Updated: Jul 29
A love story between Sonya Deville and her best friend Mandy Sacs, formerly known as Mandy Rose, was proposed on a 2019 episode of Total Divas by Deville. The Pride Fighter defeated Athena (also known as Ember Moon) in a match on the June 21 episode of SmackDown Live. She then congratulated Mandy on the victory. A strand of Sonya’s hair was pushed behind her ear as she longingly gazed at Rose and the two of them exchanged flirtatious smiles.
The story did not progress, and the two continued to be on-screen allies and foes, as the Total Divas episode would go on to reveal. Since then, progress has been made in how athletes are portrayed on television and film, but one cannot help but wonder when wrestling will be ready to depict a proud love story.
A Cringeworthy Past with Queer Love
Famous love stories that adhered to the conventional ideals of femininity and masculinity have appeared in wrestling. The pantheon of squared circle love includes Miss Elizabeth and Macho Man Randy Savage, AJ Lee and Dolph Ziggler, Chyna, and Eddie Guerrero, and even Rhea Ripley and Dominik Mysterio. However, wrestling has not been that kind when it comes to love outside of the heteronormative gaze. Torrie Wilson and Dawn Marie were depicted in various ways during their rivalry and the infamous HLA (Hot Lesbian Action) on Monday Night Raw in the 2000s, which can be seen by going back in time. Then there is the Billy and Chuck storyline, which featured a heel turn used to demonize gay men and culminated in an in-ring nuptial.
In 1999, the West Hollywood Blondes (Lenny Lane and Lodi) were depicted as characters who were made to be shunned for their sexual orientation. Following protests from groups like GLAD, they were expelled. With their portrayal of lesbianism as something to be feared, Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) was not immune from problematic storylines either. Kimona Wanaleia and Beulah McGillicutty engaged in a love story in 1996 that started out with betrayal when Beulah was discovered having an affair with Kimona while Tommy Dreamer was still a big name in ECW. Tommy would later start dating both women at the same time, contributing to the outdated belief that lesbians are a male-centered fantasy.
In WWE more recently, Liv Morgan had her brush with controversy in her shock outing of Lana at her wedding to Bobby Lashley in 2019. This narrative choice rocked the wrestling world as another example of a failed queer love story. As society has somewhat evolved to hold space for queer art and stories, wrestling had yet to discover richer ways to explore LGBTQIA+ life on screen.
Voices and Thoughts of the Community
With the rise of movies and television shows like Pose, Love, Simon, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and more, LGBTQIA+ stories have become mainstream. As representation continues to flourish throughout media, wrestling has slowly opened the door to athletes of all backgrounds, classes, races, and sexualities. Wrestlers such as Anthony Bowens of The Acclaimed, Fred Rosser, Kiera Hogan, Gisele Shaw, Jai Vidal, and Sonny Kiss have broken barriers across the wrestling landscape. Prideful wrestling fans have personalities that they can see themselves in. That is a great improvement from where sports entertainment once was. But when it comes to the idea of a wrestling love story, many of those fans have mixed emotions.
When asked about LGBTQIA+ love stories on major wrestling promotions, one fan of the community expressed concerns about the narrative being made into “comedy and soft-core porn.” Another member of the community and fellow WWT writer Troy Gonzalez spoke about change behind the scenes with queer writers being commissioned to write queer stories to “build authenticity” and “provide a new perspective in creative that’s never been done.”
Another fan Jesse Maximum stated that “presenting queer stories with the same nuance non-queer stories have enjoyed is key to pushing home the point the queer living is normal” and that “seeing the implied relationship between Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi makes it seem like we’ve been ready for a love story.” Finally, Twitter user and women’s wrestling advocate @chicks_kick_ass has “no interest in such a story just for the sake of having a story” for corporate reasons.
Sometimes I ponder what might have happened if Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose’s romance had been pursued by WWE. Were we going to accept it? Would it have been able to withstand the highs and lows of Damon and Ricky from Pose or Rachel and Ross from Friends? Would it have been told with The Bloodline’s attention to detail and care?
We may never know. But as we celebrate the beauty of love in all of its forms this month, let us continue to create stories that shake tables and create safe spaces for those voices who feel silenced. Let us ask the question “Why Not?” and push for better representation on screen and off. Let us look to grow authentic stories for the LGBTQIA+ community and make stars of those athletes who are brave enough to love themselves and be great.