#RadWomenUnite: Marian Gonzalez

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© Tess. Lotta

Marian Gonzalez is an icon of Rebel Beauty. Not only does she hold a huge and kind heart, she possesses that addictive quality of effortless beauty—the kind of glow that grows from investing courageously in community, family, and one’s own freedom of spirit.

I met Marian in 2015, while shooting a bout for the Los Angeles Lady Arm Wrestlers. Known to her LA LAW compatriots and fans as the gothy Martian aristocrat Princess Zarkoja, Marian’s seemingly ominous wrestling persona is underscored by the comedic chops of a theater actor.

LA LAW wrestlers commit not only 100% to their character, but also, alongside equally dedicated volunteers, to the entire endeavor of their seasonal bouts, events that raise funds for local nonprofits. A member of three theater companies (Sacred Fools, Broads’ Word Ensemble, and LOFT Ensemble), this type of dedication is not new to Marian, and as readers will discover in this interview, it is just one spark that fuels her lovely and captivating fire.

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When and how did you become involved with Los Angeles Lady Arm Wrestlers (LA LAW)? 

In 2012, I participated in the first two LA LAW events as part of my friend Alyson’s entourage. Her character was THE TECHNICIAN. Her entourage was composed of adoring actors. I went in drag as Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart. We were both pro-wrestling fans, so she loved that. The next year, I asked if I could wrestle.

From what I witnessed, you are one of the fan favorites! How does it feel to experience that? Importantly, why do you continue to participate in LA LAW? Is it all about the match win? 

Zowie. You can’t see it, but I’m blushing. It is humbling to hear this. Occasionally, I’ve run into people who recognize me—while working as an extra, attending trans activism events, or riding the train. It is amazing anytime I hear someone tell me they like me. But, it makes me so happy that they come to our events and enjoy themselves. Every ticket sold helps people, and I like running into people who have helped.

I do have to say it makes me feel fifty feet tall when someone tells me they’re a fan. This is the closest I’m ever going to get to the inside of a wrestling ring for the WWE, and it makes my heart soar to not only do this, but that people enjoy it.

As fun as it is, a lot of hard work goes into it. I train year round for something that happens two days a year. It feels good to win. I guess I shouldn’t pretend to act like I don’t care, but the wins aren’t the reason I do this.

LA LAW is a big, nuts happening, but its purpose is also to help the community. And, we are a performance event. What matters to me is raising money for the groups we help, putting on a good show, and empowering women. On the night of the event, the show is what matters.

The ladies of LA LAW are all tough as hell. Arm-wrestling any of them is tougher than against any dude. If I lose, I lose. Maybe Zarkoja’s story that night turns to plotting revenge. I just want folks to have fun.

 You shared in regard to wrestling that, “Feeling like I have some control over my body has helped me deal with my dysphoria like almost nothing else.” It would be awesome to hear more of your voice on such an important point you raise. 

Every transgender person is very different. Our stories are greatly varied. One of the things so many of us do have in common is the horror that comes with our bodies changing in ways that we don’t want. Our vessels change in ways that are in defiance of who we are. Sometimes we figure it out early, and we know why puberty is so upsetting, even if there’s nothing we can do about it. Puberty hit and I had no idea why changes that delighted the boys my age made me so sad. It hurt all the more as I got older.

I didn’t understand that I was a woman, but I felt a definite and clear idea that I wanted people to think I was. I just knew that it would be unlikely that anyone would ever believe me. I had no idea what any of this meant. But, the world told me there were so few ways of what women should look like. I certainly didn’t look like that.

At most, I saw the drag queens on Sally Jessie Raphael were what I should have looked like. The guests revealed to be male on “Guess If This Is Really a Woman or Man” episodes on Jennie Jones were  what I should have I looked like. Yet, I certainly was not shaped like either of those! There was no hope. I didn’t feel suicidal, just sad. My vessel betrayed me. I think I may have been depressed.

Being me, it felt like everyone else had control over their bodies, like they had agency, like they weren’t just borrowing their bodies. They looked like they actually lived in them. I wondered what that must have felt like.

Being trans, any control you have over your body is sweet and joyous. Whether it’s stumbling across the right kind of shape wear that helps me stop panicking, or the doctor telling me that my prescription for hormones will be waiting downstairs, to suddenly feel like you have agency over your body feels like moving a mountain.

Tell me about the ways in which wrestling has helped you deal with dysphoria? What do you see as key empowering moments in your journey and why were they empowering? Does your LA LAW persona, Princess Zarkoja, tie in with your journey—how and in what ways? 

I’ve been severely overweight most of my life. I dropped a lot of it. It felt good, but the shape of my body still felt weird.

Around the same time I came out and started presenting as female, I rediscovered pro-wrestling. Women’s wrestling was swinging back towards less of a novelty. They got to develop characters and storylines. They got to actually wrestle, and as hard as the men! Being the kind of lady I am, that on its own felt very Girl Power. The more I watched and cheered the more I noticed something about them.

Every one of those women were unmistakably female. They had broad shoulders and thick arms. They looked like me. It is one thing to believe to your core that what a woman is shaped like is what a woman should be shaped like, to believe that the horrible standards placed on women’s bodies is a deeply structured system that is good and pure to fight against. It is another thing altogether, a very difficult one at that, to feel so positive about one’s self.

Being strong, like capital “S” Strong, wasn’t just a male quality. It was a female quality as well, but it was still seen as a MAN THING. So, when I watched Bayley, and Charlotte, and Chyna, I felt at home. I’m strong, and I feel good about it.

I train six days a week for two nights with LA LAW. Someday, my life might need to take me in a different direction, or I won’t be physically able to do this anymore. But now, my body doesn’t feel like a thing I am borrowing. It feels like it belongs like me. And I know that I’m going to always feel that way forever! And, it is so nourishing.

I gave myself permission to be the woman I am. I want that for every woman. I want every woman to revel in giving themselves permission to be the woman they are. And if Pamela Martinez and Joanie Laurer could be superheroes and women, then I could be a super villain. So, the Most Exalted Princess Zarkoja, True Princess of Mars, is, like her name suggests, vain and bitchy. I love that asshole.

At our photoshoot together, you shared an experience of being misgendered Reflecting on this, in what ways has taking custody over your own body helped you with the ongoing effort of living safely and with dignity in the world?

Not all trans women pass as cis. Not all of us want to. But, if we want to be treated like humans, we sometimes still need to.

I don’t feel great talking about passing or passive privilege. I feel nervous about acknowledging my privilege. It’s not just that talking about it or acknowledging makes me feel like it will go away. But, it makes me feel gross to want it and have it. It feels kind of shitty to acknowledge as someone who passes that I don’t too much care if I pass, so long as people acknowledge that I am a woman. For the most part, that is true.

I just assume that about the world around me. I just assume that people are willing to treat me as who I am. But then, cis women often start talking to me about their cycles. I hear about how it makes them feel and how it’s a part of them (also, it turns out, I have a cycle, too. No one warned me this would happen, but it does, and it’s wonderful and awful and I love it). And, through all this, it is easy to say that I don’t care about passing.

But I do care. People treat you one way if you’re trans, but they treat you like anyone else if they think you’re cis. And, it can mean my safety.

Getting misgendered is a sharp stab that comes into my heart. It feels like an attempt to invalidate my identity to the world around me. Whether it’s subconscious or not, it says to me that even though the person they are seeing is wearing a skirt or makeup and has visible boobs, they don’t care and want to let you know that you are who they say they are. When it happens within earshot of others, my blood turns to ice.

It is one thing to own my identity and feel rooted firmly in my real gender. But, often it feels like it is a courtesy given to me by cisgender people. And, sometimes, it feels like they’ll take it away.

In the spring, I’d decided to change my hair. I had the same haircut since before I’d transitioned. I guess I’d been nervous about changing something that was seen as a signifier of female. So, I got brave and bold and got bangs.

After about a week, I noticed that I hadn’t been misgendered. I’ve made the joke that it feels like my face finally makes sense. If you’re trans, that joke is hilarious.

I still do get misgendered. It’s just far less now. Maybe bangs helped me reach a new level of I Don’t Care. Ugh. Privilege is gross.

I used to be afraid of showing that I was strong. I’d pretend that it was really difficult to carry the laundry or to lift my own suitcase. I’d be afraid that I’d be seen doing something like carrying the groceries and someone would scream that they just saw a man wearing makeup.

After my first time with LA LAW, I didn’t care anymore. I’d lift my own suitcase. And everyone else’s while I was at it! I was Big Barda! I was Bull Nakano and Becky Lynch! Finally, I get to be Pippi Longstocking, like I’d always wanted to be.

You are an actor and member of small performance art theater. When and how did you get into acting/performing?

I was a theater kid in high school. I got very lucky in my junior year when I found the one elective that had a space open. It turned out that I loved acting. It felt like a piece that had been missing.

Not a whole lot came from it afterwards. I didn’t consider studying acting at all. Then, a friend asked me to help be the run crew for a show at Sacred Fools. That was fourteen years ago. I didn’t really start getting serious about pursuing this career until after I came out. I don’t know how to want to do anything else.

Tell me about a few of the personally rewarding aspects of participating in a theater group/company.  

My wife and I met in the theater. Certainly, that’s one of the most rewarding aspects.

Getting on stage and becoming someone else and collaborating with other people to make a thing that makes people smile or feel—these aspects have a spot in my heart, especially with the laughter. Laughter is one of the most honest things a person can feel, and it makes people feel really good when they laugh. The sound of laughter coming at me from something I’ve done makes me feel like I’m doing something right on this planet for other people.

You can choose your friends, and you can choose your family, too, sometimes, even if you don’t intend to. If you’re queer, sometimes you definitely end up needing to choose your family. I’ve found friends that I’m very close to and people who are family. We’re there for each other always. They’re theater nerds like we are.

Do you feel small theater is important to or has an impact on the larger Hollywood industry? Is it more about the craft of acting that is important?

Certainly, it sometimes seems that the prejudices in casting and representation so prevalent in Hollywood influence the theater community. After being told I did good work in a callback, I’ve had producers tell me I’m not being cast because the show isn’t about “topics like that.”

Obviously, so many of us want to be able to work in film and television. However, there are so many actors and so few opportunities. Theater is fantastic in that you get to actually perform and collaborate with other artists to design and produce something that will affect someone in any way. You grow as an artist from so many people putting so much of their souls together to make one thing.

What are a couple things  you find challenging about theater acting and how do you handle these challenges? 

Yeah, it’s hard to be trans, a lady, and brown if you’re an actor. People are often only willing to see you in certain roles. And then are often reluctant to produce works that call for people who aren’t specifically stated as being white, straight, and cisgender. It can be hard to even get an audition sometimes. People still even list breakdowns of characters as Male, Female, and Transgender.

I don’t know how well I handle it. It is pretty easy to feel dragged down. The best way I know is to keep charging forward the best I can. I’ve created my own work in the way of a performance artist routine that’s kind of like a vaudeville routine. And, also, through the opportunities I’ve had with LA LAW. I keep looking for places where I can fit. This helps sometimes.

You and your wife have been married for twelve years, an impressive amount of anniversaries compared to many relationships. How do you feel marriage—working at a long term, committed relationship—has changed you for the better? In what ways has marriage to your wife challenged you to grow? 

I couldn’t have figured out who I am without her help. Certainly, I wouldn’t have felt confident enough to explore my identity without her support. Coming out is scary.

I’m terrible at communication, sharing what I feel and think. This isn’t helpful in a marriage. Working on it has been a difficult process. Growing emotionally has helped me engage with her and the world in a healthy way.

Learning patience and a willingness to listen to the needs of someone who is not me has come hard. I really wouldn’t have been able to come out without her. Learning to be honest and open with her means I learn to be open and honest with myself.

Any final thoughts to share? 

For all that I’m feeling empowered and confident and joyous, I’m scared a lot these days. More than usual. Every year more and more trans women of color are killed. I’m past the average life expectancy for someone like me. Every day I’m alive feels like a statistical anomaly, and it makes me mad. It makes me impatient with creeps, too.

As much as my mortality is the constant background noise, it occupies so little of my mind. I just try to be careful. Most of my headspace is about monsters from history, and trying to figure out which bits of local lore I tell people is real or imagined.

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Dial In:

Marian was recently cast in her first film role in the upcoming Just a Little Bit Longer. On August 19th, she’ll be performing in Fast n’ Loose at Sacred Fools.

Find out more, including her podcast, click here to find Marian’s website!

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