It’s been nearly three years since Stephanie McMahon promised LGBT characters in WWE, and the closest we’ve gotten to that is a little bit of rainbow ring gear and one WrestleMania entrance. Just recently, there have been hints that things might finally change, including a moment on this week’s Smackdown where Sonya Deville (famously the only current WWE Superstar who’s out as gay in real life) hinted at an attraction to her tag team partner and best friend, Mandy Rose, which may or may not be mutual.
On the one hand, this feels like a fine direction to go. WWE’s not reluctant to do relationship storylines with their straight performers (just look at Becky Lynch and Seth Rollins), so there’s really nothing wrong with a lesbian storyline, in theory. If they’re going to do an overt queer story, Sonya ought to be involved, and if she’s involved, it makes sense that Mandy would be involved too.
What worries me is where it goes from here. There are a few options, and they all have risks that need to be navigated:
If Sonya’s in love with Mandy, and Mandy’s just manipulating her
The first problem with this one is that you can’t have Sonya being manipulated for very long without her looking like a dope. If this is where they go, it needs to lead to Sonya realizing the truth pretty quickly. That presumably results in a team-ending feud, which is fine as long as Sonya’s the babyface in that feud, and wins it. This could actually be the most effective way to turn Sonya face, because you could say that when she was bullying people like Ember Moon, it was only because she was wrapped around Mandy’s little finger.
The problem is that WWE (by which I mostly mean Vince) seems to be much higher on Mandy than Sonya. If they break up in this way, and then Mandy wins the feud and sends Sonya to the undercard, that doesn’t send a great message to LGBT viewers. I’m not saying a gay character can never lose, obviously, just that if the story is about Sonya proving she can be strong without Mandy, she needs to actually come out of it looking strong. And if she’s going to play the kind of role that can get Stephanie McMahon the kind of praise she clearly wants for being inclusive, Sonya needs to be a contender in the women’s division at some point.
If Mandy is oblivious to Sonya’s interest until Sonya makes a move
This is an even more dangerous scenario. The last thing you want is for Sonya to look like a predatory lesbian. If this is how the team breaks up, it’s hard to imagine that Mandy won’t end up being the babyface in their feud (which seems like what WWE would prefer anyway), while Sonya ends up looking like a creep. There are ways you could redeem her if something like this happens, but it would be better to just not do it.
It’s also possible that Sonya kisses Mandy or something, and Mandy rejects it without ending the friendship (happens all the time in the real world), but at that point you don’t even really have a storyline, just a cheap titillating pop. Which is to say, I wouldn’t rule out this possibility.
If Sonya and Mandy are both into each other, but they’re still bullies
This could work, but let’s be real, the IIconics have been doing it better for years. Even if any attraction between Peyton and Billie is just subtext (despite the fact that they’ve been known to scream “I love you” on TV), having two different tag teams of mean women who are obsessed with each other in the very small women’s tag division just seems like a lot. Plus, if any part of the goal is to represent the LGBTQ community in a positive light (which all the rainbow T-shirts in the WWE store imply is something they’d at least enjoy getting credit for), having your only queer characters be bullying mean girls isn’t the best choice.
If literally nothing ever comes of this
A very real possibility that I want to acknowledge, but I don’t have much to say except that it would be disappointing. Because that’s the thing: Even if the LGBTQ storyline is handled badly, at least we’ll see that they’re not afraid to do it, and maybe they can do a better one next time. The other option is that they just continue to fail at catching up with where the rest of the world already is.
So let’s do it, honestly. As worried as I am to see where this story goes, I’d rather WWE show that they’re willing to tell it than run away in fear. Because honestly? I’m also worried about where the Becky Lynch/Seth Rollins story will lead, but nothing’s going to stop them from doing that one, and isn’t equality what it’s all about?