ESPN has published a fascinating piece on Mexico’s “exoticos,” the (sometimes) straight men who play flamboyant characters on the professional wrestling circuit known as lucha libre.
Contemporary luche libre is big business on television but retains its early folkloric identity. Exóticos date from the golden age of the sport, which ran from the 1940s through the 1960s. One of the first was Sterling Davis, a Texan who moved to Mexico in 1942 to reinvent his wrestling career. Davis handed out flowers to women on his way to the ring, which earned him the nickname Gardenia. An old friend of Davis’ back in the States, George Wagner, heard about the act. He decided to try something similar and in doing so became a pop-culture phenomenon, America’s first great wrestling heel, the vainglorious Gorgeous George. The old-time exóticos had been straight men harping on tired gay clichés. In the mid-1980s, that began to change. A new generation of openly gay wrestlers reveled in the exótico’s sexuality, coyly tweaking stereotypes to confront the audience with the idea that being gay could be something more than a stage joke. They also ushered the exótico out of villainy. Lucha libre’s organizing principle is good vs. evil: técnico contra rudo. Técnicos are graceful, honorable and skilled wrestlers. Rudos win with brute strength and by cheating when the referee’s back is turned. Where the early exóticos had been exclusively rudos, some of the new generation began to assume the role of técnico.
The highlight of the act is when the exotico kisses his opponent, a move that is meant to be demeaning to the vanquished, a “symbolic deathblow.” (Tipped by JMG reader Sean)