I am a 23-year-old woman from Bangladesh—and my greatest passion is professional wrestling.
World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is scorned by people who see themselves as above the spectacle. But to shrug off pro wrestling as “fake” is to discount the immense athletic performances on display, as well as the soap opera-esque storylines that make it so compelling. The dramatic elements of WWE’s weekly programs pit heroes—known as “faces”—against villains—”heels”—in feuds over title belts, insults, and off-screen conflicts. All of these struggles have pre-written conclusions, but like in any form of fiction, the joy comes in seeing how they’re resolved.
Growing Up With The Undertaker
I first discovered pro wrestling at eight years old. My parents refused to let me watch WWE, but my male cousins were allowed. After each week’s show they’d stage their own matches, imitating their favorite characters. I was left out in these battles because I was a girl, but I was determined to prove that I could be a part of their games.
One day when they were out of the house, I took in a pay-per-view special in which the gigantic, intimidating wrestler known as The Undertaker was literally buried alive by his onscreen brother in an act of fraternal revenge. Such an intense display of violence was extremely new to me, as was the concept of death. A vampire-esque man being conquered by his evil brother was more surreal and captivating than any television show I had ever seen. I was hooked.
I only watched men’s wrestling. In part, this was a result of the different ways that male and female talent were promoted—men were serious, women were “divas” used for gimmick events such as “pillow flights” instead of actual wrestling matches. But I can’t place all the blame on the WWE—my own internalized misogyny was also involved, as I’d been encouraged to believe that women entertainers were only good for ogling.
Eventually, it got to be too much. Despite my love for the sport, wrestling’s toxic culture pushed me away and by the time I started high school, I’d stopped watching.
The Women’s Revolution
It was the misogyny of the industry that repelled me—and it was the women pushing back against it who brought me back.
One day during my summer holidays I was flipping channels and came across a wrestling promotion called NXT—WWE’s developmental program. This program put women in the spotlight. They were having actual matches! And the four-way fight I saw between Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, and Bayley wasn’t just exciting as a women’s wrestling event—it was a match featuring four of the biggest up and coming names in all of wrestling.
These women were spearheading a movement. On Twitter, the hashtag #GiveDivasAChance trended for over three days worldwide after the Divas were given less than minute for a match in the main roster show, Monday Night Raw. Simultaneously, the NXT women were receiving more airtime and showing that women could actually wrestle.
I was in awe of these women. I became obsessed with wrestling again, and this time, I looked forward to watching the women especially. I even chose to go to college in the United States, in the hopes I would be able to someday meet my heroes.
By this time, fandom culture had taken off on sites like Tumblr. I was a member of online communities such as the Harry Potter and Marvel fandoms, but whenever I searched for WWE content the most popular posts were always about the men. It was frustrating, but one day I learned that the WWE was finally coming to my city—and the women were headlining.
My first live wrestling event was a historic one at Boston’s TD Garden. The minute I entered the space it was like being on the set of my favorite TV show. I was in awe of the electricity the crowd brought. And to my surprise, the crowd was full of little girls. The whole audience was cheering for the women in the main event—Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks—and they brought the most emphatic chants when the women fought: “This is wrestling!” “This is hope!” They had brought signs bearing similar slogans, and many of them wore the women’s merchandise.
This was something I would never have imagined growing up, in the age of the “gravy bowl” and “bra and panty” matches. I joined the men, women, and children in the crowd, cheering for my favorite, Charlotte, my heart completely swollen with pride. The women had converted the fandom. Times had changed. People finally believed they could actually wrestle.
Finding a Home in Fandom
The next day, I could not stop thinking about the experience. I made a Tumblr account dedicated to women’s wrestling and posted asking for more LGBTQ followers, and fans of women’s wrestling in particular.
The response I received was phenomenal. Messages started flooding in about how much women’s wrestling had inspired people, how witnessing these women’s strength had helped them with their mental health, how they had learned so much from watching wrestling. These people became not only my Tumblr followers, but some of my best friends.
Everyday I logged onto Tumblr and discussed the day’s events with these friends. I liveblogged the events, made GIFs of the noteworthy action, and critiqued wrestlers who were problematic offscreen. Tumblr took my love for wrestling to a whole new level.
What I hadn’t realized when I was growing up watching wrestling in Bangladesh was how accessible wrestlers make themselves to their fans. Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to be able to attend WWE Axxess in New Orleans, a fan convention held during the week of Wrestlemania—the Superbowl or World Series of the wrestling world. At Axxess, I was able to meet one of my favorite wrestlers, Charlotte Flair, and give her a comic I drew about how her story of overcoming domestic abuse had touched me. I even got the opportunity to meet up with friends I had made over Tumblr. Finally, I had found people to cheer alongside me for our favorite superstars.
In New Orleans, fans proudly displaying their love of the sport where everywhere in the streets. We nodded at each other even if we were strangers, out of the simple knowledge that we shared this passion. Our devotion as fans mirrors that of wrestlers themselves, whose commitments to intensive work and training schedules taught me the value of rigor and humility.
Wrestling has undoubtedly changed my life. Not only has it provided me with engaging entertainment during those days clouded by depression, it has also taught me the power of collective love towards something bigger than yourself. I’ve found a home in the wrestling fandom, and I am grateful to be part of a community that is understanding, critical when need be, and full of respect for one another and the incredible athletes who bring us so much joy.