I’ve been a professional wrestling fan for over thirty years. My attention has faded during some phases, but my interest has brought me back after each lapse. You’d think something that has been such a part of my life would be a point of pride. I don’t always allow it to be. Sometimes I keep my mouth shut about my love of wrestling. Feeling a need to do so bothers me.

Why do I hesitate to admit my love for wrestling? That’s complicated. My friends know. My wife knows. I tend to downplay my interest among coworkers and the periphery of my social life. Many of the adults I know scoff at wrestling. They dismiss it and its fans. Defending my interest against their derisions is tiring, so I generally avoid discussing it around them.

My circles include few wrestling fans. Though some of my friends are casual fans, none share my devotion. I can thank my grandparents for first exposing me to wrestling, but most of the rest of my family has little, if any interest. My wife shares some slight interest, but hers is a mixture of nostalgia (her late father was a fan) and hormones (she thinks some of the guys are hot). I’m sitting in a proverbial empty arena.

I taught for many years. I can’t recall a colleague who followed wrestling. Nearly all of them—men and women—followed the local NFL and MLB teams, some to the point of fanaticism. At one school I taught at, not following football or baseball was considered close to sacrilege. To the contrary, following wrestling was seen as puzzling or juvenile. Neither football nor baseball has ever held my attention the way wrestling has. I was the lone teacher at this school without a jersey to wear on casual Fridays, but I also was the only teacher who knew the cards for upcoming wrestling PPVs. This left me way on the outside.

I related to some students through wrestling. Coworkers heard my conversations and asked, “Wrestling? Really?” The ones who considered themselves “serious” sports fans chided me for following a “fake” sport. I couldn’t talk with them about wrestling. They wouldn’t take my defenses or explanations of the business seriously. Some held misconceptions about wrestling that I found surprising. Attempting to educate them just made them laugh at me. With time, I learned to not bother.

A stigma associated with fandom still exists outside its core followers despite all of wrestling’s popularity. Wrestlers can be in films, appear on talk shows and get elected to office, but a large segment of society continues to look down upon the business. The dramatic elements come off as clownish to people (I’ll admit, sometimes the storylines and dialogue make me cringe, too). The scripted outcomes undermine wrestling’s status as a sport. Many sports fans think wrestling is beneath them even though the performances can be incredible, and the performers are phenomenal athletes. Others simply see it as a diversion for children.

The same people who belittle wrestling are likely to belittle wrestling fans. A childish spectacle is for childish people, they’ll say. Wrestling has definite fantasy elements. It attracts fans of other fantasy environments, in particular video games, comic books and science fiction. Though all three are now hugely popular and widely accepted in mainstream popular culture, snide remarks are still reserved for those in line at the comic convention. Wrestling fans get heaped in with this lot. My wife was quick to point this out at an indie show we attended. She thought the largely male audience looked like guys who didn’t have girlfriends and lived with their parents. I thought she was being a bit harsh, but her sentiments are fairly typical.

I detect some hypocrisy. Supposedly self-respecting adults will watch clearly staged reality television while criticizing wrestling and its fans. Fans of “real” sports will fixate on statistics and drafts much the way the supposed “nerds” they laugh at fixate on their distractions of choice. I’m not about to claim wrestling should be considered in the same kind of light competitive sports are. I won’t claim wrestling isn’t completely ridiculous at times. I will claim that it deserves more respect than it gets. So do its fans. I’m not ashamed to count myself among them. I’m disappointed that anyone else would chastise me for this.