Professional wrestler Mike Parrow has a message for any young LGBT athlete that is sitting alone in a locker room wondering if they will ever be accepted.
“Your sexuality has nothing to do with your athletic ability,” says Parrow. “I thought my teammates wouldn’t accept me and I was wrong. Your team will support you.”
Leaving the team culture behind as a closeted college football player at Carolina Coastal University, Parrow put aside thoughts of law school to pursue a new path.
At 6’4” and 345 pounds, he drove to Kissimmee, Fla., to attend the Team 3D Academy of Professional Wrestling. With no prior wrestling experience, Parrow entered a field that is a cutthroat mix of sports and entertainment.
“I came from the sports world of a football locker room where I was an alpha male,” Parrow says. “The wrestlers at the academy were not of the same sports background. I wasn’t prepared for all the different personalities.”
At the same time, Parrow was dealing with accepting his own sexuality. Along with stepping into the wrestling ring, he was about to enter another arena – the world of gay dating.
“I knew I was gay, but I didn’t want to be,” says Parrow. “I was in a new town and I didn’t want people to know. I was scared.”
Scared to the point that he borrowed money to pay for his own conversion therapy. He couldn’t suppress who he was anymore and decided to try dating.
“I was this weird unicorn because I wasn’t part of the culture. The people I met on dating apps were rude, mean and cruel. I was called closet case, fat, ugly and was shamed for my masculinity. I was terrified, and it pushed me farther into the closet,” Parrow says. “A lot of misconceptions can be talked out, but I wasn’t meeting people who wanted to talk. We make villains when we don’t need to make villains.”
A lot has changed for Parrow since he got past those first steps of accepting himself as a gay man. Based in Orlando, last month he celebrated his five-year anniversary with partner Morgan Cole. They will be married later this year.
“Morgan believes in me and that has led to the success I am experiencing in my wrestling career,” says Parrow. “He has passed all the tests and he talks to my parents more than I do.”
Mike Parrow has found his niche in the villain faction of professional wrestling. He is considered an independent wrestler and is promoted by Evolve Wrestling and Major League Wrestling.
Originally from Troy, N.Y., he grew up playing baseball, basketball and football. Both his brother and sister were involved in sports as well as his father who is still active in the Pop Warner sports programs.
His mother is a Sunday school teacher and her reply to Parrow’s coming out was, “God doesn’t make mistakes.” His police officer father commented, “I wouldn’t be a very good detective if I didn’t already know.”
“My parents are proud of me and I have been lucky to have had a great experience with them,” Parrow says. “I will never understand a parent not accepting their child. Your child is yours, everything else is borrowed.”
His former football teammates and the professional wrestling community have also accepted Parrow with open arms. He says his promoters are proud to have a gay, masculine, ass-kicking badass in their stable.
“Pro wrestling is for every community and I love seeing people’s faces when I come out as a gay, masculine character,” says Parrow. “I have worn a Pride flag over my shoulder walking into the ring, and the standing ovation and resulting tweets were very positive. That’s why I am doing me now.”
Making himself visible as an LGBT role model has had tangible rewards for Parrow. In April, he was part of a Progress Wrestling match before WrestleMania in New Orleans. People stopped him on the streets of the city, some for a hug, some for a cry.
“I met a gay kid from England who had come over to see me. He was literally shaking and told me ‘we don’t feel forgotten in wrestling anymore,’” Parrow says. “It makes me feel like I am doing the right thing.”
Parrow has set goals for himself as he progresses through his pro wrestling career. One is a new fitness regimen that helped him drop to 280 pounds. He calls it a nice mix of a ketogenic diet, CrossFit, weightlifting and elliptical work. Three days a week he works on moves with another wrestler and watches tapes.
He travels most every weekend for matches, sometimes with his tag team partner, Odinson. He eventually hopes to wrestle in Europe and Japan, which could be a stepping stone to that one end goal.
“The WrestleMania moment. My moment. The music hits and I am behind the curtain listening to the fans. I start crying. This whole quest, the ups and downs, the hard work was all worth it. That is my sports moment, my big goal,” says Parrow. “I like to be challenged and I want to prove you wrong. I used to be ashamed but now I am proud of who I am.”