Professional wrestling is right on the border between aggressively masculine and incredibly gay. Though it’s comprised of sweaty, half-naked men grasping each others intimate parts as a ravenous crowd cheers them on, somehow the “sport” has become a national pastime.
Make that international: In Mexico, luchadores are as popular as Hulk Hogan and Stone Cold Steve Austin are in the States.
Lucha Libre (literally “free wrestling”) is Central America’s answer to the WWE and has been around since the mid-1800s. The luchadores wear elaborate unitards and shiny masks and, while most are burly and macho, gay and effeminate wrestlers are not uncommon—exoticos have been around since the 1940s.
Los Exoticos, a new documentary by filmmaker Michael Ramos, details life inside and outside the ring for these beauteous brawlers, whose names—Juana La Loca, Diva Salvaje, El Bello Califa – sound like contestants on Drag Race Season 7.
Texas-born Dizzy “Gardenia” Davis, who fought in Mexico in the ’40s, is considered one of the first Exóticos. The show would start as soon as he left his dressing room, accompanied by his butler and carrying a bouquet of gardenias. Before climbing into the ring, he would give a flower to each woman in the first row. Then, Davis’ butler would perfume and groom him.
Of course flamboyancy isn’t exactly banned from the ring in the U.S. of A., either: Even Gold Dust traipsed around in a lamé kimono, with a long blond wig, makeup and feather boa. But south of the border, the exoticos are often the unexpected heroes.
Usually appearing in half or full drag—sometimes in sparkly pink tutus and bodysuits—the fey bodyslammers, most of whom are gay in their personal lives, are crowd favorites. And on their own terms: They’ll flirt with their straight opponents and referees, as crowds cheer with enthusiastic approval.
In some cases fans chant “beso, beso, beso!” demanding a kiss.
The crowd doesn’t always react positively, admits exotico Pasión Kristal: “There’s always some idiot in the crowd who yells mean things, and it doesn’t feel good. But it’s the minority.”
Most impressive, however, is that makeup and tutus aside, these fighters display impressive fighting skills—high-flying aerial moves, back-flips, suplexes, and frankensteiners that earn the respect of their straight peers.
These queens will piledrive you and then read you for filth.