Wrestler and artist Alicia McDaid (nomme de wrestling: Chemtrails) relished the opportunity to grace — or rather, disgrace — the runway at RuPaul’s DragCon over the weekend. “Hardcore Tina and I came out in a shopping cart, and it fell over at one point with me in it,” she says. “Flesh Eating Corpulous had already spit a bunch of blood onto the runway before we came on stage, so when I fell, Tina saw the blood and thought it was mine. But I was fine, I don’t mind falling down!”
Hardcore Tina and Flesh Eating Corpulous are McDaid/Chemtrails’ co-conspirators in the Future Ladies of Wrestling (FLOW), “a multimedia extravaganza in which the wildest interspecies wrestlers battle for the title of Ultimate Multiversal Warrior.” Or more simply put: A modern twist on the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW), the 1980s all-female wrestling company recently immortalized by the Netflix series of the same name. To boost their own name recognition and immortality, at DragCon (“the world’s largest drag culture convention”), the women of FLOW staged an impromptu battle royal — complete with some light punching and kicking and at least one snug camel clutch — on the event’s catwalk/dais.
The pairing — drag and professional wrestling — is more obvious than it may seem. “When you put on a look and reveal a whole other person inside you, that’s drag, and I think that’s what the people at World of Wonder [the company behind DragCon and RuPaul’s Drag Race] recognized about FLOW,” explains JJ Stratford, FLOW’s self-described “head bitch in charge,” or in more familiar wrestling vernacular, the “Vince McMahon” of the operation.
Stratford is the creator of a production company called Telefantasy Studios, which she describes as “a mutant movie studio that produces cult television programs, art installations, live shows, music videos and highly addicted simsense chips.” FLOW is her studio’s latest enterprise. “It’s my job to support the ladies in their wrestling careers and build out the world of FLOW,” she says. “We fight in the ring, but it’s pretty apparent that the Future Ladies of Wrestling love each other.”
At DragCon, Stratford hit the floor as the HBIC (as promised) with her eventual replacement in tow: “My daughter Xena is six months old and is known as the JBIC, the junior bitch in charge. One day she’ll inherit the FLOW dynasty, much like how Vince McMahon inherited the WWF from his father.” (And how, most likely, McMahon’s daughter, Stephanie, will inherit the promotion from him.)
Not surprisingly, both McMahon and GLOW serve as big inspirations — if in completely different ways. Stratford’s rejection of pro wrestling’s most retrograde sexist tendencies is in large part a fuck you to McMahon, who spent decades relegating female wrestlers to bikini matches, kimono matches, lingerie matches, thong stink-face matches, topless top-rope matches, evening gown matches, wet ’n’ wild matches, paddle-on-a-pole matches, pillow fight matches and bra-and-panties matches. And if McMahon’s so-called “WWE Divas” weren’t in various of states of undress for a “match,” they were in various states of undress as designated eye candy (i.e., valets) for his male stars. “That’s one of the reasons we have a bikini boy who comes out between the rounds and hands the ladies props, towels and whatever else they want. We exploit his handsome muscular physique and use him as an accessory to the wrestlers.”
GLOW’s influence, naturally, is much purer and fundamental. “In 1988, my mom, sister and I hired Matilda the Hun from GLOW to come to our house and attack my mom’s boyfriend during a party,” Stratford explains. “In many ways, that was the night the seed for FLOW was planted. Seeing an amazingly tall and fierce female wrestler in my living room, just a week after I was watching her on TV, made me feel like any dream could be made real.”
Stratford keeps that spirit alive in the characters found in FLOW, such as Eruptia, who is played by artist Pearl C. Hsiung. “Eruptia belongs to an ancient Pyroclastian race who have existed before and will exist long after the human race,” Hsiung says of the character’s trippy backstory. “Pyroclastians remained dormant in the many volcanoes of Earth, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury, Saturn and their many moons before global and galactic warming unleashed eons of dramatic eruptions and devastating flows. It was this cosmic catastrophe that unleashed me from the volcanoes of Venus and ignited my search for my Pyroclastian sisters!
“It was during my exploration that I found the Future Ladies of Wrestling, so I’ve allowed myself to partake as it’s a pleasurable release for my explosive energy, obsidian outbreaks and desire to devastate.”
Chemtrails is more Mad Men meets The Toxic Avenger. “Chemtrails used to be married to Don Draper and worked in advertising,” McDaid explains. “Then she woke up in a toxic waste dump one day with holes in her brain that left her in a constant state of confusion and paranoia and full of conspiracy theories. She thrives in total freedom, but she doesn’t know what that means exactly, especially when she’s so dangerous she has to be kept in a cage sometimes.”
So far, there have only been a handful of FLOW shows — DragCon included — but people love its subversive vibe. “I knew the shows would be fun, but I never expected the crowd participation to be so high level,” Stratford says. “At our second show, more people showed up than could fit inside the venue. Some fans were outside crying because they couldn’t get in.”
“Wrestling has such a hardcore fan base that fans are already aware of all the different leagues out there, so that draws in its own fan base, which becomes a cool crossover with the more artsy crowd we also draw in,” adds Bruce Bundy, the actress and filmmaker behind the aforementioned Flesh Eating Corpulous. “People lose their minds screaming, and they love it. In general, people are more reticent to participate or vocalize during live entertainment these days, but not during FLOW matches.”
Stratford says members of the audience always leave with a “FLOW glow,” and that while her events have a reputation as incubators for female power, her intention was “never purposefully feminist.” Or as she puts it, “We just got together and didn’t doubt ourselves. But next thing you know, we’re jumping off high ropes and kicking the shit out of toxic masculinity.”