“If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life's exciting variety, not something to fear.” ― Gene Roddenberry
Doctor's Orders: February 16, 2013 - The First Openly Gay WWE Superstar
By The Doc
Nov 7, 2012 - 6:52:09 PM
February 16, 2013
When he got into this business, he never even thought about telling the world the truth. Why would he? You think he worked his way through the ranks around the world to eventually end up in the WWE so that he could come out with his biggest secret, announcing to the world what it had taken him the better part of twenty years to even admit to himself? Of course not. Like any other aspiring athlete, he chose his profession because he had grown up loving a sport and sought to make a living off that passion. It is not until much later, once some success has been sampled, that the realization sets in that being a star (at anything) automatically holds you to a higher standard in society and requires that you be better than the people that would have the tendency to scrutinize you. In other words, he was going to have to come clean, at some point, or he’d be living a lie.
He was supposed to want to be more like Drew; he of the good looks and charming demeanor that had attracted a Playboy model to be his lawfully wedded wife, once upon a time. That’s just not the way that he was programmed, though. The older he got, the more he understood that it was not fair that he should have to pretend to be anything less than who he really was. And he tried to start showing it more with the style of his apparel, the way that he did up his hair, and the manner in which he championed certain causes throughout the United States, where he hoped to become a dual citizen with his native South Africa. Less and less often was he finding those actions to be enough. He wanted to be more like Punk and Cena; guys that knew exactly who they were and made no bones about it on the road, in the locker room, when interacting with fans, or in the ring.
The notoriety, professionally, was putting him in a greater spotlight; and that was making him hesitant. It was one thing when he was at the bottom of the card and struggling to catch a break. If he had been honest, then, it might have painted him as the guy desperate – willing to do anything – to get attention. If he had been pushed after that…well, maybe it would have been a plea to get noticed in some small way. Anyhow, that was no longer the case. He and Drew had been consistently getting more time on television ever since their summer series with the Dragons. The tag team championship division was firmly planted as a staple on Raw again and his team was right there in the thick of things with a few short reigns as the title holders.
So, one day a few months ago, he barged through to the front of the line, right ahead of Punk in fact, opened the door to Vince McMahon’s office, and told the chairman that he was gay. He figured that if he could tell the boss that controlled the fate of his dreams, then he could tell anyone. What he didn’t know was that the door was not that thick. Punk heard it, opened his eyes a little wider than usual, and then swallowed his tongue. That was not his secret to share with anyone. Layla heard it, though, and proceeded to blab about it to everyone that she could find. Meanwhile, inside the room, Vince got that big “yuk yuk” look on his face and walked over. “Well, thanks for telling me. You feel better,” he asked.
Imagine how Justin Gabriel must have felt. For the majority of his life, he had suppressed his feelings, afraid to expose to the world that he was not like everyone else. Then, he tells the man that once dressed the son of a legend in a spandex suit, made him grope the wrestlers, and sat back so that he could embrace the controversy as hate was spewed by audiences across the world who ridiculed an orientation that they never took the time to understand…and that man takes it in stride. Gabriel didn’t know, and didn’t take the time to find out, whether or not Vince supported gay marriage or any other gay rights, but he damn sure knew that Vince had just lifted the weight of the world off of his shoulders.
It made him feel great to know that the head of the organization under which he was contractually obligated was OK with him coming out. Punk pulled him aside later that same day and told him that he had overheard and just wanted him to know that it was alright; that there might be some morons that were not OK with it, but that most all of the boys and girls in the back were going to support him. The Chicago Made speaker of his mind, never one to shy away from an opportunity to mock archaic institutions, made reference to a few of the more hardcore “book” thumpers as those that would probably try to “save” him or something to that affect. Fear not, Punk said, you can never go wrong with being yourself and those people that aren’t cool with it just don’t belong in your life anymore. Gabriel’s respect for Punk grew immeasurably in that moment.
By Christmas, everyone knew. Drew was awesome about the whole thing. He tried to overcompensate for some of the insensitive things that he’d once said out of ignorance by constantly reminding him that he was totally encouraging. It was actually pretty funny, especially when they got a few beers deep at the hotel bars. Drew would go around talking about how great a friend Gabriel was to him and how he only wanted him to be happy. He would forget about it and do it all over again the next time. Some were annoyed by it, but Gabriel got a kick out of it.
It was during a New Year’s party with a lot of the road crew that he started openly talking about becoming the first legitimately gay wrestler on WWE TV. By legitimate, he meant that he was not going to be the guy that was “raining Rico” and that we wouldn’t be “remembering his name” or pulling a publicity stunt to marry one of his fellow superstars. Rather, he was simply going to publicly come out, live on Raw, and be a beacon of change for the wrestling world. There was some hesitation, but he thought that most people understood that this was not your senior year of high school’s WWE. Crowds were not openly chanting so and so “is gay” at the heels to ridicule them, as if that were a derogatory statement. Punk took the opportunity to poke fun at Cena during this conversation, reminding him of just the few short years ago where Cena had frequently taunted his opponents using homosexuality as something to be laughed at. Cena assured him that it was just clowning around; that the world was ready for Gabriel to make his announcement.
Vince okayed it. It had taken a little bit of Punk’s arm twisting to get him to even present the idea to Vince, but he was glad that he had. It felt like he was doing something that mattered; like he could use the fame gained from being a star in the revamped tag team scene to make a difference in the world. Cena, ever the business-savvy veteran, reminded him that not only would he be doing the world a service, but that he could likely expect that greater opportunities would come his way as a result. There was a lot of glitz and glam in the wrestling business and there was a portion of the gay community that really appreciated theatrics. Gabriel would be their guy, as well as anyone’s who appreciated courage. It was a good point.
The decision was made to build up to the proclamation. Gabriel was given a lot of creative control as to how he wanted to do it. Basically, he just wanted to say what he had to say and let that be the end of it. He had worked on a t-shirt about being yourself and standing up for what you believed in similar to the graphic printed on Cena’s merchandise in the past. The WWE had reached out to various organizations promoting tolerance for sexual orientation. It was really nice for him to see how it was all coming together.
Each week, Gabriel would try to get on the microphone after a match and tell the world that he had something to say. Before he could, one of the rival tag teams vying for he and Drew’s championships would clobber him. Be it the Primetime Players (Darren Young and Titus O’Neil), Devastator (Giant Bernard, formerly known as A-Train, and Giant George, formerly known as Brodus Clay), or the Long Island Boom (Kofi Kingston and Zack Ryder), someone would always interrupt him right before he could make his announcement. So, it gave it some hype. There started to be a buzz about what he would was going to say. After he made his statement, though, he did not want the storyline focus to be on his being gay. He wanted to use the interview as a launching pad to the public relations campaign. Whatever happened would then happen.
Right before he was to go out to the ring last Monday on Raw, Punk pulled him aside and could tell that he was nervous. The champ simply told him, “Go be yourself.” He did just that. Although he got a little bit more emotional than he had intended, it was purely organic. Most of his life had built up to that moment; he might not have ever done anything quite so important. He was filled with pride as he officially came out to the world. The fact that he was well-received afterward, by the crowd, the locker room, and the boss, himself, only amplified the glorious feeling that he felt inside.
Later that night, the first video aired promoting the alliance between the WWE and gay rights leaders. The message was clear, backing up everything that Gabriel had mentioned in his speech: the time of our society constantly needing to pick a group to prey on with hateful deference has come to an end. It’s time that we grew beyond that and understood that being different is just that: it’s being different. While we don’t need to be a society full of peace, love, and animal crackers, we need to understand that it is a complete waste of time and energy to try and prevent a group of people from their God-given right to be themselves and to be happy.
The real test will come tomorrow night at the first-ever “Road to Wrestlemania” PPV, emanating live from the Deep South town of Birmingham, Alabama. Gabriel’s proclamation aired live on a Raw from California and he was applauded. The WWE will get a good test of their universe’s level of tolerance when they go to a place where it has been historically lacking. World United will put their tag team titles on the line against the Primetime Players.
After what they hope is another great match for the resurgent tag team division, a gay man, a Scottish guy, and two African Americans will walk into an Alabama bar…
We’ll see how it goes.
(Doc’s Note – I was watching a movie with my wife recently where civil rights was the theme and I thought of how far we’d come in my lifetime. I also thought of gay rights and how, growing up in the south, it seemed like we were taught to hate; then I thought about how far we’d come…but at the same time how far we’ve still got to go. I’ve made it clear during this series that I’d like to see the WWE tackle more human interest stories in its evolution moving forward. Obviously, I’m not suggesting that Justin Gabriel is gay, but I’m stating that it’s alright if he is. Who are we to judge? That is the point. Our society has a tendency to be intolerant of differences until we are flat out told by the government to eventually STOP. That is a problem. Let’s be the generation that ensures that the problem ends)