Competition runner up, Princess Puff Puff, battles to the end at a Superhero Lady Armwrestlers of Portland event at Geno's Rock Club on Saturday night, June 25, 2022. The marijuana-themed, royal character is the creation of Kelsea Dunham. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

PORTLAND, Maine — Ranger Bushwacker danced and gyrated her way to the stage at Geno’s Rock Club on Saturday night to the pulsating rhythm of a pounding dance anthem and wild screams of delight from the audience.

Dressed as a park ranger, with green shorts, a wide-brimmed, brown campaign hat and a plush beaver puppet on her left hand, it was an unforgettable entrance.

On the stage, the flamboyant Bushwacker bested all her opponents, beating them one-by-one, winning the title of strongest arm wrestler of the evening.

She then danced herself off stage, through a throng of delirious fans and back into her regular life as Ava Gurekian.

Competitors Pope Benelicks LXIX (left) and Alice Capone face off in a Superhero Lady Armwrestlers of Portland Pride Month event at Geno’s Rock Club in Portland on Saturday night, June 25, 2022. The event marked the organization’s 10th anniversary. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

That’s how the Superhero Lady Armwrestlers of Portland events are designed to work. They’re supposed to be a fun time, where women and nonbinary persons trade their humdrum, everyday personas for empowered, bombastic versions of themselves while performing feats of strength.

Likewise, Saturday’s event was meant to be a lighthearted show, capping off a month of Portland Pride events, while celebrating the organization’s 10th anniversary, with all proceeds going toward MaineTransNet.

But after Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling, throwing out 50 years of abortion rights, the arm wresling bout took on a new undercurrent of urgency, power and anger.

“It endangers all of us,” said event co-organizer Diamond Duryea of the court’s ruling.

The Superhero Lady Armwrestlers of Portland, known as SLAP,  is the local chapter of CLAW, the international Collective of Lady Armwrestlers. They combine professional wrestling-like theatrics with real-life arm wrestling.

Proceeds from bouts always go to charity.

One new character, making her debut on Saturday, seemed to speak in direct opposition to the high court’s recent decision.

Amber Cornish, dressed as Pope Benelicks LXIX, made her entrance to serene Gregorian chants. But just before reaching the stage, the music made an abrupt change to something much faster and more raucous.

Cornish then busted her move, baring her right buttock where she had written “F-the patriarchy” under a rainbow.

The crowd went wild.

Clockwise from left: Pope Benelicks LXIX, the alter ego of Amber Cornish, stares down her opponent during a Superhero Lady Armwrestlers of Portland Pride Month event at Geno’s Rock Club on Saturday night, June 25, 2022; Sully McCarthy, who goes by the stage name Farmhand Fanny, straightens her hat before squaring off against an opponent at the event; Ranger Bushwacker, aka Ava Gurekian, makes her entrance. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Money from ticket sales, as well as extra cash collected from the audience by each wrestler’s entourage, went to MaineTransNet, a statewide organization providing peer-to-peer support for transgender folks, as well a cultural competency training for medical, mental health and social service providers.

“We raised around $3,000,” Duryea said.

During intermission, Quinn Gormley, executive director of MaineTransNet, took the stage.

“Not going to lie. The next few years will suck — and not in a good way,” Gormley said, pointing out Justice Clarence Thomas’ written opinion suggesting the court look at gay marriage rights and birth control guarantees next.

“All the money raised tonight will go toward resisting any attacks coming at us in the next legislature — and there will be many,” Gormley said.

Competitors said while the Supreme Court ruling added fire to the SLAP event, the organization has been about empowering women from the start.

MC Gigi Gabor watches the action at a Superhero Lady Armwrestlers of Portland event at Geno’s Rock Club on Saturday night, June 25, 2022. The organization, which holds several competitions each year, gives all proceeds to charity. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

“This is women being powerful,” said competitor Emily Smith.

Smith is a nurturing mother and caring nurse by day. By night, she wrestles as deranged Russian scientist Nuclear Nadia, someone dedicated to inflicting pain.

“She’s bad. Everybody hates her,” Smith said. “This is my way to break free.”

Sully McCarthy, who goes by Farmhand Fanny on stage, agreed.

“When they’re chanting your name, throwing money at you — you feel super confident,” McCarthy said. “How can you not get excited?”

Farmhand Fanny is a cowgirl character based on Dolly Parton’s role in the musical movie “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”

The night’s runner up was Kelsea Dunham, playing the role of  Princess Puff Puff, Portland’s stoner royalty with a crown and scepter made from a bong.

For Dunham it’s about freedom, as well as empowerment.

“Where else can you go on stage, play dress up, keep Portland weird and make money for a good cause, all at once?” she said.

After Gurekian won the arm wrestling competition, Olivia Orr, playing a mall rat named Thot Topic, was crowned “Madame Moneymaker.”

Olivia Orr, competing as the character Thot Topic, is showered with cash at the end of a Superhero Lady Armwrestlers of Portland event at Geno’s Rock Club on Saturday night, June 25, 2022. Orr’s team raised the most money during the evening for MaineTransNet. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Orr and her entourage won the title after collecting the most money from the crowd. She was then asked to kneel on stage as the cash was dumped over her.

“It feels even better knowing that it’s going to support MaineTransNet,” Orr said.

Watch the SLAP website for information about upcoming events.


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Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.