Accepted: Wrestling superstar Pat Patterson comes out in a charming memoir
by Drew Rowsome -
Wrestling superstar Pat Patterson admits very early on in his autobiography Accepted: How the First Gay Superstar Changed WWE that his major motivation in life is to entertain. The man loves to be in front of an audience. Accepted chronicles how Patterson became a wrestler in the late '50s and now revels in being a behind the scenes (except when he is on air as a commentator, instigator or celebrity) World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) creative consultant and producer, semi-professional singer and now author. He muses that if not for wrestling he might have become a stand-up comedian. Judging by the breezy light tone of Accepted, that career path might just have worked out as well.
Patterson writes as if he were telling tales over a few beers, the gay man of a certain age regaling the youngsters with memories of the old days. Accepted is a fun fine read mainly because Patterson did have many adventures all of which he apparently took in stride. He wrestled with Andre the Giant, discovered and launched the career of The Rock (Dwayne Johnson), toured the world, was hero and villain, invented the "Royal Rumble" match, and at 73 joined in a Chippendales routine as part of the Legends House reality TV program.
And through it all he was a gay man. For most of the book, Patterson sticks to his basic thesis that no-one cared he was gay and everyone knew. And while reading, one believes it. This is not a hard-hitting expose or think piece. The few times Patterson does encounter homophobia, he confronts it and moves on, though he still nurses a grudge. It is only at the end of the book that the facade cracks and Patterson expresses regrets about the closet he lived in and announces his plans to help gay youth avoid what he went through.
There had to be more angst than graces the pages of Accepted. Patterson was at one dubbed "Pretty Boy Patterson" and on occasion wrestled as a "heel" exploiting the most vicious of gay stereotypes. There is much rich and conflicting material to be explored there, but it is glossed over. Wrestling has always had a deep gay subtext and has often traded in the most homophobic of slurs, yet seeing a strong flamboyant man in the ring also gave hope to gay kids everywhere. It would be fascinating to know how Patterson sees his role in it all.
But what Accepted does offer is an addictive, if meandering, read. The core of the book is Patterson's 40-year relationship with Louie Dondero and it is a charming glimpse at what a gay relationship was like in a time when same-sex marriage was not even a feasible fantasy. Patterson portrays Dondero as a saint and bemoans that even now he can't refer to him, the love of his life, as other than "a friend." Whenever anyone is suspicious, Dondero charms them. A passage about golf and mementos is so heartfelt and beautiful that I had tears in my eyes.
When AIDS appears on the scene, their open relationship becomes an exclusive one. Here Patterson is much more circumspect than I would have liked: he refers to adventures on the road but never dishes the dirt, preferring to chronicle practical jokes that are not quite as entertaining as he seems to believe. He dismisses a sex harassment charge that almost cost him his prominent position in the WWE with a denial and a few scant sentences. He is humble and self-deprecating but also far too discreet.
I was surprised to find how intriguing the wrestling history, running parallel to the gay theme, is. I have in the past watched bits of wrestling enjoying the muscles and spandex, I have a personal vested interest because of Vampiro Canadiense and a long ago fling with a second tier incarnation of "Mad Dog" but I can't pretend to have any interest in wrestling. I had no idea who Ray Stevens - the other half of "The Blond Bombers" - was but the adventures the pair had in both bars and the overly dramatic culture of wrestling fandom are enthralling. And there can never be enough stories about drinking with the prodigiously gifted imbiber Andre The Giant.
Beginning the tale with his impoverished childhood in Montreal transcends clichés when Patterson discovers wrestling and becomes enthralled. Through his eyes, so do we, and we willing accompany him on his journey. The hardscrabble struggle of the early days and even the politics of being WWE CEO Vince McMahon's right-hand man are curiously compelling, all the more so because of Patterson's ambling upbeat delivery.
The extra bonus is that Accepted is packed with photographs. Patterson and Louie were definitely lookers in their prime, and watching their style change with the passing decades, right up to the garish Hulkmania of the recent past, is a visual sample of a specific slice of gay history. Patterson being such a looker, even now he is a DILF, means there is probably a lot of gay history he has left out of the pages of Accepted. While a little more dirt and a little more introspection would have made Accepted brilliant, it is irresistibly entertaining and anyone reading it will want to sidle up to the bar, buy Patterson a beer and try to wrestle more stories out of him.