Lucha Libre is not just a sport.
It’s also theatre.
And it’s a kind of ritual violence, acting for its audience like a communal catharsis.
Wrestling characters destroy each other in the name of good and evil, often echoing issues of politics or identity in the Mexican psyche.
Exóticos (queer, cross-dressing wrestlers) had traditionally played the role of the bad guy (known as a rudo) since they first emerged in the 1940s as an effeminate ‘threat’ to the macho order of Lucha Libre
For 40 years, exóticos were figures of shame, openly abused by the audience, and their homosexuality was always presumed to be an act.

Enter Saul Armendáriz as Cassandro in the late 80s.

An openly gay wrestler, he turned this narrative around by becoming the first exótico to win a world title in 1992.

Today, Cassandro plays the role of a good guy (known as a técnico), adored for his fighting prowess and lavishly kitsch costumes.

He walks into the arena cloaked in glittering gowns of taffeta ruffles and diaphanous trains that billow behind him as he runs into the ring, before he rips them off to reveal the rock-like body of a fighter, sheathed in lycra.

Having escaped an abusive childhood in Ciudad Juárez, the then-murder capital of the world, Armendáriz has battled through drug addictions that left him homeless, and survived a suicide attempt.

Named after a Tijuana prostitute who gave her earnings to the poor, today Cassandro is out the other side, sober, and an activist for diversity.

I’d been abused as a kid since the age of six. I’d been molested, beat up on and abandoned by my father. Through Lucha Libre I found courage and I could heal a lot of the stuff that I was carrying around

I have always been Catholic, but when I was a kid everybody told me I couldn’t be gay or I couldn’t dress like that because I would burn in hell.

But I knew that I was a precious child of God and that being gay was a gift from God to me. I turned to spirituality with my indigenous community, and we do a lot of ceremonies and dances.

Saul Armendáriz as Cassandro

I had to really show people not to label us as just gays, but to respect us, to look at why we’re in the ring: because we are talented” — Saul Armendáriz
Saul Armendáriz has over 300 costumes and like 35 or 40 gowns, and then I have my hairpieces, my feathers, and 15 pairs of wrestling boots.