What sport could possibly be more macho than lucha libre? There’s violence, oily muscles, trash talking, head stomping, women in bikinis, and all of those other unsavory touchstones of Western masculinity brought to their most exaggerated extremes. But there’s also a much softer side Mexico’s unique spin on professional wrestling: the flamboyant and unapologetically effeminate luchadores called “exóticos.”
Of course, in Mexico los éxoticos were traditionally little more than gimmicks – exaggerated stereotypes interpreted by straight wrestlers. But one El Paso luchador used his platform as a way to embrace his gayness and bring his story front and center in the cultural mainstream on the Mexican-American border.
Known affectionately as “The Liberace of lucha libre,” Cassandro was already wrestling when he came out of the closet back in 1987. Unsurprisingly, the ambitious young athlete immediately suffered rejection and abuse from his fellow luchadores, but his perseverance eventually won him the affection of borderland lucha libre fans and wrestlers alike.
A short documentary published by Great Big Story gives us a brief window into Cassandro’s life, in which he shares his personal story and reflects on the apparent contradictions between his glamorous, drag queen-like persona and the violence he exacts in the ring. Taking us from Cassandro’s humble home, to his backstage preparations, and finally into the cuadrilátero, the three-and-a-half-minute piece leaves no question as to Cassandro’s genuine athleticism and his popularity among local lucha fans.
But more importantly, Cassandro reflects on his play of masculinity and femininity, and how his identity as a luchador helped him find himself as a human being. It’s an unlikely space for self-discovery, but Cassandro is a living example of how even within the most conservative cultural spaces there’s still hope for compassion and understanding.