Reclaiming Chyna: How To Honor The Wrestling Superstar's Legacy

Photos by Getty

"She was brutal, she was badass, and yet she was beautiful"

Although waves of fashionable nostalgia have millennials remembering the late-'90s and early-'00s as a time of optimistic girl power, the culture at the turn of the century was undeniably misogynistic. Women like Lorena Bobbitt, Monica Lewinsky, and Tonya Harding were excoriated in public, victimized by both the men in their lives, and by the media who made them the subjects of never-ending cruel jokes. In the pro-wrestling world during that time, the suffering and objectification of women was readily on display for chauvinist entertainment; with few exceptions (including notable feuds between groundbreaking stars like Lita and Trish Stratus), women's matches were often written more as softcore porn than as legitimate competitions.

Exempt from this kind of treatment was Chyna who, after years of training with the legendary Killer Kowalski and working on the independent scene, was introduced to the WWF audience at the In Your House: Final Four pay-per-view, held in February of 1997. Joanie Laurer—later known as the 9th Wonder of the World—made her debut during a match with Hunter Hearst Helmsley aka Triple H—then portrayed as a cocky Connecticut aristocrat—with whom she later became romantically involved in real life. The fight was against Goldust (a queer-coded, glammed-up babyface), who at the time was accompanied to the ring by Marlena (gender-subverting, cigar-smoking femme fatale). Chyna suddenly appeared at the conclusion of the match, grabbing Marlena's head in her massive arms and ragdolling the petit coquette until the two were separated by security.

"When Chyna debuted, everyone was stunned," says Val Capone, a roller derby competitor and pro-wrestling ring announcer based out of Chicago. "Because at the time, women were not really portrayed as athletes—they were more like arm candy. So seeing her as Hunter's bodyguard totally blew my mind. Instantly, I was like, 'She's my hero!' She was brutal, she was badass, and yet she was beautiful."

More confused than fans at the moment were the announcers. The first sentence ever spoken about Chyna on a WWF mic was: "Is that a woman?"

Although she was always portrayed as both strong and impossibly gorgeous, Chyna was frequently turned into a sort of transphobic punch line both in and out of "kayfabe." In her New York Times bestselling book, If They Only Knew, Laurer describes the immense pain she felt when misgendered, and the physical and verbal abuse she suffered at the hands of fans and colleagues who couldn't tolerate her gender presentation.

"By now, you know I'm pretty tough, pretty resilient, right? Especially as Chyna," she wrote:

[But] there was plenty to bawl about. The slights, getting passed on for a SmackDown!, or working and having people spitting on you, the exotic beer shampoos, people asking to see your dick, little kids calling you a cunt, the aches, the pains, the foam-rubber motel pillows, the big, dark shadow of my estranged family (of course!), the loneliness. Especially in the beginning, when I first joined the WWF—lotta swallowed tears. I wanted to be a perceived as someone who could handle all of it, not as the high-maintenance, hormonal, sniffly problem. I guess if I had any real designs on competing with the guys, I had to act like one. Damnedest thing, isn't it?

But it was Chyna's gargantuan size and Amazonian strength that allowed the higher-ups at the WWF to put her in a unique position in the company, eventually garnering her adoration: Regularly scheduled in matches against both women and men, Chyna was the first female enforcer character, the first woman to ever enter the Royal Rumble, the first woman to enter King of the Ring tournament, the first female number one contender for the heavyweight title, an undefeated women's champion, and the first (and only!) woman to win the Intercontinental title, in a so-called good housekeeping match that overtly played on feminist themes, with Chyna trouncing the misogynistic Jeff Jarrett using household objects regularly associated with female servitude as weapons. When Chyna posed for Playboy in 2000, within the WWF's story line, she even battled a stable of censor-happy conservatives over her right to be sexy in public.

In what now reads as a devastating passage from her book, Chyna explains how she finally came to accept her own body after a lifetime of what we now might describe as dysphoria:

Muscle definition leading up to places undeniably feminine, like a lit-up runway for planes to land on. I have Big Jessica Rabbit Beauty covering a heart that won't stop longing for the little things. Smooth and hard, tall as a flagpole, and I am flying my freak flag high … So there it is in the full-length mirror when I wake, there it is in the eyes of admirers and detractors, there it is splashed across the pages of Talk magazine in chronological cells—a history of conspicuousness. Half feminine, half power bomb. Me and my body, Joanie and Chyna. A load, isn't it? It's that car with all the fins, the skyscraper among the high-rises, the wineglass when everyone else is drinking out of mugs—and I wouldn't have it any other way.

"She was always an outsider," says Rob Potylo, a close friend of Chyna's who has been at the helm of a social media campaign to have her officially recognized in the WWE Hall of Fame. "She was the Amy Winehouse of the wrestling industry. She was Janis Joplin. She got there by sheer will and talent. She came out of nowhere being a 'freak' and clawed her way to the top. But because she was an outsider, she didn't have too many friends, especially other women. With the way she was in the ring, showing everyone how she can dominate women—I don't blame them. But Chyna's story is bigger than all of that."

Off-camera, Laurer struggled deeply with mental illness and addiction, some of which could be spotted in plain sight in her frequent reality TV appearances on shows like The Surreal Life and Celebrity Rehab, where both her endearing sweetness and frightening bouts of mania are depicted quite plainly. Her issues had caused significant problems in her wrestling career, leading to feuds with CEO Vince McMahon and Triple H, who—in a melodramatic turn of events reflected in WWE story lines—had fallen in love with Vince's daughter. (Much later in life, Chyna would go on to make a series of accusations about the two, accusing them of sexual misconduct, physical abuse, and pedophilia.) She was let go from WWF—by fax, she claimed—in 2001.

"She was completely scorned," said Potylo. "What happened was so Shakespearean, nobody could control it. Hunter legitimately fell in love with Stephanie [McMahon]—and Joanie, she made mistakes. Because she didn't have a lot of friends and family around her. So when she fell from grace with wrestling, you had all these scavengers and sycophants coming out of the woodwork and giving her the worst advice on earth. And it's just a shame, because when her head is on, she's great. She wanted to do everything in her power to get back into the good graces of the WWF. She realized how much her legacy meant… She cared so much about it. She wanted to atone."

Following her departure from the WWF amidst several scandals, Chyna embarked on a career in the adult entertainment industry, further establishing her as both a desirable sex symbol and tabloid fodder for magazines who saw her as a cheap, salacious headline. Her anatomy, again, became the subject of transphobic derision.

"Unfortunately for Chyna, when you're the trailblazer, sometimes you're the one that gets burnt," says Capone. "If you don't look like a perfect Barbie-doll vision of what male-dominated society thinks women should be, then you get treated like garbage. They see you as less than a woman if you can bench press more than the guys."

Chyna briefly re-entered the wrestling world in Japan in 2002 for a series of stunning, yet difficult-to-find matches with male Japanese wrestling legends like Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kensuke Sasaki—and again in 2011 for TNA, a smaller federation with a devoted audience.

Then, amidst a long and public battle with addiction, on April 20 of 2016, Chyna was found dead in her apartment in California. She was 46 years old. Although her passing garnered some sympathetic coverage, it was quickly overshadowed in the news on the same day by the passing away of another gender-subverting icon: Prince.

The WWF (now the WWE) has struggled with its historically poor treatment of women throughout its contemporary efforts to elevate female talent, which (for the most part) have been largely successful. Deeply revisionist and often outright inaccurate in its retelling of its own mythos, Chyna's legacy within the WWE had been underplayed or ignored completely. Many speculated that with the WWE's turn toward PG entertainment in the mid-2000s, executives feared Chyna's participation in the porn industry would sully their family-friendly aesthetic, while others believed that it was Chyna's disparaging comments about the company's figureheads that forced them to relegate her to a relatively minor position in their pantheon. Similarly, after an attempt at reviving intergender wrestling in WWE this year was canceled (supposedly after sponsor pushback), WWE may be reluctant to highlight the star best known for that style of fight, knowing bouts between men and women are often criticized as encouraging domestic violence. Nonetheless, this year Chyna has finally been posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame—not as a solo performer, but as a member of D-Generation X, the faction with which she debuted.

Meanwhile, in 2019, women will have finally achieved the greatest honor in wrestling: Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, and Ronda Rousey main-evented Wrestlemania, impressing the wrestling world and perhaps forever changing the destiny of all female wrestlers in the future. On the indies, intergender matches are a regular feature of many events and are treated mostly with both dignity and adoration.

"She inspired a lot of female talent," says pro-wrestler Stan Stylez, best known for his Intergender Bonanza series of events, in which all matches on every card are totally gender-inclusive. "You're seeing a lot more intergender matches nowadays, especially on the West Coast … but it was Chyna—hell yeah—that's who started it. And the fans and wrestlers are all so excited about it."

If changing social attitudes around the treatment of women have allowed us to re-evaluate the cultural climate in which someone like Chyna existed, then it seems high time for us to reconsider Joanie Laurer not as a bizarre anomaly or helpless victim—but as a groundbreaking hero.

"I hope above and beyond everything else that when we finally evolve from this awful desire for evil heels that take the dirty deal and move toward dorks and anime lovers and whimsical dreamers getting titles, we're going to look back at people like Chyna who were martyrs and we're going to realize how much she paved the way," concludes Potylo.

Screenshot via YouTube

And I need to see the rest ASAP

As excited as we already are for Olivia Wilde's directorial debut, Booksmart, to hit theaters next week, we just got even more desperate to see it. Why? Well, the first six minutes of the film were just released, and every minute is incredible.

The film opens on Molly (Beanie Feldstein) meditating and listening to a motivational tape telling her she's better than everyone else, and to "fuck those losers." Her room is decorated with pictures of Michelle Obama and RBG, so we know her head is in the right place. We learn she's the class president when she arrives at school with her best friend, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever).

It's there that we get a glimpse of the social hierarchy in which Molly and Amy exist—but somewhere down near the bottom, way below the popular kids, the theater nerds, the stoners, and even the annoying class clown.

The film officially hits theaters on May 23, but Annapurna Pictures is holding advanced screenings across the country today, May 17—we're actually holding two of them! So, if you're in L.A. or New York, check them out.

But also, you can watch the first six minutes of the film, below, and prepare yourself to watch the whole movie in a week.

BOOKSMART | Uncut First 6 Minutes

Photo by Rich Polk/ Getty

Her hypocrisy would be mind-blowing if it weren't so predictable

It's been just over two years since Tomi Lahren appeared on ABC's The View to assert that, despite her ultra-conservative bona fides, she holds one position more normally associated with the left wing: She's pro-choice. In that talk show appearance, Lahren made clear then that her pro-choice views were consonant with her self-identification as a "constitutionalist," further explaining:

I am someone that's for limited government. So I can't sit here and be a hypocrite and say I'm for limited government but I think the government should decide what women should do with their bodies." I can sit here and say that as a Republican, and I can say, "You know what? I'm for limited government, so stay out of my guns, and you can stay out of my body as well."

Back then, we noted the hypocrisy inherent to that position, since Lahren was an ardent supporter of President Trump—who made no secret of his desire to appoint anti-abortion judges to the Supreme Court and other judicial benches—and Vice-President Pence, whose anti-abortion views are even more ardent.

Since Lahren's appearance on The View, she has appeared in the anti-abortion film Roe v. WadeRoe v. Wade, which co-starred fellow execrable conservative troll, Milo Yiannopoulos, and, um, Joey Lawrence. Though the film has not yet been released, it is alleged to contain "several graphic scenes depicting aborted fetuses," and also the acting styles of Jamie Kennedy, so we're not sure for whom it will really be appropriate.

But while Lahren's role in that film would be enough to make anyone question just how committed she is to her alleged pro-choice stance, the recent news about de facto abortion bans in Alabama and Georgia has incited Lahren to speak out about her views once again.

On Twitter, Lahren opened herself up to "attack[s] by [her] fellow conservatives" and spoke out against the Alabama abortion ban as being "too restrictive." And, indeed, her "fellow conservatives" did quickly attack Lahren for not actually caring about human life, and for having too liberal a position on whether or not a woman should be forced to continue a pregnancy that resulted from rape. But then also, as Lahren must have known would happen, other people supported her for... not having one irredeemably monstrous position amongst her arsenal of irredeemably monstrous positions.

But, let's be clear: Tomi Lahren is not—no matter what she tweets—pro-choice, and neither is any supporter of the Republican Party. There is no doubt that there are Republicans who are in favor of safe access to abortion—particularly when it comes to themselves and their family members having said access. But by supporting the Republican Party, they are showing how little it actually matters to them, and showing what it is that they really prioritize over women's safety and freedom: namely, access to guns, bigoted immigration policies, the continued disenfranchisement of voters across the country. I could go on, but there's no need.

Lahren's tweet doesn't reveal in any way that she's an advocate for women's rights, all it reveals is her hypocrisy and that of anyone (Meghan McCain, hi), who would love to have a world created specifically for their needs, and who is willing to sacrifice the rights of the less privileged in order to secure their own. It is despicable and dangerous and incredibly predictable. But, at least, it might give Lahren something to talk about on the red carpet with her fellow anti-abortion movie costars, if that film ever gets more than a straight-to-video release.

If you want to find out how to help women have access to abortion, please visit here for information about donating and volunteering.

Diplo, Vince Staples, and Rico Nasty also appear

Lil Nas X went all out with the visuals for his hit "Old Town Road," tapping all of his newfound collaborators and friends, like Billy Ray Cyrus, Diplo, Vince Staples, and Rico Nasty, to star. The movie travels from 1889 Wild Wild West to the modern-day city outskirts, so saddle up and come along for the ride.

As the visuals start, Nas and Cyrus gallop away with a bag of loot, obviously having pulled off a heist. The trio of men on horseback that were in pursuit of them come to a halt, unable to catch up, and Chris Rock—the leader of the group—states, "When you see a Black man on a horse going that fast, you just gotta let him fly." Just as Nas and Cyrus think they're able to relax in stranger's home, it turns out the homeowner isn't so friendly. Nas jumps into a hole to escape, only to end up hundreds of years in the future on the other side.

Forget trying to figure out the logistics of time travel, and just embrace the hilarity of Nas' horse also having wound up there, and in peak racing condition. He impresses the locals not only in the race (with Vince Staples losing money in a bet against him) but with his sweet square dancing skills. Once he and Cyrus (yes, he time traveled too) trade out their old-timey duds for some fresh, rhinestone-adorned outfits, they enter a room playing bingo with Rico Nasty in it. Diplo is playing the washboard, I feel like I'm losing my mind, and this is probably the best music video I've watched this year.

Watch the movie for "Old Town Road" again and again, below.

Lil Nas X - Old Town Road (Official Movie) ft. Billy Ray Cyrus

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Screenshot via YouTube

They really "don't care" about how this was edited, do they?

Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber used the name of their song as inspiration for the "I Don't Care" music video, and have presented what is essentially a long blooper reel of the pair messing around with a green screen.

The visuals show how dedicated the two are to proving just how much they don't care, because I'm pretty sure they did the editing on this video as well. They dance around in costumes, as an ice cream cone, a panda, a teddy bear, and more. I have a clear vision of Bieber and Sheeran raiding a costume shop just an hour before setting up a tripod and going to town on this one. They also juxtapose their faces on top of a ballerina, a skydiver, and a corn inside the husk.

Blink, and you'll miss the funniest moment of all in the video: Ed Sheeran gets married to a cardboard cutout of a young Bieber with swoopy hair.

Watch the visuals for "I Don't Care" below.

Ed Sheeran & Justin Bieber - I Don't Care [Official Video]

Photo by Jena Cumbo

Her new LP, 'Take Me to the Disco,' is her most personal work yet

Meg Myers isn't afraid to admit she's still figuring out who she wants to be. Originally from Tennessee, Myers moved to Los Angeles at the age of 19 to dedicate her life to her music career. In 2012, she released her first EP, Daughter in the Choir, which set the groundwork for the releases of Sorry (2015) and Take Me to the Disco (2018). Well-known for her poetic lyrics, crude vocals, and cover of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill," the honest singer-songwriter makes a point to tell me that self-acceptance is a process. After listening to her deeply personal LP, Take Me to the Disco, I know she's not wrong.

In the middle of producing her new forthcoming music, the star opens up to NYLON: "I've always been able to channel [more painful moments in life] into my art. Music always stood out to me as the easiest way to capture all the emotions at once in one piece. Music for me is wild and free." It's clear that it is this fearlessness to self-reflect that not only makes her body of work so authentic but also what motivates her to continue to grow.

Below, we speak with Myers about her new music, self-love, and her ever-evolving relationship with creativity.

The Great Eros Pants, Chae New York top, Schutz shoes, and Via Saviene rings. Photos by Jena Cumbo

How did moving to Los Angeles influence the artist you are today?
I feel more safe here. I've been tapping more into my truth and expressing myself on a deeper level here. Growing up, my family was very chaotic, and I never knew what was about to happen. I have four brothers and a sister, and we grew up basically as best friends, making fun out of the chaos and always creating some type of art from it. I've always been able to channel [more painful moments in life] into my art.

Music always stood out to me as the easiest way to capture all the emotions at once in one piece. Music for me is wild and free.

What are some of your biggest influences?
I think all the barbecue and shrimp and grits [in Tennessee] really adds a smokiness to my music.

My queerness gives me a lot of material to create with. It's allowing me to be more playful and not take every little thing so seriously.

Silk Laundry jumpsuit, Wild Vertigga T-shirt, and Nakamol earring.Photo by Jena Cumbo

Tell me about your new music. Why is it different than anything you've ever created?
This EP is going to have a lot of similar vibes to my last album, because I wrote it at the same time with the same producer about a lot of the same struggles and self-discoveries as my past music. I'll share more with you on my third album.

I'm such a fan of your cover of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill." Why did you gravitate toward that song to cover?
It's such a powerful song! Kate Bush is magic. It's almost like I've been being guided to cover that song for a long time. I don't know how to explain it in words, as they can feel so limiting, and this song is beyond words to me. It's just a deep inner knowing, and it makes my heart flutter.

Chae NewYork blazer; Saku top, The Great Eros bottoms, and Inch2 boots.Photo by Jena Cumbo

Are there any other songs you feel really connected to?
I would love to collaborate with Active Child. The songs "Hanging On" and "Johnny Belinda" are also otherworldly to me. I've been listening to this band called Walk the Moon a lot. I also love Phoebe Bridgers. I have a crush on her. I generally listen to instrumental music and classical. If you look up 432hz music, it's incredibly healing, and solfeggio frequencies have helped me with a lot.

What does self-love mean to you?
It's been a process for me. It's been quite the journey. Right now, I would say [self-love for me] is about accepting myself, and having love for all the experiences that have led me to where I am. It also means being grateful for growth. It's also been about learning to be in the present moment. It's been learning to trust myself and not listening to what others think I need to be doing. As I learn to do this, I also learn how to love others deeper. All this being said, it's a process.

Chae New York blazer and Saku top.Photo by Jena Cumbo

What advice do you have for someone struggling to find happiness right now?
Spend some time in solitude if you can, or with a really safe person who you feel you can express yourself freely with. Find someone who has no expectations of you and is supportive. In that present moment, ask yourself, What feels good to you? What do you feel like doing? Use your imagination. Daydream. Find what it is you enjoy doing. I promise you can unlock magic inside yourself. It just takes patience.

*This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.