Identity

My Dad Is a Pro Wrestler, I'm a Drag Queen – We're Not So Different

Baltimore queen Washington Heights was still disowned by her father, the Extreme Championship brawler New Jack.
October 22, 2020, 8:00am
New Jack and Washington Heights
New Jack winning the Extreme Championship Wrestling Tag Team Title around 1998, and his drag queen son Washington Heights. Photo: George Napolitano/FilmMagic; courtesy of Washington Heights

When an up-and-coming drag queen revealed that her father is one of the most controversial professional wrestling stars of the 90s in August, she didn’t expect her Twitter post to blow up. But the apparent dissonance between father and son’s professions, and their troubled relationship, piqued fans’ interest.

Baltimore-based performer Washington Heights, 27, tweeted that her father Jerome Young, better known as Extreme Championship Wrestling brawler New Jack, cut her out of his life three years ago. She claimed it was because Young didn’t want his fans – accustomed to seeing the wrestler in bloody hardcore matches and bringing a trash can filled with weapons to the ring – to find out his son is a drag queen.

In an interview with VICE, Heights, who uses she/her pronouns when in drag, said she has not had any meaningful contact with Young, from North Carolina, since he removed her as a Facebook friend in April 2018. “His excuse was that, ‘Wikipedia wants to update my page … I don’t want them to put anything about you doing drag on there,’” said Heights. Naturally, she was perplexed. 

Fast forward to 2020. Heights went public about her father’s absence from her life after a Facebook memory from August 2017 appeared in her notifications. “My son, I love you,” Young had commented on one of her photos.

“He said we’d keep in touch, but then why say that and afterwards you haven’t reached out to me?” Heights asked. “It’s been over a year, maybe two years, since we talked.”

New Jack with son Washington Heights

New Jack with a young Washington Heights. Photo: Washington Heights

Heights believes Young removed her from his Facebook page because of fans questioning him about his son’s drag career. Young, she presumes, was “caught off guard” by this possible dent in the armour of his hyper-masculine, hardcore wrestling persona. “I don’t want to think he was ashamed of me,” said Heights. “I think it was more of, he didn’t know how to damage control with his fans. He didn’t have a proper answer for his fans, so his best way of handling it was to move on from it.”

In an email to VICE, Young said: “My son was mentioned in my book that just came out last year, so the statement about me disowning him three years ago is simply not true. I've heard there was a mention on his Twitter feed that he was upset because he was only mentioned once in a chapter that was half-a-page long.”

“I spoke briefly about him and four of my other children, he was actually one of my kids that was mentioned by name. I also mentioned the fact that I keep any information about all of my kids private, because that has nothing to do with wrestling and is my own personal business, that I prefer to keep private.”

Speaking to VICE earlier in September, Heights said that given the opportunity, she wanted to know “the reason he stopped talking to me. Was he embarrassed? Was he ashamed? Did he just not know what to say?”

Young’s wrestling career took off in the years after Heights was born in 1992. She grew up in Atlanta and was raised by her mother and saw her father infrequently when he came to town. To this day, Heights isn’t sure exactly how many siblings she has but believes the number to be four, as Young mentioned in his book. She only knows two of them, an older sister who also grew up in Atlanta, and another sister who lives in Ohio with whom she is “connected through social media.” 

In 1996, Young was involved in one of wrestling’s most controversial moments – dubbed the “Mass Transit incident” – when untrained and underaged aspiring wrestler Erich Kulas managed to get booked for an ECW show in a tag-team match against New Jack and his partner Mustafa Saed. Jack and Saed brutalised Kulas using various weapons. The match was eventually stopped after Jack bled Kulas with a scalpel, severing two arteries in his forehead and causing Kulas to pass out in pain. Young faced criminal charges for assault and battery but was acquitted.

Growing up, Heights was “pretty familiar” with her father’s wrestling career. “When I was in middle school, he would give me DVDs which probably shouldn’t have been watched by a middle-schooler, but I still watched them,” she said. “But I wasn’t familiar with some of the stuff outside of the ring … the legal trouble that he had.”

Young is now retired from wrestling—or as retired as a pro wrestler can be—while his son is finding fame in her own right. Heights began performing on the Baltimore drag scene in 2014. Four years later, she won best host, best show and drag queen of the year at the 2018 Baltimore Drag Awards. Since then, she’s been able to transition to a full-time career in drag. All that was missing was her father’s acceptance.

“I want him to be proud of me that I’m making a living off of this. I’m not harming myself or embarrassing myself,” said Heights. “I’m able to work full-time now doing something I love, just like he did. Even if he lies to me and says, ‘Oh, I’m proud of you,’ but he’s not proud, I just want to hear the words. Drag is mainstream now.”

Heights said she “would love for” Young to attend one of her shows, just as she attended one of his wrestling shows, “and for him to realise I’m just as crazy and outgoing as he is. It’s just that I wear makeup, a wig and a dress, and I’m not bashing people’s heads in.” 

Heights expressed hopes that by opening up, she might be able to reconnect with her father. “It wasn’t my intention to bash him. I’ve wanted to talk to him and have a conversation with him for a long time. If it took me asking [on social media] to reconnect and talk, it’ll be worth it.”

But this week, two weeks after her initial interview with VICE, Heights was made aware of a video in which Young appeared to address her using a homophobic slur.

In a Facebook livestream on 3rd September, Young appeared to allude to Heights’ tweet, telling fans: “There’s a lot of shit going on right now… I would just like to say to you, little f* motherfucker… you know who you are and you’re not my son.”

Heights said that “part of me is hurt by his comments, but at the same time, this doesn’t surprise me.” She added: “I wanted this to be an opportunity for us to settle things and talk them out, but after what he said I can tell that just won’t happen. As I said earlier, I wanted some kind of response or reaction from him. Was it the best response? No. Do I finally have my answer as to where he stands with our relationship? Yes.”

The irony that there are similarities between drag and wrestling isn’t lost on Heights, either. “When I was younger, I went to one of his shows,” she said. “I was fascinated by the entrance music, the costumes, the flashiness, the big personalities, the fireworks. That’s pretty much everything that I’m doing except drag queens don’t slam each other on the floor and attack each other.”

@tufayel