It's Saturday night. I'm in a dressing room with a bunch of other men in various states of dress and undress. One man is in his undergarments, searching his suitcase and pulling out a piece of flashy, gaudy, and pretty revealing wear. A 230-pound bear is facing a mirror, working on his hair and complaining that he forgot his cocoa butter. One man is asking to borrow some tape, while another muscular brute is asking around for some conditioner. Many of them have shaved their bodies. They're laughing and chatting with each other, primping and preening, going through the motions of their upcoming show. We gave the announcers our CDs earlier, and my turn is next. I check my gloves, my sequined jacket, my belt and boots -- and I hear my cue. It's showtime. I step through the door and take in the crowd.
My show name is Johnny Courageous. I'm a part-time professional wrestler. I'm also gay, and completely out with our wrestling federation, the only gay man on our roster, as far as I know.
I'm a lucky man. There are a lot of gay pro wrestlers out there, but nearly all of them have stayed in the closet during their career because this business has always been rather homophobic. I've heard second- and third-hand stories about gay wrestlers getting beaten up for real in the ring -- or in the alley after the show. After all, this is a business built upon male aggression, testosterone, and the exploitation of women, and it plays to a largely redneck type of crowd. However, it's also about tight, revealing gear, bare skin, big muscles, and lots of male-on-male domination. Please, girl! Of course gay men are going to be drawn to it.
Johnny Courageous is not gay, nor is he necessarily straight.That's because sexuality is not part of his character. He's the all-American, boy-next-door hero. For me, his sexuality is a non-issue.
I don't hide my sexuality, either. I don't conceal on Facebook that I'm also Johnny Courageous, and I don't edit my posts to cover my sexuality. Several fans have friended me and should easily figure out my orientation. Our whole fed knows, and as the head trainer for our club, I tell every new trainee on their first day that I'm gay, and that they have to be completely comfortable working in close physical proximity to any other man or woman who is working or training. We have to be able to trust each other with our bodies as we throw each other around, and if they're uncomfortable with being in contact with a gay man, the best-case scenario is that the move will look clumsy. Worst case? The move goes out of synch and someone gets hurt. Probably me.
I tell the trainees that they can choose to leave because of this. One man has. He got up right there and walked out. Others might not have come back after the first day with me; I can't be sure. But it's not my job to force social acceptance on them. My job is to train them and try not to get any of us hurt.
So why is it that I could get away with coming out and not suffer any negative consequences (that I know of), while others have been given a more hostile treatment? I think it's because one of my college instructors taught me the importance of always being a professional in your endeavors. Take your work seriously, work hard, do the best you can do, and people will respect you for that. When I came out to our fed, it was after several years of very hard, dedicated work (OK, maybe a small degree of natural talent, too). They respected my work ethic, so when the cat came out of the bag, it didn't seem to matter to them.
Once a wrestler from another area who wanted to join our fed came to one of our shows, sat in the audience, got angry at something, and started shouting a lot of really vile, anti-gay slurs. Word travelled to the locker room in minutes, and I got pretty nervous. I didn't have to be. The entire fed stood up and said they were behind me. The next day that wrestler was told in no uncertain terms that there was no place for someone with his attitude in our fed.
That was a great moment for me, looking around and knowing that all these straight men were defending me. I had earned their respect, and that was all that mattered. I had found my own small way to bring a bunch of straight men who might have had a negative view on the concept of gay equality one step closer to understanding that there's nothing wrong with being gay.
So who am I? Well, my name is Jeff Girard, aka Johnny Courageous. I'm a pro wrestler, a teacher, a musician, a board game fanatic, and bit of a geek. I'm also gay. But being gay doesn't wholly define me. For me, when it comes to my work, being gay is really just a non-issue.