Depths of a Kanyon: Behind the Wrestler's Coming Out

BY Ivan Villanueva

February 28 2012 4:00 AM ET

WRESTLING REALITY CHRIS KANYON RYAN CLARK X320 | ADVOCATE.COMDo you see the different professional sports accepting openly gay athletes?
We keep hearing a little more about athletes who, for whatever reason, feel like they can come out. John Amaechi is one of them. I actually read Amaechi’s book, and that book came out while I was working with Chris. I’m not sure if Chris read the book, but I did, and it was touching. But are we accepting of the gay athlete right now? I don’t know if I can answer that question. I think we need more people who are keeping that secret to come out, because there was a young man in the audience the day that I met Chris who came up to me afterwards and he told me, I’m going to come out to my parents, because of Chris’ speech. And he did. He talked to me about how much he appreciated to see somebody like Chris, to see somebody who had achieved so much, to have him as a role model. Athletes today who are gay need those kinds of role models in sports. All the major sports, to be able to look up to them and say, yeah I’m a gay man or I’m a gay woman and I have role models too in these sports, and I can be anything I want to be. Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean I can’t succeed in the macho world of pro-football. It would be nice to have somebody, even if it was just one person, an active athlete who would say I’m gay and I’m a professional athlete and can be a role model for those kids who are out there.

Can you speak about the binary within the wrestling world between the masculine character and the feminine aspects?
[Chris and I] did talk a little about this. Before he came out, he would come home from his work, and he would leave his Chris Kanyon character, and he would be Chris the heterosexual man to his friends, which was playing another role. But it goes deeper than that because it’s like you’re playing a different person, and then when you step out of the ring, if you’re not honest with who you are, you are continuing to play another person. That was probably something that was very attractive to Chris because he could play something that he was not. That was something that he enjoyed. He was confused about who he was, but when he would have to go out and play another role in his private life, it further confused him because he was like, who am I really then? And it only became something that he could deal with after he came out. Because then at least he could be honest to himself and other people about who he really was.

Do you think that confusion ultimately led to his decision to commit suicide?
Well there really is no way to know, but I think there is no way to say that it couldn’t. It had to. Chris was in sports entertainment. It’s not really sports. It's not really a play, you know, it's sports entertainment. Yes, it’s scripted, but the things that you do are very real. When you get hit by a chair, the chair is very real. He was bi-polar, manic-depressive, he had held this secret about being gay for more than 20 years. He had taken steroids for a period of time—we still don’t know what those do to you. And he’d gone through the sports entertainment industry where he had taken repeated shots to the head, which caused multiple concussions. So you had all of these things that could have added up to what could possibly have affected him to take his own life. Do we know [completely]? No. But for me, I have to think all of those things must have had an effect.

What is one thing you would want readers to take from the book?
You know, we’re walking a tightrope here because we wanted to write a book for all people. The audience is Chris’s wrestling fans, and readers who are gay but not into wrestling. So what we want to do is not alienate any of those people. We want to write a book for everybody. And at the same time, for somebody like me who was a wrestling fan and is not a gay man, and doesn’t know what it's like to go through that, I was interested in it as well. So what I want to put out there is that you don’t have to be a wrestling fan, you don’ t have to be a gay man or a gay woman to be interested in this story. This story is something that can appeal to everybody. Like we said, whether or not you have felt you are a minority in some way in your life, if you’ve felt like you’re on the outside looking in, or whether you have doubted yourself, this story is inspirational because Chris had a one in a million shot. He actually reached his goal of being on TV once a week, he was a millionaire, he had an action figure made out of him, he was on video games. He was a national iconic figure every week on television. He was a professional wrestler. He lived his dream. But he also had these demons, and I think we can all identify with that. So it is a very real story, it is a tragedy. But Chris wanted people, especially gay people, to read this and be inspired to come out, to be honest about who they are. I think he hoped that somehow, in the world of wrestling, people would read this story and we would get a little bit closer to having a society that is accepting of a gay character.

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