photos: The League of Lady Wrestlers. Photo by Nina Vroemen.

Beautiful weirdos

The Victoria-based lady wrestling, feminist arts collective on storming the ring

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When you think of the characteristics of a professional wrestler, “wailing in grocery store aisles, sniffling on bus rides home, and spontaneously bursting into tears at social gatherings,” might not be what first comes to mind.

But that’s precisely what Sensitive Shatters is all about. You can find them ringside wearing a crinkly silver shirt, tinfoil hat, and white shorts complete with a faux menstrual stain on the butt—an integral part of the costume.

Why the period stain? “I guess just growing up and that being the No. 1 fear in middle school, and it happening, and then you put the long-sleeve shirt around your waist, and then just being like, ‘I’m just gonna do it, 'cause why not?’” That attitude pretty much sums up the West Coast League of Lady Wresters, where there’s no such thing as too much.

The West Coast chapter was started in January by Margaret Bowes, who wrestles as Black Widow and was a founding member of both the first league in Dawson City in 2013 and another chapter in Toronto.

The league’s website describes the group as “an art collective formed in celebration of feminine identities and subversion of traditional gender roles and expectations.” Its members are “brash, brave, funny, loud, smelly, angry and exuberant,” both “bitches and heroines,” “loveable and not likeable,” they “support each other in these choices.”

Character arc
Shatters, a.k.a. Quin Djurickovic, 24, moved to Victoria from Mississauga in March 2014. They heard about the league through their housemate at the time, Christine Sayegh—known as Macho Ham in the ring. Worried about past injuries, Djurickovic decided to be a non-wrestling member of the group for at least the first event to see what it was all about.

“Since my character was Sensitive Shatters I just pretended to cry the whole time, so I didn’t do too much,” Djurickovic says. “It was really hard to be mopey and stuff because I was just so happy.”

Shatters participated directly in two of the matches, blowing bubbles out of Medouchea’s crotch and covering Pandora Death Box with a blanket when they “died.” They spent the rest of the night throwing condoms out to the crowd and providing a sullen counterpart to another ringside character, Furious Featherbrain.

“Her personality was a lot more happy and shiny and up, [so] she was able to interact with the crowd in a really good way and get people pumped up.”

While being a character like Sensitive Shatters might not make sense for such an event, it relates to the amount of creative control within the league and its ethos of owning and celebrating whatever part of the participant’s personality that they feel like emphasizing. “It was personal and inspired by a lot of things,” says Shatters. “I think just people pointing out my sensitivity and that always being a bad thing, so trying to reclaim that in a good way, and yeah, just the idea of shattering through everything.”

Once Sensitive Shatters was born, the character began to take on a life of its own.

And this split was actually liberating for Djurickovic personally. “When I started it was like, this is part of me and my heart and it felt really personal,” they say. “As winter wore off and [things] changed for me, it was like, ‘Oh this is one part of me and it’s not what I’m like all the time.’”

While the sadness became completely performative the day of, Shatters was able to acknowledge that the emotion played a significant role in their life for the last year. “It was cool to have that transition and have it be really playful and fake.”

The character also gave them the ability to use those feelings for an artistic purpose. “I didn’t have to be sad all the time. I didn’t have to be Sensitive Shatters every day. When things would happen or whatever sh**ty things people would say, I could just use that to channel it towards the character.”

Celine Grandbois, 32, came up with Inna D. Mon when they went to a costume party with their roommates, league cofounders Black Widow and Macho Ham. They suggested going in their wrestling costumes to promote the league.

“At that point I was going through a rough period in my life and didn’t want to dress like the character I was thinking of,” D. Mon says. “I said something along the lines of ‘My life is trash, I might as well go as garbage.’” This feeling materialized as a black garbage bag dress, accessorized with black fairy wings, and a crow perched in their messy, teased-out hair. 

So they had their league and their characters, but would they have an audience? “We talked about how it felt really needed in this city, with the dominant narrative of newlywed or nearly dead,” says Shatters.

Suspension of belief
Their Velvut Rut Rumble on April 23 was a sold-out show, proving Victoria has the appetite for their type of mayhem.

So what does it say in such a hipster locale that so many were willing to buy in to such a campy and obviously fake experience and act that out? It seems that we may be starting to move past doing everything ironically to actually being able to embrace and enjoy “play” again.

Shatters says it was a sense of “disbelief ” that allowed the audience to buy in so thoroughly. “The second after I gave the content warning, it was immediately disbelief and the juxtaposition between what’s real and what’s not real. Playing with that line is really fun and I think people enjoy that,” says Shatters. “The crowd was totally into it from that moment and throughout.”

Creating a space where that suspension of belief could occur wasn’t easy. Beyond the months of preparation and practice, it also took a full day to turn the Victoria Edelweiss Club, a German hall, into a venue worthy of an event like the Velvet Rut Rumble.

Dizzy, an audience member and close friend of Grandbois's, was particularly struck by the league members’ commitment, only breaking character when it was time to clean up. “Every person involved in this event in any way was dedicated to the process 120 per cent,” says Dizzy.

The amount of preparation may have been tiring, but it was also empowering.

“I really enjoyed the creative control we all had with our matches,” says D. Mon. “We came up with all the material for our matches ourselves. We had group practice every other week for a few months but were responsible for practicing with our partner and coordinating our match outside of that.”

D. Mon has a background in sports and improv, but still compares the blur of adrenaline rush of the match to their first roller derby bout.

“This felt more vulnerable because it was something that only my wrestling partner Pandora Death Box/Julie Wilde and I had worked on,” D. Mon says. “I was so focused on what was happening in the ring it was hard for me to gage how well it was received by the audience.” But the crowd definitely smelled what D. Mon was cooking.

“I think a great word to describe how it was [is just] ‘spectacular,' in like the fullest sense of that word. It was very much a sensory overload that I could enjoy,” says Shatters. “It was just really nice for everyone to come together and just do the thing.”

Consensual violence
The suspension of belief also allows for the matches to work as a kind of playful cathartic aggression.

Shatters says she thinks that there’s just something about seeing what she calls “roughness” that people enjoy, but differentiates it from violence. “I remember my dad seeing photos of the night or something and being like, ‘Oh it looks really violent.’ And I wouldn’t use that word, violent, because there was so much consent and people aren’t getting hurt, hopefully,” says Shatters. “There’s just like a roughness and an aggression that people really enjoy, I think, and can get really amped up on.”

Shatters recalls when they were aware of the crowd’s presence in the first match between Annie Goodfellow, a megachurch leader and Trump supporter, and Punkasso, described on Facebook as an “inflammatory bitch with violent tendencies.”

“Punkasso was just swearing her heart out and screaming,” says Shatters. “In some part of their sequence Punkasso grabbed a fake glass bottle and just smashed it over Annie Goodfellow’s head and the crowd just erupted.”

The League of Lady Wrestlers is a parody of professional wrestling, just like the WWE. And while the WWE features consensual violence, the difference is that theirs is within a patriarchal power structure.

Shatters’s father and brother both were big into professional wrestling. When the league got together to watch some WWE videos on YouTube, Shatters says they realized how much the sexism is normalized. “Masculinity is just this great celebrated thing,” says Shatters,” so it’s kind of a mind f*** to watch that now and be like, ‘Wow, that’s totally what I grew up with in the background.’”

Shatters told them both about the league, but was not met with enthusiasm. “They totally thought it was so weird, and I was like, WTF, you supported this your whole life?” says Shatters. “Maybe my dad, when I first brought it up to him, didn’t realize how much of a feminist project it was. I think in some ways for me it was less about the wrestling and more about the other things.”

Back to reality—for now
Shatters says one of their favourite things is that while the league was clearly a feminist project, it didn’t promise to actually be that or anything else. “It was super empowering and healing and positive in so many ways, but it didn’t say it was going to do that, which was really refreshing.”

The league will start back up this fall, preparing for their next rumble. Inna D. Mon will be looking to get back on the mat, while others are hoping to get a little closer to it. “I would go again in a heartbeat,” says Dizzy, who had actually hoped to be a wrestler or companion, but “was a little late to the bus for this round.”

Djurickovic wants to get in the ring next time, but Sensitive Shatters is probably headed for retirement. “I would love to wrestle one of my friends if I’m in town, and just do it in a really body safe way, like maybe just leg wrestle,” they say. “I would not like to be Sensitive Shatters again, because I don’t want to be sad next time.”

The switch back to reality happened pretty quickly once the rumble ended—they needed to clean up so they could get their damage deposit back. “I think it was like, ‘Okay get out or you’re helping us clean up,'” says Shatters. It was also getting into May, when many members were leaving to travel or for seasonal jobs.

However, reality couldn’t take away from what they had accomplished.

“Afterwards there was a rush and sense of pride and such love for everyone involved with the league,” says D. Mon. “Everyone worked so hard on their matches and living with [Black] Widow, I got to see how hard she worked and how much she put on the line to make this event happen.

“Then there was the inevitable disappointment that comes with ending. It’s the kinda thing you want to keep going, like go on a cross-country tour with all these beautiful weirdos. I would definitely want to do it again and hope that I am around when the time comes.”

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