Pro-wrestler “Superstar” Jake Atlas came out as gay last month after winning the 2017 Southern California Rookie of the Year award.
The 23-year-old wrestler lives in Los Angeles, California and says winning the award was the ‘proudest’ moment of his life.
He told Gay Star News: ‘I want to thank everyone for all the support and the strength to help me continue this journey and I want to make my community proud.’
It gave him the confidence to come out and be his true, authentic self.
Gay Star News spoke to Jake about coming to terms with his sexuality, battling depression and his search for love.
Can you give a background about your childhood and how you got into wrestling?
Jake Atlas: Wrestling has been in my family since before I was born.
As kids, both my mom and dad were avid lucha libre [wrestling] fans in Mexico. Their parents would take them to shows at the famous Arena Coliseo in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico all the time. It was a tradition that was passed on to my older brother and then from him onto me.
As a toddler, I was introduced to lucha libre first in Mexico. Around seven years old, my brother introduced to what was then known as WWF. Ever since, I never let go.
I knew at a young age that becoming a pro wrestler was what I wanted to be. I discovered different styles of wrestling outside of WWE through companies like TNA.
As a result, I also discovered new talent like AJ Styles, who, because of his unorthodox style, would go on to become my favorite wrestler.
Being an athlete and participating in sports my entire life, it was only natural that I’d be hooked on something that combined adrenaline, performance, and acrobatics.
My background in gymnastics and cheerleading gave me the ability to make an easy transition into professional wrestling in 2014.
I found Santino Bros Wrestling Academy in Los Angeles in July of 2014 and initiated my training then. I trained at least 3-4 days a week for the next two years until finally achieving my professional debut on 6 August 2016.
I’m going on my sophomore year now on the independent scene and I’m having a blast.
When did you start to realize you might be gay? And how did your family and friends react?
Jake Atlas: I first felt instances of being different when I was fascinated by mother’s wardrobe, appearance and attitude. Then I felt an attraction to a family friend I lived with when I was younger.
I noticed that I had an urge to hug him, kiss him and always be near him. Later, new attractions arose as I grew up and it was hard for me to cope with what I was feeling.
I began to bully the boys I felt I liked and I hated myself.
I knew that being gay was something that wouldn’t be accepted in my family. In the sixth grade, I met a boy who would go on to be the catalyst of my eventual self-acceptance.
After many ups, downs, confessions, and self-loathing, I realized that I had a strong romantic attraction towards this boy and thus led me to reveal to myself that I was ‘bisexual.’
Then in the ninth grade, I fully came to terms with my sexuality when I met a fellow gay friend who was also struggling with identity at the time. We came out to each other and became best friends. He is still someone very close to my heart today.
In the Spring of 2010 and now as a sophomore in high school, I decided to come out to my mom and my older brother.
The response was negative.
There were tears, silence, negligence and hate cast all over my small family for months and years to come. Being openly gay is still something I struggle sharing with my mom. She’s fully become accepting, but she always admits that in her heart, it hurts her.
She just wants happiness for me. I’m incredibly proud of how far she was come.
Why did you choose to wait to come out publicly? Were you nervous about negative reactions?
Jake Atlas: I chose to wait to come out publicly because I was afraid. I have always been afraid.
Even being out to friend and family was constantly a struggle. My mom would always tell me that no one would care and that I should keep it private. She said that it was nobody’s business. She said I should just live life hidden – but she doesn’t understand what it is like to be in these shoes.
Wrestling is also a very masculine sport that is sometimes not the most progressive. I was afraid of any hate, backlash, and rejection from it.
I was afraid that it would hold me back from achieving my lifelong dream of one day wrestling for the WWE.
What’s the reaction been?
Jake Atlas: Thankfully, the reaction has been incredibly positive from close friends, peers, and promoters.
I have had the opportunity to share stories with others in the same community and find support to help me embrace my sexuality.
My tweet that I officially used to come out publicly was posted on the front page of Reddit, and on there, were some negative comments that stated it wasn’t anybody’s business what I did in my personal life as long as I was a good wrestler— it brought me back to what my mother always preached to me.
I disregarded it because I know why it is important to come out. In my heart, it’s what I felt was right, what was needed to help others come forth about embracing their reality.
Why do you think very few other wrestlers are out as LGBTI?
Jake Atlas: I don’t really know why other LGBTI wrestlers haven’t come forth publicly about their sexuality.
It could be a struggle within them that they have yet to fully understand. It could be the same reason that I waited so long to do it— being afraid of the response. Each story is different and each individual, with everything, uses a different method to help cope with their inner demons.
Others might feel the same way that my mother and that guy on Reddit feels, “why would anyone care? I’m just trying to be a wrestler.” While I respect that stance, I fully believe it is important to at least acknowledge it so that we can get to a point where children in the LGBTI community can feel that they can achieve anything they have ever dreamed of.
That quality about them is not a weakness they should feel, but a strength to help guide them to personal and professional prosperity.
Are you single and what do you look for in a partner?
Jake Atlas: I am very much single.
I actually have only had one partner my whole life at 18 years old. It was a simple high school relationship that lasted a year, and I haven’t been able to experience anything similar since.
I am so distracted and in love with wrestling at the moment that dating is so complicated to engage.
I do have a dream of getting married and starting a family one day. I’m sure that when the moment comes and stars align, I will find the right guy.
You’ve talked a little bit about your depression in the past, how did that come about?
Jake Atlas: I suffer from depression and anxiety. That was found in 2015 when I actually broke the C6 bone in my neck. Essentially, a broken neck.
I was told by doctors that I should stop wrestling and cheerleading, or anything physical for that matter. It completely shattered me because wrestling was all I’ve ever wanted to do.
I contemplated suicide and had my first suicide attempt shortly thereafter.
Growing up, I always had instances of anxiety and would suffer from attacks, but I was completely in the dark about what they were or why. Mexican culture is known to disregard mental illness and not believe in it, so my mom would always say that it was asthma or lack of nutrients.
I know now that in my childhood, with everything I had to endure, they were all triggers that forced me into anxiety. It’s something still to this day I suffer from.
I actually had an attack a few days ago, so I know that this is something I have to be aware of and bring attention to so that I can find the strength to overcome it.
Wrestling has been my biggest enemy and my greatest love, it has brought me a revelation to depression, anxiety, and potential suicide, but it has also brought me endless happiness. I think that’s just the passion I have for the sport.
You just won the 2017 Southern California Rookie of the Year award – how do you feel?
Jake Atlas: Winning the 2017 Southern California Rookie of the Year award has been my proudest accomplishment to date.
It was a goal I set for myself two years ago when I returned to training after injury. I’m so proud of my commitment and dedication to work so hard for this achievement.
Santino Bros Wrestling Academy has produced a long line of winners and I was completely honored to have continued the tradition. I was honored to follow in my best friends’ and fellow wrestlers’ footsteps in Brody King and Douglas James. And of course, it was an honor to be the first openly gay recipient of the award.
I felt that it was a responsibility of mine to make that acknowledgment to inspire others and further promote my message that nothing should ever hold you back from breaking down barriers, stigmas, and glass ceilings because of your differences.
You can be special and you can make history, just like I did.