Atlantis (5'8", 180#)

Atlantis vs Johnny Gargano (5'10", 199#)

Dasher Hatfield (5'10", 173#)

Rey Bucanero (5'10", 210#)

El Generico (5'11", 180#)

 Jigsaw (6'2", 189#)

 Jigsaw vs Eddie Kingston (5'11", 228#)

 UltraMantis Black (6'0", 206#)

 UltraMantis Black, Hallowicked (6'1", 192#), and Frightmare (5'7", 156#)

This past spring I bought my best girlfriend a lucha mask for her birthday. It was leopard print with cat's-eye highlights in black leatherette around the eye-holes. I made sure to get the mask from a registered fair-trade organization in Central America, just to ensure it wasn't sewn together by six-year-old girls making 18 cents a day. The gift's recipient was horrified and thrilled. Several of my straight friends know about my wrestling fetish, and, among the women, she has been the most supportive and encouraging. I bought a matching mask for myself--I felt compelled--in case she and I ever form a tag team, I suppose.

This is the sort of thing I would not have done two years ago. Kinks change. I did not like masks back then. Now I am warming up to them. I still don't fantasize (much) about masks, but I get them now. Apart from the melodramatic effect of a mask, I'm also feeling its eroticism a bit more deeply. In Nicholson Baker's latest literary art-porn, House of Holes: A Book of Raunch, just published (a quick and easy read--and recommended if you like silly, freaky smut), women visit a brothel in a parallel universe to (among other pursuits) have sex with men whose heads have been temporarily and voluntarily removed. These men can't talk, criticize, or intellectualize during sex. Their spinal cord carries the full weight of the men's nervous systems--focusing entirely on motion and sensation--no ideas, no personality, no will, no hang-ups. For the women, the experience draws their attention wholly to the men's bodies--letting them experience the thrill of impersonal sex, formerly the prerogative of males. Reading this section, I remembered looking at wrestling magazines as a teenager and every now and then putting my thumb on a wrestler's face, just so I could soak in the man's body. Masks achieve the same effect.

CHIKARA Pro is based in Philadelphia, and takes its name and logo from the Japanese word and character for "power." CHIKARA draws its inspiration from Japanese puroresu and Mexican lucha libre, hence the profusion of colorful masks. Like its working partner Dragon Gate USA, CHIKARA promotes speedy, high-flying, stylized action over the sweaty, grunting, and more sensual forms of wrestling I normally prefer. CHIKARA is all fireworks and monsters--the sex and violence notched down in its "for-the-whole-family" shows. Its website displays cartoon likenesses of its roster, uncovering photos as you slide the cursor across them. The DVDs are designed to resemble comic books.

Perhaps unintentionally, the promotion's use of masks and long tights, covering the body except for sudden, unexpected flashes of skin, has the erotic effect of both sexualizing and depersonalizing its performers. Masking makes the humdrum exotic. The generic becomes "El Generico." It's why a toolbox in bright holiday giftwrap is three times the present it would be without the initial concealment. I know, for instance, that Japanese design and fashion, with its ornate layering of silk and delicate, movable paneling--the influence of Heian (8th-12th centuries) concepts of beauty--is highly erotic--though (like so much Japanese culture) indirect, thus most Westerners' misapprehension of it as "modesty." These bodies are not simply shrouded. Unlike the burka, Asian body covering is not intended as a rejection of the erotic. The colors of flowers and fruit predominate, symbolizing eros, the life force, and a twelve-layered kimono deliberately accents and enhances the impact of a woman's hands and throat. Even the shaving of pubes (perceived as ugly to most Japanese eyes) both minimizes and excites.

Take, for instance, Jigsaw, pictured above. Notice how beautifully framed his torso is. It's a pretty torso on its own, but not spectacular--not stacked up against Chris Masters' or Big Sexy's mouthwatering bods. The cut of the tights elongates. The color red invigorates. The black bands and straps on the arms artfully suggest the bulge of biceps--and perhaps induce other bulges. And the simple abstraction of the mask makes me ache to see the man's beautiful face--for surely it is beautiful--the mask seems to promise beauty, while withholding it.

Scott Finkelstein took these photos at the Chikarasaurus Rex show in Philadelphia on July 31st. My opinions are my own and do not reflect the opinions or intentions of the CHIKARA organization, Mr. Finkelstein, or most normal people. But who needs normal?


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