Terrence Griep, a.k.a. The SpiderBaby Gay pro wrestler and DC Scooby-Doo comic book writer
As Loring Park's Terrence Griep puts it, the center of wrestling is basically "two greasy guys rolling around each other on a mat." Thus, the association between pro wrestlers and homosexuality doesn't exactly surprise him -- "that's not even subtext, that's just text."
However, while burly men (and a few women) grapple, slam and intertwine in the ring, the gay ones don't come out of the closet. Except for Griep -- or, as he is known in the ring, "The SpiderBaby."
According to "Out" magazine, and as far as Griep knows, he's the nation's only openly gay pro wrestler. He competes/performs with Midwest Pro Wrestling (MPW) in Maple Grove, one of many smaller federations outside World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE), the industry's Wal-Mart.
Griep is also an essayist for local GLBT publications known for decrying how few gay professional athletes come out preretirement. Thus, for him, scrunching his muscular lower body into blue spandex with a giant red spider print splaying across his butt is a political thing.
"The lesson is 'hate me for what I do, not who I am,'" Griep said.
From what he describes as his "spider hole" of an apartment, Griep also writes Scooby-Doo comic books. While this may seem a far reach from wrestling, for Griep it's all of a piece: using solid story lines for unlikely consciousness-raising in even more unlikely places.
Gen X brat
The SpiderBaby is one bad baby. The buff, pouty Gen Xer considers himself a "postmodern wrestler" and delights in decimating his opponents while spewing quasi-New Age tripe -- "Now, now, one shouldn't judge others," he chides booing audience members at Maple Grove's "MPW Arena" as he chokes some "nice guy" character.
The SpiderBaby also regularly insults the good people who fork over five bucks to see the shows. During one pause in a match, a large gentleman seated front-and-center shouted at him, "Hey, you've got a giant spider on your ass."
"Yeah, and you've got a chair on yours," The SpiderBaby replied, "and it looks like it's been there awhile."
Refs are just fodder for his antics. After being chastised for biting his opponent (an illegal move), The SpiderBaby demands to know why he's the one being yelled at -- "[the other guy] tastes terrible -- like a girl . . . I think."
Such references to his sexuality (both Griep's and his character's) generate in-the-know laughter, not heckling, from the audience. In fact, The SpiderBaby was recently elected MWP commissioner (a sort of secondary role for him in the big soap opera) by his devoted fans.
Griep acknowledges that The SpiderBaby's hallmark taunting is his alter ego come out to play -- not something he had to conjure in wrestler camp. He said MPW training focuses more on the physical side: learning how to fall and avoid injuries while appearing to suffer.
Griep initially signed on for wrestler training to improve his role as an MPW commentator. After catching MPW on local TV, Griep called the federation to tell them they needed a bad boy commentator -- and with his writing and occasional acting and voiceover work, he was their man.
MWP happened to be looking for a sportscaster, and soon after an informal meeting Griep was ringside, bending rules for villains -- "That's not choking. He's just massaging his throat."
He also twirled the requisite bad guy commentator accoutrements, including feather boas, and ended up playing into the flaming, evil and we-know-he's-not-really-straight (wink, wink) pro wrestling archetype (think Jesse "The Body" Ventura). It disturbed Griep that his sexuality was being used as subtext for evilness, so he decided to divorce his homosexuality from his antics by coming out to the crowd.
During training, Griep proved himself to be an effective wrestler. Now he both provides commentary and wrestles, depending on the match.
Since his first match last November, Griep's had his share of bruised heels and sprained ribs -- making it painful for the same man who regularly springs onto opponents from the second rope to even walk or cough -- but they've been due to his misplacing an arm, foot or his head a couple inches off the mark.
While Griep sees the impressive physicality and ostentatious yet intricate moves as a big draw, he believes good storylines are essential. He sees the matches as testosterone-drenched "soap operas," complete with heroes and villains that personify facets of, and thus suck in, audience members.
Griep dreams of joining the big-time WWE; however, while the federation has been full of "flaming homo" characters, he's not sure it's ready for "a character who's overtly gay but not flaming."
While The SpiderBaby seems to have little in common with his famous namesake, Spider-Man, Griep said he considers the webbed wonder's creator, Stan Lee, a bastion of soap opera-action writing.
After graduating from the University of Minnesota with a degree in speech communications and German literature -- Griep said that's Latin for "can't get a corporate job" -- he went hunting for non-9-to-5 work.
He pursued freelance writing, building Web pages, manuals, etc., and rediscovered his boyhood love for comic books. He inundated DC Comics headquarters with unsolicited writing samples and manuscripts. Eventually, they asked him to write some Scooby-Doo comics. "They must've figured I was crazy, but at least I'd be reliable," Griep figured.
While his Scooby-Doo stories include the telltale "zoinks," binge-burger-eating and last-minute twists, Griep slips in support characters that challenge stereotypes of all kinds: a well-spoken black security guard proves more helpful than the Schwarzenegger look-alike at his side; a blonde-blue-eyed gentile (gasp!) bride turns out not to be the one trying to bring down the synagogue.
It may seem odd that someone with consciousness-raising on the mind would make The SpiderBaby a villain; however, Griep is not only comfortable with his approach, he believes it is more effective.
Griep expects that some sort of overtly homosexual hero would only backfire -- not that people would throw things at him in the ring, but that they wouldn't be able to identify with a more one-dimensional character-cum-propaganda.
People can identify with the idea of attacking their boss/the referee, Griep said. Thus, The SpiderBaby "just happens to be light in the laces."
For more information on Midwest Pro Wrestling, go to midwestprowrestling.com. (Their next televised match is March 6,2 p.m. on Channel 45.) The SpiderBaby can be contacted directly at Sp1derbaby@aol.com.