What’s it like to be Mexico’s first openly gay, cross-dressing wrestler? Paul Imison of the El Paso Times profiles Cassandro, a 41-year-old El Paso native (born Saul Armendariz) who learned his lucha libre skills in Juárez and has been on the circuit since the age of seventeen. 

Drag wrestlers are known as exóticos, and unlike traditional lucha libre performers, they don’t always wear masks—their flamboyant personas are theatrical enough. Instead of bouts where the losing wrestler has to suffer the indignity of giving up his mask, exóticos have “hair vs. hair” matches in which, Imis writes, “they put their flowing locks on the line instead.”

Cassandro has also been a mainstay of Lucha Va Voom, the wrestling, burlesque, and comedy exhibiton that tours around America (and has an arty, hipster following in such cities as Seattle and Los Angeles). 

Cassandro won a Mexican wrestling championship in 1992, and is the current NWA welterweight champion. He tells Imison he hasn’t faced much homophobia: 

Of course, I’ve had drinks thrown at me, people in the crowd wanting to take a shot at me, but that happens to all the luchadors, gay or not. It’s part of the show; you’re there to be either loved or hated.

But he did say that initially, his bigger problem was with fellow wrestlers, some of whom did not want to make contact with him in the ring (other exótico wrestlers are not necessarily gay).

And, reportedly, as Adam Martin of Wrestleview.com wrote, plans for Cassandro to join the North American wrestling promotion TNA three years ago fell through because “Cassandro told friends he felt at least two people in TNA who would have had some control over his character were rude and homophobic.” TNA officials said that it was due to visa issues.

Cassandro is currently out of action for at least a year due to a recent knee surgery; there is a fundraising page to help with his expenses during his recuperation. Things often end badly for wrestlers even (perhaps especially) at the highest levels, not just due to injuries but also drinking, drug use, and depression. Cassandro fought his own battle with drugs and alcohol, but he has been sober since 2003.

He has also been planning for the future: Imison reported that Cassandro will likely have a post-wrestling career as a chiropactor and massage therapist, for which he has already been certified.  

You can see a gallery of the El Paso Times‘ Cassandro photos here, and below, a brief video of Cassandro from Lucha Vavoom:

And en español, a full-length clip of Cassandro on Experiencias, a TV show hosted by the lucha libre superstar el Hijo del Santo.