Indie Watch: Fishnets & Shenanigans – The Big Gay World of EFFY

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Indie Watch is our regular series that looks at all of the amazing talents working the independent circuits around the world. Some are veterans revitalizing their careers, some are indie prospects hitting their peaks, while others are names to be on the watch for! In this edition, we take a look at one of the most popular entities on the US indies, the flamboyant superstar known simply as EFFY.

With an unusually high amount of high profile indie stars making the jump to major televised companies like WWE/NXT, All Elite Wrestling (AEW), IMPACT Wrestling, Ring of Honor, or Major League Wrestling (MLW) in the past few years, it’s opened up positions on cards for a new class of superstars to ascend in the cards. Names like Chris Dickinson, Blake Christian, AJ Gray, and Allie Kat are now finding themselves in hierarchal positions that would have seemed unimaginable just a few years ago. One of those stars is a Tallahassee, Florida’s Taylor Gibson who has not only risen the ranks as the flamboyant EFFY but become one of the leaders of the rise in the presentation of LGBTQ+ wrestlers and one of the industry’s best all-around showmen and good hearts.

For decades, from Gorgeous George in the 1950s to “Exotic” Adrian Street in the 1970s, from “Adorable” Adrian Adonis in the 1980s t0 Goldust in the 1990s, professional wrestling has always embraced the ostentatious characterization of characters designed to shock or incite based on a gimmick that appears to showcase a side that bordered on (or flat out mocked) homosexuality in society – in most cases, these characters were intentioned heels, designed to draw the ire from a mostly conservative fan base that looked upon LGBTQ+ people in a negative light. And while there still remains bigotry towards people in the LGBTQ+ community, its never been more embraced and beloved in the world of pro wrestling than it has in the past few years, thanks to the emergence of national stars like NXT’s Jake Atlas, WWE’s Sonya Deville, AEW’s Sonny Kiss and Nyla Rose, and former WWE Superstar Darren Young (now competing as Fred Drosser in New Japan Pro Wrestling). While homosexuality has been portrayed in Mexico with its own division – the exótico – with such legendary stars as Cassandro and Pimpinela Escarlata, it’s the been the tireless work primarily on the US independents in the past decade that has helped inspire, elevate, and push LGBTQ+ performers into positions equal to their heterosexual cisgender counterparts. Performers like the West Coast’s Dark Shiek, England’s Charlie Morgan, as well as names like Billy Dixon, MV Young, Alex Ocean, and Parrow. And of course, names like EFFY. And like Queer Nation first championed in the 1990s, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.”

EFFY first began his journey into the world of pro wrestling while studying at the University of South Carolina in the early 2010s, when he and some friends found a new love in watching WWE’s flagship, Monday Night Raw, as a way to pass the idle time between studies. His foray into wrestling came just as EFFY had made his decision to clean-up his act – not his outward personality, but his abuse of substances. “I was drinking all the time. I was smoking weed all day, every day. I was doing whatever pills I could get my hands on. I didn’t usually say no to anything. One day I took, like, eight hits of LSD, went mental in my house, ended up in the hospital–and went stone cold sober from there,” he stated to INTO in 2018. That last trip also convinced him to try wrestling. “I took 8 hits of acid and tripped for 4 days and came to the conclusion that John Cena was a hologram and then became a wrestler to prove my brain wrong. Maybe John was a real man. Maybe this schedule is possible for a human,” he recalled to Fansided in early 2019. “Plus, I got sober after that trip and getting punched is my new high.” The larger-than-life world connected to EFFY and when he returned to Florida he began training in 2014 with Florida indie wrestler Steve Hetrick (aka Logan Steel).

EFFY has always been flamboyant in his presentation, but initially, early promoters assumed it was just a gimmick like Adonis or Goldust. “(W)hen I wasn’t as vocal about my personal life but still very flamboyant and exaggerated in the wrestling world, a lot of southern bookers would bring me in. They weren’t thinking they were bringing in a homosexual, but someone with a gimmick,” he told Wrestling Inc. back in October of 2019. “I kept my mouth shut a lot and then I started to kind of open my mouth and when people started showing up to shows who were more like me and LGBTQ, I felt more of a responsibility to be vocal about these things.”

But EFFY found that age-old bigotries were still rampant, noting on one instance from his very first match, “I did a gutwrench suplex and held the opponent while asking “WHAT’S MY NAME?” A kid who must’ve been like 9 just yelled out “F****T” in the most southern drawl and his parents like laughed and clapped for him.” But that kind of audience hatred only pushed EFFY further into a new determination, to succeed and to be himself. “I initially started as a heel all the time. I knew I was going into the fire of homophobia and figured I’d at least make money off the hate,” he said to Fansided last year. “It was so empowering to be in a big public space and having these rednecks hurl slurs at me so often that it didn’t hurt…I knew I needed to be that figure that could take the abuse and show these other weirdos that ‘Hey look they said the worst thing and I’m still a big sexy badass. They can’t hurt us with this petty stuff anymore.'”

And while EFFY’s in-ring character may have utilized past things used by previous effeminate characters (although not LGBTQ+ performers themselves), he found a way of incorporating them within the presentation of still being a pro wrestler first and foremost – a wrestler that just happens to be gay. “I’m coming out in this glitzy outfit–I’ve got this glamorous studded jacket, I’ve got fishnets on. I’m acting a little feminine,” he told INTO in 2018. “But my straight up style in the ring is submission-based and brawling. I’m trying to hurt people. I’m coming up with moves that look really painful I do a spot where I find the most homophobic person in the show and I pull a dollar bill out of my sweaty trunks and I say, ‘Baby, I’m parched. Go get me a beverage’–I’m playing with their perceptions.”

But while more and more of the audience was beginning to catch on to his character and embracing it, many of the promoters he would work with early on were having hesitations. It was one thing to perform as a gay wrestler, but it hit another nerve with that performer actually being gay. Starting out in the Florida indies, as well as nearby promotions in Georgia and Alabama, he earned his confidence and strength by proving not only his worth but his value to the companies he worked for. Crowds were starting to show up and pay good money – at the door and the merch table – proving to all involved that he had value as not only a wrestler but an LGBTQ+ wrestler.

He would work regional indies throughout the south, such as Florida’s FEST Wrestling and Full Impact Pro (FIP), Georgia’s Southeastern Wrestling Association (SWA), All Star Wrestling Network, and Livewire Wrestling, and Alabama’s Continental Championship Wrestling (CCW). He even worked for Christian wrestling promotions, like Florida’s Destiny Christian Championship Wrestling (DCCW), where he maintained his heel persona – “What easier way to piss them off?” he told Medium back in 2015. EFFY was becoming a cult figure in the Southern independents and his national notoriety was just around the corner. But not in the way he would have imagined.

It first came in the form of national scorn – not for being gay, but for wrestling a minor. And it wasn’t any minor – it was nationally recognized WWE Superfan Izzy, who had started training after being recognized all over the WWE Network for being one of Bayley‘s (and NXT’s) best-known fans. But while the internet was upset with EFFY’s participation, behind the scenes it did him huge favors, as he recalled to Fansided in 2019. “People kept asking me if I had “HEAT” after that match. I mean, it was literally reported globally as news that I had abused and beaten this child. My only response was ‘Is HEAT when you’re booking email is too full to answer every one, because yes I’ve got a lot of that HEAT.’ The only part of the business that died that day was anyone taking these old-timers’ complaints seriously.”

In February of 2018, EFFY won his first championship – the FEST Wrestling Championship – from national star Su Yung – and would hold it for 260 days. Although he would lose it that October, he would win it a second time in November of 2019, holding it for another 100+ days. EFFY was now a main event star in the Southern independents, but he was on his way to becoming a national sensation, despite being the poster boy for wrestling’s nefarious actions of putting a minor in a ring with an adult (something AEW’s Kenny Omega dealt with on a grander scale after wrestling 9-year old Haruka in DDT Pro in 2011). The year 2018 saw EFFY begin his travels outside of his normal travel itinerary, working for Nashville’s Southern Underground Pro (SUP), Chicago’s Freelance Wrestling, and Washington’s Without A Cause (WAC). He also began working with one of the country’s first LGBTQ+ promotion, A Matter of Pride, in the New York area. By early 2019, the internet rumblings surrounding his feud with Izzy was but a distant and fading blemish and on his own merits, he was becoming a name to watch.

In 2019, EFFY continued to work more and more US indies, competing in various gimmick matches – he wanted to show the world he wasn’t restricted to just regular wrestling matches with his own touch of EFFY to them – that he could work any style or idea. “When you book EFFY, you should know that EFFY takes pride in filling every role in your show,” he said to Fansided. “Need a blood feud? Need commentary? Need a goofy match? Need a scramble or a weird tag team? I can fill any role. Lately though, I’ve made it a point to say to promotions, ‘If you can give me something different I will make you a priority.'” In March of 2019, he got to show he could get as physical as it can get in the pro wrestling world, when he stepped into the ring against one of the deathmatch circuits biggest monsters, SHLAK, for Florida’s No Peace Underground. He would soon make his debut for Game Changer Wrestling (GCW) – who was fast becoming the biggest national US indie promotion – at last year’s Joey Janela’s Spring Break 3, as part of their annual Clusterf**k Battle Royal. That July, he made make appearances on GCW’s initial Invisible Man presents WOMBAT event, before making his GCW singles debut against none other than Orange Cassidy at GCW Lights Out in Nashville. Since then, he’s not only become of one GCW’s biggest stars, but one of their most diverse performers – he’s competed against the likes of Eddie Kingston, Mance Warner, Chris Dickinson, Tony Deppen, Allie Kat, and Joey Janela.

As his stock rose in GCW, he continued to become a presence in more and more of the nation’s top-level independent promotions, such as Beyond Wrestling, Indiana’s Black Label Pro, California’s Hoodslam, Georgia’s ACTION Wrestling, and Texas’ Inspire Pro Wrestling, where he defeated AEW’s Ricky Starks for the Inspire Pro Pure Prestige Championship in January of 2020. And as EFFY became bigger and bigger on the national circuit, he would still find resistance from some promoters and fans as to when he’d stop being “so gay”. As he told Wrestling Inc. last fall, “(m)ost of the negativity comes from people saying, ‘Well, you’ve talked about gay people and LGBTQ stuff. When are you gonna be done talking about that?’ Well, I’ll stop talking about it when we stop having problems. I’ll stop talking about it when trans people stop showing up murdered. I’ll stop talking about it when gay people can walk down the street and not get beat up.” While he’s proud of his wrestling career so far, he still actively remains one of the true leaders of the LGBTQ+ movement that is becoming one of the scene’s fastest rising communities.

After his appearances for A Matter of Pride, EFFY began working for other LGBTQ+ positive promotions like RISE Wrestling, as well as appearing for other LGBTQ+ promotions like Uncanny Attractions, and in March of 2020, headlined Washington DC’s Prime Time Pro Wrestling (PTPW) event Butch vs Gore that highlighted the community, defending his PTPW 51st State Championship against Faye Jackson. And this past Spring, he finally was handed “the book” to build his own card, when GCW offered him his own show during their own WrestleMania Week slate of events built around Joey Janela’s Spring Break 4. Sadly, the pandemic shut down those events, but EFFY’s slated show, EFFY’s Big Gay Brunchwas rebooked as part of The Collective series of events this past October. As EFFY told Fansided last year, “Wrestling is kinda gay. EFFY is way gayer”, and with Big Gay Brunch, EFFY wanted to make wrestling “even gayer”.

The event would showcase some of the top rising LGBTQ+ indie wrestlers in the country, like AC Mack, Ashton Starr, Jamie Senegal, Devon Monroe, and Still Life With Apricots & Pears, as well as legends like Dark Shiek and Casssandro, proving to be one of the weekend’s big success stories. It’s success stories like these that are showing promotions who have been wary of booking LGTBQ+ talents in the past (almost exclusively due to ignorance and/or bigotry) that they’re not only behind the times socially but are missing out on a growing community that has open wallets like anyone else. “We now have the reach to get to people all over the place and at least say, ‘Hey, here’s our message. If you wanna be a part of this message, then bring us in, and let’s do it. If not, that’s cool but you’re gonna lose out on money,” he told Wrestling Inc. “That’s where you see the changes start to happen. When they bring you in and it makes a real difference at the door, they get to see, ‘Oh, we’ve been not booking queer talent and they could have been adding to our show? Or we’ve been not booking black talent and they could have really been adding to my show?’ We just have to show them every day.”

While the pandemic’s resurgence has put a damper on EFFY’s in-ring appearances – his last match was at the retirement show for deathmatch legend for Matt Tremont, where he was Tremont’s mystery partner for one of his final matches during his retirement tour, just over a month ago – he continues to push his brand further and further. His Twitch channel has become immensely popular, not just for wrestling fans but for casual Twitch viewers, who can watch him play popular video games or hosting his Monday Not Raw show on Monday nights, where he watches along to various indie matches from around the world. In less than a decade, EFFY has gone from watching Monday Night Raw with friends and rediscovering pro wrestling, to now actively competing against it on another platform. He “awarded” multiple EFFY Awards this year to fans who had the biggest “bribes”, continues to sell dozens of merch designs and ideas, and continues to grow as one of pro wrestling’s most engaging personalities, all while advancing the LGBTQ+ community in a sport that initially didn’t want or understand him. But as EFFY’s empire continues to grow he realizes the great responsibility he now has, in a world that needs heroes more than ever. “People are looking to a lot of queer heroes and LGBTQ stars as voices that are more powerful,” he told INTO in 2018, “because we’ve dealt with shit and we’re not taking it anymore. Even a straight audience can connect with that.”

Check out our full list of previous Indie Watches, showcasing emerging talent from around the world!

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