Have you ever sat and thought about Mariah May for a second? Like, what’s her character about beyond all the viral segments and the most blatant and obvious lesbianism?

Because, of course, that last part takes credit for everything Mariah, Toni Storm, and Mina Shirakawa have been doing these past months with this story I’m about to tell for the ones who didn’t get it at first. I’m not going to blame you all, it’s hard to get something when you didn’t live through it. Wrestling storylines tend to have this thing: all can be something you’d relate to. Whether it is the familiar underdog trope where the good guy has to struggle to get what he wants, and once he gets it feels like a whole new chapter in his life, or the story where the best of friends turn into bitter enemies just because life wanted it that way, every story is meant to awaken something inside of you as a viewer.

Mariah May’s story is a tragic tale about the loss of one’s own identity and goals over the love of someone. If we think about it for one second, the mere idea of Mariah May in AEW programming has been associated with Toni Storm from the beginning because Mariah was presented as Toni’s protege and her allegiance. Yet, nothing out of the ordinary happened then: I mean, it was just a villainous yet charismatic duo doing the common tropes we all expected them to do, but then, Mariah started dressing as Toni. And I’m not talking about dressing like Toni, more like being the old Toni. Mariah began to be the old Toni, and she desired to be like that, she desired to be like her partner because she couldn’t live with the idea she wouldn’t live up to her standards and disappoint her. After all, she was timeless, and Mariah was just stuck in time. Things started to get interesting here because what was already a story of Toni’s ego eating her alive became something that one shouldn’t expect to see in American wrestling or any kind of wrestling. Toni fell in love with Mariah, but not Mariah as herself, but “Toni’s Mariah.”

When I say “Toni’s Mariah,” I mean the Mariah that was built by Toni in an attempt to create an exact copy of herself just so she can pleasure her ego even more. Toni’s love for Mariah is not for Mariah, but for who she thinks is Mariah: a doll built by Toni to satisfy no one BUT the Women’s Champion. And, of course, it’s easy to get past this whole narrative because the three protagonists in this whole thing won’t have any trouble in building stories for the female gaze, contrary to the common belief that “sexual” stories have always been for “the boys.” This way of treating this story, embracing a more open and queer ideology behind all of this, has made many fans (preferably male) uncomfortable with Toni as a character and everything that surrounds her universe, and to be honest, I don’t blame them. Not because this story is uncomfortable (it’s not) but because we girls have a different approach to storytelling. When we create stories of any kind, we’ll always embrace the deepest of tragedies as ways to tell what we want to tell, and this is not exclusive to pro wrestling but any type of art that has been created. I could give examples now of works that have been known for being tragic and sad but honest depictions of what it means to love. Said stories have always loved to use the idea of drama as one exaggerated source of inspiration to build the most compelling narratives. For example, Taylor Swift doesn’t make songs for anyone but her fans. You can’t just listen to Taylor’s work without making a deep dive into everything that happened in her life, and sometimes that’s not even enough to connect with her work. Our stories are not meant for everyone to consume, and it’s okay if you feel like you don’t get it because, surprise, you don’t get it.

But back to Mariah, I found her nature in AEW to be chaotic and representative of who she is and who she aspires to be. Every Mariah match is made and thought knowing Toni is somewhere watching. Mariah wants to make the love of her life proud, or at least that’s what she believes. It’s important to clarify Toni doesn’t see Mariah as an individual free of choice but as someone who will always be there for her as a mirror of herself: the kind of mirror that would say Toni is beautiful when she asks for it. The type of mirror that will never reflect who Mariah is truly, but who she’s forcing herself to be to get Toni’s love and gratitude. And Toni is legitimately the most manipulative human being not named Swerve Strickland in AEW right now, therefore she’ll never allow Mariah to be who she is and will always stay by her side to silently remind her of her status as a mere object for Toni’s joy. That’s Mariah May for you. That’s what her existence has been reduced to. A mere toy for Toni to play with that will be doomed to appeal to Toni’s long-lost heart in an attempt to reach her hand.

Enter Mina Shirakawa.

Notably a force of nature unlike any other, Mina is a wrestler who has three things Toni doesn’t have: A theme song inspired by Danza Kuduro, status as a real star on television, and infinite love to give. Mina knew Mariah before Toni, and she introduced her to the STARDOM aficionados as her partner in Club Venus. In Mariah’s words: “Mina was the beautiful and talented girl she met in STARDOM, and was something like her girlfriend.” When asked about the dynamics between Toni and Mina, Mariah simply said she’s found in the center of it all. If you’ve never known Mina before, the first impression you’ll have of her is that she’s at least a very energetic girl. She knows how to work for the camera more than half of the wrestlers in AEW right now, therefore her presence is easy to recognize, and said energy is contagious. So contagious, that Mariah was found again in the hands of who she called her girlfriend. And Mina didn’t waste any second and kissed her in the middle of the ring. 

The kiss between Mina and Mariah was one of the first segments that took off in this feud, beyond all the Toni shenanigans that have earned a place in AEW’s most relevant programming. The explicit nature surely caught the attention of many folks who were quickly drawn to this feud by these kinds of segments, mirroring what the other big company is doing with their big feud for the Women’s Title. The difference between that story and this story is that while both stories are meant to be consumed as dramas, one is meant to be consumed under the male gaze, while the other is meant to be consumed under the female gaze. Pro wrestling is one of the few arts where appealing to the female gaze hasn’t been explored enough, a result of what the industry has been since the beginning. When you appeal to the female gaze, you gain a more loyal audience that will be behind every move in your story. There are many examples of how we girlies made acts bigger just by talking about them, The Shield being one of the most recent ones. What’s happening with Mariah goes beyond some cheesy segments: she’s struggling to love. She’s living with a dilemma of who she loves the most between her master/idol and her best friend/girlfriend. Mariah is conflicted between who she aspires to be and who she is because who she aspires to be could be merely what she has been conditioned to by Toni. 

After all, the Women’s Champion is everything but a fool, she knows that this is happening, and she’s making sure Mariah believes her love is true and honest over all the REAL things Mina feels for her. Toni realizes she could lose Mariah at any given moment once she realizes everything that has been going on was a farce. That’s why she’s now telling Mariah she loves her and she’s annoyed by Mina’s presence, not only because she could take away her precious title, but because she can put Mariah against Toni.

The thing with this is that this story already has gone there and has exposed a widely different approach that, for once, is focusing and appealing to the girls. When Mariah arrives at her coming of age, she will feel betrayal and pain like she never felt before because, let’s not forget she still loves Toni, even if Toni never loved her back. This is one of the first LGBT+ stories told on American TV that is not portrayed as some kind of joke. It’s more powerful and more emotional than just three girls embracing what before was seen or understood as a fetish or “goon bait” (in fact, many folks treat it like this because they don’t understand it). And to be honest, it’s the idea of normalizing queer stories and not treating them like some kind of taboo or plug you would only bring up for June what truly makes me talk about this. This is not a story that has turned up a notch, it was always this because it defies the idea of a heteronormative narrative being considered normal, altering it all and making sure people know it’s the girls’ turn to tell a love story. And we know what’s being told here because some of us have been forced to be someone we’re not just because of love. Oh, that disgusting yet beautiful feeling that will finally be portrayed in wrestling as WE want. This is a tragedy of one caterpillar, who in the necessity of love will be treated as mere prey and deny its blossoming. It’s exaggerated, it’s dramatic, it’s all over the place, and it’s uncomfortable for you, a young and delusional man who declares himself “tired of this lesbian goon bait” but will applaud said goon bait as soon as it’s something that appeals to you.

This is our way of telling a story—the story of a tormented soul named Mariah May.

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Roma Faliani is a content writer who one day decided she was going to try and change people’s perspective on wrestling. She knows more than she should about this, and is dramatic about this craft sometimes. Follow Roma on Twitter @RomiDori19 and Tumblr.