The Wrestler

Watching “The Wrestler” on the plane, made me stop and remember that at one time, I actually considered this as a career. As a teenager, I remember answering a vague and carefully worded ad in the Bay Guardian. “Female wrestlers wanted for video. 18-25. Age verification required. No nudity. Non-sexual. $125 paid per match.” It seemed like an extraordinary amount of money to get beat up, and I had a fake ID. Comedy hadn’t taken off yet for me, and so I tried to get as many jobs as possible. Wrestling seemed like it would be easy. I was already working at Stormy Leather, at the time a very thrilling BDSM company catering almost exclusively to leatherdykes. I watched people get beat all the time. It didn’t seem so terrible. In fact, they seemed to really love it.

Also, growing up Korean, I had a lifetime of beatings under my belt already. My family didn’t believe in sparing rods, belts, fists, teeth, headlocks, kicks to the stomach. Where I was raised, it was believed a dead child is better than a spoiled child. All is forgiven now, but only through many, many years of therapy. Forcing many, many relatives and family friends to relate all their crimes in front of white female therapists, putting their confessions on tape, like my own personal government internal investigation. My very own day of reckoning. My own personal Amnesty International. I love that I got to do this, and they could do nothing about it. I love that I made them tell the truth. I loved being a strong adult who never forgot, and I never let them forget either. They weren’t guilty of waterboarding. At least I can say that for them.

My parents and grandparents tried to intervene at points, but basically, if you grew up a Korean girl in the 60s, 70s and 80s, it’s a miracle you lived. I have always found Korean culture to be brutal, especially in the way they raise their children. It may be why I don’t want to have children myself. I fear the Korean disciplinarian in me, this monster that lies dormant until awoken by the cry of a child.

I remember one Sunday school teacher in particular, who became unhinged by her unruly classroom, and forced all the children to hold their arms up in the air for more than the Geneva convention would allow. If that doesn’t sound bad to you, then try it yourself. Reach your arms up above your head and keep them there. First your shoulders will tire and droop and beg you to free them. Then your arms to your elbows will tingle in a horrifying way. Your back will ache unbearably. You start to lose feeling in your hands, and become drained of blood and turn a cadaverous bluish grey, the pins and needles feeling more like metal spikes and shards of glass. Then you will feel nothing but a slow and creeping fear that you will lose your limbs, like the more they are denied the flow of blood from gravity’s refusal to let go, each finger will decide to die, on its own. Alone. No longer connected by the unifying grip of circulation. No longer connected to you. The Sunday school teacher finally let our arms down, but the hatred of her and all authority figures, especially ones of my own tribe, took root in me, and I feel it grow just a little, every time I hear of a helpless child or animal who is cruelly mistreated. My arms may be down, but my dukes will be forever up. I was a bad kid too, so I was spared nothing. I stopped going to my particular church because of being punched in the face, kicked in the belly so hard so I would vomit uncontrollably. All this violence merely for the discovery of cigarettes in my school bag. I believe I had a horrendous time quitting smoking as an adult because the right to smoke them in the first place was so hard won.

So having survived a lifetime of abuse, I thought being a wrestler wouldn’t be so bad. When you have had your head bashed up against a mirror so many times the mirror shattered into a thousand reflected images of you almost drowning in your own blood, nothing seems so bad. Rough SM sex, it’s a walk in the park. And I could take anyone, on the mat. Or off. Don’t try me. The wrestling promoters never called me back. I guess they had enough girls.

*Cross-posted at The Rumpus*

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8 thoughts on “The Wrestler

  1. I feel your pain. I really do. And I love your work. I, too, have been inflicted with korean’ness. I have a book in the works and I’d love your input some day. Take care!

  2. I’d also considered a physical sport while I was growing up. Not wrestling, but football. I probably would have gone for it, but I lived in a small town that didn’t even have a football team. So there went that idea.

    My goodness. I don’t even have the words for the traumatic childhood you had. I’m glad you got your day of reckoning, forcing the adults to admit their wrongs in front of a therapist! That must have been so therapeutic!

  3. Damn.

    Thank you for being brave enough to talk about this. These things need to be talked about, out in the open. The shame must lie with the abusers, not the abused.

    And what power you have found, within yourself! To stand up for what’s right, to speak out… and to make people laugh. That is so powerful also. It really is.

  4. I know that I strugle with the idea of that disciplinarian monster lying dormant because there are parts of me more like my mother than I care to admit [I’m biracial]. I remember talking about my childhood to my dad when I was 25 and found out he was unaware of a lot of things though he know my mom had a temper. He asked me why I never said anything to him and I remember replying “Until I went to college, I thought that was NORMAL.”

    Thank you for making me feel so not alone.

  5. We may disagree on many things Margaret, but this particular post really resonated with me– not that my parents were monsters– far from it, but growing up in an Asian culture I’ve read, seen and heard things that seem to suggest that a messed up child is better than a spoiled child. I’m neither pro nor anti spanking/caning. There are wonderful parents who spank their kids, as there are bad parents who spank their kids, as there are wonderful parents who have never laid a hand on their kid, as there are bad parents who have never laid a hand on their kid. But still it does disturb me that people seem to think that the child abuser is only a low income alcoholic who kicks their kid around for laughs. Too often it happens in the name of discipline.

  6. Oof. I knew from your films that you’d been through a lot. This shows even more. Meep.
    I’m glad you got your therapeutic confessions.

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