I felt extremely personally attacked watching the Divas Division in 2014.
I checked out of regular WWE viewing for a while after WrestleMania XXX, so the last 12 months or so of television before the Women’s Revolution was pretty new to me as I watched it back. I had a general idea of what happened, but the key detail clearly slipped through the cracks because I had no effin’ clue that I missed out on months and months of BISEXUALMANIA~!
Seriously. Everyone is gay.
There was a LOT of queer shit going on in the women’s division in the latter half of 2014. So much so that I’m convinced that I’m only making about 57% of it up. (Usually I’m making 99% of it up and I accept this about myself, I am a big gay mess.) So here we go, BisexualMania. Strap on. In! Strap in. (Sorry.)
“It’s always summertime for me and my girl Lay…”
– Summer Rae
It all started with Fandango. As is so often the case, our lesbian love story begins with a stupid man. Summer Rae had been his regular dancing partner and valet for a while, until ‘Dango the ol’ charmer dumped her via Twitter and started running around with Layla instead. Summer Rae, you can imagine, was not super OK with this.
Her and Layla fought over him, brawling constantly and throwing all kinds of shit at each other, until it all culminated in a grudge match on Smackdown, with Fandango serving as the special referee. Instead of letting them fight he used the match to dance with himself and hog the spotlight. So Layla and Summer Rae looked at him, looked at each other, and realised what so many women eventually do: this man is really not worth it.
So together they beat his ass out of the ring, and then they lock eyes. And stare. Summer dances, and Layla dances right back. Give and take, back and forth. Then Summer holds out her hand. And gives her The Look. A totally platonic, very heterosexual eyebrow waggle. Sparks fly. The temperature rises. The crowd stirs in anticipation. Layla licks her lips, smiles, and takes her hand. They twirl, they dip, they dance into each other’s arms.
Platonically, of course. Cole calls them “besties” before they can even stop making heart eyes at each other, so they’re just a couple of gal pals, sharing abundant eye contact and an intimate dance together after kicking a man to the curb.
Hetero as all get out.
And that’s how they remained. Summer Rae and Layla, or The Slayers as they called themselves (they even had their own ship name for God sakes!) became a regular tag team for the next few months. A tag team of two gal pals just gal palling around. The bestest of besties. Being super affectionate and dancing together, as besties do. The innuendo is subtle but consistent.
And I handle all of it really well.
Eventually Layla got injured, and I guess like so many couples they just couldn’t get the long distance thing to work, and quietly drifted apart. But for a hot minute it was a sweet subtextual romance.
Little did I know this was merely the appetizer before the main course of the BisexualMania menu: Lesbian Chicken.
“Whatever I can do to get my hands all over Paige, I will do. I’d prefer to get Paige on her back…”
– AJ Lee
Paige made a memorable debut on Raw the night after WrestleMania XXX, beating record-breaking champion AJ Lee for the Divas Title. A few months later AJ returned the favor, making a surprise return to TV and defeating Paige in an impromptu title match. From there the story is that the two women become “frenemies” – in-ring rivals who also claim to be best friends – as they battle over the championship for the next few months.
The whole thing is actually Paige’s idea, at first. She’s trying to mess with AJ Lee’s head and gain a mental edge as she attempts to win the Divas Title back. She calls AJ her “frenemy” (but in a good way) and talks about how much she respects her and how close they are. As friends. The bestest of besties. Gal pals, even. They’re getting along to an almost nauseating degree. Pretty soon Paige starts skipping around and declaring her love to AJ.
Platonically, of course.
Just before SummerSlam, Paige snaps and throws AJ off the stage and then calmly goes, “I still love you, call me when you feel better!” The week after she writes AJ a love poem. This confusion gives Paige the mental advantage she wanted and she takes the title back at the PPV.
The problem for Paige is that she poked the crazy. This is AJ Lee we’re talking about. Professional Crazy Person. Paige opened the door, and AJ is about to skip on through it and show her how it’s really done.
Paige dedicated her first match as champion to AJ, so AJ came out and told Paige she dedicated her LIFE to her! This is full on, Crazy Eyes, ‘0-100mph in less than ten seconds’ AJ Lee. Paige freaks.
You can’t out-crazy crazy.
Paige awakened the beast and now some very queer things are starting to happen. AJ cuddles up to Paige, then maintains very direct eye contact as she kisses her on the… hand. She offers her Valentine’s Day chocolates in a heart shaped box. Then there’s even more eye contact when they both lean in and kiss… the title belt. They have a tag team match and Paige very deliberately and seductively wiggles her ass in AJ’s face on the apron.
I’m sure this is all starting to sound like fan fiction to you too, but I swear I’m not making any of this up. I mean my God, AJ Lee regularly does guest commentary on Smackdown during this time and there is legitimately more than one occasion when she fair dinkum misses her cue to speak because she’s too busy ogling Paige.
The things she says about Paige while she’s out there, by the way… I can’t repeat. It’s just too gay. But this is a full blown, four-alarm queerbaiting emergency now. They’re both flirting with each other as much as is humanly possible on a PG show just to see who blinks first. Lesbian Chicken. Once again, I handle all of this really, just, super well.
I should probably note for the record that when it came to Lesbian Chicken, Paige is the one who blinked, becoming increasingly rattled and replacing flirting with petulance when she couldn’t regain the title. You can’t out-crazy crazy, after all. Sadly all this was about as coherent as the angle ever got, besides the Lesbian Chicken it was a pretty big dumpster fire narratively speaking, but hey, welcome to 2014.
Besides, after a while you’ve had enough chicken. Luckily the rest of 2014 was serving up delicious helpings of BisexualMania dessert from everyone on the roster.
“I find it hard to focus on what you’re saying right now when I’m seeing Paige do *that* to Emma…”
– Renee Young
The Bellas get involved in BiMania when Nikki challenges AJ at Survivor Series and when the bell rings, Brie grabs AJ and kisses her to distract her for the screwjob. Maybe Brie was just going for it after she dressed up as AJ during the build and instead of being offended AJ was kind of… impressed, saying Brie looked much better in her clothes than she did.
Paige ended up rebounding with Alicia Fox – platonically, of course – and they got a bit gal pally themselves, like when Paige would go on commentary and bang on about Foxy’s “smouldering eyes” and how she loved it when she screamed. She also kept the flirty affectations she picked up in the ring – like crawling slowly along AJ’s body before delivering headbutts – and used them on everyone going forward. In fact, Paige being too handsy in the ring became a minor Total Divas plot point when Paige licked Nattie’s face in the middle of a match without her consent.
Now, speaking of Total Divas.
Season 3 was in full swing during the fall of 2014, and one of the highlights was Rosa Mendes being a big bisexual mess flirting with everyone in sight. And by everyone, I mean… Nattie. At the same time, they started pairing them on WWE TV with a veteran/rookie gimmick, and when Rosa valets Nattie let’s just say that she’s… very supportive. Shoulder massages are involved. I swear to God there’s even a moment after a match where Rosa is holding onto her unnecessarily and Nattie has to politely peel Rosa’s hands off of her bare skin.
Once again, I am not making this up. Once again, I handle it well. And I’m not saying this was gay, per se, it’s just that… OK yes this was super gay. Everyone is gay.
Back on Total Divas, there’s no rest for the queer when some marital troubles develop between Nattie and TJ, as they often do on that show. Nattie is feeling neglected and lonely and Rosa Freakin’ Mendes takes it upon herself to shoot her damn shot and kisses Nattie in the middle of the club. It all gets resolved before the credits roll but my God in heaven, for a second there Rosa legit worked herself into a shoot here over BisexualMania.
Ev-er-y-one. Is. Gay.
OK. Let’s just breathe for a minute. I swear I’m actually going somewhere with all this.
One of the main goals of me writing this series is to look beyond the objectification of these women and view them as wrestlers. And yet here I am giggling away like a schoolgirl at everyone getting it on. I know, right?
For some reason this stuff feels different to the standard sexual exploitation of the Divas we’re used to. And not just because it’s gay – they’ve done their fare share of lesbianing before: HLA, Torrie and Dawn Marie, Trish and Mickie – and it was always very sexualised. Always produced by the male gaze, for the male gaze.
The stuff with AJ and Paige didn’t feel quite like that. It was more… subtle. More cerebral. I’m infinitely curious to know how much input AJ and Paige had into the things they were doing, because it felt a lot more, dare I say, female driven.
I think it’s partly a result of the company moving into PG, sponsor-proof programming and avoiding overt sexualisation, but I think it’s also partly a result of the wrestling world and pop culture changing as well. Wrestling itself has been slowly moving away from being a blue collar, blokey pastime to becoming much more a part of nerd culture. One of the hallmarks of modern fandom is the relationship between entertainment and the queer community, incorporating maintext representation, subtextual innuendo and queerbaiting, and the endless shipping and creation of fanart and fanfiction. (Wrestling is no different – Google “The Shield” and “fanfiction” if you don’t believe me. Also, Google any of these things if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)
As wrestling, and WWE, slowly becomes more diverse, and more inclusive, and more ensconced in internet fandom culture, there should also be more room for these kinds of ideas and stories and characters to develop. It’s not just about diversity either, it’s really in all of our best interests. Some of the most memorable storylines in WWE history were romantic: Randy Savage and Elizabeth. Hunter and Steph and Angle. Saturn and Moppy.
There are myriad ways to incorporate romance, and sex, and queerness into wrestling storytelling without it being exploitative or sending us back to the Attitude Era. Now, I have less than zero faith in WWE to be able to do so because, well, frankly they can’t even write straight white male wrestling at the moment. But the potential is there. One day soon I hope it’s realised.
I said in the beginning I felt attacked by BisexualMania 2014. I think mainly because I had no idea it was going on at the time and I feel robbed of the experience. But in all seriousness, the fact that all of this brazen queerness exists on WWE TV makes me feel the opposite of attacked.
Anyone who identifies as a minority knows how important it is to feel represented in pop culture. Because of the… shall we say the base nature of wrestling, I’ve never really harboured any great hope of much in the way of real, affirming representation, whether it be of women, people of colour, LGBTQ+ or anyone else. I mean, it says something that graduating from gross exploitation of women to callous queerbaiting can be seen as a massive improvement. It also says something that while the company has its first openly gay women’s wrestler and sells rainbow Balor Club t-shirts, they still turn around and do shows in KSA and still steadfastly refuse to engage in queer storylines in 2018. That’s the difference between WWE’s current brand of self-congratulatory, public relations social policy for show, and actual change. Change that shows in the stories presented on TV, that shows in the make up of the locker room, and in the make up of the writers’ room too.
I’m drifting wildly away from the point. I guess as with all things WWE, and particularly all things Divas Era, they can do better. Much better. But I’m gonna take what I can get. And for a few glorious months in 2014, BisexualMania was runnin’ wild.
I appreciate the space to get this big gay weight off my chest. Regularly scheduled, only moderately gay programming will resume next week. In fact, last night’s glorious return of Maryse the wrestler and her theme music reminds me that I really need to tell y’all about Maryse the wrestler and her theme music, so stay tuned.
Check it out:
Layla vs. Summer Rae (Smackdown, July 11th 2014)
AJ Lee vs. Paige – Divas Title (Battleground 2014)
AJ Lee vs. Paige – Divas Title (Summerslam 2014)
Paige vs. Natalya (Raw, August 18th 2014)
Paige vs. Natalya (Raw, August 25th 2014)
AJ & Paige vs. Natalya & Rosa (Raw, September 8th 2014)
Paige vs. Summer Rae (Smackdown, September 12th 2014)
Paige vs. Nikki Bella (Smackdown, September 19th 2014)
Natalya vs. Summer Rae (Raw, September 22nd 2014)