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Miss Gaviota, Mexico’s trans lucha libre wrestler

Wearing a glittery purple leotard, Miss Gaviota steps into a ring to roaring applause from the crowd, ready to go to battle with several masked, muscular men. 

Wendy Martinez, the woman behind the Miss Gaviota persona, is proud to call herself Mexico’s first transgender “lucha libre” wrestling star.

Undeterred by cries from the crowd of “puto” — a homophobic slur often heard in the stands of wrestling arenas — the 46-year-old leaps into attack.

“It’s part and parcel of the sport,” Martinez says of the insult.

The discrimination Martinez has faced on the streets of Mexico City has served as fuel for her career as an athlete.

“I have always been very hotheaded. I’d never let anyone say a word against me in the street. So, one day I thought: ‘Why not get into lucha libre? That way I’ll get paid to fight back.'”

Mexico is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for transgender people.

At least 87 members of Mexico’s LGBTQ+ community were killed in 2022 — a figure that has been on the rise for the past three years, according to the Letra S advocacy group.

Trans women were disproportionately impacted, representing more than 55 percent of those murders, according to Letra S.

– Beautician by day –

By day, Martinez runs a small beauty parlor in the modest building where she also shares her cramped home with several family members near Mexico City’s main square, the Zocalo.

“Lucha helps me to wind down when I get tired of my customers during the week,” Martinez says while cutting her aunt’s hair.

“When people speak about us (transgender people), they tend to speak about sex workers. But I’m just as at ease in the wrestling arena as I am here in the beauty parlor, or in the workshop making my costumes,” she adds.

Wrestlers robed in colorful, traditionally feminine outfits are not unusual in Mexico.

Male cisgender athletes dressed in drag — known as “exotics” — are a common feature of lucha libre.

But Martinez says her experience as a trans woman is different.

“I step out of the ring, and I have to face society all over again. It’s not just a matter of saying: ‘I’m taking off my false lashes and going home now.”

The participation of transgender athletes in sporting competitions has been a contentious issue in recent years.

The World Athletics association decided in March to bar trans athletes who had gone through male puberty from competing in female world ranking competitions.

But Martinez’s Miss Gaviota persona competes with men and women in a wrestling career that now spans more than 20 years.

“I’ll fight against whoever they put me up against, because I’m more than ready to face anyone,” she vows.

According to official figures, at least five million Mexicans aged over 15 identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community — more than five percent of the population.

For Martinez, her identity inside and outside the ring is a source of pride.

“Since I can remember I have considered myself a woman….

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