Mike Parrow on being an openly gay wrestler, going viral and what he meant by “masculine-shaming”

By : Jeremy Williams
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Mike Parrow is a 34-year-old professional wrestler in Orlando, Florida. At 6 feet, 4 inches and weighing in at over 300 pounds, he towers over most people he comes in contact with. While his outward appearance impresses confidence, inside Parrow spent years gripped by panic that those around him would discover a secret he was keeping: he is gay.

Parrow first faced that fear about four years ago after he met Morgan—the man who would eventually become his fiancée—by coming out to those closest to him: friends, family and some co-workers.

Publicly, Parrow came out in December during an in-depth interview with the LGBTQ website GayStarNews.com.

“Since doing that interview I have had a lot of positive comments about the story and support from people around the world,” Parrow says. “But the ‘masculine-shaming’ comment that I made didn’t go over well with some, and I tell people this is my story. It’s not everyone else’s experience, and not a generalization, this is just what happened to me.”

Shortly after that first interview made him an online viral sensation, Parrow spoke with Watermark about LGBTQ role models, finding love and what he meant by “masculine-shaming.”

Watermark: The article on GayStarNews.com was your official coming out to the world but you have actually been out for quite a few years in Orlando.

Mike Parrow: Yeah. I actually started coming out four and a half years ago for my boyfriend. I don’t really put my personal life out there in my profession. A little of it is to protect others around me because social media can be not the nicest place in the world.

You grew up in New York and went to college in South Carolina where I read you were contemplating law school?

My background is political science and the next logical step for me was law school, and most of my friends were going into law school at the time. So I thought, ‘OK, maybe law school’s for me.’ I’ve always enjoyed law and politics so it seemed like the next logical step, but law wasn’t this big calling for me. It wasn’t something that deep down I was longing to do.

So what made you rethink your career path?

I had volunteered to work for a political campaign and I realized this all wasn’t for me. So I took a year to figure out what it was that I did want, and I had a lot of my friends telling me, ‘Dude, all you ever do is talk about professional wrestling, why don’t you give it a go.’ My first thought was I didn’t go to school to be a professional wrestler, but thinking about it—that is my passion and what I love. So why not give it a go?

Were you a fan of WWE when you were growing up, and if so who was your favorite wrestler?

Yeah, I was a huge fan. Favorite wrestler was Mick Foley. He was Mankind and Dude Love. He played several different characters, but he is absolutely one of my favorites.

Is he who you model your character and career after?

Mick Foley was my inspiration for believing that I could do this. I think he is one of the best storytellers and promo men that has ever come across this sport. I wouldn’t say my style is like his. My style is more of a bruiser kind of guy. I’m a heavyweight so I don’t do a bunch of high flying stuff. I just beat you up. My style is more suplexes and clotheslines, kicks and punches.

How did deciding to become a wrestler land you in Central Florida?

The 3D Academy in Kissimmee is actually one of the best wrestling schools in the world. You learn the ins and outs, and the psychology of the business. More importantly, how to survive the business. Plus they don’t lie to you.

A lot of schools will teach you the basics of the sport and send you off. 3D lets you know that it’s a tough business to break into and they give you the tools to succeed. It’s your job to succeed. They don’t promise you a contract with WWE by the end of your training. In fact, the training is very intense. It’s a year-long process of them breaking you down and building you back up into a very, very good product. That’s why I choose them over some of the other schools out there.

I read in the interview that when you first came to Central Florida you started to “test the waters,” so to speak, on your sexuality. How did you first start testing those waters?

I didn’t start off going to bars or clubs at that time because I was terrified. I have always known that I’m gay, but I came here in 2009 and decided that since nobody really knows me here, I’m here by myself, let’s start trying to understand me and figure myself out.

So when I first started to come out, I’ll admit that I didn’t really know how to talk to guys in a romantic setting. I didn’t know any of the lingo. I didn’t know anything about the gay community. Growing up I didn’t have any gay friends. So I didn’t know the ins and the outs of that world, and on top of that at that time I was petrified of being outed. So I started with your ever popular apps —Grindr, Scruff. It was the worst experience of my life.

What kind of encounters did you have?

I would log on and have messages from guys telling me I was fat, I was ugly. I would get attacked because I didn’t know or understand the terms. I didn’t know what a bear was, or what a twink was. I assumed when you are filling out your profile and it asks if you are athletic that it meant are you athletic, do you play sports? I wrestle and played football, I didn’t know that it referred to a body type.

The entire experience forced me back into the closet. Also at the time I’m trying to find gay friends and the guys wanted nothing to do with me because they said I was a closet case. It was just a very lonely time for me, and I didn’t feel like I had anyone in the community to talk to.

You talked about falling into a deep depression at that point, even trying conversion therapy?

I thought if I could just overcome the gay thing I would be fine. I did go through conversion therapy, which obviously didn’t work. I went and talked to my priest. I did everything I could think of and tried very hard not to be gay. I thought if I come out completely I would be shaming my family. It was all so much that I decided I was going to take my own life.

What stopped you?

I was ready to do it and I got a call from a friend of mine, a wrestling friend who didn’t know about my situation. He was just going through some stuff himself and said he needed to talk about it and something clicked in my head: ‘yeah, people do care about me and they need me.’

I’m very big on my religion, and I know it sounds crazy and I never push my beliefs on anybody, but I prayed and asked for an answer. Shortly after that, I met Morgan.

How did you and Morgan meet?

Morgan was a bartender and I saw him and was like ‘wow.’ I kept going to the bathroom so I could walk past him and get a better look. If he noticed me he must have been thinking ‘this guy has the weakest bladder ever.’ I left without talking to him and was really pissed at myself because I didn’t have any courage to go up and say hi. I mean, I still don’t know how to talk to guys. I am so awkward.

Then I saw him at Publix and I was going through the aisles looking at him. I’m sure it was the most ridiculous thing to see a 6-foot, 300-pound man following this guy around. Again, I don’t say anything.

I ended up downloading one of those apps again and saw him on it and said hi. We ended up going on a date, and it was the worst date ever. I’m nervous as hell and I don’t know what to talk about. Turns out we are polar opposites. I wanted to talk about sports, and he’s really smart and into computers and video games. We didn’t have anything in common, besides the fact that we found each other very attractive.

So how did you find that common ground?

Well, after that first date we didn’t talk for three weeks. I was still hesitant about being open and public about being gay. So on that first date I told him he’s never going to meet my friends, I’m never coming out, I’m staying in the closet and you can only come to my house. So of course he didn’t call me back. Who stays with a guy like that? I was really bad about coming out. But I liked him so I decided I was going to have to change my thinking, so I started coming out slowly.

I started opening myself up and making gay friends, but they would tell me that I was too butch and that I needed to be more involved in gay things.

Is that what you meant when you said guys were “masculine-shaming” you?

Yeah. I was told that I need to watch more drag shows and I talk about sports too much. They would tell me it would help me to be a better gay, and I said ‘I’m telling you I’m gay, I have a boyfriend. Why isn’t that enough to make me a part of the community?’

I was getting comments like that more and more. I know saying this upsets a lot of people, but this is what happened to me. Does it happen like this everybody? I don’t know. I don’t know everyone else’s story.

How have the other wrestlers been since you came out?

My wrestling friends and my straight friends have been the most supportive people in my life. When I was afraid to go to a gay bar they would all go with me. In fact it was my straight friends who convinced me to do that article because I had talked to them about how I didn’t feel like I had a gay role model that looked like me growing up. That kid sitting in the locker room who can’t turn to his buddy and talk about how he doesn’t think Sara is cute, but he likes John.

I’m so happy and humbled by the attention my coming out has gotten but I would love it if we got to a place where this isn’t a story anymore. I would love to be at a place where any athlete coming out is just a normal thing, and we just aren’t there yet. That’s why I did this. Maybe my story can show that even if you’re gay there are role models of all kind in the community. Just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you can’t play sports.

Can we expect to see this part of your life filter into your wrestling persona?

I’m lucky to work for two different promotions: Gabe Sapolsky’s EVOLVE and Court Bauer’s Major League Wrestling (MLW). I told them both that I’m gay when I started working and I wanted to know if that would be a problem and they both said ‘No, why would that be a problem?’ They let me be me so that’s who my character will be. Doing a gay storyline you have to look how you’re going to do that, and I don’t want to do it like a Billy and Chuck thing.

[Billy and Chuck were a WWE tag team with a same-sex storyline in 2002. The team revealed it to be a publicity stunt which led to a backlash from the LGBTQ community.]

But I think the sport is ready and I think the audience is ready for a strong, gay storyline and character. Both organizations I work for are so supportive of not only myself, but of the LGBTQ community. And they are giving gay wrestlers a shot, so we need more of the community to come out and support the shows. The storylines will be reflective of the audience and the more of the community we can get out there the more we can give them the stories they want to see.

Mike Parrow can be seen as a part of MLW, with events Feb. 8 and March 8 at Guilt Nightclub in Orlando and as a part of EVOLVE with events airing on WWNLive.com throughout the year.

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