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OTHER ITA SITES:
Changing Perceptions: An Interview With The First Openly Gay Pro Wrestler Simon Sermon
First of all thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview today. Your not just the first openly gay pro wrestler but my first interview in a long while, so lets get down to it.
How did you break in to the business and who trained you?
I was trained in Atlanta, Georgia at the WWA4 School of wrestling under Christopher Rob. I later met Robby Rage, Elix Skipper, and several other wrestlers there and asked a lot of questions of them. I found Ken Timbs to be particularly brilliant in the area of ring psychology. Johnny Slaughter and Buddy Lee Parker were later brought in as head trainers and I trained with those great wrestlers too. I credit all of them with helping me.
Was it always your goal to be the first openly "real" gay wrestler in terms of a gimmick or is it something you decided on after becoming a wrestler?
I was openly gay from the very beginning. From the first day that I trained, I thought it was incredibly important to be truthful about it. I felt that the closeted gay guy thing had been done so many times before and didnít feel like it would be particularly brave to try and do it again. I was honest with the boys and later when I started on the circuit, I performed with the take it or leave it attitude.
Did you experience any prejudice in the early stages of you career, during training and your first matches? Do you experience any prejudice now?
I got the impression that some of the people that trained with me thought it funny that the little gay guy had it in his mind that he could do something in the business. One of those guys was a trainee that had just gotten out of the marines. The trainee who claimed to be a natural born killer and a weapon molded by the government as a fighting machine boasted that no little fag could stand against him in the ring. Then I choked him out twice in a row in less that two minutes after the first time he thought I just got lucky. It was then that everyone knew that I was serious and that none of them were any better than me.
For those who don't know break down your gimmick. You aren't the regular flamboyant character usually played by wrestlers.
Simon Sermon is the Greatest European Champion of All Time. From Manchester England, and somehow stranded in small minded Georgia, Simon makes his rounds in the wrestling circuit as the self proclaimed Unified European Champion with belt, accent, flag, and all. Simon has a very smug like him or leave him attitude that usually rubs most people the wrong way. He also does not skirt the gay issue at all and is not afraid to mix it up with the fans when they try to make his sexuality an issue. If Simon sticks around, he is usually one of the most over characters on the roster. All without makeup, perfume, and pigtails.
In general how does the audience react to you?
I have a very positive negative reaction. I go out there and perform and give them a show.
Have you ever found it hard to get booked because of your homosexuality or the way you portray it in the ring, for instance, have any promoters preferred you to play an unrelated gimmick?
No only is Simon a take it or leave it kind of person, but I am too. It doesnít help anyone for me to go out there and be something that Iím not. My character is me with a British accent. I canít change me and I wonít change Simon.
Why be Simon Sermon the first openly gay pro wrestler, why not treat it as a job and play a totally different character? What are you trying to prove or who are you trying to appeal to?
We all need role models, mine may not have been the real thing but the bottom line is that people endear themselves to characters that reflect the kind of person that they are or want to be. For me, although I never wanted to be a transvestite or dragqueen, I thought it took incredible courage for Adrian to do what he did and watching him gave me courage to be myself. I truly believed that Adrian was out there being himself. I was convinced. So with that I had to be myself no matter what the consequences. There are no gay heroes, there are no positive rolemodels. For the eighties for me there was Adrian Street and Adrian Adonis, in the 90ís and early 00ís there was and still is GoldDust, Rico, Billy and Chuck, but all of those characters were either really straight or the negative gay stereotype of makeup and sexual predators. So no real heroes there. I went out there and did what everyone told me could not be done. I trained as a gay man, I worked as a gay man, and I endeared myself with the fans without being the typical gay stereotype. I went out there and got over on my work rate alone without the ďgay gimmickĒ.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I wrestled in Rome, Georgia at a show called Spring Stampede in April of 2003 with the headliner being Jerry ďThe KingĒ Lawler. The fans formed a human canopy with their arms for me to walk through. I got a bigger pop as a heel than Lawler did as a face. They chanted my name and cheered for me throughout the entire match. The tape is one of my most prized wrestling memories to date.
What are your goals and aspirations for the future, where do you want to take Simon Sermon?
Hmmm, since the only thing that I ever wanted to do was show that it could be done, I suppose that I am very satisfied with what has happened and where Iím going. Right now, I book a show in Georgia and work for other FEDs in the Georgia area.
Would you take a deal from TNA or WWE if they wanted to change you in to Master Fuji the Kong Fu master or an Adrian Street clone?
I will not do an Adrian Street clone for any money in the world. At that point I would have sold out myself and everything that I believe needed to be done in the business.
What are your opinions on the Adrian Streets and the men who have played stereotypical flamboyant characters in the past, do you find it insulting?
Adrian was a very brave man for his time. In that time in history, no one thought that a person perceived to be gay or different could be cheered or booed, just killed because they thought that gay people were monsters and sick. Adrian was not only masterful in his portrayal of his gimmick but he was successful at defeating opponents and entertaining people. My dad would laugh and enjoy the work of Adrian and sit in the living room and almost applaud what he was doing. But to this day my dad still wonít admit to anyone that Iím gay or that he had anything to do with raising a gay son. So in the end, Adrian was just entertaining and really didnít change a lot of peopleís minds about what it is to be a gay athlete.
Had you ever met former WCW star Chris Kanyon before he came out of the closet?
I met Chris Kanyon after he had been let go from the WWE.
Before we get in to who said what, are you happy that Chris Kanyon is now openly gay?
I love it that there can be a mainstream gay character.
So now it seems Kanyon is claiming to be the "first" openly gay pro wrestler, how did that make you feel?
Hurt, betrayed, angry; Iím clouded with extremely mixed emotions regarding this issue. On the one hand you have this extremely ambiguous statement put out by Chris and then acknowledgement that he knows that there are other gay people in the business. He then goes further to define what a professional wrestler is in his mind and based on that, no oneís accomplishments from the independent circuit counts as a professional wrestler. He jumps to the head of the line by defining everyone else that come before him away. I felt that was directed toward me and some others in case by some chance people had heard of us. The statement was ďWell, they donít countĒ. I believe that he accidentally made a very insulting broad statement about independent wrestling as a whole just to put himself ahead of a few people. Of course people can make whatever statement that they like if they are ignorant of the facts but as a matter of fact, Kanyon and I met and I considered him a friend as of this past year. He knew about me, he knew about what I was doing here and he wanted me to keep our friendship quiet so that he would not be judged. I donít want to give anyone the impression that our relationship was anything other than plutonic because thatís all it was. Kanyon wanted to get back into the big leagues and he had a great idea for doing so. We discussed and angle between himself and Vince where it would be intimated that Kanyon was fired for being gay. That was relevant, that was a good story, and I felt that would be an issue that most people donít believe actually happens to gay people, and I thought that it could help by making social change by bringing an injustice like this to the forefront of a broad audience that may never have to encounter that idea on their own.
Have you spoken or got in contact with Kanyon since?
Immediately after Kanyon left, I called and left voicemails to check up on him, I sent him emails, and did what I thought a friend should try and do to keep up with his new life in Florida. He left the Atlanta area with a lot up in the air so I was concerned for him as a friend. I never received a single reply. After the press release, I emailed a personal note to Kanyon on his Myspace.com account where he was directing people to read his story. I explained to him how I felt in a private manner that no one other than him could read. I titled the email with my real name and Simon Sermon from Atlanta. As usual, he did not even open or read the email. The producer of the Changing Perceptions Documentary also became aware of the press release and contacted Kanyon via his Myspace account and saw that his email had been read but never mine. Maybe I should not have put my name. I was encouraged by another worker in the business to do something to put my story out there and explain why I felt so betrayed. Upon doing so, I got some calls and emails to do interviews to explain my side of the story and why I am so upset. During one of those calls Kanyon called me and left a very long voicemail where he said that now after all this time he wants to talk to me. He was obviously angry and made accusations that I told lies and that I knew what he was going to do as of last year. Comparing the idea that he had given me and the press release, those are two different things. Why would I sign on to having him define me as being something other than a professional wrestler. But anyway, the voicemail went on where somethings could be understood and others not but the the point for him was that he wanted me to call him privately. After listening to the voicemail, I didnít see much point with calling him now on his own terms in his own forum to argue with him because obviously heís not going to see it my way and I know that Iím not going to see it his way. It was obvious that at that point, after all that time and all those other attempts to contact him, He then remembered how to call me.
Would you like to work things out and sort of join forces being the only 2 openly gay pro wrestlers, working for a common goal rather than both of you trying to be the openly gay wrestler?
This is where I am torn, I know that I am not the level of star that Kanyon is, I knew from the very beginning that I might not get anywhere in the business and by going public with my anger regarding what I view as a slight directed toward me I wonder if I should have just not said anything at all and just let the issue be out there. But thatís the real point isnít it? Not saying anything is probably why he had a career in the big leagues in the first place. Where is the bravery in that? And how is he now entitled to be viewed as such a brave man when he really hasnít done anything to further the gay cause. When watching the documentary which was taped before I even met Kanyon that the one thing that I had such a hard time dealing with was the professional athletes that made a very good living by keeping their sexuality in the closet and then capitalizing on the issue when they were out of the limelight. It doesnít matter then!! You havenít suffered at that point! You werenít brave enough to do it then but now that a career is spinning in place, a person wants to take a bite of the poison apple to generate some publicity! Then to make such a statement where you get everyoneís hopes up only to leave yourself a back door escape route is an insult to the people that have carried the forbidden fruit with them their entire career. I think that a gay Chris Kanyon is a good thing and would work with him to get his message out, but Iím not going to let him discount mine or anyone elseís hard work that weíve put in the business. One of the basic ideals of professional wrestling is remembering everyone that came before you.
It just so happens that I am half way through your interesting documentary "Changing Perceptions: Profile Of An Openly Gay pro Wrestler." (which of course can be purchased from http://www.gayprowrestler.com/)
Were you approached about doing the documentary or is it something you wanted to do?
I emailed Victor Rook of Rook Communications regarding doing a very small piece for a larger Documentary called Stronghold. It is a documentary about wrestling in general. I thought that he would be interested in what Iíve been doing here in Georgia on the professional wrestling scene. Victor emailed me and scheduled to fly down and do a segment for the big documentary. Victor rode with me to a show and taped throughout the day. He left and went back home and then several months ago he called me and said that he and several of his friends found my segment to be very interesting and asked if I would mind him turning it into a smaller documentary with me as the subject. Of course I said yes. A couple more months later and the finished product arrived in the mail. I started January 2006 with my own documentary. I was stunned at how well he did it. He told the story.
Did you meet Adrian Street during the filming of the DVD?
I did not meet Mr. Street. I have been a fan of his since I was a child and he was the first gay role model that I thought I knew. Of course as we all know, the Exotic One is not gay and so I never really had a truly gay role model. But we know that in life, nothing is ever as it appears. I did get what I needed from his character. I would be happier however if I never knew that he was straight and to a certain degree just mimicking his perception of what a gay person is. He was insulting gay people and I idolized him. I was young and a fool. But he was a man of his time and he did what was best for him.
Without repeating the title what is the purpose of the documentary?
To tell the story about a gay guy that went out there and did something that no one else was willing to do, visit small towns and change the perceptions of what people think a gay athlete is in the wrestling business.
That pretty much wraps it up. Is there any final thing you'd like to say, any websites or products you'd like to plug?
No I have no plugs, the documentary was offered as proof of what Iíve been doing.
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