AEW's Anthony Bowens Comments On Gay Representation In Wrestling

Long before The Acclaimed had arrived in AEW and well before he scissored with Daddy Ass, Anthony Bowens was a young wrestler trying to make a career in pro wrestling while also wondering if he'd be held back because he was gay. Bowens talked about his journey and the lack of representation for someone like him along the way during an appearance on "Talk is Jericho."

"There were a lot of thoughts going through my head at one point if I'd ever be successful in the business," Bowens said. "I started wrestling in 2012, and by that point, I had been out just to my friends at that point. There wasn't really that many out athletes. I think Darren Young was the only guy actively out as a professional wrestler. So there didn't seem to be any hope for me, if I came out, to be successful in the business. That was something that scared the hell out of me for a very long time.

"And that was actually one of the biggest things that kept me in the closet for a long time. My friends knew, and then my parents eventually knew, and everybody was super supportive, everybody was super helpful and helped me become comfortable with myself. But it was just the wrestling aspect of things. There were so many unknowns. Would fans turn on me? Would I have to start defending myself in the ring because people might not like my 'lifestyle?' There were so many thoughts running through my head, so I had no idea if I was wasting my time."

There wasn't much in the way of LGBTQ  representation for Bowens when he was younger. Fans will remember Billy Gunn and Chuck Palumbo as tag team in the early 2000s who were famously queer-coded, to the extent that they were scheduled to perform a commitment ceremony in the ring to cement their life partnership — only for it to be revealed that the characters were never gay, and the ceremony was a publicity stunt set up by their manager and stylist, Rico.

"The Billy and Chuck time, I was still pretty young then," Bowens said. "But there wasn't that much representation out there, which is why I think having a diverse roster like we have is so important, because it's a little bit of everything. You've got me, you've got Sonny, you've got Nyla, Mercedes, Diamante, Leyla.

"So there's a lot of different people on the roster, and stories that people can kind of relate to, which I think is pretty cool now. Even on the independents, we've gotten to the point where there are shows with all-LGBTQ talent, which is unheard of. I think we're moving in the right direction. There's still work to be done, but it's a lot more positive now in the industry."

As if to illustrate that point, Bowens noted that when a wrestling friend learned Bowens had come out through a video the AEW star had posted with his boyfriend, YouTuber Michael Pavano, the reaction was uniformly positive.

"My buddy Damian, who was one of my friends in the business at the time, texts me and says 'Dude, why didn't you tell me?'" Bowens said. "My stomach sank. I knew what he was talking about, but I played dumb. 'What do you mean?' He was like 'Dude, we saw the video. No one cares. We all love you, you're a great worker. We just wish you would've told us.'

"At that point, I was like, I had the support of my best friends, I had the support of my family, and my wrestling fans support me, as well. What am I waiting for here? I have this great relationship with Michael that I'm hiding. What do I have to lose here? I don't have to care about anyone else ... And then from a wrestling perspective, I can help people who are feeling the same way that I was feeling. Maybe I can provide them hope, the hope I thought I didn't have.'"

Bowens ended his appearance on "Talk is Jericho" with a message to any LGBTQ wrestling fans out there listening.

"Don't be ashamed of who you are. Be you," Bowens said. "Come out when the time is right. Let that decision be yours, don't let anybody else affect that decision. And know that there's hope, because there are people like myself, there are people like Sonny, there are people like Nyla and everybody else, whether it's here, another company or on the indies, who are all trying to make the world a better place for you, trying to create more opportunities for you, so you're not that kid that's sitting at the desk, crying hopelessly that you can't be what you want to be in life."

If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Talk Is Jericho and provide a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription