Lola Pistola | Translation
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Translated by MC Editorial
[Daniel Alarcón]: This is Radio Ambulante from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
[Referee]: Diego Dos Pistolas Garrrrijo!
[Daniel]: This is how they introduce Diego in one of his favorite places in the whole world: the ring. Once there, his mind drifts away from everything else.
[Diego Garijo]: On the stage I feel that I’m blind. I can’t see anything except the person I’m going to fight. I am 100% focused. And sometimes I don’t even hear the referee’s words.
[Daniel]: Diego “Dos Pistolas” Garijo. One hundred seventy-five centimeters tall, 90 kilos of muscle.
Diego has a large part of his body covered with tattoos—his face, neck, torso. On his chest, for example, it reads in large letters, “Eat the rich”. He is 43 years old. He was born in Guanajuato, Mexico. But when he was almost 5 years old, he migrated with his family to the United States. Now he lives in California.
After a lonely childhood and a rather troubled adolescence and youth, mixed martial arts, better known as MMA, became a safe place for him. It gave him purpose, a community, and some money. His career began in 2006, and since then, almost his entire life has revolved around this passion.
MMA is one of the fiercest contact sports out there. It is similar to the Brazilian “vale tudo”, because originally there were almost no rules. The only things you couldn’t do were give low blows, put your fingers in the other person’s mouth or eyes, or bite. Other than that, everything else was allowed. And you see it all—bare fists, kicks, knees, and a mix of any martial discipline and combat sport you are able to master.
[Diego]: It is much more difficult than boxing. You have to know 20 things instead of just one thing. In other words, you have to know 20 things about Jujitsu, 20 things about Muay Thai, 20 things about wrestling . . .
[Daniel]: The fact that it had no rules was part of its appeal, but in the United States, in 1996, then-Senator John McCain from Arizona called MMA “a cockfight between people” and succeeded in having commercialization of the sport banned until it was regulated. Certain moves are not allowed now, such as kicking an opponent’s head when they’re down, pulling their hair, or head-butting. Since it was regulated, it has grown rapidly and is now one of the most popular sports in the world.
An MMA fighter trains for months to fight 25 minutes or less. He has only three or five rounds to defeat his opponent, while a referee watches his every move.
Its most famous setting is a classic octagonal ring, sometimes even a cage. For fans, its main charm is that, thanks to the many disciplines they can use, there are fighters with all kinds of styles and a large repertoire of blows.
Diego, for example, specializes in Mexican-style boxing. This is a very fast and aggressive style of boxing. And that’s the same energy he uses to fight in mixed martial arts. However, Diego is not known for his technique, but for his energy. What interests him most is putting on a show. He usually doesn’t take a step backwards, even if he is receiving a shower of blows.
[Voice 1]: Good left hand on this step for Diego Garijo… Both fighters swinging back…
[Voice 2]: Such a strong start and such a weak finish for… It’s all over! Garijo wins!
[Daniel]: He dances around the ring, with open legs, looking directly into his opponent’s eyes. He also fights with gestures: laughing mischievously even though his face may be bloody, challenging the other’s courage, thinking, “Let’s see who falls first.”
Of the 14 fights he has been in, he has only lost twice. Every time he is hit, he tries to find the energy to resist to the end, over and over again. And the public responds with that same intensity.
[Diego]: Oh, it makes you feel out of this world. And there are thousands of people out there in the arena who are calling your name and they are yelling and cheering for you. You can’t compare that to many other things in life.
[Daniel]: Being a fighter was not only defined in the ring and in front of the spectators. However brief the match may be, his preparation and lifestyle were a full-time job. Get up early, weigh himself, and then go to the gym twice a day, even on weekends. Come home and watch videos of techniques he might learn.
His family was used to his routine. Diego and Olivia, the mother of his children, and now ex-wife, had met in high school, and after falling in love and getting married, they started a family. Olivia gave Diego her support when he wanted to start a wrestling career, and the two managed to raise three children.
In 2011, Diego was preparing to participate for the first time in the most important MMA league of all, the UFC, that is, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, in the United States. He was sure they would call him sooner or later. But in one of the training sessions, when he was sparring with a teammate, he neglected his guard and his colleague connected a punch to his right eye.
[Diego]: I lost my sight for about 30 minutes and when it came back there was a small light that came on every two or three hours.
[Daniel]: It had been a hard knock, yes, but since he’d suffered so many fractures and injuries in the past, he didn’t think much of it. He never imagined what that little light in the eye would cause.
We’ll be back after a short break.
[Daniel]: We are back with Radio Ambulante. Fernanda Guzmán investigated this story and now she picks it up:
[Fernanda Guzmán]: As we said, Diego was pretty used to injuries and had a high tolerance for pain. Once, he even walked for several days without knowing that he had a broken leg. So, in 2011, when he got hit in the eye, he didn’t go to the doctor right away.
[Diego Garijo: Being as stubborn as I was, no, no, I didn’t go to the doctor, and a few days passed and then the small light in the eye continued more, more, and more.
[Fernanda]: He consulted by phone with a doctor who treated accredited wrestlers and told him his symptoms: that at the beginning it was a light that appeared and disappeared two or three times a day, but now it was permanent. The doctor told him that something didn’t sound right and he should check it out in person.
A few more days passed until Diego finally went to the doctor’s office. The doctor checked him over and did tests on his eye. Diego began to get nervous. He noticed the doctor was somewhat reserved. Only then did he feel that something was very wrong and that the doctor did not want to tell him yet.
[Diego]: Maybe because he knew me… he knew that I was pursuing my career with all my heart. Maybe he didn’t want to be the person to tell me it was a very serious problem.
[Fernanda]: And sure enough, the doctor told him he had an idea of what was going on, but he didn’t want to make a diagnosis before he was completely sure. He asked Diego to make an urgent appointment with a retina specialist. And since Diego was beginning to get scared, he did that immediately.
The next day, the specialist explained that the impact of the blow was so strong that it had detached the retina, the membrane on the back wall of the eye that transforms light into a nerve impulse that travels to the brain and becomes the images we see. Any disruption of the retina can change the way we perceive colors or, as in Diego’s case, it can cause white lights that obstruct vision.
The situation was very delicate. Diego needed to have emergency surgery.
The doctor told him:
[Diego]: “If you don’t have surgery tomorrow, 100% you’ll lose all sight in that eye.” And when he told me that, I was like… wow… man, not 99%—100%.
[Fernanda]: 100% blind in the right eye. The doctor’s words scared him enough for him to have surgery as soon as possible. That surgery was going to be very uncomfortable. Diego’s retina was detached, and to put it back in place, they had to use a silicone band and a special gas that was inserted into the eye with a needle. All this was to generate the necessary pressure so that the retina would stick to the wall of the eyeball.
[Diego]: And you can see the needle when it’s being inserted into your eye; that needle goes in real slowly.
[Fernanda]: Of course it hurt. But, according to Diego, the doctor was surprised to see him continue talking throughout the surgery, even with the needle inside. When the doctor had finished, he told him to rest completely until his eye finished healing—at least a couple of weeks.
And he also gave him one last piece of bad news. He explained that his retinas were genetically very delicate. It was likely that if he continued his fighting career, not just one, but both of them would detach. If that happened, he would go blind. That meant not only that he couldn’t continue preparing to fight in the UFC, but that he would probably have to give up fighting altogether.
[Diego]: I… I wasn’t ready. I had given my life to fighting. I was ready to go blind. If I didn’t have children, I would have continued to fight—that was a very, very bad blow.
[Fernanda]: In other words, if it had been up to him, he would have fought until he was blind, but, having a family, he felt that the decision was not his alone.
That afternoon, no one could pick him up after the surgery, and since his house was nearby, he decided to walk back home alone. On the way, he had time to think about the diagnosis the doctor had given him and the need to give up what he was most passionate about in the world.
[Diego]: Then the doctor gives me the bad news, and like a movie, I start walking home, and out of nowhere in California, where it hardly ever rains, it starts to rain.
And I’m walking home about to cry and soaking wet.
[Fernanda]: At that point, Diego had been fighting for almost six years, and he felt that giving up training, the lights in the arena, the octagons and the cheers of the public was almost like giving up on himself. It was much more than just the fear of not having money, or losing his great dream of being a world champion. It was something more personal.
[Diego]: I had such a passion for fighting. It was what saved me as an adult. Because I was so angry.
[Fernanda]: Diego had been harboring some serious anger ever since he was young. Because he was not the child that you may be imagining. Many years before his violent and fighting life, he was sensitive and artistic, and this drew the attention of the other kids in his San Diego neighborhood. He didn’t usually behave the way that was expected of him—dry, tough, stereotypically masculine.
Besides crying if he wanted to, and showing when something had hurt him, he liked to listen to Whitney Houston and paint, instead of going out to play soccer. These traits made him suffer.
[Diego]: When I was a child, people made fun of me, or got me into trouble, or hit me because they saw me as weak or thought I was too feminine.
[Fernanda]: He was bullied, they said he was probably gay, as if that were an insult, and took away his toys. He just put up with it. Back then, he thought that defending himself meant responding aggressively, and he didn’t know how to do it.
[Diego]: I couldn’t picture making a fist and hitting someone in the face. It was too violent for me.
[Fernanda]: And life at home was no easier.
[Diego]: My mother—I felt that she was abandoning me sometimes. I didn’t always know if my mother was going to come home, so I carried a very heavy feeling ever since I was a child.
[Fernanda]: Diego grew up practically alone, forced to have a life more on the streets than in his own home. And at some point, he began to transform into a person he had never imagined.
He focused on transforming his exterior, on embodying that masculinity that people around him expected of him. He wanted to present a stronger, tougher, even reckless version of himself.
[Diego]: In a way, I think you also try to prove even more that you are a real macho.
[Fernanda]: It was then that he began hanging out with people who were engaged in stealing, and he got involved with drugs. He also began to participate in motorcycle competitions that often turned dangerous. And in that environment, he soon began to live the same kind of life, what he calls “the life of crime”—robbing stores, stealing television sets or electronic devices…
But over the years, he grew tired of that life. Olivia, who would become the mother of his children, encouraged him to look for something different. Enter: wrestling. He started training seriously. It was a way of maintaining an intimidating appearance. So he began to fight and become more and more successful, until, as we heard, almost six years later a punch to the right eye put everything he had built at risk.
Wrestling gave Diego an identity and also a career that made him money. At first, he was paid 10,000 dollars per fight, which, with the help of some credit, allowed him to support himself for a while. Later, he starting getting up to 15,000 per fight. Now, leaving it meant having to look for a new job to support himself and his family, but Diego didn’t know any other world.
[Diego]: I had left school long ago and I had no second career, I had nothing, no other means of earning money except fighting.
[Fernanda]: The needs of daily life could not wait for Diego to process his grief. It was urgent to get another job, whatever that was, something that would help him support his family.
Less than a year after quitting wrestling due to his eye injury, he was able to get a job in what is known in English as a “process server”: the ones in charge of serving documents to notify people that they have to go to Court for some reason in the United States. That document has to be delivered in person. And Diego was the one who delivered it.
He started taking cases that no one else wanted—people who were hiding, who could be dangerous, or who were very hard to find. He would park outside their house for days in order to intercept them. He even disguised himself as a package delivery man to deceive them. He was very good at his job and it gave him the necessary income to pay the rent and support his family.
But Diego was having a hard time adjusting to this new lifestyle. He felt that it just wasn’t for him. That discomfort turned to sadness. Almost every day, before arriving at work, he would stop in the parking lot for a while and cry in his car before going inside.
He had spent almost six years fighting, with no traditional job. He had no idea how to adjust to such a conventional world of work.
[Diego]: Nothing made me feel what I felt when I was fighting—that emotion. I didn’t know how to be a normal person doing a 9-to-5 job, with a manager telling you what to do.
[Fernanda]: He was advised on medical instruction not to practice any more contact sports. But Diego missed being physically active, so for a while he settled for lifting weights.
Six years later, despite of his doctor’s instructions, he began bare-knuckle boxing. The doctor cleared him to train, but he was not allowed to fight competitively in MMA ever again. It wasn’t the same, but he was glad to be active.
After saving enough to support his family for a while, he quit his job as a process server. He needed a break and wanted to find a way to rebuild his life. He was not sure how. He tried to reconnect with what he enjoyed doing as a kid, before he learned to fight: drawing, art. He became a tattoo artist and started selling some paintings, but he still wasn’t completely at peace.
In those days, Diego was going to the same gym as Eric del Fierro, a trainer for UFC fighters. They had become friends and he trusted him enough to tell him a little about what he had been experiencing in recent years.
[Diego]: He saw that I was struggling with the transition from fighter to regular person with a job.
[Fernanda]: And with the need to find himself again. After listening, Eric gave him some advice.
[Diego]: He told me, “I know that you’re trying to change your life. I just took this course. I think it would benefit you a lot.”
[Fernanda]: It was an emotional intelligence course. It lasted two weekends and was taught in Las Vegas, five hours from his city of San Diego. The trip and classes were an investment, but Eric del Fierro bought some paintings from him to help pay for it.
Diego traveled to Las Vegas the two weekends of the course. It was a building with classrooms, where he met a group of people who, like him, were trying to define the new path their lives would take. Some wanted to release creative blocks, others were looking for more self-confidence or trying to find their true professional calling.
Diego did not go unnoticed in his group. It wasn’t just the tattoos all over his body; when they met him, he was in pieces. His arm was in a cast and his face was covered with stitches. Of course, he had not obeyed the doctor one hundred percent, and when he could, he would go back and overdo his training.
When it was his turn to talk in front of the group, he told them how much it had cost him to give up professional MMA competitions, and that now he was looking for something else to make him happy. Ideally something that was related to art.
And among his classmates, listening to him, was Jackie, a young woman who works in the fashion industry and who was also looking to turn her career around. Here is Jackie:
[Jacqueline Spercio]: You know, it takes a lot of confidence just to be yourself in front of everybody. And that’s why I was very drawn to him. Like we immediately kind of just opened up and shared…
[Fernanda]: Jackie thought it was very brave of Diego to be so transparent and open up in front of everyone. They talked more during the course and soon struck up a friendship.
But beyond the new friendships, the main objective that Diego had in this course was to resolve a matter that he had been thinking about for months:
[Diego]: Trying to find out who I was without fighting. Who am I?
[Fernanda]: On the second weekend of the course, they discussed what made each of them feel vulnerable and how they could allow themselves this vulnerability. Diego listened very attentively.
He considered himself someone who had no difficulty showing his emotions. Yes, he had created a physical shell for himself that was traditionally masculine, but despite the bullying he had suffered as a child, he allowed himself things that he considered to break the stereotype of a macho, like crying in front of his children if he was moved by a film, or simply expressing affection to loved ones.
Diego already considered himself vulnerable, so the challenge was different: find something he had never done before, something new.
[Diego]: So I said, “How can I push my limits of what would be vulnerable for me?”
[Fernanda]: Those who knew him knew that he was sensitive, but those who judged him only by his exterior had no way of knowing.
[Diego]: Well, from my perspective, everyone sees me as this macho masculine fighter.
[Fernanda]: So he thought about it…
[Diego]: What is more masculine than a fighter?
[Fernanda]: He came to the conclusion that, perhaps to explore that limit, he would have to do something that was the complete opposite.
[Diego]: The most vulnerable thing I can do is present myself as feminine.
[Fernanda]: And as soon as he thought about it, an idea came to him, an image, which he immediately shared with his group.
[Diego]: So I said, “What if I do a drag show?”
[Fernanda]: A drag show. His course mates thought it was a great idea, that it was something fun, and they celebrated it.
[Diego]: Everyone felt that this was the most vulnerable thing I could do, as a man who also at that time sees himself as very hyper-masculine, right?
[Fernanda]: He wasn’t quite sure where to start, but he knew that, just as with fighting, it would require commitment. And, just as in the ring, he would throw all his energy into a drag show.
So he began training.
[Daniel]: We’ll be back after a break.
[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
Fernanda Guzmán continues the story.
[Fernanda]: Diego was convinced that doing a drag show was a great idea, even though he actually knew very little about drag. The only reference he had from that world was something he saw as a teenager, and it was about…
[RuPaul]: If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?
[Fernanda]: RuPaul, the most famous drag queen in the United States and probably the world. In 1993 he released his first big hit song, “Supermodel.” In the video he appears as a man in a long white wig, with makeup, heels, dresses and jewelry, singing about being a supermodel on the cover of magazines. Diego still had that image in his head. He had seen the video as a teenager, but that was all. And since it was not enough, he began to investigate.
[Diego]: I began to see how they dress, what they use for makeup, and like everything else, I have gone to extremes, and I began to study it.
[Fernanda]: Prior to his research, Diego thought that, at its core, drag was about men with makeup wearing dresses. And if you research drag on the internet for the first time, as Diego did, it may seem to be simply about that.
But he continued reviewing videos, photographs of different drag queens, and also watched some episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race, a reality show where different American drag queens compete to be the best in the country.
One of its winners, Sasha Velour, says that drag is shameless self-expression. A playful rejection of our assumptions about how a man or woman “should” act and look.
Drag is considered an art in itself, and not exclusively for men, but for anyone who wants to play with gender stereotypes. In fact, there are also drag kings or even people whose drag falls completely out of the binary, among many other types of drag.
Its essence is to transform into someone else, but drag is not only about physical appearance. It also has to do with music and choreography, among many other things. Drag queens usually do musical shows where they move their lips as if they are singing a song chosen by them, and they also dance to the rhythm.
So Diego set a goal for himself: he would not only dress as a drag queen, but he would also perform at a bar and do a live show. That would be the real exercise in vulnerability for him. He searched in San Diego for a bar to perform at, where there would be an open mic for drag queen shows.
He found one on Google called Lips, where they accepted new drag queens. So he called them on the phone to request a space on stage. The big event would be on June 7, 2019, and that would give him almost three months to prepare.
Later, he told his family about the plan. They are used to Diego telling them about strange ideas, so it didn’t take them by surprise, nor did they think it was a bad thing. He thinks his children’s generations areis much more open-minded and they’re not usually scared by this kind of thing. So they took it very naturally. Olivia, his ex-wife, supports him in the crazy ideas that occur to him, and this was no exception.
[Diego]: Although she did have a moment when I saw in her eyes that she was confused, as if to say, “What does this mean and what will follow after this?”
[Fernanda]: Diego noticed it in her expression, but they didn’t talk about it. He wanted to carry out this plan and Olivia supported him consistently.
When he was ready to start looking for clothes and accessories, Jackie, his course mate who worked in fashion, offered help. She knew where to take Diego.
They went to the Los Angeles Fashion District, an area of more than 100 blocks in the center of the city, where there are some two thousand clothing, shoe and accessory stores. They also sell all kinds of fabrics, threads and materials to make clothes.
In the Fashion District, Diego and Jackie walked through all the stores that Diego did not usually visit. They were looking for all the items he needed for his show. For example, the earrings. Diego wantedneeded to get his ears pierced.
Those and other parts of the process, like full-body waxing, were painful, but Diego and Jackie were having a lot of fun.
[Diego]: For me, that day will always be a very beautiful memory, because we had a wonderful time; we were getting to know each other. We bought my first… my first pair of heels.
[Fernanda]: It was very difficult to find them because Diego wears a size 12, and the heels that size didn’t fit him because his feet are too wide. But he managed to find a pair. They were red, pointed and had a heel about 13 centimeters high. For him, who had never worn heels, they were very high. For seasoned drag queens, they were slippers.
After buying them, they sat down in a café to rest after walking for hours. But Jackie, who was going to teach him to walk in heels, wanted to start the lessons right away, so she opened the new box of shoes . . .
[Diego]: And she said, “Why are you wasting time? Put them on now.” And I put them on right there and started walking.
[Jackie]: Oh, my gosh. The first time he ever wore heels, we put the high heels on and he just started walking around the coffee shop like it was nobody’s business…
[Fernanda]: Jackie recalls that Diego began to walk normally in the cafe. And although he looked confident before her while he took his first steps, the sensation in his feet was extremely uncomfortable, painful…
[Diego]: Oh, high heels wWith these feet that have been in mixed martial arts for 20 years and have been broken several times. I feel a pain that I can’t explain.
[Fernanda]: But, in a way, his fighting career helped him tolerate that pain. He didn’t take them off and did a whole catwalk to amuse Jackie.
[Diego]: And I remember she took me out to the street outside the cafe and said, “Let’s see, practice.” And I was walking and I will never forget…
[Fernanda]: Outside, on one of the busiest streets in Los Angeles, tourists were browsing the area and taking pictures. Among them, a family was walking with a small child, who kept looking up at Diego.
[Diego]: The boy… the confused face I saw on him. He turned around to look at my heels and then he looked up to see my face, and again my heels, and again my face.
[Fernanda]: Getting that reaction made the experiment start to feel real. The boy’s look gave him a mix of curiosity and laughter. He imagined what he was thinking, something like, “How strange people are here”. He was just a kid and it was just a pair of heels, but the situation made Diego also wonder whether some people weren’t ready to see certain things yet.
After resting in the café, Jackie and Diego continued their search for the rest of the wardrobe. The shoes had been only the beginning.
Diego wanted to perform “I’m Every Woman” by Whitney Houston, one of his favorite singers since childhood, and he was looking for a dress like the ones Whitney wore: voluminous, brightly colored and full of beading. But in one of the stores, they found a different dress…
[Diego]: And I fell in love with the dress, but it wasn’t the right one for that song. So I saw the dress and I said, “What song does this dress evoke for me?” And the first song I thought of is: Celia Cruz. “La vida es un carnaval.”
[SOUNDBYTE LA VIDA ES UN CARNAVAL]
[Celia Cruz]: Todo aquel que piense que la vida es desigual tiene que saber que no es así, que la vida es una hermosura, hay que vivirla…
[Fernanda]: The dress looked to Diego like a mermaid’s tail. It was green, fitted, and had shiny sequins. It was strapless, and the top was covered with green and gold pearls. Jackie thought it was beautiful, too. That had to be his dress, and his song.
[Diego]: So we started looking for everything to match that dress. The wig, the makeup, the jewelry…
[Fernanda]: The wig they chose was brown and wavy. It was styled and decorated with a blue scarf with a print of pink flowers. He also got a silver bracelet to match a large, iridescent blue rhinestone necklace. The Celia Cruz-style wardrobe was ready.
Once the song was chosen, Diego began to put together his show. Although drag is not a contact sport, it does require physical preparation.
[Diego]: So I started training, just like for a fight, I had to learn how to dance in heels. I started rehearsing my steps and memorizing the song.
[Fernanda]: Diego had thought up the choreography; the costumes and the music were ready; but something essential was missing: the face. Drag queens often wear very unique makeup. It’s like the character’s signature. So, no matter how you wear any style of clothing, people can always tell it’s you just by looking at your face. Also, drag queens usually apply their own makeup, but he didn’t know how, and since it was so important, Diego needed the help of a professional, and an acquaintance recommended one.
[Diego]: And he told me, “My friend Carlos does… does drag… he does performers’ makeup and is also a professional dancer who has done drag shows.”
[Fernanda]: Diego looked him up on Instagram and sent him a direct message telling him what he needed.
[Carlos]: And when he wrote to me, I looked at his profile, which was like a boxing profile. He had photos with blood on his face. I told my boyfriend, “I don’t know. I don’t know; it sounds pretty strange to me.”
[Fernanda]: This is Carlos González. He is Puerto Rican, 32 years old, and lives in Los Angeles.
From the outset, Carlos mistrusted Diego’s profile. This was not at all the type of client who usually sought him out. He doubted that his intentions were honest. He was afraid that he would hurt him, for example. But he finally responded and decided to meet Diego at a café. He told his then-boyfriend that he would send him the location just as a precaution, in case anything happened.
The day of the meeting arrived. Diego looked as intimidating in person as in his photos. But during their conversation, Carlos stopped being afraid.
[Carlos]: Diego in person is an angel, nothing to do with the photos. I mean, if you don’t know him, you don’t know who he is. And when I met him at that first interview, it was like… well, that image I had, everything changed.
[Fernanda]: To Carlos’s surprise, they soon had chemistry. Diego told him about his plan: that he wanted to put on a show, that he was committed to doing drag as professionally as he could, and that’s why he needed his help. Carlos thought it was an appealing and brave project, so they agreed to meet one day before the show at Diego’s house to choose the final makeup.
That’s how it was. The next day, Carlos arrived at Diego’s house and while he was preparing his implements on the dining room table, Olivia and Diego discussed for the first time what the perfect name would be for his drag persona. They remembered that, during the pregnancy of her daughter, one of the names they had in mind was Lola. And although in the end they decided on another name for the baby, they always liked Lola. Olivia said:
[Diego]: “Listen, what if you call yourself Lola Pistola, because it matches your fighter’s name, Dos Pistolas?” I said, “Wow, that’s great.” I loved it and then and there, Lola Pistola was born and… that was it.
[Fernanda]: The character that Diego imagined wearing that shiny mermaid dress, with red heels and a brown wig, inspired by Celia Cruz, and which he had been practicing for three months, now had a name: Lola Pistola. And with the name, he began to imagine her personality.
[Diego]: It made me feel like, OK, she has to be very aggressive, right?
[Fernanda]: In other words, not at all shy, but explosive and charismatic.
[Diego]: And I said, “Well, that’s how I’m going to use the spirit of Lola Pistola. Wherever I go, I’m going to be the center of attention,” right?
[Fernanda]: Lola needed only that distinctive, iconic face, and Carlos was focused on trying to satisfy Diego’s vision of her.
Carlos began by covering his eyebrows with a special glue. On top of the glue layer, he applied foundation, then designed black brows from scratch: big, thick, and angular. He outlined a pair of exaggerated lips, with more volume, and painted them red. He matched the eyeshade with the colors of the scarf: light blue and pink. He added some very, very long fake eyelashes. He contoured the cheekbones so they were defined and sharp, and he did the same for the nose. From the neck down, he didn’t cover any of Diego’s tattoos, so Lola looked imposing—feminine and masculine at the same time.
Diego’s family popped in from time to time to see how the process was going, but he didn’t want them to see his face until it was done. After about three hours of makeup, all that remained was to put on the wig and comb it a bit.
[Diego]: He said, “That’s it, we’re done.” And he took the mirror out for me… No… I couldn’t stop smiling. I was smiling so much because I had never seen myself like that before. It’s… it’s another world.
[Fernanda]: He felt beautiful. His family was surprised to see the big change. In addition to Carlos, Diego had another visitor that day: Luna Ferox, one of the friends he made at his course. She wanted to start a career in photography and asked to take photos of Lola as part of her personal project.
She gave him very specific instructions on poses when facing the camera: sitting cross-legged on an armchair, sometimes wearing fishnet stockings or underwear and a robe, in front of the bathroom mirror… And one, perhaps the most striking of all, sitting cross-legged on the toilet, holding a cigarette, apparently naked, showing almost all of his tattoos, wearing only his jewelry and looking directly into the camera.
[Diego]: And we took some very sexy photos. And at the time, I felt like, “Oh, I’m… yes, I’m doing something very different right now, because… I don’t know where these photos are going to end up or who’s going to see them.”
[Fernanda]: Buying clothes, researching drag, waxing, putting on makeup… all that had been entertaining, but it wasn’t until now, completely transformed into Lola and in front of his friend’s lens, that he finally felt he had fulfilled the initial task of his plan: he began to feel truly vulnerable.
[Diego]: And for a moment I had this thought, “Oh… I don’t know what people are going to think of me,” right? So this was a little bit of… of having to think, “Am I doing the right thing?”, and proceed from there.
[Fernanda]: He didn’t know where those photos would end up and what reaction, for example, extended family members might have.
But despite the doubts, he decided to get Lola on stage.
[Diego]: At that point I did feel it was a little bit of a risk, but I went ahead anyway.
[Fernanda]: The next night, the big event that Diego had been preparing for the last few months finally arrived. At 7 pm, Lips, the bar he had chosen, was packed. He arrived at the place almost completely transformed into Lola Pistola. Carlos, Olivia, and other close friends were there to support him.
Lights lit up the stage where the drag queens would parade. A catwalk stretched out toward the audience, and shimmering curtains of green glitter hung down the sides of the stage.
The back wall was black, covered with a curtain of rhinestones. And in the center was the logo of the bar: full pink lips on which the name “Lips” was written. The host of the event came out on stage, a drag queen who encouraged the public and who would be in charge of introducing the performers and making people laugh during the show.
Behind the scenes, Lola Pistola found out that it would not be a normal presentation that night, but a contest. His first time in drag, and it would be a competition. It was a bit of unexpected pressure, but nothing a professional fighter couldn’t handle.
Since he was ready, he decided to observe and inspect his opponents. They had all been assigned a kind of dressing room. It was actually a small closet, with about seven people doing their makeup shoulder to shoulder.
[Diego]: It reminded me of the fights, because sometimes you’re warming up in front of your opponent right there in a broom closet.
[Fernanda]: They all had very different styles and seemed quite experienced. They knew how to do makeup and many of them had designed their own clothes. In comparison, Diego felt at a disadvantage.
[Diego]: That feeling of being the new person there, that I didn’t know what I was doing.
[Fernanda]: While he was watching the others in the stuffy little dressing room, and with the show about to start, Diego began to feel scared.
[Diego]: And at that moment I think I was more scared than in a fight.
[Fernanda]: He was very familiar with the ring, but going on stage after just a few months of preparation made him feel that perhaps he had rushed… that he needed more time.
[Diego]: I’d rather fight well and have someone beat me in a fight than put on a bad drag show. And if I were to fall, or if my wig fell off, or if I looked like a clown… because I didn’t practice enough to give that show the proper dignity, because it is an art in itself.
[Fernanda]: Diego was still thinking about this when the first drag queen was called. The competition had begun. One by one, they left the dressing room and never returned, so Diego was left with more space, which he used to breathe and concentrate.
Meanwhile, in the audience, Carlos was watching the show.
[Carlos]: And all the contestants who came before Diego… were… from one to ten, I’d rank them at 10 or 11. They were all good, they were all professionals.
[Fernanda]: Diego left the dressing room and approached the back of the stage. His turn was drawing near. From that location he could see the current contestant’s show. He took the opportunity to get a good look at where to walk up and back, and he also tried to locate the table where his friends were. But then he decided to stop looking and continue to concentrate… until he was told, “Now it’s your turn.”
He felt a well-known sensation in his body, but one he had not experienced in a long time.
[Diego]: I did feel something very similar to what I feel when I’m about to fight. I have not been nervous in my career, but it does feel a little more like Americans say, butterflies in the stomach.
[Fernanda]: Butterflies in the stomach. But Diego hid it very well; he looked self-confident. And among cheers of support, Lola Pistola took the stage for the first time.
[SOUNDBYTE DE LA VIDA ES UN CARNAVAL BY CELIA CRUZ]
During the first few seconds of the song, Lola was dancing, and each step she took in those heels was aggressive and clumsy, but she swayed her hips and waved her arms to the rhythm of the music. And in the first pause of the song, just before Celia Cruz began to sing, Lola, in her green mermaid dress, surprised everyone with her first pose: hips and face to the left, one hand on her waist and the other on the brown wig. After a few seconds, Lola pointed one hand at the audience and someone shouted:
[SOUNDBYTE OF LOLA PISTOLA’S INSTAGRAM VIDEO]
[Fernanda]: Lola smiled and continued doing it, dancing with her legs open like someone waiting to receive a blow, accepting the bills the public handed her and putting them away in her chest.
[Diego]: So it was very difficult for me to collect the money and concentrate on the steps, so I was more concerned with the dance than collecting the money.
[Fernanda]: She kept pointing at people in the audience from time to time, winking here and there. She was still somewhat afraid of taking a wrong step, falling, or having her wig fall off, but she managed to focus and keep those worries aside.
[Diego]: I’m used to dominating my mind. That’s my power, that’s what I’m good at: controlling my feelings and not letting them control me.
[Fernanda]: His friends were very proud of him.
Carlos, for example.
[Carlos]: Wow! Diego did very well for his very intimidating first time. I believe that not all people have the courage or the power or the self-respect to climb on a stage. You have all the lights, you have all these people in… in front of you.
[Fernanda]: During and after the show, Diego once again heard the cheers and applause that he had been missing for almost seven years, ever since the last time he had set foot in an MMA ring. This was a different setting, but the emotion was much the same.
[Diego]: The show feels almost the same as a fight.
[Fernanda]: At the end of the contest, it was time to announce the winners. Diego was on the stage along with the rest of the contestants. He had no expectations, much less that his name would be called. When suddenly: Second place, Lola Pistola.
[Diego]: I was very excited to be in second place, but in reality, what was much bigger than that was that the person who won first place came and gave me part of the earnings, which I didn’t want to take, but he said, “Here, here, take this.” He said, “You deserve it. That made me feel included in the community, and I loved it. It was a very beautiful moment.
[Fernanda]: After the award ceremony, Diego went over to his friends’ table and took some photos with them. He noticed that they had really enjoyed the show and he was very grateful for their support. As the evening came to an end and everyone was getting ready to leave, the manager of the place came up to him and said:
[Diego]: “You know? You brought tremendous energy. You brought a lot of people here. Any time you want to do drag, the door is open and you can come do your shows whenever you want.”
[Fernanda]: The first Lola Pistola’s show had been a success and it opened a door that Diego had not considered, until now— continuing to do drag after that night.
A month later, Diego posted the videos of his presentation at Lips on Instagram and also the photographs of his first session, the ones in which he felt insecure. Thanks to those photos, his drag persona began to attract a lot of attention. He got new places to do shows, and for that he needed more characters, in addition to Celia Cruz. So he used part of his earnings as a tattoo artist to invest in Lola.
[Diego]: I have everything: a wardrobe, I have boxes full of outfits, because in that too… actually I’m a diva and I hate wearing the same thing twice. Every time I’m putting on a show, I like to have something completely different.
[Fernanda]: Lola caught the eye of the media, and several journalists were interested in interviewing him. His story was increasingly popular both in the world of drag and in the world of fighting.
Diego did not stop training during the entire time he prepared to do drag, nor when he decided to invest in it. He has had the same coach, Joe Vargas, since 2018, when he started his boxing training.
A few days after his show, Diego told him that he had become a drag queen. Joe made a joke:
[Joe Vargas]: I told him, “You’re pretty ugly, a heck of a woman,” I said, because there are some good-looking drag queens.
[Fernanda]: It was a joke, of course. Joe hadn’t even seen a picture of Lola. That joke was his way of normalizing the situation. He liked to see that Diego was encouraged by this. He supports him in fighting and he supports him in drag.
[Joe]: I was proud of him. Because if he… At the end of the day we want to live a happy life, don’t we? And if that makes him happy, then go ahead.
[Fernanda]: But not everyone there would have the same reaction. The wrestling community can be sexist and homophobic. As if to be a good fighter and a good man, you needed to embody a toxic and stereotypical masculinity. This is Joe again:
[Joe]: I don’t know whether Diego cares, but I know that the stereotype, the fighting community… well, it’s like, “Hey! What’s up with that guy? And why? And what’s up?” No… he didn’t give a darn.
[Diego]: There are people who have asked me at the gym, worried that people are going to think I’m gay or things like that. I always say, “I am who I am.”
[Fernanda]: Two or three people approached Joe to ask why he was training someone like Diego, with a connotation that he didn’t belong in that world because he was, quote, different. Joe answered them:
[Joe]: “Well, get in the ring with him to see whether he doesn’t have what it takes.” And that made them think twice. Who are we to judge in this life. Everyone wants to judge everyone else.
[Fernanda]: Diego continued to be Lola despite those criticisms. And Lola brought him more opportunities than he expected. His new popularity in the press and on social media brought more clients for his paintings and his tattoos.
Being able to make a living without fighting does not make Diego stop feeling that he has something pending. He feels that he needs a new opportunity to compete in order to say goodbye to one of the places that had brought the greatest satisfaction to his life: the ring.
In mid-2022, a few months before talking to me, he began planning and preparing for what could be his last fight. It would be a fight with gloves, classic boxing, without any MMA, where he could shine in his Mexican style. He started to look for an opponent and, again, to undergo exhaustive training, with a strict diet and hours and hours and hours of physical work to be in the best possible shape.
[Diego]: I had been training for two or three weeks and was already in good condition. And, agh, it hurts me to say this, but I kind of tore my biceps.
[Fernanda]: An injury that, once again, would prevent him from fighting.
But Diego, a fighter who, like many others, pushes his body to the limit because he feels that he is always against the clock, does not lose the hope of healing and fighting his last battle again. Now the chance of its happening is small, and as time goes by, it gets smaller and smaller. But unlike ten years ago, when he was plunged into that deep depression, this feeling and its intensity is not so suffocating now, thanks to Lola:
[Diego]: My mind is free. And whatever happens, what I have learned from drag is what will help me to be a whole person without having to fight again.
[Fernanda]: Lola has taught him something new: his identity is much broader and expands beyond gyms and octagons.
[Diego]: And if I have the opportunity to fight again some day, I will appreciate that moment, I will enjoy it, but it will not be the end of the world if I never fight again or have the opportunity.
[Fernanda]: Diego finally knows who he is without the fight and that is also a worthy farewell to the ring.
[Daniel]: Diego is still waiting to heal and find out whether he will be able to say goodbye to the ring. Meanwhile, his and Lola Pistola’s artistic project continues to grow. He and Jackie went from being friends to having a love relationship.
Fernanda Guzmán is a journalist and lives in Mexico City.
This story was edited by Camila Segura, Nicolás Alonso, Natalia Sánchez Loayza and me. The fact-checking was done by Bruno Scelza. Sound design is by Ana Tuirán and Rémy Lozano, with original music by Rémy.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Paola Alean, Lisette Arévalo, Pablo Argüelles, Andrés Azpiri, Aneris Casassus, Diego Corzo, José Díaz, Emilia Erbetta, Camilo Jiménez Santofimio, Juan David Naranjo, Ana Pais, Laura Rojas Aponte , Barbara Sawhill, David Trujillo, Elsa Liliana Ulloa and Luis Fernando Vargas.
Selene Mazón is our production intern.
Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.
Radio Ambulante is a podcast by Radio Ambulante Estudios, produced and mixed on the Hindenburg PRO program.
Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.