Healing From Emotional Abuse: Wrestling Speaking Out: Custom Wrestling Matches: with Risa Pappas, Jen Casale, and Rob Crowther

Can you heal from abuse?  What do I do after leaving my narcissist? What does a healthy relationship look like? These concerns cross the minds of over 20 people every minute; over 28,800 people every day.  And the sad fact is, we still don’t talk about it enough.  Healing from Emotional Abuse isn’t a bandaid situation.  But it doesn’t have to take years either. The lives of millions of other survivors around the worlds have been impacted by their narcissist.  Yours doesn’t have to.  To show you how to live a free, confident and peaceful life, your host and Founder of the Healing From Emotional Abuse Philosophy, Marissa F. Cohen.

Marissa: Welcome back to the Bob Culture Podcast — Healing From Abuse Podcast Connection. I’m Marissa and I am the host of Healing From Emotional Abuse. And I’m here with Risa Pappas and Jen Casale, and Rob Crowther from the Bob Culture Podcast. So let’s go around and introduce ourselves just so everyone knows who everyone’s voice is.

Rob: Ladies first please.

Risa: Yeah, you said my name first. I’m going first. Risa Pappas. I’m a Wrestler, Pro Wrestling Commentator, ring announcer and all around non idiot.

Jen: I love it. I’m Jen Casale. I am over here at the CWC Academy. I am head of HR over here. And I have been in wrestling the Wrestling World for about, I guess, 5 Years now.

Rob: I am Rob Crowther, host of the Bob Culture Podcast, senior editor at the pop break calm and super major mark that Risa and Jen are probably very sick of

Risa: Impossible.

Marissa: I was going to say, and Marissa. Just kidding. 

Rob: No, just yeah. You’re mostly sick of me.

Marissa: That’s not true. So I’m actually really intrigued, Risa and Jen brought up an interesting point to Rob and I one day about custom wrestling matches — to which I have never heard of, but apparently is really big in the wrestling scene. So we’re going to talk about that, and how that can lead to sexual assault and sexualization of female wrestlers. So I would love if Risa or Jen would start us off because I don’t even know where to start here.

Risa: Well, Jen, I think I think you have some kind of insights into maybe the somewhat history of it. And so far as we’re aware.

Jen: Yes, but I kind of wanted to get just, you know, a little bit of your viewpoint on it. Because customs is something that is, it’s a hush subject, it’s something that like no one wants to talk about, that no one kind of knows about. And as I was saying, kind of earlier that you can do a search for custom wrestling matches on the internet, and nothing comes up. So it’s something that is not really talked about until you either get into the Wrestling World. And, you know, someone approaches you and says, you know, as I know, it happened to you Risa. It was like, hey, do you want to do customers wrestling? And yeah, you’re like, Well, I  don’t even know what that is? All right.

Risa: Yeah, I can I can talk to about that experience. Maybe by way of introduction, because I was I was initially clueless, as I’m sure a significant portion of your audience would be. So I was in a locker room, I was approached by somebody who gave me a handout. And they said, do you know how to take bumps? And I said, Yeah, sure. And for the uninitiated, taking a bump just means, Can you fall down in the ring without hurting yourself and make it look like someone hit you? So I said, yeah. And I kind of made the assumption that they were asking because they wanted to maybe put it in some kind of a storyline. So I was ring announcing, so I thought maybe they were going to be an ultra-bad guy. And knock me out as the ring announcer which is kind of a no-no. Only really awful bad guys do that in wrestling, because normally, you know, referees and ring announcers, we’re kind of off limits. So that’s what I assumed they were asking for. And then they handed me this piece of paper. And they said, No-no, this is for customs. And they gave me a handout. And it basically just had a bunch of categories of like, things that I would consent to do in a wrestling match on camera. And I did I still kind of didn’t understand. So they finally said, like customs and I was like, Oh, and I immediately became very defensive and withdrawn, and much skeeved out. And I just said, Oh, no-no thank you, not interested. And prior to that, my only knowledge of customs was like, basically, you know, the rumor mill that is all professional wrestling, indie wrestling. It’s very, it’s very chatty. It’s very like caddy for being male dominated. It’s very much like everybody talking smack on everybody else. I heard so and so does customs on like, well, I don’t know what that means. Like custom matches. Custom matches being things that people are paying money for, and therefore dictating what goes on in those matches and they’re not for anybody else. They’re just for the person who pays for them. And I would say, I leave it up to your imagination, because that’s really essentially what it means. It can be completely innocuous, it can be just like, Hey, I really want to see these two people specifically have a match, and I’m gonna, I’m willing to pay to have to be the only person who has that match. Or it can, you know, it can range from relatively innocuous to basically full on pornography. I’ve only ever been approached about this one time. That was it. And I said no. And it was never brought up again. But that’s, basically my personal experience, only. And I very much assume that as a non-wrestler, I’m not the general person who’s being asked that. So Jen can probably speak to it from a wrestler’s perspective, because they’re much more the ones who are being asked to do these custom matches.

Jen: Yes, and I think, you know, the one thing about it, that is a little bit, you know, it’s a little bit strange. Especially, there’s so much more nuance to this, like right now, especially with the COVID-era that we are now in, because there is a lot more stuff that’s just going directly to tape because we can’t have audiences. So now what customs wrestling is, is almost like a whole lot wider, because there is a lot more. There’s like actual custom wrestling matches kind of wrestling going on. That is completely innocuous. And even in the customs world, you have that it does range everywhere from you know, where most of the time, even in the matches that are very, very oddly specific, like, let’s say, Oh, I want to you know, it’s a match full of pile drivers. And the girls will still just wear, they’ll wear a lot more than they would wear their gear. They’ll wear you know, sweatpants and a T-shirt. It’s a really weird, weird kind of world. But to me, it was very fascinating. And I kind of wanted to understand a little bit better how it got to be that way. So, I kind of looked into the history a little bit, and I wanted to kind of take like a bird’s-eye view of wrestling. And I looked a little bit more specifically on the women’s wrestling side. However, I think it’s really important to note that the business for men’s custom wrestling match is just as strong as it is for women. So there is no, you know, beating around the bush that this is, you know, just something that is a women’s thing, I can only bring you, a woman’s direct perspective of it, because that’s what I am. Um, but so I really looked back into, you know, you look all the way back into the golden era of wrestling, which is like 80 years ago, at this point. You have people like Mildred Burke and May Western in the 40s, and the 50s. They even challenged men at that time, which was like really crazy and different for the society that they were that we were living in, which was very kind of stringent at that time. But then I think a lot of people have heard all of the stories about Mola to who has kind of gotten a much more of a bad rep in the more recent years. Where they say that she was sending people out to have private matches at people’s houses and things like that. Um, and then that was going on back then. I wasn’t there. So I can’t say if it was or not. Like I said, those are certainly some of the stories that you hear and that you see in print. But it was also I think, part of the industry certainly at that point, especially with Mullah and how lady thought kind of made in wrestling at that time. Then you move into like the 60s in the 70s. And in the 70s. They were trying to kind of save the magazines because the business were all the magazines were dying. So in 73 Stan Weston, he had the sports review wrestling magazine that was like on the brink of collapsing. So he started this thing called apartment wrestling, which was featured in his magazine and it was women and scantily clad, or they were in there, um, they were in lingerie, and they were wrestling. And of course this sold like hotcakes. Um, so I think that when I’m looking at this, I’m like, Okay, this seems like something that’s very close to what, you know why people would want customs because it’s in an apartment. It’s close to your house. It’s you know, that’s like a personal thing that you just have. And so in that way that that’s where I’m like, I’m I kind of see this in that. And the ironic thing is that for WWF at the time, it was Vince Sr. was in charge. And He did not like this He was trying to cut ties with the magazine. Because he thought that it was just, you know, he thought that it was smut and smut and whatever. And didn’t want anything to do with it. Um, but then we move on to looking at WWF into WWE going into you looking like the Attitude Era and the Aggression Era. So from like, 90s to 2000s, where it was very much adult entertainment on regular TV. Bra and Panty matches were standard fare. So this was in everyone’s living room. And, you know, not just in wrestling, but like Jerry Springer was very popular, and shows that nature. So I think, when you come into this viewpoint of like, Oh my God, this, this is like very sexual and crazy. Like, why would somebody be doing this and wrestling today, this is like, totally out of whack? Well, if you look back some years, this was just like, totally normal on your TV, a couple of, you know, regular TV a couple of nights a week. And things didn’t really change until it went very family, you know, things started to get more TV-PG. And you know, of course, we always refer back to WWE, because they’re, especially at that time, there was really no competition. And it wasn’t until I think they went PG in 2008 or 2009. Um, and then things started to like, settle down, there’s less blood people got some more clothes on. Nobody’s like ripping somebody else’s clothes off into their underwear or having a mud wrestling match anymore. Things are starting to settle down a little bit. And then, you know, we didn’t have the Women’s Revolution until 2015. So if we’re looking back in something that has an 80 year 100 year history, to only go back five years to when things got to where they are right now, it’s hard for a lot of younger people to see that like things weren’t always the way that they are right now. So I think something like customs can look very shocking, when really, I think a lot of customs, you know, that going on is very similar to, you know, regular wrestling that you saw on your TV, you know, 10-15 years ago. Which is not to be like hey, that’s great. It definitely not the kind of wrestling that you know, is for everybody. But it was for some people and some people still want to see that so there’s definitely a market for it. And like I said, I you know, I’m looking at it from the women’s perspective, but from the male perspective, like I said, that market is really big and I think the problem with why it continues to be around, and really continues to be a thing, is that there is a lot more money in it for a lot of wrestlers than there is for them to go and work a regular indie show. And I think that’s like the big kind of crux of the issue to me.

Rob: That’s very interesting. So I’ll play the dummy because again this is a lot of this is very news to me / devil’s advocate. I’ll come at you guys this way. I’m trying to find the line here because when I hear about like even I feel like the word customs right now like it like it’s just bad like negative all the way through and through but Risa mentioned like hey you know sometimes there is a story or there’s you know some match that people want to see like for legit like storyline reasons. Jen, no stranger to being in a faction what happens to factions again this is purely storyline, what happens to factions they break up or someone turns or you know, that Seth Rollins chair shot from behind. And then you know, you want to see those former tag partners face each other. And Jen, you also brought up we’re living in this 2020 COVID world right now where Hey, let’s face it, the indie you know, it’s hard to do indie shows, we’re lucky to have these driving shows that we’ve had, we’re lucky to have these bring your own chair shows. I’m so thankful that I’ve been going to these shows, I really need her I know, and I’m super appreciative to the indies. That has just been so great to me. But my question for you guys is, is it all bad? Where’s the line? You know, you know, obviously, like the stuff you guys mentioned about it getting very weird and perverted. You know, obviously, that’s a no-no. We’ve interviewed people on the show. No, I’m not name dropping right now. But we’ve heard some really weird things that they get in their DMs some very, like strange stuff. So where’s the line?  From someone who’s in the business right now that is trying to put food on the table and have like, face a former tag partner or face a former faction member? And then, you know, obviously, this very darkweb kind of stuff that you mentioned, like, where’s the line? 

Risa: The line is at the comfort level of every individual performer, but unfortunately, that line is in a different place for everybody. And so, it’s infinitely complicated because there are infinite amounts of wrestling personalities out there, and some of them totally fine with sex work. Some of them like me. I was very bothered that I had even been approached for that. I was very offended and immediately incredibly uncomfortable. And if it hadn’t have been a woman that was asking me, if it had been a man, that approached me, I would have knocked him the fuck out. And I’m not, you know, trying to be badass or anything like that would have been my reaction because like how dare you? Because it was a woman I was just immediately uncomfortable. Because to me being approached by a woman is basically a woman being like, Hey get in on this, and I’m vouching for this. And even if that’s the case, and I’m sure I’m really honestly sure that there is plenty of custom stuff that is done in an environment where it’s actually safe. And in a place where you don’t necessarily have to ever speak or be in contact with the person who’s asking for it. Like you can, put all of those like checkpoints in. But for my personal comfort level, any approaches too much, because to me, that’s not what I’m here for. I’m here for wrestling. What customs is, to a large extent is sex work. That’s not what I’m here for. So some people are totally fine with that. And it makes a ton of money makes. It a ton more money than any wrestler is ever going to get. Hotdogs and handshakes is a used to be at least a pretty frequent payment. But it’s very difficult to say where that line is. And it’s I think I was kind of bothered by how normalized it was being kind of a person who hadn’t been involved for a very long time. Like there are people who’ve been in the business for years. And like, to your point, Rob, you’ll hear you know, the people that you’re interviewing will tell you like the things that come into my inbox; the things that people request of me. And to them. I don’t think that that’s not the mentality, they’re just like, I’m gonna shoot my shot and see what happens. I’m gonna just ask, and maybe they’ll say yes. And that’s as far as they’ll think about it. Because to what to Jen’s point, a lot of these people tend to be tend to be older, because if you’re young, you probably don’t have the money to be making this ask. So it tends to be, you know, a slightly older crowd that watched wrestling for years and years when it was Bra and Panty matches. So now they’re not seeing it anymore. And they’re like, Well, why can I see the Bra and Panty stuff anymore? And so they’re like, well, I’m gonna ask, because the older you get, the bolder, you get. And so they’re like, well, I’m not gonna not ask, because that’s what I want. But they’re not thinking about the implication of what asking, even does. I mean, I’m in my 30s. I was, I was not cool. Very not cool with being asked. But I’m okay. Like, it’s not remotely the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. But imagine if you’re, like, 17-18 years old, and you’re going to wrestling school, and this is your whole world. And then somebody asks you that, and tries to, make it seem like, it’s no big deal. That would that would have rocked my world as an 18 year old. And so, you know, a lot of this talent really, really young.

Jen: Yeah, I think that’s a great point, um, especially for the young people. And the new people in the business is that, like, we’re seeing. This is such a sort of, and I’ve never had anybody talk about it, or approach it in the business in a way where it was like, undercover or trying to get anybody to do something that they didn’t want to do. And I think, in a lot of ways, it’s, it is wonderful that it is at your own personal discretion. That’s the great thing about things being, you know, an independent contractor is that, you know, if you’re like, hey, that’s not my jam, then you don’t have to do that. But I think money is very alluring to people. And I think also, like, you’re saying, this is an environment where things are your whole world. So, it can often you know, and they conversations that people talk about getting into things that that are specifically sex work, is that sometimes that can be a very slippery slope. And before you know it, you know what, you know, what are you doing for what? But I don’t want to, you know, say that, like all customs of sex work, because I think there are those things that are very innocuous and are fine. But there’s not really like, you know, like you’re saying, like, just as having this conversation is going to shed a lot of light on this subject for a lot of people. And I think we all just need to be focused on taking care of each other because that’s best and the right thing to do. So I think things need to be honest, and I think those conversations need to be like really clear with people that are new and coming into the business.

Risa: Yeah, I don’t think it’s like a dirty little secret or anything. Everybody is so used to it. Everybody is so jaded about it. People are being like, there’s people who have told me that they get people who message them and it starts out just like, “I’m really a big fan.” It starts out really innocuous. And then it ends up being like cyber-wrestling, which is apparently a thing that they’re like, “Oh, yeah, put me in a chokehold baby.” And it’s like, Oh, God, get the fuck out of here. Come on. Sexting, basically. But it’s like wrestle sexting. But it’s, I don’t know it. It’s such a broad spectrum. And it’s definitely not all sex work. A lot of it is just like, hey, especially, you know, Jen was talking earlier, like, we’re in a COVID time right now, there’s not a ton of actual shows running. So if I’m a person with a couple 100 extra bucks, and it’s just like, hey, if you two are comfortable getting into a room with each other, I would love to pay you just to see a match, because there’s just, I mean, if you’ve been watching, WWE lately is not so great. The quality, the quality of what we’re left with is not super great, right now, unless you get to go out to an actual show. In which case, you know, performers like Jen are working their asses off because they know, like, Hey, we might be the only wrestling for a month. So I’m gonna make it count. You just you just really want to be there and you really want to be involved. But it can really be a slippery slope kind of situation. And people don’t know who they’re asking when they’re asking these things. They don’t know the trauma that people might have had. And unfortunately, a lot of, you know, girls experience, you know, some kind of trauma in their life. And being asked and being put into that position or being, I don’t think anybody’s I really don’t think anybody’s being coerced by anyone in the industry. But if your inbox is constantly filling up with guys saying disgusting stuff to you, oh, I’m going to pay you for this, I’m going to pay for that. Like, that’s gotta affect you. You know, like, that’s got to, you know, mess you up at least a little bit.

Jen: So, and then there, I think because I definitely had my fair share of those inboxes people, and also, you know, for big cosplay, too, that was definitely a big thing. And, you know, people are kind of, there’s people that are willing to do anything for money and people that are willing to pay you for anything. And I hate to say something like that. That’s the way the world goes round, but sometimes unfortunately, it is. Um, but I think, my thing that I think is that we have this kind of opportunity, right now with the COVID era, to, you know, to turn this into a great thing. I think we can really turn it into, like we’re saying, there is stuff going on out there we have, We Want Wrestling is something that I’m involved in. Qhich is a taping that goes on and beyond used to do tapings that are similar to this. And now they’re a nice healthy company. Um, but you know, there’s we have tapings of matches that are organized by one of our trainers here. And then they’re put on Patreon for people to subscribe to, but there are different levels of that too, whereas like you can if you know, if you’re one of the top tiers of subscribers, you can write in and request a match. So that is really, you know, that is a custom match at that point. But what we’re doing is organized and it’s being, you know, overseen by someone who is, you know, a trainer here with us. So we know that we’re in that safe space.

Risa: And by the way, it’s gotten the possibility of doing this kind of stuff has only gotten safer over time. There’s like an old adage that like the porn industry and like the sex work industry tends to be ahead of the curve on technology and whatever. I mean, now, every time I’m on Facebook, and I’m looking at wrestlers, profiles and stuff, there’s like now there’s OnlyFans accounts popping up. And what’s there’s another one too I can’t remember the name of it, but there’s like, two main ones now where people can just, there’s like literally platforms now for transactions that used to be done in very underhanded and confusing and inappropriate ways. Now there’s literally platforms for it. So by talking about it, I hope that it can be something… it just was one of the many things that the culture of silence in wrestling was covering up. And to Jen’s point, this could be a healthy thing. This could be a good thing this could be this could actually be okay, as long as we’re not like covering it up anymore, so that people are only finding out about it when they’re being taken by surprise like me. Or when people start in boxing me and making really disgusting requests and stuff. Like that’s not the way. It was like You know, when your parents sit you down and give you the talk you want, you want their parents to sit you down and give you the talk, you don’t want to find out a horrible way in school. You know, and I mean, it’s, I would rather us be kind of bringing it out in the open and having a healthy discussion of it and saying, like, Look, this is what it, this is what it can unfortunately be. But on the plus side, this is something that if you feel empowered to do it, and you feel well adjusted to do it, and you have very clear lines of your own, in which you’re in control, you can do whatever it is that you want. But not being exposed to it in the right way can be traumatizing, whereas being open and honest about it. And being more pragmatic about it can actually be beneficial.

Rob: Absolutely. Real quick. So I’m thinking about this and to Jen’s point, again, as I found out many times my life, very ignorant. But I you know, when you when we talk about these, these matches, where it’s, you know, we can have one person versus the other person, or we can make these matches, you mentioned Patreon. You mentioned, we want wrestling, I think I saw recent I think it was we were wrestling, I saw a matchup that I was like, oh, cool, like these guys are finally, like fighting. That’s really cool. And in this, like, we keep saying in this 2020-era, where we don’t really have live events, we don’t have as much wrestling. Luckily, here in New Jersey, I’ve been going to like a show every weekend, you know, safely of course. But I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve seen some really cool things and had some cool opportunities. But I think also the way that I looked at it, when we started on this topic was like, “Hey, this is a way for fans to get the pencil.” I’ve rarely had the opportunity to get the pencil. I know a lot of indie wrestlers, like want to get the pencil, you know, for their, for their character for their career, all that kind of stuff. We all do. So that’s the way I’ve always looked at it. Um, so you guys kind of mentioned this, you know, I asked where the line was, but what is the healthy way to do this? Because like, I feel like now this word has like such a negative connotation. Like, we do have Patreon we do have We Want Wrestling, like what about like, just like the fans that just like wanna watch like, two guys fight or two chicks fight or guy fight a chick or whatever it is storyline wise?

Jen: It’s hard to say because it was it we don’t have, like, we don’t have a ton of things that are structured, and you kind of don’t know what is what, at this point. And you also don’t know the quality of what you’re getting, unless you have, you know, like a preview of it. So you have something where you’re like, hey, go watch, this is what you know, this is whatever it is, and companies stuff, like, you know, go take a look at it. And then you’re like, oh, okay, I can see that this is wrestling. Or okay, I see that this is two chicks rolling around in their underwear or two dudes that are sitting in holds for an uncomfortably long time. That’s really, a good way to identify it. So I think we’re really right now we’re on the cusp of this just starting to happen, where people and companies are kind of getting the spark, and the idea to go out there and do this and like an awesome way. To go out and do this and make it good. And there’s, you know, there’s also like the rise of, you know, I’m obviously very passionate about theatrical matches. And that’s something that’s happening. There is one of the companies that does this, I think they’re called Philly Street Fights. They’re on YouTube, and they do some theatrical matches that are kind of fun. There’s lots of theirs, I think opportunities for things to be done really, really well, kind of using the same format and using the same platform. I don’t think that it’s ever going to go away. That people are going to, you know, want things for their own gratification, whether it be like, you know, very outwardly sexual, or if it’s just a matter of like, a weird control thing. Like a kink. Yeah, like, that’s always gonna be there. And I don’t think that, you know, I don’t think that our action should be to, like, Oh, God, we got to stamp this out, because I don’t necessarily, I haven’t had the experience where I’ve known where the it’s been really hurting anybody. But I think like I said, open honest, conversation is always the best way to kind of, like, get stuff on the table and just make people aware of like, Hey, this is a thing, you know, be aware of it, watch out for yourself. Watch out for each other.

Risa: Right. We kind of have as much as COVID blows, obviously. We kind of are now in a in an interesting and unique place where all the stuff that you always wished you could do, but you couldn’t necessarily do it in one match in part of a nine match card, where specific beats have to be hit at specific times. And specific storylines have to happen. I mean, if you strip all of that stuff away, and you go I just really want to do a match where this happens. Like to Jen’s point about theatrical matches and stuff like you can you can actually do that now and just do it as a one off. So I think if we kind of start looking at wrestling a little bit more broad-mindedly, where we’re not thinking about it in the traditional, you know, there’s going to be a nine match card, and there’s going to be an intermission in the middle. If we kind of rip away that structure and just go okay, but what do we actually want to do? Well, what do we really just want to do if we didn’t have any of those construction. Like, you have the potential for some really cool stuff. And you know, what? As much people who are, “In the business,” love to talk crap about people who are not in the business. Oh, they’re just a fan. Oh, they’re just a fan. I’ve never subscribed to that. I think it’s elitist bullshit. Because you know, what, everybody who’s in the business started as a fan. So to talk shit on people who are just trying to be where you are, and they are currently where you were, that’s kind of I always found that to be mean-spirited and shitty. So I think, yeah, the fans, right. And the fans are now in a position where you know, you could be taking that money and go, I’m a huge fan of a Mother Endless, I’m going to give her money to do whatever she wants. I just want to be able to let her do it. I’m gonna fund her Patreon. And make sure she can just put on whatever match because I love her. And I think she’s so cool. I don’t care what she puts together, because I know it’s going to be awesome. Like, we’re now in that kind of era where we can we have that flexibility right now, because there are so many shows not running, which is the potential for that is really amazing.

Jen: Yeah, amazing. That’s a good point. Like there is nothing, and I say this every time I have put a team together in business and lead a group of people in a business, is that there is no business without the customer. And that’s what fans are. The fans are the customers. So there wouldn’t be as much as people love wrestling. There wouldn’t be any wrestling if there wasn’t any fans. And now there’s just needs to be that kind of different way to reach the fan. And I think those platforms are there. And it’s just kind of like the customers is almost kind of paved the way for this really cool thing that I think is we’re you know, is going to be the dawn of kind of the new thing in wrestling.

Marissa: How do you think it would affect the wrestling community and the fans and the wrestlers in the industry, If there was like a strict no sexual objectification policy, or some sort of some sort of, I don’t know, way to implement the lack of sexualizing people and put it into practice? Do you think that that would affect the industry?

Risa: Well, I don’t think that’s honestly possible, because the unfortunate flip-side of there’s no rules, and we’re now in the Wild, Wild West of wrestling, where we can all just propose whatever we want. And if we have the money, we can do it. Unfortunately, that leaves the door wide open for people to just continue to inbox you crazy shit. When we talk about all the matches that we could potentially be doing without the constrictions of doing it for a specific Wrestling Federation. Like that’s the really good freedom. The adverse freedom is people with these new platforms, with people having Patreon and OnlyFans accounts, and you know, cameos, and all this kind of stuff, is that people now feel more empowered than ever to make really inappropriate asks. And so I don’t know that there’s a way that you can just cut that out. I think realistically, the only thing to do is to try to change wrestling culture from the inside, to not put up with that kind of shit as much anymore. And to kind of try to be more protective of each other because you’re never going to have fans stop saying disgusting stuff to you. It’s just unrealistic to try to control fans. But in terms of actual wrestling, like any organization, the change kind of comes from the top, we really kind of need… You know, if WWE wants to continue to be top dog in the Wrestling World, they really got to get their shit together and start really modeling the behavior. Like it or not, they’re old and they’re dinosaur-ic, and a lot of people have a problem with them. And AWS, the future. But WWE is still on top, and that’s the reality for as long as it is. So until it stops being the reality. They are the standard bearers. So if they’re not acting, right, which they’re not right now; if they’re not acting, right, I cannot foresee everybody else suddenly getting their shit together. Maybe on an individual Federation level you’ll have, you know, like, you know, Titan Championship Wrestling. They’re trying their hardest with the Goddesses Of War. They’re trying really hard to be above board. They have improvements that they could always be making. You know, any smart Federation will be aware of that and will be constantly working on, but they’re trying as hard as they can to make sure that they’re creating a safe environment for the talent. On an individual Federation level, that’s great. But I can’t assume that everybody is going to take that accountability on to themselves without being prompted in really unfortunate ways. Such as what happened with the, you know, SpeakOut, #speakingout. So I think a lot of it is, we need to, you know, I’ve never not been vocal, but, you know, remain, you know, people like Jen and I need to remain vocal about these things, try to be action oriented. Try to be solutions oriented, and make people feel like, you know, this is not the hardest thing in the world to do, because it’s not. But we need, WWE and AEW, and Impact. I mean, they’re the ones on TV, so as long as they’re the ones on TV with big multimillion dollar contracts, and whatever they’re going to be looked to. So it’s a, you know, like any organization trying to make cultural changes, it’s modeling from the top and grassroots work from the bottom, and hopefully it meets together and then you have a better culture. A more inclusive culture.

Jen: It’s weird, because there is definitely, like a kind of, like, an unfair standard and stigma that happens with the customs where, you know, I had people say, Well, don’t do customs, you should never do customs, you know, it’s not good for your reputation in wrestling. And then the same person turns on the TV and is looking at, you know, Charlotte Blair and talking about, you know, like, how, you know, expletive, expletive. I just like to get in there. You know, so I think that people just, you know, and in the same breath will like, sexualize somebody. But at the same time, condemn somebody for kind of being… there’s a disconnect. Yes. That’s like, I was like that when I had that experience when that happened. And so and somebody was like, No, no, no, don’t do customs. And then at the same time, was watching, you know, WWE and sexualizing somebody. I was like, Man, this is this is just what this shit is.

Risa: And some further record some a lot. A lot of people have done customs work. Your favorite wrestlers have probably done customs work. That doesn’t mean that they’ve gone full on pornographic. But I can nearly guarantee you that the people that you idolize your top 10 people, probably at least two of them have done some kind of customs work. Seth Rollins has done customs work. You can find it, it’s on YouTube. Okay, it’s there. I’m not giving anything away, you can look them up and see pictures of his dick too. I mean, it’s just out there. He’s okay with it. At this point, he makes millions of dollars, he’s fine. But that’s what it’s like when he was younger. And when he was hungry, and when he wasn’t signed yet. And he was just a semi-popular indie guy, that’s when that’s when they’re hitting your inbox the hardest. Is when you’re a rising star. And for him, he didn’t do anything gross. It was just a really awkward looking match with very inappropriate ring gear. That’s all it was. Um, but that was, you know, that was his decision. He was very young, maybe he would say now that he was too young to have made that decision. Only by being really open about this and bringing it up and kind of having these sort of conversations with these younger talent, that’s the only way that they’re going to come out of it unscathed or not confused or not traumatized. I mean, if you’re getting asked to do weird stuff, and you say yes to one thing, but you’re young and impressionable, then the one thing can quickly become Yeah, but would you also do this? Yeah, I mean, the possibility for escalation is high, the younger you are and the more vulnerable you are. So there’s nothing at all wrong with sex work. There’s nothing wrong with it at all. It’s a very honest way to make a living. But the point is, how you are introduced to sex work has a lot to do with whether or not sex work is good for you specifically. And so that line is only something that only you can determine as an individual. And that’s something that only you can determine, when you’re in a place where you feel like you’re not being coerced, or hassled, or, you know, pushed into it in any way. So, only by being very open and honest about it as a culture, are we going to be able to equip these young wrestlers to be able to handle it when they ask does come. Because it’s going to come.

Marissa: So what gets me, and I agree with you on everything that you’ve I mean, sex work is very honest. You know, you, your hearts literally on your sleeve. But, you know, I guess my concern is that the people who are so young and so new and so hungry, will be lured in by the money. So I guess, like you said, it’s about setting that boundary. How do we teach the newbies the youngins, the people who are going to be approached and will most likely not be equipped with the strength and boldness to be like, hell No, that’s not my thing. You know, how do we equip them with those boundaries, setting confidence tools?

Rob: Literally the same brain Marissa. Literally same question.

Jen: I think that goes back to our education and something that when I talk to young people, old people, and old people about sexual harassment, one of the things that I always talk about is setting boundaries. And how to do that with someone in a way that’s like clear cut, and dry. And just like straight across. Sorry, there’s a loud car going by. My apologies. But yeah, so setting, people need to know how to set their boundaries in wrestling. And that’s not just a conversation in wrestling notes about something like customs, but it’s a lot of times about something like safety, too. So it’s been a very important conversation that needs to be had with wrestlers is that how do you tell people that you’re not comfortable taking a move, because you don’t want to look like you’re not the cool guy by not taking their big move. But if you’re not sure that you can take that safely, you need to be able to have that conversation with them. And you need to have that confidence to set your boundaries, or you may end up very severely injured. So in exactly that same way, you’re going to have that same talk about something that you wouldn’t be comfortable doing. And that’s the same thing with angles too. Because a lot of times, you might get put in an angle in a regular show that you might not be comfortable in it, whether it be a sexual thing, a political thing or anything else. It’s really important. Because what we do in wrestling is entertainment. Things can be so up in the air, and they can be so different than things that you would encounter in a school environment or business environment. So, just teaching people how to have those conversations. And one of those being comfortable being uncomfortable things and learning how to say no and a polite way that sometimes you’re not like hell no, oh my god, why would you want me to do that? That’s disgusting. Or just like, Hey, you know, that’s not really for me. Um, but it’s about finding, I like to teach people how to find information, how to ask open ended questions of other people. So if somebody approaches you, like, Risa had that experience. When somebody approaches you like that how to ask, what is this? Because it isn’t, it wasn’t very clear, until you looked at the paper and saw all those things. But how to ask those open ended questions of people when they are approaching you with things so you can find out exactly what you’re getting into there.

Risa: I think it needs to be taught in the wrestling schools, honestly. I think that that needs to be part of the spiel of when you’re a new student, or whatever. And your training, because just in the same way that any good wrestling school will prepare you about how to network and how to put yourself out there as a performer and make connections. Okay, but what are the implications of making those connections. Not all of those connections are going to, you know, not all of those encounters are going to go the way that you want them to go. And the more popular you get, the more unfortunately, in demand, you’re going to be in ways that you did not anticipate. So I think, yeah, I keep coming back to it. But in all ways, I would say this to fans, as well as to fellow performers. It’s just be considerate and be kind and don’t assume that you know anything about what the person that you’re asking or talking to is going through. And can you can you be helpful to them instead of harmful to them at any given time. Because a lot of it, fans just really want to connect with the performers that they love. And they’re not necessarily going at it in a in a way that they think that they’re being bad. Because why would they want to do that they wouldn’t want to hurt the person that they care about and they look up to and whatever. They wouldn’t want to hurt that person’s feelings. They’re not always aware it disconnect sometimes. Rob, did you hear about the whole thing with Sonia Deville how a fan broke into her apartment and tried to kidnap her, like last week?

Rob: Yeah, I saw the thing and I’m sitting there I read the story. I’m like, Oh, she could she could handle it. She’s touchy. But then I saw like he had weaponry and all this stuff. And it’s very crazy and crossing the line. And obviously, you know, thought, you know, thoughts are with Sonia and I think Mandy was there at the time, as well, or roommates or nieces and nephews involved as well.

Risa: Yes, somebody was there and they and they peaced out in the car and called the cops. But that’s how you can tell that he was not in his right mind. He was still there by the time the cops showed up. He didn’t even have the mental wherewithal to, like get out of there and not incriminate himself. He admitted to everything. He’s just so deeply obsessed with her. And you know, these things that start out really innocent can turn really, really bad sometimes. So, you know, I will gladly tell someone who says things that are inappropriate to me to, you know, go screw or whatever. And there are varying degrees of niceness that I will deploy depending on how they come at me. But I don’t know that I always am getting through. So I think a lot of this, female wrestlers and female talent are not nearly the only people being asked these kinds of things. I think that they probably get hit more often for these kinds of requests. But men, all male talent get approached about this kind of stuff eventually, as well. So it’s men and women that are being asked, but the people asking overwhelmingly are men. And so I feel like male talent, who are looked up to a lot, like, you know, women shouldn’t be the only ones having to field these kinds of requests, and like, figure out what to do about them. Like, we need, we need as many allies as possible. And it goes both ways as well. Like if you know, there are a couple of people, a couple of younger guys that I know who are in wrestling, and if they ever were uncomfortable, and they came to me, I would try my best to help them. And I would like to think that it goes both ways. But you know, we really have to look out for each other. And men, like if I’m on Facebook, and I’m being harassed, there are several male wrestlers that I feel like I can tag in and be like, this person’s being really awful, can you like help me out here? And unfortunately, a lot of the times, you know, it takes one guy talking to another guy to be like, “Hey, bro, that’s really not actually appropriate, you’re really making that person uncomfortable.” They really kind of have to hear it from another guy a lot of the time. So Rob, we know that, that you’re an ally, and I feel like I can tag you in if necessary on things. And I feel like you would, you know, you would have my back. And there needs to be more there need to be more people like that. And, you know, if you’re a male ally, you know, be super vocal about it. Because we need to know where you are, when the chips are down or being like made to feel very uncomfortable or whatever, like, we’re just looking for a friendly face. So more vocal about it, you can be in the more visual about it, you can be, that goes a long way.

Jen: Yeah, and one of the things that I tried to do is, also I tried to talk with the younger guys that are here. We do some logic experiments in you know, all share with them like too, you know, if it’s not something that’s like, too, super inappropriate. But like, hey, this is what was put into my inbox, or, you know, how would you field this, if this came to you? And then we have those open and honest conversations, because I think guys viewpoints from what I’ve experienced, and the feedback that I’ve gotten from a lot of the younger performers, is very different, I think, from the girls. And I think that just goes to, you know, kind of chauffeur society where a lot of the guys are like, Oh my god, yeah, I don’t care do that for whatever amount of money. Like, that doesn’t bother me at all. And then, you know, for me with a thing that I like to do with them is, you know, we talk about it like, Well, you know, let’s think about how you would feel about this five years from now. How would you feel about this? If your mom saw it? How would your grandma feel about this? How would your father, your uncle or your teachers? What would they say if they saw this so that you cannot just get it’s not just a condemnation of this is right, or this is wrong, but really helping people find out where their boundaries are and where their moral compass is on it. So it’s not just a like, let me jump at this money kind of situation.

Risa: I watch a lot of really terrible movies like, you watch them because it’s like, it’s great, how bad they are, like, here’s how not to make a movie. And I actually used to teach a film class where one of the classes was I would show a really terrible movie and then have the class discuss what about it made it not a good movie? And occasionally in those really awful movies, you see, like a girl with her tits out and I’m like, Man, bet she regrets that now. I bet she does. And it’s those kinds of that’s the kind of decision she’s young and perky. And she was probably coerce. And now, you know, its 30 years later, and there’s a VHS to digital transfer of her boobs, on the internet forever. Like, these are the kinds of things that people are being approached about at a very young age. And, you know, thank God that we have people like Jen, in the locker room and at the training school helping these people out and asking these kind of questions. but there needs to be a Jen in every locker room.

Marissa: A Jen and a Risa.

Risa: So yeah, we can’t be in every locker room at one time. So we, we need, we need a lot of people to, to kind of step up and say that there’ll be that person that they’ll have those kinds of courageous conversations.

Marissa: That’s awesome. I had something I wanted to say, and I don’t remember what it was now. So sorry.

Risa: I know. I’m sorry. We’re like throwing so much stuff at you guys. Rob. I did. I did want to bring something up to you, Rob. Because when we initially started having this conversation, I feel like you were kind of gob smacked that this was a thing that was happening. Like, did we ruin wrestling for you at all?

Rob: No, I mean, I mean, you hit it right on the head. I think both of my questions initially kind of summed it up. But it was like, oh, yeah, I want to see this guy fight. This guy. Like, that makes a lot of sense. You know, like, they used to tag together. Like, that’s cool. It makes a lot of sense. It’s 2020. We can’t really have shown like putting food on people’s table. Yeah, no problem. And then it got weird. I learned something today.

Marissa: So we need a Jen and Risa and every locker room, and we need more wrestling fans like Rob.

Risa: Yeah. In the crowds. Yeah, yes, definitely. I think if I could just make one plea to fans, if any fans are listening, please. Especially now in COVID times, like, please don’t assume that you can just run up and give me a hug. Just because you spend, you know, hours like sifting through the photos I have on Facebook doesn’t mean that I have any idea who you are.

Rob: I apologized for that, Risa.

Risa: Man, it’s what I’m saying. Like there is there can really kind of be a disconnect between the dialogue you have in your head.  But you know, unfortunately for guys, the way that that really that hyper, you know, obsession is sometimes it can kind of turn really weird and awkward and potentially very inappropriate. And in the case of the guy who’s obsessed with Sonia Deville, potentially even violent. Whereas I think women just like write fanfiction. Like they’re very much more chill about their obsessions. I think guys could kind of take a page out of their book in terms of fandom, like go on Tumblr and see what like, healthy and super obsessed fandom can look like. And you know, not be, you know, they can be as gross as they want to be because it’s fiction. They’re not you know, you don’t these are not people who are like stalking their favorite wrestlers, and going into their house, and sitting in their house and waiting for the cops to show up

Marissa: Very aggressive side note, Tumblr is actually owned by Porn-hub. So, yeah, just read what you see on Porn-hub, on Tumblr.

Jen: And that was news to me. I learned something today, too.

Marissa: I’m a wealth of dumb knowledge.

Risa: It is. That is really interesting, though. Yeah, there was a big controversy about that, but I don’t remember what specifically it was. I think it actually was like Tumblr and Porn-hub were like trying to do something that was actually kind of sex positive together. I don’t remember. But I think we’re in a place where like, Backpages was a relatively legitimate and, more or less, safe kind of way for sex work transactions to happen. And now that that’s gone now we have, we are adapting so you know, if you want to engage in sex work and you are an adult and you are not operating out of a place of mental illness, and you’re of sound mind and body, and you just want to show it off and flaunt it and make buku bucks doing it, you know, power to you. There’s so many ways now it’s actually pretty amazing. It’s just, you know, have those honest discussions about it beforehand, and you know, educate yourself about it. Google has everything good and bad. So you can find out the pros and cons of just about anything. But being open and having honest discussions about it. Like you know, finding out about custom  wrestling matches shouldn’t be just like a, you know, a whisper game that happens. It should be something that is talked about because you know, it would love for people to know that that’s coming before that starts hitting their inbox. I would love for I would love for people to be aware that this is a thing. And that with fame no matter how minor, there comes inappropriateness. So I’m really thankful to both of you for agreeing to have us come on and speak about this.

Jen: Yes. I’m really glad that we have this conversation as well.

Marissa: Thank you guys so much for being here. I know I learned a ton. I can probably speak for Rob that he also learned a ton.

Rob: Accurate.

Marissa: And I think that talking about this stuff, like you said Risa, is really, really important because not only does it educate fans and people that are outside the Wrestling World, but it also educates the people that want to be in the Wrestling World. So thank you guys for being so open and honest. And thank you, Jen for working with people and teaching them about customs and setting boundaries. And thank you Risa for being such a prominent voice in the community. And thank you Rob for being an awesome super fan who just wants to innocently watch people wrestle because he enjoys it.

Rob: That’s all I have, Marissa.

If you enjoyed this podcast, you have to check out www.MarissaFayeCohen.com/Private-Coaching. Marissa would love to develop a made-for-you healing plan to heal from emotional abuse. She does all the work, and you just show up. Stop feeling stuck, alone, and hurt, and live a free, confident, and peaceful life.  Don’t forget to subscribe to the Healing From Emotional Abuse podcast, and follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marissafcohen, and instagram @Marissa.Faye.Cohen. We’d love to see you there!

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