SpiderBaby: The Twin Cities' favorite (Gay) wrestler
by Dan Woog -
SGN Contributing Writer
The results are in. The 'Best Wrestler of 2009' - at least in the Twin Cities - is a Gay man.
But the bigger news might be that 'SpiderBaby's' selection has caused no news frenzy at all.
More interesting may be the fact that SpiderBaby - the nom de mat of Terrance Griep - made the transition from villain to fan favorite in just six years. And he did it partly because of - not in spite of - his sexuality.
Griep's route to wrestling began when he was 5. Then, at that young age, he did not understand the sport's homoerotic subtext; he simply liked the characters, the simplicity of good-versus-evil and the action.
At 5, Griep also had his first crush - though he recognizes it only in hindsight: 'It was the drummer kid from the Partridge Family!' he laughs. 'I wanted him to be my pal.'
Griep's first career was writing. His outlets ranged from Gay magazines like The Advocate to comic books. But when his income dried up in the economic downturn of 2001, he looked around Minnesota - where he had grown up - for new sources.
A wrestling show needed a color commentator. Griep thought that might lead to an interesting writing market. But as he bartered his writing for training - he also wanted to learn how to fall without getting hurt - Griep realized he had 'a talent for teeing off drunken fans.' He'd found his niche.
Griep was already out to many in his life. But when someone Googled the new grappler, the word got, well, out in the wrestling world. No one said anything to his face, though a colleague alluded to his Advocate.com piece, 'How Spider-Man Saved My Life.' (That story - about the important influence of a superhero who also dealt with the normal struggles of adolescence - foreshadowed Griep's creation of his own SpiderBaby character.)
Griep soon realized that - although he was a villain - he could use sexuality to his advantage. 'I actually sent a positive message,' he recalls. 'You could boo me because I cheated on the mat, or was reprehensible. But you couldn't boo me just because I was Gay.' In other words: Boo me for what I do, not who I am.
Griep conveyed that nuanced message when a group of teenage boys chanted: 'You are Gay' (clap-clap-clap). SpiderBaby went over to them and responded: 'You say that like it's bad!' (clap-clap-clap). The crowd turned on the youths; they soon shut up.
In Wisconsin, Griep was surprised to hear his opponent call him a 'fag.' 'That gave the crowd permission to be hostile,' Griep says. 'When I won, I waved my belt in front of their noses. They just stared straight ahead.'
As SpiderBaby became known as a Gay wrestler, more and more audiences admired his 'outness.' Today he is a hero.
Pro wrestling straddles the line between sports and entertainment. It also is burdened with decades of stereotypes.
'The cigar-smoking, beer-drinking white guy getting his thrills watching the bad man get beat up - that hasn't been true for 25 years,' Griep claims. 'Our audiences are the full age range, all income levels, every demographic. People understand it's a catharsis. If the stereotypes were true, it wouldn't be as popular as it is.'
However, he adds, pro wrestling is not as advanced as other areas of society. Most Gay fans remain closeted, and the number of out wrestlers and promoters is tiny.
Griep recalls fearing the reactions of fans and fellow wrestlers when they realized he was 'exchanging body fluids in the ring' with a Gay man. 'Maybe people don't feel welcome because there are not more of us,' he says. 'Wrestling definitely does not have a Gay tradition.'
Even his own Gay friends don't fully understand the sport and how homosexuality fits into it. 'They either find wrestling repugnant, or they think it's some kind of stylized S&M,' Griep says.
But enough people do love the sport to make it popular - and to lead City Pages, the Twin Cities' alternative newspaper, to make 'Best Wrestler' one of its 2009 categories.
Crowds react to SpiderBaby because of how he wrestles, 'not because he likes to kiss guys,' City Pages wrote.
Griep appreciates the honor. But true to SpiderBaby's character, he deflects it a bit. 'I've been billing myself as the Most Formidable Wrestler in Sector 2814, which is Green Lantern's jurisdiction,' he says. 'So to be told I'm the best wrestler in two cities on one planet feels like something of a demotion, I guess.
Still, he notes, 'a generation ago, working a Gay gimmick was the surest way to get a wrestling crowd to boo. Now they've rounded the bend. God bless 'em.'
You can take that to the mat.
Dan Woog is a journalist, educator, soccer coach, Gay activist, and author of the 'Jocks' series of books on Gay male athletes. Visit his website at www.danwoog.com. He can be reached care of this publication or at OutField@qsyndicate.com.
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