The queer messaging of the Acclaimed — the two tag team champions for the professional wrestling company All Elite Wrestling (AEW) — veers in enough different directions that it’s hard to pick out a unified message. The fictional world of wrestling, whose staged theatrics and over-the-top characters often shade towards campiness, complicates the real-world impact of that message even further.
One half of the team, Anthony Bowens, regularly records vignettes for Pride Month about his experience as a queer Black man in a violence-obsessed, macho environment. The other half of the team, Max Caster, both flirts relentlessly with AEW’s biggest male villain and sometimes insults his opponents by saying they have sex with men. The second most popular AEW T-shirt this month bears the team’s catchphrase in bright pink letters: “Scissor me, Daddy Ass.” Every time they walk to the wrestling ring, Anthony Bowens makes the same joke about scissoring, punctuating it with faux-orgasmic jitters.
Every time the joke is lesbian sex.
Just in case the joke wasn’t obvious enough, the Acclaimed even named a move after it: the “Scissor Me Timbers,” where either Caster or Bowens jumps on an opponent who is lying on their back, seemingly hitting them in the crotch with a heel while suggestively slotting their legs together. The crowd — majority male, majority straight and cisgender — roars with laughter every time.
There are charitable readings: maybe it’s funny because two cis men obviously aren’t having lesbian sex. Maybe it’s funny because the words “Daddy Ass” are funny, regardless of context around sexuality. Maybe bringing up sex out of context is just funny, period. None of these readings ring true to me.
Scissoring as a sex act is strongly associated with lesbians by just about everyone except for lesbians. According to sex and relationship therapist Michele O’Mara, it’s one of the least common ways for lesbians to have sex. At the same time, it’s one of the most commonly pictured methods of lesbian sex in everything from porn to artsy movies, all of it produced for the male gaze. The Acclaimed perpetuate this male-centric view of lesbian sex, playing up queerness as a joke by its very existence. Yet, in bringing up queer sex, the Acclaimed highlight the entanglement of wrestling and the LGBTQ+ community, embodied both in queer fans like me and in queer wrestlers like Bowens.
Outside the fictional world of wrestling — the one where all the match outcomes are scripted and the characters are larger than life — the Acclaimed are beacons of Black joy and queer joy.
When, for Pride Month, Anthony Bowens talked about fighting for “every person who feels like they aren’t accepted because of who they are” in front of colorful lighting and a montage of match highlights, I felt genuinely appreciated as a queer fan of professional wrestling. Queer fans and women are not necessarily welcome in wrestling spaces, a fact I, as a lesbian, am deeply and personally familiar with. By being open about his queer identity, Bowens makes a meaningful contribution to the slow progress of accepting the LGBTQ+ community within wrestling.
He also opens himself up to torrents of hatred. The prejudice I have experienced as a white lesbian wrestling fan pales in comparison to the hatred showered upon a highly visible Black queer wrestler. Twitter is a hub for wrestling networking and fan interaction, to the detriment of anyone from a group subject to hate speech. And still, Bowens — and Caster — continue to highlight queer sex every time they wrestle a match. AEW’s Pride Month segments last a month at most; the Acclaimed make scissoring jokes year-round. In a deeply homophobic environment, a queer man pointing out someone else’s queerness becomes revolutionary. Lesbian sex may be the butt of a joke, but it is a joke made in good humor by a queer man deeply familiar with the harms of homophobia. There’s a world of difference between the Acclaimed talking about scissoring and a homophobe in the crowd hollering slurs at trans wrestlers.
A running joke about lesbians — a long-term positive association for queerness — is radical for an environment so anti-queer that Anthony Bowens thought his sexuality would prevent him from realizing his dream of being a pro wrestler.
The Acclaimed’s other catchphrase is, “Everybody loves the Acclaimed.” As a queer woman, I wish it were less true. I especially wish it weren’t true of me. And yet, I can’t help but be charmed by the hijinks of the Acclaimed: the obvious affection they share, the way Max Caster comes up with a unique rap for every entrance and Anthony Bowens manages to steal the spotlight just by informing the city of the week that the Acclaimed are here.
The scissoring jokes, for all their faults, are funny. I think they’re funny, and the audience for AEW does too. It’s that crowd support that helped make the Acclaimed a sensible choice to be booked for a predetermined championship win. Bowens became the first gay man to hold a title in AEW on the back of T-shirt sales with catchphrases about scissoring, giant homemade craft foam scissors that populate AEW crowds, and half a dozen mass chants. The people wanted the Acclaimed, so the Acclaimed got prestige, storylines and eventually a title.
Ultimately, the Acclaimed are a fictional team making scissoring jokes within the fiction of wrestling. By turning casual homophobia — prejudice that would exist regardless of any individual tag team — into a symbol of support, Bowens manages to reduce discrimination to the fiction of wrestling. At the same time, he engenders real-world support for himself as a queer performer.
Wrestling may be predetermined and fictional, but it impacts the real world. By inspiring mass popular support for a Black queer man, even on the basis of lesbian sex jokes, wrestling takes a step towards moving homophobia out of the real world and into the fictional world of wrestling.
Author: JQ Shearin (She/Her)
Copy Editors: Emma Blakely (They/She/He), Bella (She/They)