The Glorious Ladies of Rasslin’ Y’all

After an evening of beer-chugging and violence-imbibing, the crowd’s excitement has reached its apex. The vibe is the type of adrenaline-fueled bar-wide buzz you’d expect from a testosterone-infused sporting event. As the final blows land, the fevered audience chants the name of its unlikely champion.

Their victor, resplendent in red spandex, is Queen Cup, an anthropomorphized, menstrual cup who has just ceased pummeling a tampon-costumed opponent with a larger-than-life bloodied feminine hygiene product.

Such was the scene at the final match of the first showdown put on in April by Glorious Ladies of Rasslin’, Y’all, Texas’ first all female “rasslin’” league, created late last year exclusively by women and gender non-binary folks.

And while a performative blood bath might not sound like the deeply revelatory, intellectual fodder you’d expect from a group that uses the F-word (feminism) up front and center in its language, it’s typical of the kind of critique-in-cheek subversiveness G.L.O.R.Y. deploys in its narrative-driven, match-formatted sketches.

Because so long as presidential hopefuls mock it and Instagram Community Guidelines cringe at it, menstruation remains a kind of final taboo frontier for women. Which is to say nothing of the fact that mock period blood isn’t exactly de rigueur for a WWE pay-per-view match.

What G.L.O.R.Y. does isn’t actually wrestling — it’s “rasslin,” a unique-to-Texas genre of performance art that incorporates elements of professional wrestling with storytelling and comedic devices. Since its creation in 2013 by Austin-based league Party World Rasslin,’ the artform — like its forebearers, comedy and wrestling — has been a male-dominated one. P.W.R. is co-ed but its leadership structure is entirely male. Which is why co-founders Cheryl Couture and Esme East, of P.W.R., were so enthralled with the idea of an all-women’s league.

“[Men] will always be the loudest voice in the room, if they’re in the room,” says East. “Women’s voices will get lost more often than the men’s voices, so just taking the men out of the room allows our voices to be heard.”

Historically, female wrestlers have acted as accessories to a match’s main storylines — they were, and often still are, cast as wives, girlfriends, and sidekicks by wrestling organizations run by and for men. Even today, in the midst of a women’s wrestling renaissance of sorts, big names like Brie Bella, Natalya, and Charlotte have identities that rest in part on the reputation of the male wrestlers in their lives — their husband, grandfather, and dad respectively.

This has resulted in female characters that have less depth than the male ones they correspond to. Professional female wrestler Eva Marie, for example, competed on the winning team of one of just two women’s matches held at this year’s six-hour-long WrestleMania. Her whole schtick is that she’s a former model with red hair.

“It’s like ‘They’re girls. They’re wrestling. They’re wearing underwear.’ . . . You don’t see much variation at all,” says East. “The people who are in charge are just not interested in letting them tell good stories.”

While promoters are both male and female in wrestling generally, Austin indie promoters skew male, according to George de la Isla, head instructor of America’s Academy of Pro Wrestling.

With G.L.O.R.Y., women are now the “people who are in charge,” allowing them room to tell stories that are sometimes informed by the gendered female experience. Even more radically, the rasslers perform stories in spite of their female gender, in ways that aren’t primarily sexy, and that can even be unsexy, as when they delve into period or poop territory.

In this way, the league goes about one of its founding goals — fucking up the male gaze.

“It was really cool to get to be really gross and not be these traditional pretty woman getting up and fighting each other, you know. We took that kind of back,” says Shelby Bohannon, a.k.a Queen Cup. “[It’s] just getting rid of these ideas of what a female performer is allowed to do and what they’re allowed to look like and act like.”

The group also presupposes other expectations one might have about female-on-female physical combat, like the idea that the women performers onstage are there for the express purpose of entertaining a male audience. (One would-be fan posted on the group’s Facebook event page ahead of its April match “Chicks and “rasslin” what could be better).

“We can’t escape the fact that we’re women and society objectifies women,” says East. “Many people in our audience are going to see our performers and be like wow she’s like really hot and this is sexy.”

Instead they co-opt that fact by parodying the eroticism inherent in two wrestling bodies — an eroticism traditional leagues sometimes exploit. In the past, the WWE has featured competing female wrestlers kissing. G.L.O.R.Y.’s comedic answer was a pole-dancing anime princess pitted against an animatronic vibrator. The sex toy won.

But the organization also isn’t shy about outright feminist critique. One character at April’s match, “Patsy Aggressive,” began her reign of Post-It-note-posting torment because of anger pent up from being expected, as a woman, to play nice at her underpaid job working for a app startup (in what was one of several jabs Austin culture). In the other corner, “Chicken Biscuit,” her opponent and roommate, railed against gender politics that pit women against each other, rather than against the patriarchy.

Which isn’t to say a G.L.O.R.Y. performance is a crash course in women’s studies. Sometimes period and poop jokes are just that. And for the founders, that’s part of the appeal.

“I think alone in the fact that we’re women producing this is already compelling to the audience that we want to attract and that we’re touching like taboo subjects,” says Couture. “You know we’re talking about things that people don’t want women to talk.”

The night’s main event was a shining, if technically sullied, example. To defend her reign of free-flowing menstruation, Queen Cup took on Slampaxx, a tampon character vilified for drying out vaginas everywhere. If some of the nuances of the fight flew over the heads of audience members unaccustomed to having their monthly visitor, that was very much the point.

“If you’re a man, especially a white man, anywhere you go, that’s the right place for you to be. You’re not out of place,” said East before the showdown. “I just think it’ll be really cool to create a space just for one night, where, if you’re a man, you come in here and you’re like, ‘Oh this is weird. I don’t know about this.’ Like if we could make some people feel uncomfortable, that would be really cool.”

If any spectators were uncomfortable at the sight of an anthropomorphized tampon flinging blood, there was little indication. But that doesn’t mean the women of G.L.O.R.Y. necessarily failed in their aim. At the end of the night, a bar full of men — their voices the loudest — chanting in support of a menstrual cup, seemed a victory all its own.

Months after that win, G.L.O.R.Y. is now working towards its second show to be held at a to-be-determined location in October. Sticking to its democratic roots, performers will again pitch their own ideas, develop their own characters, and craft their own costumes. There will be no single promoter calling the shots and there will be no men involved.

As for Bohannon, the first bout’s victor, she’s now making making the move from rasslin’ to wrestling. Following the thrill of her performance in April, she’s enrolled in professional wrestling school, where she’s one of two menstruating members in her class.

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