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Philly trans pro wrestler Edith Surreal: Wrestling ‘gave me the confidence to transition’

Pro wrestling is “the greatest form of storytelling and the greatest form of art,” said Edith Surreal.

Edith Surreal applies her makeup before a training session at Worldwide Dojo in Bristol.
Edith Surreal applies her makeup before a training session at Worldwide Dojo in Bristol.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

Meet Edith Surreal, a trans pro wrestler from Philly formerly known as Still Life with Apricots and Pears.

• On pro wrestling: “It’s like magic. You know it’s an illusion, that we’re working together, but you don’t know how. You may think you know, but people are usually wrong.”

• On her first hardcore match: “I was nervous to go through a table but as soon as I felt it I was like, ‘Oh I get this! This is great!’”

When Edith Surreal entered the professional wrestling scene in 2018, she did so under the name Still Life with Apricots and Pears. Her backstory in the ring was that she was a human work of art created by Blank, another pro wrestler.

But over the years, as Surreal learned the ropes, riled up crowds, and perfected her moves (like her signature Fruit Rollup pin), she found herself coming into her own in the ring, and outside of it too.

And so this year, she made a decision she’s been thinking about for a long time, to change her name from a piece of art to that of the woman she is, Edith Surreal.

“Being a wrestler gave me the confidence to transition...and I transitioned while I was already performing, so I was able to put my transition on display,” she said. “Once I started meeting fans and they’d come out to me and share their story, it felt like this is so much bigger than myself.”

As a kid growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, Surreal always loved pro wrestling, especially Extreme Championship Wrestling, which was based out of South Philly. But as “a young, closeted, trans person,” the very thing she loved was often very painful too.

“In wrestling, there were very transphobic tropes that appeared on TV that were upsetting to me as a person,” she said. “We couldn’t relate to the wrestlers we saw on TV growing up, so our heroes were things from other art forms or cultures or media, and we’re able to bring that into the wrestling we make today, which really sets us apart.”

In recent years, the LGBTQ+ pro wrestling scene has “grown exponentially,” Surreal said, and she thinks it’s because queer wrestlers bring something new to what, for a long time, was viewed by society as “this very masculine kind of thing.”

“It doesn’t have to be the same old tropes,” she said. “There can still be cutting edge avant-garde wrestling. We can do something different, expand it, and push the boundaries.”

To Surreal, pro wrestling is everything, but most of all, an art form.

“A lot of people are kind of critical of it and say it’s fake, but I think they’re thinking of it the wrong way,” she said. “It’s live-action storytelling, combat theater, and interactive theater....In my opinion, it’s the greatest form of storytelling and the greatest form of art.”

Surreal, who lives in Philly’s Francisville section with her dog, Kevin, was working as a freelance illustrator, graphic designer, and artist when one night in 2016, she attended an Ignite Philly session at Johnny Brenda’s. During the event, speakers gave a five-minute presentation about any topic and one was the founder of a wrestling network who invited audience members in for a free workshop.

Convinced by her friends to go, Surreal ended up taking a 101 class in pro wrestling. Out of 16 students who started, she was one of only four who passed.

“All of a sudden it became my main focus,” she said. “I slowly stopped focusing my life on art and rearranged my life to become a wrestler.”

Today, Surreal trains at The Worldwide Wrestling Dojo in Bristol with owner Brandel Littlejohn, the pro wrestler formerly known as Cheeseburger who now goes by World Famous CB.

“She’s very technical but also a work of art,” Littlejohn said, of Surreal’s style. “Her holds look like they’re painful, but they’re beautiful at the same time.”

During her first two years of training, Surreal began making her way into the independent wrestling scene by paying her dues — helping to set up the ring at matches, running the camera, and driving performers to the airport.

“Eventually you start getting into shows once you have enough people who can vouch that you will get through a match,” she said. “But it’s on you to make a name for yourself and get bookings. We don’t have managers, we don’t have agencies. We’re completely independent contractors.”

The shows are independent promotions too. Spread out over the country, matches take place at American Legion halls, school gyms, church basements, and breweries, pretty much “anywhere you can fit a ring.”

Surreal sometimes drives up to 10 hours just to get to a show and she’s performed everywhere from California to Atlantic City. While she’s mostly a singles wrestler, Surreal sometimes does tag team matches and recently, participated in her first hardcore or death match.

“It was my first time wrestling with tables chairs and other weapons,” she said. “It was very exhilarating.”

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But her favorite match was last year at The Collective, an annual wrestling event in Indianapolis, Ind., where she faced off against Dark Sheik, another trans pro wrestler.

“Because we have such a connection it became this really special moment that everyone was drawn in to,” Surreal said. “It wasn’t just two wrestlers. It was so much bigger than that.”

In March, Surreal won the inaugural Cassandro Cup at a tournament held in a secret location in Northeast Pennsylvania (it was closed to fans due to COVID-19). The tournament honored Cassandro, a lucha libre legend from Mexico who Surreal said was “the forefather for LGBTQ+ wrestling.”

“That was the biggest honor of my career, to win that and have that cup and honor Cassandro’s name,” she said.

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On Tuesday, a documentary about Surreal premiered on IndependentWrestlingTV as part of their The Life of ___ series. For the show, a pro wrestler is given a GoPro camera for a month to record their life outside of the ring. In her episode, Surreal wanted to highlight her transition and everything that goes into being a trans person.

“I share moments where I was misgendered. I bring it to get laser hair removal. I do estrogen injections on camera. I share these really vulnerable moments,” she said. “Nobody knows what goes into being trans, the things we have to do on a daily basis to just exist.”

Surreal, who still works as a graphic artist on the side, said she hopes that one day, pro wrestling will be her only job, one that will take her around the world.

“As a trans person I want to show that we belong everywhere,” she said. “We can compete and be a part of society and be loving and heroic and someone that anyone can look up to.”

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