CW: This story contains discussions of mental illness and abuse.
Despite setbacks, Lily Fae hasn’t let various challenges stop her from chasing her dreams. She first came across wrestling in 2015 and it was WWE’s Kevin Owens who first grabbed her attention.
Lily found herself moving between her birthplace of the Netherlands and her current home country New Zealand for study, before settling in Hamilton. Here, her near-three-year-old daughter Melody was born. Not long after her birth, WWE came to Auckland, where Lily witnessed Charlotte vs Sasha in the flesh. It was Candy Lee who persuaded Lily to try out at Impact Pro Wrestling New Zealand. ‘I got in, but I only went for a little bit because I lived in a different city that is about an hour and a half drive. I had a young baby. it wasn’t financially viable, and it was just too tiring (to keep it up),’ Lily says.
Eventually, Pro Wrestling Entertainment came to Hamilton, which meant Lily could train again in her own town. She picked it up fast, and within two years made her in-ring debut in September 2018. Despite being top of the class at training, Lily struggles with self-confidence and pre-match anxiety. ‘I freak out before my matches. I’ve only had a handful of matches so far and every single one I’ve panicked beforehand, like full on. I still don’t know if I’m 100% ring-ready in my mind, but you are your own biggest critic’ she explains.
‘If I don’t do it, I won’t grow. And I need to grow.’
In her young career so far, Lily’s biggest challenge has been believing in herself and finding opportunities to get in the ring. ‘New Zealand doesn’t have a lot of women [wrestlers] at the moment. If there’s only a handful of women’s wrestlers, the same kind of matches won’t get booked over and over and over again, because people would get sick of it.’
Lily performs among a handful of established and emerging female talents in New Zealand, from Candy Lee and Ashlee Spencer to Britenay and Grace Lightning. ‘We really try and make sure that everyone has a good time at wrestling and even outside of wrestling. It’s almost like the girls are quite protective of each other, which is really nice,’ Lily reflects.
There was once a time where she came close to quitting wrestling, where her friends were able to reassure her that the journey wasn’t over. But there’s been more than one occasion where Lily’s anxiety and depression has made her think about hanging up her boots. She says, ‘It causes me to see myself in such a way that I hate everything I put out. There have been multiple times where I’ve wanted to quit over things irrelevant to my situation… Things that normal people wouldn’t necessarily take to heart, I would take to heart. That’s something I’m working on so hard.’
‘People won’t know you from a frigging bar of soap but will throw hate your way anyway.’
Lily talks openly about her mental health, blogging and using social media to create a conversation. ‘You realise that you’re not alone, or “maybe I’m not as crazy as I think I am”. That’s actually quite comforting. Being able to voice how you feel takes a bit of weight off your shoulders… I’ve got a few friends that I can talk to about it as well, people that I’ve gotten to meet through wrestling and through training that have become close friends. A lot of us have found out that we all have similar issues.’
‘If you dive a little deeper, you realise that most people that are really into wrestling use it as an [emotional] outlet, whether that’s watching it or doing it.’ Lily’s obnoxious “Valley girl” character provides her with an escape from reality: ‘You forget who you are, and you focus on just being that person. You forget about the world and the shitstorm that it is.’
Lily balances her health with being a mother and wife, among other things. How does she find balance? ‘That is something I am still trying to figure out… Melody’s only recently started understanding what wrestling is and it’s really cute to watch.’ Melody got to watch her mum wrestle for the first time in Whangarei, the prospect of future moments like this being another source of renewed passion for Lily going forward.
Lily also came close to quitting after a fellow male wrestler inappropriately targeted her on multiple occasions. ‘It was a situation of “I’m the veteran, you’re the rookie. You’ll do what I tell you.” It was uncomfortable and it took me ages to speak up, even though the guy was just crossing all sorts of lines,’ she says. Once Lily found the courage to speak out about her abuser, the tide began to shift. ‘I spoke out about it and he’s no longer in the scene. Suddenly, everybody had a story about the guy.’ Collective call to action within the industry denied them the privilege to work within a close-knit and trusting network of people. Lily hopes that people in the business will continue to be held accountable for their actions.
Wrestling is gradually becoming a safe space for all. As a pansexual woman, Lily admires her queer peers. ‘I think even for people who are queer but aren’t openly queer as wrestlers or play a flamboyant character, they’ll feel embraced and safe after [seeing the groundwork made by the likes of] Jack Sexsmith, Visage, even Candy. It just creates this environment of safety and support for everyone.’
‘Last year, it was women. If we completely embrace queer people as well, it just becomes a haven for everyone.’
Already trying her hand at video editing and design, Lily has multiple creative projects going for her, including building Titantron videos for her wrestling peers. She still has plenty on her bucket list: ‘I would love to have wrestled every single company in NZ – I’m nearly over half way! I want to go to Australia. Watching the scene in Australia and watching the women’s wrestlers in Australia, there are some amazingly talented people out there. I want to go to the UK and Europe. It’s a dream of mine to wrestle in the Netherlands as a Dutch person.’
‘The companies that I look up to are Stardom in Japan, and in the UK, it’s Pro Wrestling EVE, Riptide and Progress. I love the product that they put out, especially places like Riptide, and Wrestling Resurgence where their inter-gender wrestling – they don’t even think about it twice, they just do it!’
Lily’s Wrestling Idols
‘Candy is high on the list… as a friend she is my idol when it comes to how far she’s going and the work she’s putting in to get there.’
‘Jack Sexsmith was one of the first queer wrestlers that opened it up for everyone. Sonya Deville, just for being someone in the WWE that’s openly queer and proud. Visage is someone that’s on my radar as a drag queen wrestler. I absolutely love them. Also, Jason Dewhurst. Same as Candy, knowing that within the Samoan community, they can be who they are within their culture, it’s got to be a fight.’