Sonya Deville, whose real name is Daria Berenato, was the first out lesbian WWE Superstar, and the first LGBTQ person to already be out when they joined the company. She competed in the 2015 season of Tough Enough, and then signed with WWE later that year. After a short stint on NXT in 2017, she debuted on the main roster alongside her close friend Mandy Rose, with whom she still tags under the name Fire & Desire. She hasn’t always gotten the time and attention she deserves, but any wrestling fan can see she’s a real talent with tons of potential.
Since joining WWE, she’s become involved in LGBTQ activism, and she recently launched a clothing line called Rainbow Love, through Heavy Heart Clothing. She took a few minutes to talk to us about coming into her own in WWE, and also offered her feelings on how WWE is dealing with the Coronavirus Pandemic.
With Spandex: We’re living through strange times! What is it like working at WWE right now, with all this stuff up in the air because of Covid-19, and the changes to WrestleMania? What’s the mood like right now?
Sonya Deville: I feel like WWE has done such a great job of staying positive, staying in the game, but also taking the proper precautions to do it in a healthy and safe way, but still being able to entertain millions of people while they are home quarantined and staying out of public places. We’re still able to broadcast live to their living room. So I think it’s a really cool feeling for the superstars and a lot of people that work with the company, that we’re still able to put a smile on people’s faces and do it in the healthiest, safest possible way in a time like this.
Have you had the chance yet to be in a ring with no audience? Because that seems like it would be pretty weird.
No, last week was the first SmackDown with no audience, and Mandy and I didn’t have anything on the show, so I haven’t gotten in there myself. But I’ve watched Raw and Smackdown, and I just think it’s incredible. I think it’s just really a testament to everyone’s talent and charisma, that they’re able to perform literally in front of nobody. And that’s what wrestling and WWE is based off of. It’s based off of fan and crowd interaction, we feel your guys’ energy every single weekend. That’s what drives us to do a lot of what we do. And so now it’s a completely different game. And just watching the superstars adjust and make that adjustment so smooth and still be entertaining is mind blowing to me. It’s awesome.
I’ve been looking at your Rainbow Love clothing line that just came out, which looks really cool. What the process of that collaboration like? Did you have a lot of input on the designs themselves?
Yeah, absolutely. I contacted Bobby months ago, and he’s the owner of BlackCraft Clothing, which is a huge line in Hot Topic and other stores. So I knew he was very well versed in the clothing space, and I wanted to start a clothing line on my own, and so I was looking to work with him to do that. And he was looking to branch off and start a new line for himself, that being Heavy Heart. And so we were like, “Why don’t we collaborate on this and why don’t we do one of the first collections of Heavy Heart, something that you like and something that inspires you?” And so he was like, “Come up with some designs and some drafts and some ideas and we’ll work together to put this thing together.”
And so what we both came up with is… His line in general is all about emotions. It’s a very emotional line. It’s a very real line, touching on those taboo emotions that sometimes aren’t socially acceptable or whatever, to talk about. And I love that concept. And so I was like, “I think we can incorporate all of that and maybe we can do some stuff with the LGBTQ community and suicide prevention, things that are near and dear and special to my heart, and I think we can make this all work together.”
And so I flew out to the West Coast a couple of times, and we sat down for hours and just brainstormed with him and his team, and came up with some cool creative ideas that would be powerful and impactful, but also be cool clothing to rock. And that’s where we came up with Rainbow Love.
Prior to coming out as gay on Tough Enough and then signing with WWE, did you ever think of yourself as someone who would be an activist, who would represent a cause in the way that you’ve come to?
Never. Never. It’s funny, and that’s a good question. But no, never. I grew up in a really small town in South New Jersey and I always had big dreams of doing big things and taking over the world, but I definitely didn’t intend on doing it with such a voice. I was just the type of person that my work ethic and my passion and my desire to do what I want to do is going to be what makes me successful. “Head down, boots on” kind of person. And so when the whole thing happened on the preliminary episode of Tough Enough and I ended up coming out and Triple H was laughing and he’s like, “Oh, just come out on national television.” It was a whirlwind.
It was one of those things where I didn’t know if it was going to be my biggest detriment or if it was going to be a positive thing. I was super nervous at the time. Honestly, I thought it was going to cost me the spot on Tough Enough. I really didn’t think I was going to get picked for the show. And that was just me being naive and just not knowing at the time. I didn’t know any better.
And so being able to end up on the show and then signing with NXT and WWE, and now being here for over four years, and just being able to not only be myself and use my voice, but also to represent the cause and hopefully be that person for other people who felt like I did four years back. So it’s been an incredible journey. Lots of learning and lots of ups and downs. But yeah, no, I never saw myself in that position. I’ve just taken it in stride and tried to do my best with it, and now I realize, “Wow, we’re blessed with this platform.” I do think it’s really important when you have a platform like you do with WWE, to use it for something that you care about.
Since you signed, there have been a few other LGBTQ wrestlers who’ve joined WWE. Are you in contact with any of them? Is there queer solidarity within WWE?
Yeah, for sure. Jake Atlas recently signed, and me and him have had a couple conversations via Instagram and stuff and he loves the new line, so I’m going to send him a bunch of stuff. He’s been a super big supporter. I just think it’s so cool that there’s more of us now. And when I got here I was the only one and I was the only one for two, three years that I knew of. And so it’s really cool to see the unity. And even two years ago at WrestleMania, Finn Balor had a rainbow shirt come out. And then they did my, ‘Put your hair up and square up’ merchandise shirt in rainbow. And I think Charlotte and a few other superstars have their shirt available in rainbow. So it’s just been really cool over the past few years.
WWE really has made those steps in becoming inclusive with the LGBTQ community, and it’s been obviously, a passion of mine. So I’ve had multiple meetings with GLAAD and other organizations, and WWE’s social resources team and stuff, to do more things like this. And so we have a bunch of stuff coming out for pride month, and hopefully with the virus and everything, a lot of that stays in place, but we’ll just have to take it day by day.
But yeah, it’s really cool seeing more people in the company be comfortable now to come out. And obviously new signees coming in, that they feel comfortable being part of this company, and hopefully proud of who they are in this company.
On the other hand, I know there has always been talk of a queer storyline between you and Mandy, and then that keeps not happening. And because of that the question that I really want to ask you is, how did you feel when Liv interrupted Lana’s wedding? When suddenly there was this storyline between two women that you weren’t involved in?
Yeah. So obviously, Mandy and I were upset momentarily. It was something that we really pushed for. But never say never. And I think that it’s definitely still a possibility that it will or could happen in the future. And I think representation in different storylines and stuff like that, is awesome. I think it’s good. There’s a lot of different ways you can do it. There’s not just one way to do it and it’s not just Mandy and I that have to do it.
Obviously, we took a lot of time out and had a lot of meetings with GLAAD, and they were helping us write and direct the story. And so I hope we can get back to it one day. But yeah, I would like to see it also revealed in other storylines in the future too.
It would be nice to see it become more of a normal thing, because there are already so many heterosexual storylines in wrestling.
It’d be nice to see a little bit of balance.
I think that’s what’s cool is it doesn’t have to be a long drawn out storyline about two girls or two guys being gay. I think it can just be natural inclusion in the product. Just like you knew Rusev and Lana were dating for years and years and years. Maybe you can know two girls are dating or two guys are dating, but it’s not part of the storyline. You know what I mean?
Yeah, totally. Because wrestling has that blurring between fiction and real life that most entertainment doesn’t have. You don’t always know what’s part of the story and what’s actually going on.
Yes, definitely. It’s unique in that it’s not a television show, but it kind of is, and it’s not real life, but it kind of is. So it’s trying to find that happy medium of where to go with stuff like that. And it’s a work in progress. We’re all trying to figure it out at the same time. And I certainly don’t have all the answers and I know they don’t. So I think it’s just a cooperative effort over the next few years of hopefully getting more of that content in there.
And then of course you also have Total Divas, which is a whole extra level in between what’s real in wrestling and what’s real in the real world.
I don’t think we’ve heard anything yet– is there another a season of Total Divas in the works, and are you involved in that?
Yeah, I’m not sure. I’m hoping to get renewed for a tenth. And I think it’s a work in progress right now, to my knowledge.
I’m rooting for another season with you on it myself. You brought a lot to that show.
Well, thank you. I would love to do another season.
We don’t have much time left, so let me ask you my favorite question to ask wrestlers: Who is your dream opponent that you haven’t faced, or haven’t had a one-on-one match with yet?
Me and Asuka have had, in my opinion, some pretty cool matches since NXT, but we’ve never really had a televised singles match, and so I’d love to go into a story with her. They have the Tag Team titles right now, so I think it would be a really cool angle: Mandy and myself versus the Kabuki Warriors. So I think maybe it could happen there. But yeah, definitely Asuka is someone that I’ve always wanted to be in a storyline with.
Becky Lynch too, we’ve only wrestled a couple of times here and there. And she’s awesome, so I’d love to work with her too.
— Daria Berenato (@SonyaDevilleWWE) October 23, 2019
Oh man, that promo that you did online a couple of months ago where you said Becky would have to call you daddy– every queer wrestling fan I know was obsessed with that when it came out.
Yeah, sometimes creatively not too much is going on, and so you want to create your own content for social media. So I cut that little promo after she said that I was a rising star on The Bump, and so I took it and ran with it and I didn’t expect it to go as viral as it did. And I was like, “Wow, okay. Maybe there’s something here. Maybe people want to see me versus Becky.” So maybe we’ll give people what they want one day.