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AEW's Nyla Rose on Being Her Most Authentic Self in a World That Fights Her Trans Existence

She plays a villain on TV, but in real life, she's one to root for

Keisha Hatchett

On Feb. 12, a roaring chant of "This is awesome" pierced the air in the packed H-E-B Center in Cedar Park, Texas, as Nyla Rose took on Riho for All Elite Wrestling's Women's World Championship. The match had been an intense back-and-forth as both women bludgeoned each other in a stunning but brutal dance. It all came to a cathartic end when Rose, also known as the Native Beast (a nod to her Oneida First Nations heritage), delivered the lethal combination of a spear and the Beast Bomb -- a devastating sit-down powerbomb -- to secure the victory and her title. It was a crowning achievement for Rose, who not only reached the pinnacle of her profession but also made history as the first openly trans woman to win a major wrestling title. 

"It was such a profound, beautiful moment that meant a lot to a lot of people because in wrestling, we're kind of a mirror for society in a lot of ways," Rose told TV Guide of her historic win. She also noted that she's determined to regain the title after losing to Hikaru Shida at Double or Nothing in May. "For someone like myself, a trans woman of color, to be one of the top stars in the company, that's absolutely unheard of."

Just seven years ago, out and proud LGBTQ wrestlers were virtually nonexistent in mainstream wrestling. What little representation there was had been relegated to offensive storylines like WWE's trainwreck wedding between wrestlers Billy and Chuck, which was heavily maligned by GLAAD. However, when WWE's Darren Young came out in 2013, becoming the industry's first openly gay active wrestler, he opened the floodgates for others like Hall of Famer Pat Patterson, Sonya DeVille, Shayna Baszler, Jake Atlas, Paige, and more to publicly embrace their LGBTQ identities in a way they couldn't before. Today, mainstream wrestling is far more inclusive, especially in AEW, where performers like flamboyant dancer-turned-wrestler Sonny Kiss are given space to freely express themselves while still being taken seriously with major championship opportunities. 

But Rose is unique. She is the only trans performer in mainstreaming wrestling right now -- though several trans performers are making waves on the indie circuit, including Dark Sheik, Lola Starr, and Candy Lee -- so her regular presence on All Elite Wrestling: Dynamite isn't just groundbreaking; it's essential for the young trans kids watching who can finally see themselves represented in wrestling. 

"For so many people to see that sort of representation on their television, it just in so many indescribable ways, it was very important," Rose said. "Just the fact that I'm on television regularly, we don't have very many characters or people like myself on television."

Nyla Rose, All Elite Wrestling: Dynamite

Nyla Rose, All Elite Wrestling: Dynamite 


Rose's onscreen persona as an abrasive, mean-spirited and destructive force who relishes in inflicting pain on others makes her a villain worth booing. But the woman behind the skull mask is a delightful, sharp-witted gamer with an affinity for hiking and The CW series Supernatural. (She even admitted to having a devil's trap hidden under a rug in her house.) The 37-year-old Washington, D.C., native's affable personality was shaped by her upbringing in a lower-middle class home that she says was "poor in material but rich in love and happiness."

It wasn't until Rose grew older and moved outside of D.C. that she began to notice how much she stood out. Deemed "too Black" for white kids and "too white" for Black kids, Rose often found herself an outsider and learned early on the importance of not caring what others thought about her. That self-preservation carried through to adulthood, where she reveled in her eccentricities and found a safe space among members of the LGBTQ community during Pride celebrations. First positioning herself as an ally, it took some time for Rose to fully embrace her identity as a trans woman.

"I was very much a sheltered in the sense of trying to protect myself for a long time before I was out. I just would say, 'I'm just eccentric,' and try to pass it off as something that it wasn't. I was just in denial for my own protection and to protect others. But it reached a boiling point and I had to live my truth," Rose explained.

In an interview with Logo, Rose revealed that her turning point came after coming out to several close friends and seeing a documentary on Eddie Izzard, who is trans, in which he discussed his own struggles with coming out. Rose then decided to stop hiding who she was and finally start living her life authentically.

"Once I did, the self-preservation in the sense of trying to care what other people thought quickly melted away, and I was like, 'You know what? This is my life, I'm living it for me. I'm the one that pays my bills. I'm the one that has to be myself 24/7. Other people aren't around, so why would I do things to make them happy?'" she told TV Guide. "I know that sounds a little crummy [and] like I'm not thinking of my fellow person, but on a personal level, you have to be a little bit selfish sometimes. You have to do what's good for you because if you can't be the best you, you can't give your best to others."

As one of AEW's top performers, Rose has made the conscious effort to be defined not by her gender but rather by what she does in the ring. In on-air programming, she's billed as the callous and unrepentant Native Beast, who can drill you through a table without breaking a sweat. Her efforts to be seen as a serious competitor instead of a gimmick have been fully supported by her AEW cohorts, including CBO and wrestler Brandi Rhodes, who has spoken up about the company's policy of inclusivity regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnicity, or sexuality. 

"They saw me as a person first, and that is the simple beauty of it. A lot of times, we can over-complicate things, but this was one of those times where it was just beautifully simplistic. Nyla is queer. She's a woman. There's no need to make a big deal out of what type of woman she is," Rose said.

Nyla Rose, All Elite Wrestling: Dynamite

Nyla Rose, All Elite Wrestling: Dynamite 


Rose's mainstream visibility is a huge step in the right direction, but she still faces an uphill battle with transphobia both in the real world, where Black women accounted for 91% of the victims of fatal anti-trans violence in 2019, and in the wrestling industry. Her initial signing with AEW in February 2019 was met with swift backlash from trolls, whose hateful comments have only worsened since her championship win. She also faces bigoted remarks from other wrestlers, like ex-WWE performer Val Venis, who referred to her title win as "cheating." But like her onscreen persona, Rose remains unfazed by the vitriol hurled at her and instead claps back with the sort of steely irreverence that only comes with true self-acceptance. AEW has firmly stood behind Rose and taken quick action to support her when needed; EVP/wrestler Matt Jackson banned a transphobic fan from future events for heckling Rose, and EVP/wrestler Cody Rhodes declared that AEW would never work with Venis following his offensive remarks. Rose said she hopes that AEW's stance as an inclusive company inspires wrestling fans to combat transphobia in their everyday lives.

"Hopefully, it'll radiate outward into the more mainstream society, and people will take a stand and say, 'Hey, don't say those things, that's not right. Don't do that. Don't make those kinds of jokes,'" Rose said. "It's not about policing anybody or censoring anybody. It's just about provoking thought, provoking change. We want to treat everybody positively and fairly."

Although Rose is a public figure, she doesn't consider herself a role model. The former Women's World Champion says she is still figuring out that balance between her villainous TV persona and using her platform as an outspoken advocate. But with every Beast Bomb on Dynamite and every clapback against Twitter trolls, Rose remains unapologetically herself in a world that continues to fight her existence, and that's pretty damn heroic. 

Catch Rose in action on AEW: Dynamite, which airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on TNT.