Meet the British wrestling collective with ‘queer joy’ at its core

By Thomson Reuters May 9, 2024 | 1:08 AM

LONDON (Reuters) – Think fishnet tights, silver hot pants and long false eyelashes, then add in bodies bouncing off ropes and into takedowns which land with bottoms on faces. This is queer wrestling outfit Fist Club.

Their mission, they say, is to prove “that wrestling isn’t just drag for straight people, it’s drag for everyone.”

It was that sense of fun which pleased the crowd at a sold-out theatre in North London for their latest show.

The group’s founders – Daisy Lang, Ash Wilk and Heather Brandenburg – shared a love of wrestling, but wanted a space that was accepting of those not aligned with the conventional image of a wrestler, so they created one.

“For me, It’s all about the queer joy,” Wilk told Reuters backstage. “Nothing gives me the same queer joy as Fist Club.”

That joy comes as much from the costumes and make-up, incorporating drag and cabaret elements, as it does from the clinches and joint lock moves performed in the ring.

Several extravagantly tattooed acts laugh and pose in the dressing room as they put the finishing touches to their wigs, paint on pencil moustaches, and add glitter where necessary.

“My identity doesn’t fit with the cis-straight man identity of your kind of typical wrestler,” said Lang, whose characters include drag king Rocky Rhodes.

By creating a space that is queer-focused and trans-inclusive, they believe they have created a show where everyone can feel at home, a modern-day version of the wrestling that drew in audiences of millions when it was televised in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s.

Back in North London, the crowd whoop with delight when a character dressed to look like singer Tina Turner recovers from a painful-looking shoulder barge to overpower a crotchless trouser, bikini top-wearing opponent.

Fist Club host Katy Bulmer says it shows the universal appeal of what the group are doing.

“It doesn’t have to be your entire gimmick, you can just book queer people, you can book trans-people,” Bulmer said. “And people will come, and people will cheer and people will understand.”

(Reporting by Hannah Ellison, writing by Hannah Ellison and Sarah Young, Editing by Angus MacSwan)