In a lot of ways, I resonate with The Atomic Elbow's claim that "Only Wrestling Is Real".
When it came to my name, my gender, what country I called home, my card has proven subject to change. That's a wrestling reference, and all the other women and queer folk and trans folk who got the reference and perhaps give my pun a pity chuckle mean so much to me. They are the community that anchors me in flailing waters.
It's imperative for me to give other women in the wrestling community space to share their stories, offer their experiences to other marginalized people in the scene, and in this case, school me hard on the sophistry of biscuits.
Joanna Graham is the co-host of the wrestling podcast How2Wrestling and an unapologetic voice of intersectional politics in wrestling and digital media.
You hadn't seen any wrestling before meeting your partner Kefin in 2014. I think, to make sure the wrestling fans reading this who wish their partners would also like wrestling (myself included) don't get the idea that it's just a matter of watching some Mr. Perfect matches to win your partner over, we should start this interview with you saying what you love about wrestling, what has invested you beyond liking something your partner likes.
The thing I love most about wrestling isn’t the wrestling itself. It’s the performance art aspect of it - the wacky, pantomime-esque antics that are sometimes bordering on contemporary dance. When wrestling is planned executed really well, the match itself should have a plot. It needs communication outside of the moves themselves, with chances to taunt, brag or mock their opponent.
My favourite matches are always between extremely vocal wrestlers who are excellent communicators—it’s why I love Seth Rollins so much. They have the ability to keep a story going even when they haven’t got a mic in their hands.
Do you think people will relate or learn or otherwise get something about listening to you become familiar with a new fandom in a public way, even if they aren't wrestling fans?
We designed How2Wrestling to be friendly to a complete newcomer—it’s basically the podcast I needed when I started dating Kefin. I had no idea where to start because the wrestling industry is HUGE. WWE expect you to be familiar with not only the new talent, but also older legends which they’ll randomly pop into Wrestlemania each year.
I hope that people who listen to How2Wrestling do become wrestling fans because it’s something I’ve grown to love and I genuinely believe there’s something in there for everyone. So far, we’ve had a lot of contact from new fans who were curious about the recent upsurge in wrestling interest but didn’t know where to start.
Similarly, couples have used the podcast to get their other half interested in the sport, which is super heartwarming!
Has openly admitting that you're a new fan and making that part of your shtick cut down on the mansplaining and demands to prove your commitment? It strikes me that doing this would open you up to endless criticism; has it been freeing?
I’ve actually had so little mansplaining when it comes to wrestling! I think it is because I’m incredibly open about how little I know. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for female wrestling authorities to have opinions on the internet when the smallest comment can get you bombarded with "prove you’re a REAL FAN”.
I do get some dudes complaining that I don’t “get” the bra and panties matches/gravy matches etc, claiming I had to be a wrestling fan at the time to truly understand, which is total bullshit.
They just don’t like their favourite toys being taken away.
There's a certain intimacy to podcasts—or at least a perceived emotional intimacy on the part of the listener. I've noticed there is this pressure for women who have podcasts to not talk about their personal lives; what's your experience, as a woman doing a podcast with her partner, engaging with fans and fan mail?
I keep my personal life mostly separate from the podcast unless it’s wrestling related. I’m not sure if that’s a pressure because I’m a woman, as I’d say Kefin is far more private about his life than I am. I’d love to have the opportunity to talk more openly and personally but it would have to be on a platform other than a wrestling podcast, just to keep the genre separated. I don’t want to bore people with my personal life if they’ve tuned in to hear about my opinions on wrestling!
I do think, on the whole, there is more of a pressure for women in podcasts to react to men’s experiences rather than vice versa. That pressure does tend to come from men, so as a woman I just keep enthusing about how much I need more female voices in my life. If men aren’t going to listen to women, then us women need to be loud and proud supporters to make up for that.
Feminist/intersectional critique of wrestling has really hit it's stride in the last couple years, about the same time that all these non-US based wrestling podcasts, magazines, blogs, etc became popular and accessible to American audiences. COINCIDENCE?
I wonder if it’s to do with the surge of popularity in NXT. For the first time ever, we have an established female roster who aren’t treated like sexual objects, who are given opportunities to show their strength and their personality.
Female/marginalised wrestling fans have always existed; I think that now it’s just they’re starting to see themselves represented on-screen and realise there’s an audience for their voices. Even the men have it better than previously—gone are the days where if you weren’t white, thin/muscular and 6 foot tall you didn’t have a shot at the title.
Things are improving for everyone, and I think the more we see diversity in wrestling, the hungrier we are for it. Suddenly a bunch of boring huge white men in black pants seems incredibly unimaginative.
In previous episodes of How2Wrestling, you've touched up on the Attitude Era and the Hulkamania Years—do you feel like you dodged a bullet becoming a wrestling fan now, where at least a nominal effort is made to pretend women deserve respect?
Oh god yes. I genuinely feel I’ve gotten into wrestling at the perfect time. I think if I had watched wrestling as a kid I would have internalised a lot of issues because I’m that sort of person. To be a wrestling fan in a time where we have Sasha Banks vs Bayley in an Iron Woman Match is incredible. I wish it wasn’t such a huge deal, but it is and I’ll suck up every ounce of positivity that brings. I can’t help but think about how drastically different wrestling will be in 10 years time, when all these young fans with real non-sexualised on-screen representation grow up and become wrestlers themselves. It’s so, so exciting.
What's it like being the bad guy sometimes? I'm ever-curious on the experiences of non-American wrestling fans. The product is not catered to you to at all—how does that affect your relationship with it?
The worst thing is American fans assuming you can stay up to watch every PPV. Almost every single show on WWE starts at at least 11pm at night and nearly always on a day followed by a weekday. For WrestleMania this year we had to book off in advance because the show finished at 5am on a Monday.
If my work hadn’t allowed me to book it off, spoilers would have been literally unavoidable. I think a lot of US wrestling fans could do with a touch more empathy for their overseas buddies! As for the product itself, I think on the whole we’re all used to it. The majority of media generally isn’t catered to us. As an English person I’m not at all offended by the English always being villains, but I feel a lot of sympathy for other countries whose stereotypes are far more offensive.
Pair the following wrestlers with their appropriate biscuits: Sasha Banks, Dean Ambrose, Triple H, The New Day, Bull Nakano.
Sasha Banks: Bourbon Cream—universally agreed to be the best biscuit, although people don’t make as much of a deal about it as it deserves. We don’t deserve to have such good biscuits like the Bourbon Cream.
Dean Ambrose: Ginger Snap—everyone is obsessed with it except me, who doesn’t really see the mainstream appeal. Tastes kind of weird and hurts my teeth but people seem to really love it, so that’s great. Makes a really great dessert if you combine it with brandy cream (the brandy is Seth Rollins, the cream is Roman Reigns).
Triple H: Chocolate Digestive—a fun treat but also genuinely good utility biscuit. Digestives were invented to aid digestion, and Triple H aids the digestion of wrestling talent.
The New Day: Party Rings—fun, brightly coloured and everyone gets really excited when they see them.
Bull Nakano: I’m going to say Jaffa Cakes. I had to Google this person and WOW. Knowing nothing about her, I worry all our biscuits are too boring for Bull Nakano. I’m going with Jaffa Cakes because they are controversial (biscuit or cake? BISCUIT OR CAKE??) and look and sound amazing. Also they are amazing. I’m assuming Bull Nakano is amazing, just like I rightly assumed Jaffa Cakes are amazing.
What advice do you have for other women and non-binary, non-men folk who want to start podcasts about fandoms that are sometimes hostile to them?
DO IT. Do it and delve head first into the community. Be kind and be a vocal supporter of other marginalised groups work, because close-knit communities like ours are wonderful and generous and genuinely want to help each other. Never ever underestimate the power of friendship. Also remember the power of the niche—ok so white cishet men may find us awful, but they don’t have to be your audience.
Marginalised groups need safe, comforting entertainment just like everyone else does and you can provide that! YOU CAN BE THAT VOICE AND THAT IS SO COOL. If you’re ever worried and need support give me a shout on Twitter (@thejoannagraham) and I’ll come to your aide like a horse in shiny white and gold armour.
What're you looking forward to? What projects are you working on? Treat yourself to a cheap pop and get yourself over.
I’m looking forward to watching more wrestling! I’m looking forward to our next episode of How2Wrestling which is #How2ShaneMcMahon!
I’m looking forward to meeting more genuinely wonderfully talented people in the wrestling community! And most of all I’m excited to see what people request on our Patreon pagewe’ve got so many really amazing requests to look forward to!
Jo Graham can be found on Twitter @thejoannagraham.
Ever considered watching wrestling or getting a partner/friend into the most exciting sports entertainment in the world? Check out her website and podcast!