Mariah Moreno opens up about growing up trans, coming out in wrestling

Mariah Moreno opens up about growing up trans, coming out in wrestling
Mariah Moreno opens up about growing up trans, coming out in wrestling

Pride Month is a time for the LGBTQ+ community to joyously celebrate the progress that’s been made for safety and equality. Today, the wrestling industry is more inclusive than ever with events like Paris is Bumping and EFFY’s Big Gay Brunch, and one of the women who helped make that progress happen is pioneer Mariah Moreno.

A veteran of the squared circle, Mariah Moreno has been competing as an out trans woman for over a decade in a business that hasn’t always been as accepting as it is today. From the amazing story of her coming out as trans to the industry as part of a wrestling storyline as far back as 2011 to the difficult realities she faced growing up as a trans girl and woman in the ’80s and ’90s, Moreno’s legacy is one that must be remembered and is still being forged.

In this exclusive interview, Mariah Moreno discusses her journey as a trans woman in professional wrestling, her upcoming match with Edith Surreal, and more.

As important as it is to be proud and joyful during Pride Month, it’s equally important to listen to and remember the reality of LGBTQ+ history. Unfortunately, those are often difficult and painful memories, but they’ve paved the way for the progress of the present.

When I had the opportunity to speak to Mariah Moreno, she spoke joyously and positively about what the future holds for her and LGBTQ+ wrestling as a whole. However, she also discussed the harsh truth of what she’s had to endure both before and during her tenure in professional wrestling.

Content Warning: This interview includes descriptions of sexual harassment, transphobia, and homophobia.

Pride Month and Remembering the Stonewall Riots

Fittingly, I got the opportunity to speak to Mariah Moreno on the first day of Pride Month 2021. After we both wished each other a Happy Pride, the very first thing I asked was what Pride Month meant to her.

“It’s a special time during the year where we get to actually embrace who we are louder than ever, or louder than throughout the year because it’s our month,” Moreno said. “I live in southern California, and I grew up in Long Beach, and our Pride Month there is during May. Nationally, it’s during June, but I always celebrate during May and then throughout the entire summer.”

“It’s usually a whole season for me versus it just being one month. It’s very special because I’m able to express myself. Not that I don’t throughout the year. I’ve always been somewhat loud and proud, but it is a very special time where a lot of our friends have get-togethers and we get to hang out and wear our colorful outfits and express ourselves freely,” she continued. “It’s pretty much a time for us to have a good time, and that for me is very special and important. Because mentally, we need to let loose and enjoy ourselves.”

Mariah Moreno

KIEV, UKRAINE – JUNE 23: Transgender activists participate in the Kyiv Pride march, estimated to be the city’s largest ever, on June 23, 2019 in Kiev, Ukraine. The parade has been marked by anti-LGBT violence in past years, but a heavy police presence has been generally effective at discouraging direct attacks on parade participants. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

While many things have happened in the past several decades to bring us to the inclusion and equality that’s been won today, a catalyzing moment in that fight (and the reason most Pride celebrations are in June) was the Stonewall riots in June of 1969. With trans women of color at the forefront of the movement during that time, I asked Mariah Moreno how she feels looking back on the legacy of that time as a trans woman of color.

“That was a very dark, crazy time, and I’m happy that life is not necessarily like that now, or hopefully it doesn’t go that route. We still have a long ways to go, because there’s still trans women of color who are still suffering out there, and still being murdered on a regular basis,” she said before discussing the reality of trying to be “passable” in today’s world.

For those that aren’t familiar with the terms “passing” or “passable,” they represent the ability of a transgender person to be perceived as cisgender for the purpose of safety against transphobic violence perpetrated by the public. You can read more about “passing” and other terms related to the trans community in this Advocate article by out transgender editor Dawn Ennis.

“I will acknowledge that I’m very blessed because I look more, in a sense you could say the world ‘passable.’ So I’m able to blend in well, and it’s a scary thought that 10 years ago I didn’t look like this. I wasn’t as passable, and I faced a lot of judgment in public places,” Moreno said. “So all I can say is that I’m a blessed person right now, and I hope that at some point every trans woman reaches that goal if they want to be passable. Then again, why should anybody be passable? Everybody should be safe. Period. Regardless if they’re passable or not.”

“That’s where the whole gender role thing comes in where I do play a gender role. I’m okay with people not playing one if they don’t want it. It’s what they want and what they’re comfortable in,” she said. “I’m comfortable as a female, as a woman. That’s the only way I’m comfortable. I couldn’t be a boy with makeup on or a girl with boy’s clothes. I wouldn’t be comfortable that way.

“If you’re comfortable, I’m all for that. I just feel most comfortable as a woman, in women’s clothes, feeling and looking passable. That has always been my goal since I was a child, and I hope that comes off that way,” Moreno continued. “That I was able to reach a dream of mine, because that has always been a dream of mine. That anybody can reach whatever dream they want. Any dream they want. That you can look whatever way you want and walk the streets, and that’s what I’m hoping [we’ll get to.]

“I’m hoping that we can somehow pull through together and everybody can start leaving their homes as they want and returning home without being bothered,” she said. “It takes a lot of courage, it takes a lot of heart to walk out of your home not looking the part or not looking like what your gender or whatever people think or want to say you’re supposed to be.”

Growing Up Trans in the ’80s and ’90s

As our conversation shifted to earlier stages of her life, Mariah Moreno discussed the realities of what she faced as a trans girl who knew she was trans at a very early age. Unfortunately, that included bigotry and bullying quite literally from her home to school and back.

“I know I was already out. I already was a girl. I was already trying to put on my cousin’s clothes, and I already walked like a girl. I already had family members bullying me, calling me the ‘f-*-g word,’ punking me, same thing in school,” Moreno explained.

“I was already being bullied in school at five, in kindergarten. And to think now, what five-year-old knows the difference if someone is gay or straight? What does it matter at five years old? It just is mind-boggling, now that I think about it, what I faced as a child,” she said.

“I was always trying to figure out what is wrong with me, why do people hate me? I don’t understand,” Moreno said. “Then, as I got a little older at like 2nd or 3rd Grade, that’s when I was like ‘oh my god, this is really dangerous. Am I gonna always be getting jumped, or beat up, or bullied? I’m gonna have to kind of suppress who and what I am to make others happy or to feel safe in school.’ To feel safe from my walk to school, or to my house, because we walked to school.”

“It was always scary,” she began. “I used to have to make sure which direction I was walking and kinda take the same route every day, but I would try to switch it up because I was always afraid someone would be waiting for me, you know? I had moments where I was being followed all the way home from school being bullied the whole way, and I would always try to change my route. Now, I hope that’s not the case for a lot of kids these days, because it was really rough then in the ’80s and early ’90s.”

Coming Out to Professional Wrestling

Despite the struggles she faced earlier in her life, Mariah Moreno continued to live her truth and first found a home in the world of professional wrestling over a decade ago. Back in late 2010 and early 2011, Moreno was working under the ring name Amanda with WILD, or World Independent Ladies Division, the first all-women’s pro wrestling company on the West Coast.

The company was started by Travis Leland and hosted talents such as Ashley Massaro, Candice LeRae, Serena Deeb, Mia Yim, Katie Lea Burchill, Terra Calaway, and many others during their brief tenure in the early 2010s. While Mariah Moreno was out as trans in her personal life and to most of her colleagues, it wasn’t something publicly known to fans or the industry as a whole, and it was Moreno’s idea to use her coming out in a wrestling storyline to blur the lines with reality.

“At that point, I haven’t come out as a trans individual in the business,” she began. “So I actually approached [Travis Leland] and told him ‘hey, I think this would be a great platform for me. It would be good PR or good attention for your company, but then it would also be something that I wanna do.’ It’s something that I wanted to do because I wanted to feel safer in my own skin and be more comfortable in the ring and in locker rooms.”

“If we do it this way, we could entertain at the same time. Which I’m all about entertaining. Let’s make it look real, legit,” Moreno said. “So he let me have a lot of input on it. I was working with Lucky O’Shea at the time, she was their Women’s Champion. We had a match and I won, then after the match the referee, the owner, they all huddled and then they were like ‘we can’t.’ Because Lucky outed me after the match, so they took the belt from me.”

“I left the company for a few months, and then I came back. I got reinstated and had a match and I finally got my belt,” she continued. “[The storyline] outed me during that time with that company, which I was all for it. I wanted it. I needed it, because I was starting to get attention as a wrestler, and companies started to book me. I was already on my way to Mexico, so I wanted it to come out.”

“After that happened, I took off. Everybody was talking about Amanda. Everybody wanted to book Amanda nationwide,” Moreno said. “Not certain companies that I wanted to work for, because I wanted to work for certain places. I was hoping that this would open doors there, but it didn’t.”

Sexual Harassment and #SpeakingOut

While #SpeakingOut finally started to make change about sexual harassment and abuse in the wrestling industry one year ago, those actions have been happening in this business for years and unfortunately still do to this day. When we spoke, Mariah Moreno was candid about her own attempt to speak out several years ago and her own experiences facing harassment as a trans woman.

“There’s has been a lot of sexual harassment. There’s several promoters in the industry, one of them no longer promotes which is probably the biggest dirtbag in all of the West Coast,” she said.

“Several women went through it, and he was one of the reasons why I left pro wrestling to begin with. Several years ago, I believe it was 2015 or 2016, I had left for a little over a year because we tried to speak out then and it just didn’t work. It kinda backfired and made us look bitter, hateful,” Moreno said.

“Just to get a booking, you had to kind of like sweet talk your way in. Then, being trans, they made you feel like you weren’t good enough or no one’s gonna come see you wrestle because you’re trans,” she said.

“It was just always having to flirt, in a sense. Dirty talk, send a photo here and there, a little provocative photo in bra and panties. Just to get a good payday, and I just wanted to wrestle,” Moreno said. “I just wanted to make some money. It really sucked. It’s really sick that that’s how it is, even to this day.”

While progress has been made through #SpeakingOut and the removal of certain abusers from the wrestling industry, the reality is that work is far from over. If you’re able to, make a donation to the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund to help support individuals who’ve faced retaliation for speaking out about the sexual harassment they’ve experienced at work.

Marriah Moreno and Paris is Bumping

Despite the struggles she’s had to endure pushing her away from the industry temporarily, Mariah Moreno has continued to be a mainstay of the independent wrestling scene for over a decade. Last year, she got to be a part of the inaugural Paris is Bumping in a special Sex Siren performance.

“That was a lot of fun,” she said of the experience. “I’ve always wanted to be a sex symbol, in a sense. I’ve always wanted to be something like that. Especially because I watched wrestling during the diva era, the bra and panties match era, the bikini competitions, and all of that.”

“I’ve always wanted to be sexy and to strut my stuff in wrestling ring or to a wrestling audience. So, for me that was extremely fun. Completely honored that Billy [Dixon] asked me to do that, he’s a total sweetheart,” Moreno said.

“I want to be a part of anything that has to do with LGBT wrestling. When I’m not a part of something I do feel a little like ‘aww, man,’ but I’m also just happy to see it flourish the way it’s flourishing now. Just being able to witness it, for me it was amazing,” she said.

While Paris is Bumping was a groundbreaking and wonderfully entertaining event, it was filmed on a closed set with COVID tested performers when not enough people were vaccinated to safely have a live audience at the show. Mariah Moreno filmed her performance and it was edited into the final cut of the event on IWTV.

At Paris is Bumping: Solid Gold ’21 on July 10, Mariah Moreno will be there in person with an audience present at the event. While she’ll be competing in the main event at the end of the night, Moreno is also a part of the 2021 Paris Honors class along with Casey Michael and Faye Jackson.

“Oh my goodness, it’s an amazing feeling,” she said of being chosen. “I feel like it hasn’t necessarily set in. I don’t think it’s gonna set in until I’m actually there in person, but to get recognized for what I’ve done and my accomplishments and for my contributions to LGBT pro wrestling, I’m honored.

“I’ve told this to many people,” Moreno continued, struggling not to cry as she spoke. “I never in a million years thought that I would be considered a pioneer, or be seen in that type of light. I see people like Cassandro and Pimpinela, they’ve contributed so much more than I have. Their careers are full of moments that I can only imagine. That I wish I could have done or been a part of. Their careers make my career look like dust.

“It feels really, really good,” she said of the honor. “I’m inspired by it. I wanna continue to give and to add more. I wanna be a part of everybody’s careers now. I want to give back [to wrestling].”

At Paris is Bumping: Solid Gold ’21, Mariah Moreno will also be competing in the night’s main event against Edith Surreal for the Grand Prize Championship. Moreno discussed how she feels heading into this opportunity to share the main event with the next generation’s trans pioneer.

“I am so excited, and she’s such a well-rounded wrestler. She’s definitely in better shape than I am, even during the height of my career she’s in better shape than I am,” Moreno said. “I hope I can hang with her and prove to everyone that I still have it. Even prove to myself that I still have it, because sometimes I’m telling myself like, what am I doing? I can’t hang with these young kids who are monsters in that ring. They really are taking it to the next level, to a level I wish that I was able to during the height of my career.

“Edith knows her ground work. She’s gonna stretch me in ways that I’ve never been stretched,” Moreno continued. “I’m honored, and I’m so happy that I’m able to share a ring with her. We are gonna make history that night, so I’m hoping we can set a bar for trans pro wrestling and let the girls know ‘hey, you gals can do this.’ And Edith is definitely the future.”

Looking to the Future

As our conversation started to wrap up, the attention turned to the future. Specific to Moreno’s own in-ring future, I had the chance to ask if there were any other LGBTQ+ talents she hopes to be able to share the ring with in the coming years.

“I would definitely love to wrestle Candy Lee. I’ve had my eye on her for a couple of years now, she is amazing. She’s a diva at heart, and so am I, and I think our styles would definitely be entertaining,” she said. “I would love to wrestle Nyla [Rose] in a rematch. I would definitely love to work with her. We have miss Aubrey St. John, who has been around for several years but is just barely getting her feet wet as far as in-ring work goes. I would love to wrestle her.

“There’s [Dark] Sheik, I wanna wrestle her. I’ve been wanting to work her in a singles match. I wrestled her in tag team action at Hoodslam, I was She-Hulk. So it definitely wasn’t Mariah Moreno, but I want to wrestle Sheik as her, as who she is today. I would love to definitely kill it with her, because she’s amazing. She’s the embodiment of past, present, and future,” Moreno said. “Yeah, I mean, just about every single trans woman. All of them actually, I would love to work all of them.”

Finally, for as much progress has been made in the wrestling industry, there’s plenty more to be done. To close things out, I asked Mariah Moreno what she felt could be done to help continue moving the industry forward towards inclusion and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community.

“I would love to see more pro wrestling schools hang the rainbow flag in their dojo. For me, that’s very welcoming, heartwarming,” she said. “Another thing would be maybe for more companies to have an LGBT-inspired show, or more LGBT companies. Because we still have those companies that won’t book an LGBT wrestler, so why not have more of our own spaces to run to?”

“We have Full Queer later this month on the 20th in northern California,” Moreno said. “There’s not really much LGBT wrestling happening over here other than that right now. Hopefully, they continue that regularly. That would be amazing.”

“I would love for EFFY to bring his Big Gay Brunch to the West Coast, that would be such an amazing thing to continue doing that,” she said. “I would love for Paris is Bumping to come to California, maybe California is Bumping. I would love to see more of that happen everywhere in every state to open up minds so people can become more accepting.”

“I would love to see a lot more heterosexual wrestlers participate as well, and become allies and become open and loud about being allies,” Moreno said. “That’s very important. It’s not just important for us to be who we are and live loud, but for them to also help us. Help us be loud by embracing us and sharing experiences they’ve had with us, because I’m sure they can share some really cool experiences.”

You can follow Mariah Moreno on Twitter by clicking here. She will be at Pride 2021: Full Queer – Wrestling for Rights on June 20, 2021 from 4pm to 7pm PT in Pacheco, California and tickets are available here. The event should be available to watch on YouTube in the following days.

Tickets are also still available for Paris is Bumping: Solid Gold ’21, which takes place on July 10, 2021 from 7pm ET to 10pm ET in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey. The show will be available on IWTV at a later date.

If you are able to donate to help the fight for trans rights and further LGBTQ+ equality, please donate to the National Center for Transgender Equality by clicking here or donate to The Trevor Project by clicking here.

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