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How MWF’s Veronica Shannon Wrestled with Her Truths

Manila Wrestling Federation’s Veronica Shannon gets a hold of KARL R. DE MESA to talk about being a transwoman in the world of Philippine sports entertainment. (With images from FRANCIS LUMAHAN.)

V eronica Mikers Litton (better known as Veronica Shannon to the local wrestling scene) has long believed in two things: the glorious spectacle of pro-wrestling and the saving grace of storytelling.

The first has been with her ever since she saw the spandex and suplexes of the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) growing up. To her, the glamor of the wrestling ring imbued the industry with a veneer of deliverance. It’s not just a venue that demonstrates athletic prowess; it is also a place where you could forget the world for a while and enjoy a simulated mirror of reality. It is here where good triumphs over evil, anti-heroes thrive, and an athletic telenovela plays out tropes and classic tales of heroism. 

In 2014, this passion for pro-wrestling led her to form the Manila Wrestling Federation (MWF) with some of her closest friends. The MWF, along with Philippine Wrestling Revolution (PWR), are two of the major promotions currently spearheading the pro-wrestling resurgence of the country. Plus, MWF’s shows are free to watch live.

Currently, MWF is a fast-rising pro-wrestling show with fun, family-friendly entertainment that’s smarter than your average pro-wrasslin’ program. MWF has colorful characters straight out of almost every Pinoy entertainment trope ranging from 80s action movies to classic komiks. It is building a world that they call The Manilaverse where these exaggerated characters can frolic and play, fueled by nuanced and often quite relevant storylines.

For example, at their “MWF 10: Republika” show held at the Lucky Chinatown Mall in July last year, the main event storyline featured Filipino grapplers duking it out with wrestlers that represented China and Hong Kong. It reflected the issue of POGOS and the influx of mainland Chinese in the country that was already getting out of hand, even back then.

The MWF matches became even more of a hot button topic when the three Chinese wrestlers won the championship title, then defaced and destroyed the MWF belt while shouting “Philippines under control!” during their victory lap. That kind of cliffhanger obviously begs for a redemption story arc for the Filipino characters now seeking revenge on the Chinese winners.

In another video skit, Veronica and other MWF management starred in “Out & About,” a gender sensitivity program where they worked a setup from a previous match between Rex Lawin (a very masculine Pinoy prize fighter-type) versus Martivo (an openly gay wrestler from the PWR). After the match, Lawin, took it upon himself to wipe his sweat using the pride flag Martivo had taken to the ring with him. This brilliant move of course got Lawin a lot of heat from the audience. So their follow-up was the skit “Out & About,” about educating Lawin (and as a corollary, the audience) by showing how someone as traditionally macho like him could still totally understand gender identities and sexual orientation.

It’s this style of layered storytelling that brings a newsy frisson to MWF’s Manilaverse, and also generates a grand mental exorcism for the audience, seeing their frustrations and hopes articulated. Like fairy tales given adult breadth, MWF enables the delight of watching larger than life characters play out a simplified and caricature version of the truth, albeit a truth that is nonetheless powerful, being ripped from the facts.   

International wrestling stars like WWE veterans Tajiri and Ho Ho Lun have since appeared on the MWF stage, so did with Australasian Wrestling Federation champion Greg Bownds. One time ex-JAV star Maria Ozawa even graced a video skit and made a ring appearance, increasing the pop culture cred of the promotion. 

For a time, Veronica Mikers Litton, in her wrestling persona as Veronica Shannon, served as the Commissioner of the MWF and nurtured it to its current state of success. The Kapafeds—what the MWF calls its fans—may however remember her not as Veronica, but as Mike Shannon. Sporting curly long hair, with a cultivated beard and moustache, Mike Shannon back then was a grungy and no nonsense macho commish. Underneath it though was Veronica, already struggling to become what she wanted to be, festering in dysphoria and anxiety, the shell wanting to be abandoned and yet the new still being polished.

While developing a wrestling promotion, Veronica Shannon was also coping with the struggle of transitioning, finding great use for the redemptive power of storytelling when she finally came out of the closet. And then there were the agonies and joys of abandoning male privilege to become simply what you are in a country like the Philippines. In other words, she’s no stranger to fights. And given her current standing, she’s also no stranger to victories.

KARL DE MESA: For those that don’t know, you are the first trans woman in a pioneering pro-wrestling organization in the Philippines. What made you passionate about the sport?

VERONICA SHANNON: I’ve always loved pro wrestling ever since I could remember. My first action figure is a Hulk Hogan Hasbro figure. I still have him and I take him with me whenever we have a big show. I was always drawn to wrestling, whether it’s the history or the pageantry that comes along with it. It’s this space where anything is possible within the confines of a wrestling ring.

KDM: Looking back on how the MWF started and where it is now, did you ever think the pro-wrestling scene would grow this fast and this big?

VS: Seeing the scene blossoms in the last decade to accommodate a handful of promotions is really something special. In the Philippines, there’s no infrastructure for pro wrestling that’s common in countries like the US, Japan, or Canada, so everything we did had to be built from the ground up.

KDM: Even finding a proper wrestling ring was a challenge, back then.

VS: At the very beginning, it was a challenge. In 2014, we didn’t have access to a ring, we hadn’t done any shows, and gathering people to train was a challenge in and of itself.  We had nothing.

KDM: Of course, you were also struggling with your own transition by then, while developing a pro-wrestling league. Was your sexuality or coming out ever an issue in doing business?

VS: It was also around 2014 that I had spoken to a very high-profile figure in Philippine sports about what we needed to attain the funding possible to get MWF up and running.

As someone who manages various teams across multiple sports, this person made it very clear that having openly LGBT athletes was frowned upon. So much so that they actually told me that they forbade their LGBT athletes from having relationships, going to bars, or being open about themselves since the Philippines is traditional and it’s frowned upon. After that meeting, I had decided I would stay somewhat closeted if it meant MWF had the chance to make it.

KDM: The psychological pains must have been tough.

VS: It’s rough…Imagine waking up every single day for 22 years and not being able to feel any connection to your own reflection. And the one day, you finally figure out what you are and you can’t even look into the mirror without crying.

KDM: Could you talk us through that moment or series of moments you had the realization and made a decision for your change? 

VS: I still remember that moment when I had figured myself out. I was up late writing and I don’t know, I just felt so unbound and feminine in such a powerful way. It’s like I had come to terms and embraced an emotion that’s followed me all through my life. And I just remembered feeling, like, I wanted to stay this way forever, but also not being equipped with the language or the guts to actually go out and express it.

I actually identified as Non-Binary, because it helped me understand the complex simplicities of gender identity and how it differs from sexual orientation. To wit: Gender identity = who you are.

Sexual orientation = who you love.

KDM: How did you manage to cope and get support?

VS: By the time I had transitioned, the people closest to me had known that I wasn’t a straight, cisgender male. And that took years. Some people got it right away. Some couldn’t wrap their heads around it, but they accepted it. With some family members, I guess they were confused because they had known me in the way I presented myself to them. With girlfriends, I had always been upfront and honest about how I felt more feminine than masculine.

It was a very confusing time. And we all made mistakes along the way with how we dealt with it. I remember being out in a skirt one time with my girlfriend at the time and being asked by someone close how it was even possible that we were in a healthy, loving, and yes, sexual relationship. But for the most part, it was quite accepting. In that regard, I know I had it a lot easier than others. I wasn’t kicked out or disowned or harmed.

KDM: Talk us through the physical and mental changes, what do trans women have to go through during their change?

VS: I had started hormones at 29 and I’m 31 now. The changes are intense. I started growing breasts, fat started being more distributed into my arms and my hips. And I started to experience abdominal cramps that resemble period pain. And yes, I can get very emotional at certain periods of the month. And because I’m on testosterone blockers, I can feel certain functions in my body shut down.

Does it hurt? Yes. Is it confusing? It is. But I don’t mind because these are all things I should have experienced a long, long time ago. And when those physical changes start becoming more and more apparent, the way you feel about yourself and the way you relate to the world at large begins to shift. Because now, you want the world to see you, acknowledge you, and respect you for who you are and not this thing you pretended to be.

KDM: What about the reaction of those around you who saw you going through the transition?

VS: Over time, I started wearing make-up and dressing more feminine. And that was scary, because now, I’m putting myself out there and people are reacting, as politely as possible, to all these changes in my life.

Like I remember when I first started presenting as female, being around people who knew me wasn’t an issue because I could deal with that. It was the people I see every day but have minimal interactions with like the guards in the building I work in, the suki at the market I go to, or the people in McDonald’s who’d see buy breakfast in the morning.

I remember when I had just started transitioning, I was asked if I was okay with abandoning male privilege. And I was because male privilege never really benefitted me but now that I’m out there, and I get a lot of unsolicited DMs on Instagram, I understand what I was giving up.

KDM: What’s the biggest misconception that Filipino heterosexual men and women have about trans folk?

VS: I think the biggest misconception people, and not just Filipinos, is that transwomen are gay men. Like, you won’t believe how many times I heard, “Gay men are fine on their own. They don’t need to dress up as women.”

The other one would be that somehow, transwomen are just predatory men in disguise. And nothing can be further from the truth. In fact, that kind of thinking hurts us because we go through a period where it feels like it’s wrong to love who we love. A majority of the transwomen I know, myself included, are attracted to women. I identify as a lesbian. And that’s incredibly valid.

KDM: How does the Philippines rate in the safety index for the LGBT, specifically for trans women? Do you ever fear for your safety in the city?

VS: I feel safe being an open transgender woman in the Philippines.

I’ve met LGBT people from other countries who moved here because they felt that living here was safer. We’ve always been more open, and LGBT people, while often relegated to some form of comedic or cultural relief, have always had a place in Filipino society. If we aren’t accepted, we’re tolerated. And while it’s not perfect, it’s a lot more than people in other countries have.

Every week, I see so many reports are about transgender people in the US or Canada or Brazil getting harassed or even murdered. In comparison, the violence towards trans and LGBT people in general is significantly low. I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen, but the Philippines is a far safer place than other countries.

KDM: For those reading this and struggling with their own transition of sexuality, any advice?

VS: It’s scary at first, but don’t be afraid to explore yourself and discover who you really are. Take it slow, go at your own pace, and try not to succumb to any form of pressure. I think sometimes people have the tendency to really rush into things when, sometimes, finally figuring out who we are can really make those small steps go such a long way. No one should live a life filled with regret. As long as you’re not hurting anyone, do what you want and embrace the fact that you know yourself.

You can follow Veronica’s writing on Wattpad and check out her on-going novella/love letter to rock music, “Some Jingle Jangle Morning.”

Follow Manila Wrestling Federation on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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