and Triple H would be ‘Queen Of Queens’, given that one of his nicknames already is King Of Kings.

Pretty Deadly also suggested an idea for a new WWE Network show: “A future show, we get dragged up by Cheryl and then we train Cheryl up in the ring. And then we switch roles.” As someone would say: shut up and take my money!

Washington Heights: the tormented relationship with her extreme wrestling legend father

In 2020, a drag queen named Washington Heights tweeted about how her father had cut her out of his life completely. This might (sadly) seem like nothing new, but her father was none other that Jerome Young, better known as New Jack, one of the most extreme wrestlers in history. Washington explained that her father had done that because he didn’t want the fans to know that his son was a drag queen: “Wikipedia wants to update my page … I don’t want them to put anything about you doing drag on there.” he told him.

Washington Heights showed great maturity by saying that she didn’t think her dad was ashamed of her or what she was doing, rather he was worried about the reaction from his fans, and because of that he had decided to kind of push his son away. Personally, I think that a grown man should be able to respond to (or ignore) a group of mean and immature people, especially to defend and protect a son who he loves very much (however, this is my personal opinion and I can’t really put myself in neither of their shoes). New Jack did later explain that he wanted to keep his private life separate from wrestling, which is fair, however during a Facebook live the wrestler also openly said that he (Washington Heights, ndr.) was not his son, and called him a word that I’m sure you can guess for yourselves.

Washington had started performing in drag back in 2014, in Baltimore, and soon after she won ‘best host’, ‘best show’ and ‘drag queen of the year’ in 2018 at the Baltimore Drag Awards, and now she describes herself as a “full time drag queen who does what she loves”. In her interview with VICE (where I also found all of the information that you just read about what happened with her father) she said this: “When I was younger, I went to one of his [New Jack’s] shows. I was fascinated by the entrance music, the costumes, the flashiness, the big personalities, the fireworks. That’s pretty much everything that I’m doing except drag queens don’t slam each other on the floor and attack each other.”

That time Brody King worked on Drag Race

You could not picture my face when I found out that Brody King, All Elite Wrestling superstar, had worked on Drag Race in the past. I couldn’t believe it! Interviewed on the AEW official podcast “AEW Unrestricted” in 2022, King talked about his experience on the show and spoke about what ties drag and professional wrestling together: I did probably 5 years on RuPaul’s Drag Race, I think season 7 through 11 or 12 or something like that. That was one of my favorites to work on, at first it wasn’t because it was more low budget so the rate was lower so I wasn’t getting paid as much, but it was always fun to go to work and like get a whole new respect for a different art form, especially when I was wrestling training you saw so much similarities between the two worlds, and there’s so much pageantry and competition and stuff like that. […] Now I watch it all the time, you know me and my wife will go to drag bars and have dinner or whatever and watch a show, it’s cool.”

To prove my point, which is the main topic of this article, this was yet another experience from someone who lived both worlds and realised how similar they actually are. By the way, Brody started working on Drag Race during my favorite season, I love!

Enjoy this clip of him lip-syncing with some drag kings:

(Not just) drag in the ring

This section of the article is dedicated to different professional wrestling realities who host many drag performers in their ring, and to the most famous queens who have taken part in the discipline.

Disclaimer: I obviously can’t possibly know every drag performer who wrestles or vice versa, so please do let me know if you are aware of more companies or performers, tag their social media in the comments so that we can all go and support them.

Show and organisation

A Matter of Pride is a wrestling organisation based in Brooklyn and founded by Rick Cataldo and it’s been described as “RuPaul’s Drag Race meets WWE WrestleMania”. You can find all the details in the article written on SSENSE where they mention many wrestlers such as Sonny Kiss. You can also find some info on Cataldo in this video from the VICE Life YouTube channel.

Choke Hole is a show that combines wrestling and drag in a special and unique way through matches and performances. Here’s the LINK to their website and an article written on Gothamist where the creators of the show talk about it in depth.

SUCKAPUNCH! is a show organised by the House of ALXNDR in Atlanta, where the athletes involved in the matches wrestle in drag. Here’s an article from GPB News and the LINK to the House of ALXNDR Facebook group.

What A Drag is the first show that mixes professional wrestling and drag queens in Central Valley, California. Here’s the LINK to their Instagram account.

Drag queens in the ring

Cassandro El Exotico

Cassandro El Exotico is a Mexican wrestler who performs and wrestles while wearing a full face of make-up, very similar to that of a drag queen. He also wears costumes that are considered feminine and he’s been doing this for a long time, over 30 years. Cassandro identifies as gay, but as he explains in the video on Great Big Story his gender identity especially in the ring is very fluid. The “Exotico” part of his name comes from the ‘exoticos’, which are the wrestlers who perform in drag. Here’s is a great article from Onda Cinema where the life of Cassandro is analysed through a documentary made about him.

Priscilla is a drag wrestler from the UK who has been in the business for a long time, wrestling mainly in some indie companies in her area. Here’s a video from BBC News where you can find a little bio about her.

Pollo Del Mar is a drag queen known for her work as a manager in the professional wrestling world, as well as a journalist under her government name. Some of you might have seen her in the NWA.

Final thoughts

Here we are, this article is approaching its final paragraphs. Telling you about wrestling and drag has been an honour and extremely important to me since they – as well as music – are my biggest interests in life, and I found it so hard to believe that no one has given this topic enough time or attention and there have not been many collaborations between the two given how similar they are to each other.

I’m a very creative person and personally I love to think about the wrestling gears that could potentially be inspired by drag artists, so much so that I’ve even drawn up a couple of them for Charlotte Flair (she has yes to wear one of them but one can dream). I think it would be amazing to have this kind of collab between wrestlers and drag queens, where basically the former commissions a gear to the latter, whether that be for the ring or just for an entrance look. It would also be amazing and significant to have more LGBTQ+ centred storylines in wrestling companies, maybe with kings and queen as protagonists.

What I personally love the most about professional wrestling and about the art of drag is that they both give people the chance to be themselves while also showing a character who tells a story, they allow performers to connect to the audience through art, whether that be fashion or sport, through moves and acts, through gear and costumes.To professional wrestling and drag I simply say: shantay, you stay. 

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Donne Tra le Corde does not hold any trademark rights on images and logos  regarding WWE inc., RuPaul’s Drag Race, Dragula or other sources cited in this article. Credits go to the photographers who have taken the pictures that I used in this article, to the artists who have worked on the queen’s look and to who worked on the content I linked throughout this piece. This article was written and edited by Rachele Gagliardi, founder of Donne Tra Le Corde. Revision and translation to English by Irene Zordan.

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