Friday, June 26, 2020

Normalizing Consent in Wrestling

Hammerstone is afraid of people coming for his chop wars, but he shouldn't as long as he knows to chop people with consent.
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Wrestling, like sex, is a mutually beneficial act between two or more consenting adults that produces a desired bit of gratification. In wrestling, the gratification is less physical than an orgasm, but the principles still remain the same. You need ongoing consent among all participants before that mutual benefit turns into assault or something worse. The worst offender from this past week's spate of cleaning house in pro wrestling, Joey Ryan, based his entire gimmick around sex, namely his sex organ. If an author were writing fiction about exposing the seedy underbelly of pro wrestling, they'd probably think having the worst offender be the Penis Wrestler Man be a bit on the nose. Still, Ryan's actions have become cautionary for the need for ongoing consent both in the ring and in the bedroom. It's not how one wants to arrive at a teaching moment with a wake of scarred victims left behind. I would rather Ryan had never been born and all fans and wrestlers and, hell, people in the world born imbued with an innate respect for consent, but one must play with the hand they are dealt.

As with any move to clean out the filth in any sector, you have pearl-clutching bystanders wondering if the mobs are going to far. You see it with the Black Lives Matter protests taking down statues. One can look at them toppling Nathan Bedford Forrest, and unless they're totally racist, they can think that's necessary. But put a rope around a statue of Ulysses S. Grant and drag it to the ground, and you get people asking to fetch their fainting couches. Sure, Grant is a "good" president from America's history, but that's like pointing out the cleanest pig in a wallow. Predictably, one of the people at the vanguard of wrestling's "are you going to far?" brigade is Alex Hammerstone, star of Major League Wrestling and Pro Wrestling NOAH, a fine wrestler but someone who has a history of baffling social statements. He made this tweet yesterday:
On a visceral level, I can get his preemptive anger, but the point is both of his big examples are textbook ones highlighting the need for ongoing consent in a wrestling ring. I saw the Gary Jay vs. BSTRD Cassidy match from Bizarro Lucha's Into the Luchaverse, and they turned each other's chests into ground beef. They're not the first two wrestlers to ravage each others' chests (and the younger Cassidy got the rawer end of it), and they won't be the last. That being said, I can see how a wrestler wouldn't want to see the appeal of having to ice their chest down after a match where they ostensibly thought they'd escape unscathed. I'm not saying that shit doesn't have a place in wrestling altogether. I don't kink-shame, and sadomasochism, though not for me, is valid I suppose. What I am saying is if wrestler A chops a little too hard and wrestler B doesn't like it, B should have the ability to revoke consent to take those chops. The same goes for taking a ton of bumps in a match. Consent should never be taken for granted, no matter what story one wrestler wants to tell.

Open lines of communication are vital to really anything that involves more than one person working, playing, doing anything. Take the lines of communication away, and people are not on the same page. The chances that someone gets hurt or worse go up exponentially when you have two people working with each other but without knowing the plan of action. Wrestling is weird, almost paradoxical, in that the goal has nominally been convincing people that the wrestlers are fighting, but it's the thing most dependent on synced collaboration in the moment in all of sport or entertainment. It's why people get so furious when someone like Sexy Star starts shooting. What separates her attacking Rosemary on purpose from Ryan assuming that because Candice LeRae was okay taking a Boobplex that Vanessa Kraven would? It's always a grayer area with things like hard chops in the ring, because the unspoken treatise among all wrestlers appears to be that taking and giving hard chops has implied consent. What is hard about making it verbal? It doesn't end the practice overall. If Hammerstone wants to get in the ring with Gary Jay to make each others' chests look like Abdullah the Butcher's forehead, that's their right. The problem comes in with having a problem with people speaking out about it.

Abuse comes in a lot of forms, and otherwise well-meaning people have to be careful that their ignorance, negligence, or assumptions put them in the same category as out-and-out bullies, abusers, and rapists. This goes not just for wrestling, but for anything in life, especially sex. The reason why so much rape and assault happen is because society teaches people, mostly men/masc-people but really anyone can fall victim, that no doesn't always mean no and that you have to keep being aggressive and persistent. How can communication between partners be effective if more than half the population believes it's their God-given right to receive sexual gratification regardless of any other circumstance?

I don't know how to tell people that they have to care about other people if they don't know it already. However, you are not in this alone. Everyone on this planet needs help to get through life, and that help has to go above and beyond meaningless platitudes. This maxim is even truer in the wrestling ring, where one false move, one miscommunication, can be the difference between walking out of the ring the same way you walked in or not walking out at all. What people like Hammerstone need to realize is no one's coming for his chop wars unless they can prove that people who don't want to bleed from their pecs in a match where they are only getting paid 20 bucks were still being made to bleed from those pecs. Communication is the most vital tool for the human race, and consent has to be guaranteed at every turn before you try the next thing you want to do. If you go ahead and do something to a non-consenting party though, well, I hope you're well-equipped and mentally ready to deal with the consequences.