Before Paris is Bumping, Billy Dixon and others discuss inspiration from Paris is Burning and why they’re merging ballroom and wrestling for this event.
Paris is Bumping premieres on IWTV this Thursday, October 29, at 10pm ET. Breaking ground as the first-ever wrestling Kiki Ball, this innovative event will merge the seemingly contrasting worlds of ball culture and professional wrestling to show they’re more alike than most might realize.
Due to the ongoing impact of the global pandemic, Paris is Bumping didn’t take place with a live crowd like your average wrestling event or Kiki Ball, but was filmed without a live crowd in an undisclosed location. This cinematic experience is the brainchild of Creator/Director Billy Dixon.
Paris is Bumping follows in the recent footsteps of EFFY’s Big Gay Brunch and Uncanny Attractions’ The Wrestlers Take Manhattan by presenting professional wrestling by queer people with unapologetic influence from queer culture. Also like those events, Paris is Bumping has queer talent involved from top to bottom, including Creator/Director Billy Dixon and Assistant Producer Lo McGrath, just to name a few.
When I spoke to Billy Dixon about the event, he emphasized the vintage feel the show will have when viewed on IWTV. Like a well-worn VHS tape, the video could include skipping, static, audio issues, and all the things that we remember from the VHS days.
In the weeks leading up to filming of the event, I had the opportunity to speak to several people involved from the judges panel to the commentator to the performers themselves. Billy Dixon also took the time to speak with me a second time after the event had completed filming as he was preparing for the upcoming premiere on IWTV.
With just five years in the wrestling business, Billy Dixon has already made an indelible mark on the industry and continues to push it forward when it comes to embracing and highlighting the LGBTQ community. When we spoke, he emphasized a desire to be sure this event is done with respect to and in honor of the ballroom community, a sentiment that everyone I spoke to echoed.
“The ballroom community, I want them to feel like it was respectful to them. I want people to really just enjoy the show. Have fun. It’s not gonna be long. It’s gonna be 90 minutes at most. It’s gonna be a quick watch. It’s gonna be like a Disney Channel Original Movie, but super gay and super violent,” Billy Dixon said when we spoke before filming, the final cut ended up 73 minutes long.
“I think if you look at my career, this has been a long time coming. I’ve been creatively creating content for the queer community in wrestling for the past two years, and this is kind of what it’s all led to. You know, some of it was as a ghostwriter,” he said. “Some of it was with my name as part of a company, but now this is me, myself, and I. It is my name on the line. It is my baby, my project, my vision. What I want to put out to the world. So I’m excited for people to see it, and I really hope that we can make wrestling different and be a tool for hybrid events. I think that’s a cool way for this business to evolve.”
Paris is Burning continues to inspire the participants of Paris is Bumping
As may be clear from the title, Paris is Bumping will take heavy inspiration from the1990 documentary Paris is Burning, which has won many awards over the years including Grand Jury Prize Documentary from the 1991 Sundance Film Festival. Three decades later, the film, which can be purchased through Apple but is not difficult to find online elsewhere, still provides an unparalleled window into LGBTQ history and ball culture.
Billy Dixon, who is the Creator/Director of Paris is Bumping and will be competing during the event, spoke to me in our first chat about the impact Paris is Burning has had on him as a performer and as a queer person.
“It’s my favorite film of all time. It is something that I watch when I’m feeling lost. Something I watch when I’m looking for inspiration. When I wanna feel proud of myself. When I’m having a good day, a bad day. It’s something that’s very meaningful to me to look back at pioneers of culture and history, and to see the way that they lived and to know that I’m from the same place and city as these heroes. They walked the ground,” Dixon said.
“It was confirmation of many things that I felt as a queer person, and as a person who at the time was exploring gender identity and things of that nature. So, the film has a lot of personal meaning to me. As well as, it means a lot more now as a wrestler, because that world and wrestling are so similar. It just makes a lot of sense,” he said.
Eric Shorey is a DJ, a pro-wrestling critic, and a host on The Nobodies, a podcast that provides a queer perspective on professional wrestling, nightlife, drag, and pop culture. At Paris Bumping, he’ll have the opportunity to be one of four people on the judges’ panel, and when we spoke he talked about how Paris is Burning opened his eyes to a different side of queer culture.
“As a queer person growing up, I felt very alienated from a lot of queer culture because mainstream queer culture didn’t really speak to me as a weirdo goth kid. So I didn’t have a good sense of the origins of a lot of queer culture and queer history,” Shorey said. “Paris is Burning, when I first saw it, it was a look into a queer culture that I had never seen before and that was so much more beautiful than anything I had ever seen before in mainstream queer culture.”
“It showed me that the world of queer culture was so much bigger and more powerful than the sorts of tedious depictions of, let’s say gay pride parades or Lady Gaga shows or something,” he said. “I think for a lot of queer people, the kinds of queer culture they see is so white and so sanitized, and so Paris is Burning was one of my first exposures to a kind of queer culture that was neither of those things.”
“I’m from New York, and I had never seen voguing before. I was sneaking into gay bars since I was like 15 years old, but I had never seen voguing, which I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. It was fascinating, because I had seen Leiomy and Vogue Evolution on America’s Best Dance Crew before I had seen Paris is Burning, and my brain didn’t know what to make of them,” Shorey said.
“I think I like described the voguers as drag queens to a friend, because I didn’t have the language to talk about voguing or non-white gay culture, so I just assumed it was drag. Paris is Burning showed me that, and I thought I was like a sophisticated hot s**t young 19-year-old who knew everything there was to know about gay culture, and so it really showed me that there was so much I didn’t know about my history, and other queer history that I just was completely ignorant of,” he said.
Kel Rose, a gear maker for her wife Nyla Rose and several independent wrestlers who will join Eric Shorey on the judges’ panel for the event, also gave her perspective on the way Paris is Burning impacted her and how that will translate to Paris is Bumping.
“It was honestly the first time I had ever seen the history of what really went into ballroom, and what it meant to people to have a safe place to come out and express themselves, and I love the comparison that Billy is doing here,” Rose said. “It’s a place for those of us in the LGBT community to come out and express who we are. We’re completely safe there, and he’s done a lot of work in that aspect. I’m really proud of him for that, and we just get to come out and be who we are and enjoy some good wrestling and some good shows.”
Paris is Bumping continues to carry ballroom into the mainstream, taking cues from Kiki, Pose, and Legendary
While ballroom culture has been around for decades, it’s continued to push into the mainstream in recent years with the documentary Kiki, the FX series Pose, and HBO Max’s Legendary. Billy Dixon noted how ballroom has already influenced mainstream culture, and the importance of recognizing and embracing ballroom.
“To me, ballroom has 150% influenced popular mainstream culture. Now you hear cishet guys talking about throwing shade, and all that kind of stuff. And for me, one of the things about ballroom culture is that it is for the performer. It is so rich in its history of showstopping numbers and showmanship that I really want people to see that,” Dixon said. “I think it would be beneficial to more understanding and more empathy for people of all walks of life, especially our trans and gender nonconforming siblings in the world.”
“Unfortunately, for a lot of people you have to kind of make it personalized for them to understand. I just want these people who are athletic and great performers to get opportunities to be celebrated and for them to get their flowers when they’re living, and not when they’re dead. It’s a love letter to gay history and to people who have made it very much easy for me to live my life in comparison to the lives that they had to live,” he said.
When I spoke to Eric Shorey, he was cautious and made sure to emphasize that, as a cisgender white person, he is not part of the ballroom community and does not intend to speak with that authority. However, as an avid viewer of balls and someone who loves and appreciates ballroom culture, he spoke on the importance of Paris is Bumping honoring ball culture in the same ways that other mainstream interpretations of ballroom have.
“I think what’s important to me about Paris is Bumping is that, like with these newer examples of ballroom entering the quote-unquote ‘mainstream,’ it’s done by Billy, [who] is a proud Black gay person. It’s not done by someone who watched Paris is Burning once and then thought it would be a fun idea,” he said. “It’s done with full respect of the long and beautiful tradition of ballroom culture. So, when I think about ballroom becoming mainstream, the only way it should be allowed to become mainstream is if it’s done by the people who care and believe and know about this scene, and not by people like Madonna who just looked in and thought it was cool.”
“So I think when we talk about, heading into Paris is Bumping, how the mainstreaming of it has influenced this event. How it’s influenced the event and how it should influence the event is that people from the actual scene are involved, just like with something like Kiki or Legendary or Pose, because those productions really emphasize putting actual people from the ballroom world into the show,” he continued. “Unlike something like RuPaul’s Drag Race which does not do that, it just takes the kind of language of it.”
Like any good ball, the commentator is very important, and Paris is Bumping’s commentator will be veteran professional wrestling ring announcer Larry Legend. While a CZW Hall of Famer with 18 years as a ring announcer, he’s also no stranger to ballroom.
When I had the chance to speak to Larry Legend, he discussed his experiences as a spectator at many of Jack Mizrahi’s Rumble Balls in New York City in the early 2000s. Legend discussed his discovery of ballroom and how Mizrahi, a multi-decade veteran of the ballroom scene and international icon who is currently a Co-Executive Producer on the HBO Max series Legendary and writer for the FX series Pose, often helped him get the best seat in the house.
“I’ve been to a number of balls over the years. I don’t go out as much anymore, but I used to kind of stumble on them just hanging out and doing a night in Baltimore or whatever it might be,” he said. “The first Sunday at the Paradox, I would kind of be there enjoying my LGBT lifestyle, and before long the dance floor would clear and the lights would come up and the commentator would appear, and I’d be like, ‘oh s**t, it’s a ball.’ Same in New York at Escuelita’s.”
“I would often go just to enjoy the night, maybe take it down by hanging out as Escue’s and getting a beverage, and a ball would be commencing, and I would always kind of be in the right place at the right time to be there for a lot of legendary battles,” Legend said. “If you look at some of the old legendary clips on YouTube and wherever you find them, there’s a lot of times where I was right there. Because again, just kind of experiencing my life, sometimes the balls would just kind of happen. They wouldn’t really be advertised, and then all of a sudden I would be amongst a ball that was about to take place and started to commence.”
“I never walked any categories or was a judge or guest commentator in the ballroom scene, but after a while, Jack [Mizrahi] in particular, who did a lot of the balls that I was fortunate enough to attend, he kind of noticed that I was a follower and eventually would kind of position me to be really up close, kinda like VIP,” he said. “The balls, you’re standing the entire time. Luckily at Escue’s there was like a stage, like a two stair stage that you could kind of sit down on [and] kind of have a makeshift chair, but by the end of it everyone was up on their feet surrounding whatever the last category was giving whoever their life and tens for the spectacle that was.”
“Just by happenstance, I would be there a lot of times, and Jack took care of me and sort of got me up front and center for a lot of Rumble Balls in particular. My favorite was Rumble Ball 33, which was The Black and White Team vs. The Red and Black Team, and you can look that up on YouTube,” Legend said. “It’s one of the best ones I ever attended, and it wasn’t like a latex ball or one of the awards balls, or one of the major ones. It was just a Rumble Ball. Like a mini ball, or an In Your House if you wanna liken it to WrestleMania or Royal Rumble and that. So Rumble Ball 33 is one of my favorite ones that I was able to attend and got really up close thanks to Jack [Mizrahi], but never commentated. Never walked. Just a huge fan during my early years as a New Yorker really.”
What does ballroom mean to you?
Ballroom culture has existed for decades, but it continues to have a profound influence on mainstream culture and those that have had the opportunity to witness and discover this unique artform. Mariah Moreno, a trans woman and pioneer with more than a decade of experience in the wrestling industry, will be providing a special Sex Siren performance for Paris is Bumping.
For those unfamiliar with ballroom categories, House of Luna provides the following description for Female Figure (FF) Sex Siren:
Female Figure (FF) Sex Siren
This category is for cisgendered women, trans women, and drag queens.
Think “strippers” or the hottest masculine and feminine strip tease.
Generally the more skin revealed the better. This is not an exotic dance or “go-go” category.
Feminine presentation is expected, in look and movement.
When I spoke to Mariah Moreno ahead of Paris is Bumping, she was one of several performers who I asked the simple question: ‘What does ballroom mean to you?’
“Ballroom is something bigger than life. It depends if you’re going old school or current. The current ballroom scene to me is something that allows people this side of the rainbow to express themselves visually, artistically,” she said. “It’s something that is an outlet for a lot of us. [For] a lot of people who don’t have a place to call home or somewhere to belong, it’s a very special thing. That’s what ballroom means to me.”
“It is very important to people on this side of the rainbow, ‘cause again it is an outlet for us to have a good time, to come together, to become one. Yes, there’s competition. There’s competition everywhere, but it is something special to us because we get to come together as a whole and have a great time,” Moreno said.
When I spoke to Larry Legend, his answer to the question “what does ballroom mean to you” touched on the underground nature of ball culture.
“Ballroom to me means the underground. As a matter of fact, I feel that in a lot of ways as ballroom has become more mainstream, it’s really lost a lot of its appeal. I went to a lot of Jack Mizrahi’s Rumble Balls in New York City in the early 2000s, and they were always kind of an underground event that not everybody knew about and that you really had to stay up to the wee hours of the morning to view,” he said. “So ballroom to me is synonymous with the underground, which is synonymous with punk and deathmatch wrestling and all that stuff that’s got a wide appeal to a large demographic but is really kind of niche, and that’s what really truly makes it special.”
Darius Carter, an in-ring veteran with 11 years in the wrestling industry, will take on Creator/Director Billy Dixon at Paris is Bumping in a match billed as “Wrestling Executive Realness.” When I spoke to Carter before the event, he also gave his answer on what ballroom means to him.
“Ballroom means doing something different at a time where people are looking for something different. People are looking for something new, something exciting, something invigorating, and what the ballroom is bringing, it’s bringing a pageantry,” he said. “It’s bringing an elegance that I don’t feel is really being seen on the scene right now. That’s why I’m so interested. That’s why I’m so invested into seeing what this is about and becoming a part of it, because I like this world.”
“I’ve always loved theater. I’ve always loved arts, and that’s what this is. This is people from all different walks of life that are coming together to present this art. ‘Dance. Sex. Vogue. Fights.’ That’s what they’re saying, and there’s a little something for everyone I feel within one of those four words,” Carter said. “For me, it’s fight. For me, it’s competition. For me, it is wrestling. And for me, I see that this is not just a show about being fun. It’s a show about real competition, and that’s what I am looking to bring to this. I’m looking to keep everyone on their toes in terms of competition.”
What are the similarities between ballroom and professional wrestling?
While ballroom and wrestling may seem mismatched at a glance, several people I spoke to talked about the similarities between the two competitive arts. Billy Dixon, who was the first person I spoke to before the event filmed, talked about how both see performers seeking acceptance and belonging.
“Ballroom and wrestling are very similar in the fact that it’s a bunch of people who are very much so broken people looking for acceptance, looking for family, looking for validation through performing and becoming something other than themselves,” Dixon said. “The difference would be, for example, somebody like an intergender wrestler, let’s say she’s on the femme side, looking for acceptance from her male counterparts. [That] would be the same thing as presenting a realness category in ballroom.”
“That’s kind of where the similarities are. It’s leaving it all out there, and they’re both incredibly physically demanding activities to do. Especially the people who do the vogue categories, you have to be really in control of your body the same way you have to be in control of your body when performing any wrestling,” he said.
When Eric Shorey discussed the similarities between ballroom and wrestling, he first touched on something that Dixon had mentioned to him in an interview before elaborating on the ways both artforms have inspired and influenced the people involved in them.
“Billy Dixon said this to me in an interview like a week or two ago, and I think it’s true, that both are performances in the medium of gender,” Shorey began. “Usually wrestling is expressed in hyper-masculinity and usually ballroom is expressed in hyper-femininity, but the key element here is that there is a performance of gender. I think that the immense and intense physical dedication of the performers, especially voguers, is just really astounding for artforms that are quote-unquote ‘lowbrow.’”
“I think although wrestlers don’t face the same kind of political oppressions that gay people do, that both are expressions of some kind of childhood hurt or trauma that comes out in this aggressive and also jubilant artform,” he said. “And I think, although wrestling is worked, I think there is a serious sense of competition in both where, although they are inherently frivolous things, it means a great deal to the people that are doing the performances. And entire communities and social networks have formed around these artforms.”
Larry Legend, who will be providing commentary at Paris is Bumping, also talked about the similarities he sees between ballroom and wrestling.
“The primary similarity that I see is that, through the competition, magic is made. The wrestlers and the ballroom voguers, they have to have a sense that ‘I am the best at what it is what I do,’ but in a lot of ways you can’t outshine your partner too much, because then the overall what you’re presenting loses its luster,” he said. “The most legendary icons in professional wrestling know how to give and take, and that is kind of paramount to what draws the audience in, whether it be the match or the battle. The ones that are so good know how to work with one another.”
What if you don’t know ballroom? What if you don’t know wrestling?
As Paris is Bumping looks to merge ballroom and wrestling for this crossover event, it has the potential to appeal to and draw in fans of two different mediums. Some potential viewers might know little or nothing about professional wrestling, and other viewers might know little or nothing about ballroom, and Billy Dixon spoke to both of these potential viewers.
“I know professional wrestling can appear to be really threatening, because it’s so masculine and kind of not friendly to our kind, but it’s for us and it’s by us,” he said. “I made sure that there’s trans representation, and there’s Black queer representation, and that there were femmes. It is a nice soft introduction to the wrestling world while being super in your wheelhouse for that.”
“Also, on the other side for a wrestling fan, it is wrestling. It is matches. It is violence. It is heels, babyfaces, but it also has a touch of something different. So these two things have a synergy to them that will make both spectrums of people engaging and watching with it comfortable,” Dixon said.
Jared Evans, who is scheduled to compete in a Divas 4 Way Extravaganza against Erica Leigh, Eddy McQueen, and Corinne Mink, also had welcoming words for fans of ballroom who might want to check out Paris is Bumping.
“If you love drama, and you love fighting, and you love overall performing, you need to check this out. It has everything all rolled into one. Everything that you would love about ballroom. Everything that you would love about the LGBT community is all rolled up into one, and honestly I couldn’t think of a better mind to put this together than Billy,” Evans said.
Eric Shorey began by speaking to fans of ballroom, reassuring them that the bigoted past of professional wrestling does not necessarily represent what it has become today.
“I would say that the wrestling they think they know is not the wrestling that exists anymore. My experience of talking to people who don’t know much about wrestling is that they think it’s the same as it was in the 90s. That they think it’s still incredibly sexist and incredibly homophobic, and it sometimes is, but mostly is not anymore,” he said. “So I think there are people who like ballroom culture but don’t really know anything about wrestling, and maybe don’t want to because they assume it’s the same thing it was in the 90s, and it just isn’t.”
“I mean, even WWE, for all of its fumbles and missteps, you can watch a full women’s match and there will not be a single sexist comment made about one of the competitors,” Shorey said. “So I think for people who want to get into wrestling or for people who are even considering it, what they should be told is it’s not the 90s anymore and, for the most part, you will not see the same kind of disgusting misogyny and homophobic that you would expect to see.”
When I asked Shorey what he’d say to wrestling fans who don’t understand or know ballroom culture, he discussed the crossover appeal between the two mediums and how many wrestling fans would love ballroom if they’d simply give it a try.
“God, I feel like my whole life is making the sales pitch. I don’t know why you’re not into it already. It’s everything that wrestling should be and wants to be almost. It’s as glamorous. It’s as physical. It’s as intense. It’s as cathartic. It’s as angry. It’s as violent. It’s as explosive. It’s as beautiful,” he said. “What’s stunning to me, I don’t know how there isn’t more crossover appeal, because every single thing that is beautiful and wonderful about wrestling, ballroom has and does better.”
“I think the hurdle that so many wrestling fans have to get over is that they just think they wouldn’t be interested in it, because they don’t understand it and won’t get it a try because it’s so alien to them as mostly heterosexual fans of wrestling. They don’t understand that a runway battle could be as fierce as a wrestling match. They just don’t know, because they’ve never seen it,” he said.
Earlier in our conversation, I’d mentioned to Shorey how I had been somewhat unfamiliar with ballroom, but had gotten hooked on HBO Max’s Legendary and binged the entire series in a single day. Once I’d given it a chance, I realized how great it was, and I noticed an irony as what Shorey had said to convince wrestling fans to watch ballroom was not unlike what a wrestling fan might say to get someone to watch wrestling.
“Of course, right. They would say you don’t know because you’ve never seen it, but then they’re so reluctant,” Shorey began. “Luckily, through The Nobodies, I feel like I’ve increasingly been able to show wrestling fans all the things that you love gay people have been doing and better for decades. When I think of the average wrestling fan and I think about why they are not watching it, it’s something about they just don’t know what I’m saying when I talk to them about ballroom because they’ve never seen it before.”
“When I say there’s these fierce trans women who are doing like 360s off of stages into a dip, and it’s more athletic and beautiful and graceful than Rey Mysterio at his peak, they just don’t even know what that means because they haven’t even looked at it,” he said. “They don’t believe that these trans women can do these things. They don’t believe that a vogue battle could be as angry or as dramatic as a wrestling match just because they’ve literally never seen it. I think that barrier is part of it, and once they start seeing it, I just know they will become as addicted as you have of just watching Legendary, which is like one-hundredth as intense as a real ball.”
Paris is Bumping makes important progress for the LGBTQ community in the wrestling industry
As entertaining and fun as Paris is Bumping is sure to be, it also occupies an important space as an inclusive queer event in an industry that has not always been accepting of the LGBTQ community. I spoke to a few people about this, and earlier in our conversation Darius Carter also touched on the influence we still feel from the not-so-distant past as we continue to make progress as a society.
“It’s the way the world is going. It’s culture, and it’s seeing integration that we were talking about or wanting to talk about 60 years ago, 70 years ago. It’s only a lifetime ago. Martin Luther King, Jr. is only a lifetime ago,” he said. “We talk about history, and we say all these things about people of the past, but they aren’t that far from us. We could’ve reached out and touched Martin Luther King, in a way, and JFK, and Malcolm X, and the Panthers.”
“What I love is to see people coming together. People that weren’t talking before, groups that weren’t speaking up, are louder than ever. Marching the streets. Even just in everyday life, civilian life, you’ve seen the quality of life, I feel, in terms of civility, in terms of, you see the integration of people coming into play now,” Carter said. “There’s always gonna be difficulties. There’s gonna be growing pains, but I love the fact that an event like this can exist. I love the fact that Paris is Burning can get the attention that it got as a movie. I like that this is a discussion now. This is a mainstream discussion.”
“There isn’t anything taboo, because in the real world there really shouldn’t be things taboo. There’s some things you talk about in the workplace and don’t talk about in the workplace, but in terms of topics, we should be beyond this. There shouldn’t be things that are taboo. Gender, sexuality, that is not taboo,” he said. “Let’s talk about it. Let’s educate people so that they’re not ignorant. So that they can’t say they don’t know, because you’re not gonna learn this in school. You’re gonna learn this by communicating with these people. By being in the presence of one another, and again that’s what Paris is Bumping is to me. It’s just all walks of life bringing all types of talent from all across the world.”
As our conversation continued, Darius Carter talked about the importance of Paris is Bumping and other LGBTQ events in providing a safe space in the wrestling industry for the LGBTQ community.
“This is essential for us to move forward. Events like this are necesitas, because this is the way the world is going. We have to accept each other. We have to. I don’t wanna say let each other in, but we have to let each other in, because there’s different ideas. There’s different plans. There’s different things to learn from. Different information and inspiration to draw from, and it’s just better. I like an open mind. I like to keep your mind open, to keep your eyes aware to new ideas,” he said.
“Life is about growth. It’s about elevation, and you can’t grow if you keep the same mindset for your entire life. You have to take some pieces here and there and grow it like a tree. Your ideas have to grow. Of course, you stay firm to what you believe in,” Carter said. “I’m not saying change who you are, but what I’m saying is you have to be a different person at 20 years of age than you are at 30, and 30 to 35. There has to be growth, and I think people are afraid to grow more than ever now, because people are so comfortable. People just want to exist, and there have been people that have not even had the chance to exist, and they want their turn.”
“They want their time, and they deserve their time, and I’m thrilled to see people standing up. I’m thrilled to see Black people standing up, and I’m thrilled to see the LGBT community standing up, because this all should’ve just happened a long time ago,” he said. “We all should’ve just been able to continue through life. We should’ve been beyond this by now. So this is how I feel, and I feel like that’s the part that makes it all so great, is just the difference, and the fact that this is the way the world should go and needs to go.”
“We need to get more LGBT community representatives. We need to get more people into more prominent roles in the world, because the world has gotten stagnant. It needs a little flavor. It needs some spice, and that’s what we’re gonna bring. The more culture you have, the more different walks of life you have that get to speak on something, you’ll see creativity. Look at the creativity you’re seeing right now,” Carter said.
When I spoke to Jared Evans, he also took a moment to talk about the unfortunate ways the LGBTQ community has been treated by the wrestling industry in the past.
“For years, for lack of a better term, the LGBT community has been shunned by wrestling, but they’ve also been made a mockery of where you have guys, and granted I’m never going to talk down about any talent like Rico or Goldust. We had those characters, but they weren’t played by any LGBT members, because they thought that LGBT people were just some kind of a joke, but they liked the ideas that we had,” Evans said.
Mariah Moreno, as a veteran of the industry and a trans woman, brings a particularly important perspective to this discussion because she’s gotten to witness the evolution of the industry first-hand and talked about why events like this are so crucial.
“It’s very, very important. When I first started, there was very little of us. There was hardly any. There was probably like, I can count probably less than 10 of us in the United States. So to see that there’s just so many of us now, it’s very important for us because we get to come together, and there aren’t any places that we really get to do that,” she said.
“Probably in the last couple of years, I’ve been seeing stuff like that we have EFFY’s Big Gay Brunch, which he brings a lot of the LGBT performers in one room, and that doesn’t happen often,” Moreno said. “That has never really happened when I first started in wrestling. It was unheard of, and if it was ever talked about it was frowned upon. No one wanted to see anything like that. So it’s very important.”
As we continued to talk, I asked Mariah Moreno how it feels to see the progress that has been made to have an event like this, considering those less inclusive times she’s witnessed first-hand.
“This step that was taken, they literally took fifteen steps. It wasn’t one step, it was fifteen steps. There is plenty of more steps to go. We still have a long way to go, but this means so much to me seeing that there’s so many of us basically in every corner of the world,” she said. “It’s very important that we continue to embrace who we are and to work together, because if we can’t do any of that, then we might as well just give up.”
“Because we’re not only fighting against other people or people who don’t appreciate us or don’t like our lifestyles, we have to fight within ourselves,” Moreno said. “Because sometimes we’re wondering within ourselves, ‘is this what we want? They don’t like me. They don’t like me. They don’t wanna see me,’ and it’s very, very discouraging. It’s very hurtful. Very, very hurtful.”
“It is very important. I love seeing what everyone is doing. I’m inspired every day by every single one of these young kids coming up in the game. Even those who are older who came in the game a little older, they are still inspiring because they are all making a name for themselves and they’re all adding to our world of wrestling,” she continued. “They’re all adding to it, and I am just so happy to see it grow. I’m even more honored to be a part of pro wrestling now than I was before, because there’s a whole entire army of us. There’s an army. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s very beautiful.”
Kel Rose, one of the judges for Paris is Bumping, also took a moment to discuss the importance of events like this when it comes to representation and visibility for members of the LGBTQ community.
“They’re extremely important. Especially right now where we have trans visibility has become a lot more important than it was in previous years. Nonbinary visibility has become a lot more important than it was in previous years,” she said. “So, just the exposure that we’re getting on top of having a safe place in order to express ourselves is the most important thing right now.”
One of the ways Paris is Bumping will continue to provide that visibility is by including trans performers, one of which will be Mariah Moreno. When I spoke to Moreno, she was excited for her chance to represent her community.
“I’m just excited to be a part of it for representation. That’s the most important thing for me. It’s about representation. Being loud, being who we are, and embracing each other and ourselves. That’s very, very, very, very important to me,” Moreno said.
When I spoke to Billy Dixon while the event was still coming together, he talked about how special queer performers are and his drive to make Paris is Bumping the safe space they need and deserve.
“I think that queer performers are very special, and I think that it can be intimidating to people. I think naturally it’s intimidating. Something different. Something new,” he said. “So it’s important for performers to feel like they can be themselves and be comfortable. That their pronouns will be respected. That their identities will be respected. That they are a part of the process.”
“To every talent on this show, it is a collaborative process. Their feedback is welcome. Their opinions matter. Their consent is valued 150%. It is as safe as a space as I can make it humanly possible for there to be comfort. There’s nothing on this show, I don’t think, that would trigger really negative emotional responses from the fans,” Dixon said.
When I spoke to Billy Dixon again after the event had filmed, they had since announced an LGBTQ Hall of Fame to be presented at Paris is Bumping. I asked him about the inspiration behind this, and what fans can expect from it.
“Basically, we don’t have one, and I don’t think we ever will. There’s Diva Dirt. There’s Black Wrecellence. There’s all these sites that kind of cover, Ring the Belle, they cover marginalized groups,” he said. “But there isn’t a source that continuously, besides Outsports, but they’re not a governing body or anything like that, where queer people throughout the history of the business will be honored. That hasn’t happened.”
“We’re calling it Paris Honors, and to me, I am not pretentious enough to think that I am the be all and end all of LGBTQIA+ wrestling. However, I do feel that we should give our people their flowers while they’re here, or acknowledge them if they’re no longer here, and that’s just what it is. It’s just a way to thank people for playing a role in this revolution,” Dixon said.
What can we expect from everyone at Paris is Bumping?
Ultimately, for all the cultural importance and history that plays into an event like Paris is Bumping, it is still going to be 73 minutes of pure entertainment that fans are excited to see. With everyone I spoke to, we talked about what fans can expect from them at the show and what they’re most excited for.
Billy Dixon, as Creator/Producer of Paris is Bumping, took some time when we first spoke to discuss how the judges (Eric Shorey, Kel Rose, Faye Jackson, and Khan O’Kelly) will impact the show.
“They all have such interesting personalities that are very different, and I think will add a lot of comedic elements to it. There’s so many references that I’m trying to hit. One of the references is [RuPaul’s] Drag Race, and there are very funny moments between the judges when they deliberate before the eliminations. I’m going to be paying tribute to that as well,” he said.
“There’s gonna be a lot of tributes to gay culture that I really love. This is like my magnum opus. This is my love letter to being a queer person. So, a lot of touchstones will be hit upon, but I’m really excited about the judges, and they have an involvement too,” he said. “They’re their own characters and as a group they are an essential part of the show as well. They move the plot along. The judges can be quite controversial at times and can be a huge point of contention, because sometimes you’ll be at a ball or watch a ball and the judging does not reflect what you just saw. It’s also all about subjective preference. That’s something I really can’t wait to reflect.”
When I spoke to Eric Shorey, he took a moment to talk about what fans can expect from him as a judge at Paris is Bumping.
“As a judge, I am hoping to respect the long legacy of ballroom icons and legends. I feel like I am coming at this with a pure heart. I’m not trying to be a culture vulture. I’m so honored that I would even be asked to judge such a beautiful and groundbreaking even,” he said.
“So what you can expect from me is just grandiose humility in the face of this immense task I’ve been given to represent ballroom culture in this smallest role, and I’m just honestly flabbergasted and honored that I would be asked to be a part of this,” Shorey said. “I’m certainly not an expert, but I hope, I think more than a lot of people in wrestling, I do come with at least some knowledge of ballroom culture.”
Kel Rose, who will join Shorey on the judges panel and is likely to keep her focus on the fashion the performers bring to the table, discussed what she’ll bring to the table as she steps forward from her normally behind the scenes role.
“I’m looking for people to go all out. I wanna see how creative they can get with their looks. That’s what’s most important to me. As a gear maker, it’s my job to kind of make everybody look different from everybody else. So, I wanna see how different people can be from their opponents.”
“I’m just really excited that I got invited to be a judge on this. I sit so much behind the scenes in the wrestling world. I’m never really out there. People started to know who I was because I make my wife’s gear, but now I do a lot of gear for people in the indies,” she said. “I’ve done gear for people in Impact, stuff like that. So, for me to be, not necessarily in the forefront because the performers are obviously going to do that, but to be able to be visible as opposed to behind the scenes is pretty cool.”
Billy Dixon also took a moment to discuss how Larry Legend will add to the show as a commentator, and why he felt including him in Paris is Bumping was an absolute must.
“We will have live commentary from the legendary pioneer Larry Legend. He will be emceeing the ball, and I’m so excited about that. I worked a show a few years ago where he just did it off riff because he was having fun during Tina San Antonio’s entrance, and I always kept that in the back of my head,” he said.
“I also knew, getting to know him, because one of my favorite things to do is talk to my LGBT elders that I can reach out to and learn about their lives and experiences in the business,” Dixon said. “And one of my favorite things to talk to him about was ballroom culture, and he has a history of being involved in it. It would be preposterous for me to not include him in that, and him as a commentator is going to be so good.”
“He has such a good sense of humor. He’s so witty. It’s gonna be phenomenal. I know he’s gonna kill it, and I’m so excited for that to be a part of the show,” he said. “I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am for that. And also, he’s my OG, so it’s a cool way for me to pay respect to that which came before me. To include in something so cool and groundbreaking and, in my opinion, revolutionary.”
When I spoke to Larry Legend prior to the event, he also talked about what he’s bringing to Paris is Bumping and what fans can expect from him as a commentator.
“I’m gonna probably just give what I give every single time. I probably will be a little more loose. I am known to wear a very tight fit and I often don’t sit down. I very rarely will sit down during a show, because I don’t wanna wrinkle up my threads. I usually get myself pressed looking like out of a magazine, and then I wanna keep that up throughout the entire three-hour event,” Legend said.
“For Paris is Bumping, I wanna bump. So I’m gonna let down my hair like I just don’t care. There have been different versions of Larry Legend. Caribbean Larry, or for the Urban Wrestling Federation you got the Urban Legend Larry,” he said. “So I’ll have a good time and give Ballroom Larry, kind of with inspiration from all of the great commentators that kind of add their two cents in a jovial kind of fashion throughout so that it’s a living breathing event.”
Billy Dixon also took a moment at the end of our first conversation to urge wrestling fans to go in with an open mind as they watch Paris is Bumping, and more importantly to emphasize the respect he has for the ballroom community and how this event only seeks to honor them.
“One thing I really want wrestling fans [to have] when they watch this, I want them to have an open mind. I want them to let themselves get lost into this world and to be curious. It’s okay if you like something. It’s okay if you’re confused, and you can look things up. It’s gonna be educational,” he said.
“It’s gonna be a lot of different things, and one of the most important things is that I don’t want anyone in the ballroom world to feel like they’re being appropriated or mocked in any particular way. That’s like the number one concern I have of the show,” Dixon said. “I would hate if people that I respect in that world felt as if I was taking the piss out of them, and I take the piss out of a lot on my Twitter. But that’s the one thing when it comes to this is I want them to feel like this is done by somebody who respects them, who loves them, who appreciates their contributions to this world. So that’s my number one concern.”
One of the inclusions in the event that came together after the first time I spoke with Billy Dixon was that of Washington Heights, who recently spoke to Vice about being disowned by her father New Jack. Washington Heights will be giving a unique “Dark Side of the Daughter Lipsync” performance for Paris is Bumping, which Dixon was definitely excited for fans to see when we spoke again after the event was filmed.
“Oh, it was super exciting and super fun, and it’s kind of like it was serendipitous. I think everything happens for a reason. I think it was kismet, and I think that she was meant to do what she did. We were meant to have that conversation, and she was meant to be a part of the show, and she ties in the show in a really cool and awesome way,” Dixon said. “She’s incredibly talented, and I’m really excited for people to see her style of drag, which is really up my alley, and the kind of drag I really like. Which is kind of old school, not like the girls on RuPaul’s Drag Race really.”
Lastly, Billy Dixon took a moment to talk about some of the matches and moments from Paris is Bumping that fans should watch out for.
“I think people will be really entertained by Sahara Seven and Asthon Starr’s match. I think that’s gonna be a real crowdpleaser. I think Candy Lee and Mariah Moreno deliver really cool and exciting projects, and that’s going to be exciting to see the reaction to,” he said. “Everybody worked really hard, but I think Darius Carter really sunk his teeth into what we were trying to do and delivered with a level of excellence that I knew he had, but I was still blown away by. I think people are going to be surprised at the actual depth of how good it is.”
Darius Carter heads to Paris is Bumping with Billy Dixon in his crosshairs
At Paris is Bumping, one of the night’s key matches will see Darius Carter take on Billy Dixon in “Wrestling Executive Realness.” While exactly what that clash will entail won’t be clear until we see the show with our own eyes, Carter did not hesitate when discussing what he’s bringing and intends to do at Paris is Bumping.
“I’m just something unique. I’m something different, and I am coming with a vicious mentality. I am coming to seek and destroy. I am looking to wrestle this talent. I am looking to compete against this talent, but I’m also looking to run this talent down as best I can, because the more decisively I can beat them, the better that means that I am,” he said. “I need to test myself against all types of talent. The talent at Paris is Bumping is worldly talent, and I need them to know, and I need everyone to know, just how great I am.”
“When I say I’m wrestling’s richest prize, I don’t use it just to say a moniker. I don’t just say it to put myself over. I say it because I am the wealth, the purity of professional wrestling in one person. That’s what I am. I am the Allfather,” Carter said. “I am the all-seeing, because I see the way the world is going. I saw this culture coming, and I embrace this culture. I enjoy this culture, but there are talented individuals in that culture, and I’m not gonna treat anyone differently as a wrestler.”
“Whether you’re a man, you’re a woman, whether you’re nonbinary, whatever you consider yourself. If you’re gonna decide to be a professional wrestler, you can be facing me, and if you’re facing me, your life is on the line. I need to win. I need to succeed,” he said. “I cannot lose, and that’s just my mentality, and that’s what I’m gonna bring. That may be a little different than everyone else. I think more than anyone else that’s showing up for Paris is Bumping, my mentality is driven by victory and purely success, and nothing else. That’s what it is for me.”
“I want one of the best that you have out there, and he really is a mascot for the movement right now. Billy Dixon is really at the forefront. If I’m gonna show up at this event, I don’t wanna just show up and wrestle just a random person or someone at the middle of the card,” Carter said. “I want someone that is considered to be your best, because by beating that person I quickly in one match establish myself and establish the mood in the room, and I set for the future of Paris is Bumping. And I think that ship would be magnificent if I was at the helm.”
“I need Billy to understand that I’m not a friend. I’m not a buddy. I’m not someone that lives with him or that stays with him or that goes out to eat with him. I am a professional first,” he said. “I am a wrestler first, and I will do what I have to do to walk out there with my hand raised. I will do what I have to do to go to that winner’s purse to get that extra money that I can put into my bank account.”
“That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day. I don’t just want to beat Billy, I do want to embarrass him. I’m not gonna lie to you. I do want to maim him and humiliate him, because I want to set the tone,” Carter said. “I want everyone to understand that I’m not here to play, that I’m not here to have fun. I’m here to prove superiority in a sea worth of talented individuals. Amongst very good professional wrestlers, I am the best. That’s what I want to prove, and if it starts with Billy, it starts with Billy.”
Paris is Bumping premieres this Thursday, October 29, at 10 pm ET/7 pm PT. You can see the show on IWTV, and new subscribers can use the promo code “PIB2020” to sign up for five free days and see the “DANCE. SEX. VOGUE. FIGHTS.” of Paris is Bumping for themselves.