A Conversation with WWE Superstar Daria Berenato aka Sonya Deville

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Every week fans tune into the WWE to watch drama, non-stop action, and a chance to see their favorite superstar in action. And there’s a superstar for everyone. And now, even lesbians have someone to root for.

AfterEllen was lucky enough to talk to WWE’s first out lesbian superstar Daria Beranato, better known as Sonya Deville in the ring.

Getting her start in MMA, Berenato entered the world of WWE around four years ago. Fans already know her as a tenacious fighter. Who wouldn’t be nervous talking to a world-class fighter? But outside the ring, she’s a sympathetic and determined woman. My nerves melted as soon as we started talking and I felt as though I was talking to a friend. Aside from wrestling, Berenato keeps busy with her new clothing line, Rainbow Love and YouTube channel, Damandyz Donuts.

AfterEllen: Thank you so much for being here with us today to answer a few of our questions. So, how has all this virus stuff affected the WWE?

Daria Berenato: So, obviously the WWE, like many other companies, is trying to take the proper precautions to keep everyone healthy and safe. The best thing right now to do is stay home and stay quarantined. What we’ve been doing is, we’ve been recording and putting out SmackDown and RAW every week, but we’ve been doing it in front of no live audience.

AE: I used to watch wrestling when I was a kid, and the audience was such a huge part of it. Does it feel weird having to do that now with no audience?

DB: Yeah, it’s definitely different. More than half of what we do is based off of crowd reaction and interacting with our fans. The audience definitely plays a huge role. It’s been an interesting, fun learning experience for a lot of us, veterans and new people, just trying to reconfigure what we do and figure out how to make it still super entertaining while dealing with the fact that there is no crowd. It’s actually been kind of unique and fun.

AE: We appreciate you still trying to spread some joy during this time.

DB: I think it’s important. A lot of what we do is, we try to put smiles on people’s face and if we can do that during a tough time like this — there is no NBA on TV, but there is wrestling. There’s WWE. We’re here every week, two days a week in the safest possible fashion.

AE: As I mentioned earlier, I used to watch wrestling a lot as a kid. It seems so different now. I remember maybe two or three female wrestlers. There seems to be so much more now. What do you think the WWE can do to improve things for female wrestlers, and lesbian wrestlers in particular?

DB: If you just look at the women’s evolution that’s taken place over the last four years, since I got hired is when it all started coming about, it’s incredible. Just to see women in the main event of WreslteMania last year for the first time ever. WrestleMania is our Super Bowl. So the fact that women headlined that show, I thought, was appropriate and relevant. It was just one of those things that should’ve maybe happened a long time ago, but I’m so proud to have seen it with my own two eyes and to be part of a company that’s really striving for that gender equality in sport, like many other sports are doing right now.

The women have just proven time and time again that not only are we equal to the men, but we can put on a freaking show. We’re athletes. We’re competitors. We’re performers. We’re everything that the men are. So I think it’s really cool when we took away the word “diva” and just coined ourselves all superstars. Because that’s what we all are. Gender doesn’t define that. Neither does race or ethnicity or sexual orientation. I’m proud to have been a part of these strides and bounds we’ve made over the past four years.

AE: I don’t know if you’ve heard, the US Women’s National Soccer Team has sued their federation over equal pay. And recently, the federation released a statement saying, “we can’t pay the women more because they’re not as skilled as the men.”

DB: It’s such a ridiculous statement. I feel very confident that the WWE universe and organization does not feel that same way. We’ve seen over the last decade what women can do. I just don’t even like to consider the separation anymore. If you’re an athlete, you’re an athlete. If you’re a superstar, you’re a superstar. If you’re a performer, you’re a performer. I like to put all that stuff aside.

AE: Because there isn’t much of a separation in the WWE? The women and the men are in the ring at the same time.

DB: Yeah, and we interact a lot more than we have, more so recently. And we’re all out there doing the same things. And everyone has their own unique skillset and abilities. Some people are better at flipping and jumping off the top rope, and others are better at strikes and grounding their opponent. We all have strengths and weaknesses.

AE: I wish I had something like that when I was just getting into martial arts. It was really hard. You get picked on a lot. People saying girls can’t do this, girls can’t do that. Now, no one wants to be my sparring partner because-

DB: Because you kicked their ass!

AE: I sure did!

DB: Hell yeah! That’s awesome.

AE: So switching gears a little, we here at AfterEllen love our Lesbian Looks™. Can you tell us a little bit about your fashion line, your inspiration for it, and what it’s all about?

DB: Basically, the line is called Rainbow Love. It’s a collaboration with a bigger brand called Heavy Heart. Me and my friend Bobbie, who kind of came up with this concept, we sat down he’s like, “I want to do this clothing line, Heavy Heart.” That basically touched on taboo emotions that some people are afraid to talk about. It’s frowned upon, it’s socially unacceptable to talk about being depressed or suicidal, or just not always happy. I was like, wow that’s really strong and that’s awesome. Because I think when people are afraid to talk about their emotions it can cause internal issues. Self reflection sometimes is a big burden to bear. So, when you’re able to express yourself and talk about that kind of stuff it helps you get through it. And so, through that I was like what if we did a line that focused on those exact concepts, but in the LGBTQ community. Because obviously, statistically we deal with a lot of that stuff as well. And so, we came up with the line Rainbow Love. And I like to say, “it’s okay to have a heavy heart, but rainbow love.” So, it’s okay to have those dark emotions, but also be as colorful as you want, too. 

One of our first shirts, I’m really, really proud of. It says, “you are not alone” on the back and it has the Suicide Prevention Hotline phone number. And I just thought it was so powerful. I wear it everywhere, I rock the merch everywhere. It’s big, black, well-made T-shirts, which is literally 99.9% of my wardrobe anyway. It’s just such a strong message. I think people are really relating to it. Because we’re just putting the unspoken out there on a T-shirt in rainbow letters. We’re not afraid to talk about that, we’re not afraid to support that. We’ve all experienced dark times, and we all go through our ups and downs in life. Life can be hard. It’s important to know that you’re not alone and that there is strength in unity. It’s okay to feel that way, and it’s okay to ask for help. That’s one of the shirts I’m really proud of.

We have a bunch of other stuff. All the graphics, rainbow, Heavy Heart, it’s super cool. I’m just excited to share something different with the world and hopefully influence people to ask for help. Let them know it’s okay to different, it’s okay to be struggling and going through dark times. 

AE: For sure. For me personally, I’ve found it very hard to talk about your mental illness and being a lesbian. It’s difficult to even post about it on social media. To see something like that is really cool. All of these shirts are available now?

DB: Yes. And thank you. It is hard to talk about those emotions. You don’t want to be a burden on anybody, and you don’t want to feel like you’re the odd man out, or like you’re the heaviness in the room. But we’ve all felt that. It’s important to realize that and to talk about it. And yes, everything is available right now at shopheavyheart.com. There are six items in the rainbow love collection right now, and some really cool stuff on Heavy Heart. Definitely go check that out.  

AE: Thank you for doing that. Not to get too personal, but I’m bipolar. It’s really difficult to even talk to my friends about it. So much bad around it and the way people have demonized it. So, to see something like this saying it’s okay to feel like this, to have hard times, and to go through it. That means a lot. So thank you doing something like that. 

DB: Well that’s awesome. I’m glad you shared that with me because that’s exactly what we’re trying to do with this line. It’s so easy to judge somebody else and what someone else is going through, but it’s really hard to self reflect and realize that, wait maybe I can actually relate if I stop judging for a second. 

AE: You’re doing WWE. You’re doing your fashion line. Then on top of that, you have this YouTube show where you go and try out donuts. The thing that I’ve missed so much is going to my local donut shop. So, we need to know your top three donuts. 

DB: Top donut shop is Lafayette, Louisiana, a place called Meche’s Donuts. By far, the best donut I’ve ever had. If you pull up to the shop you’re like what is this place? It’s like a hole in the wall, mom and pop shop, very simple, very basic. They’re the best. It was a hidden gem Mandy and I found. It’s to die for. 

Favorite type of donut? I’m gonna go traditional – glazed is probably my favorite. But anything with peanut butter glaze, with Reese’s on it is probably number two. And maybe a French cruller would be number three because I love the texture. 

AE: If you’re ever in L.A., Spudnuts Donuts. They make their donuts from potato flour. 

DB: I’ll have to check it out. 

AE: The thing about doing something like this, I think you mentioned, that is was to help women realize that you don’t have to do restrictive dieting. 

DB: 100 percent. So, Damandyz Donuts is something me and Mandy — so first of all, we’re foodies. We’re both from the Northeast. We love our pasta, pizza, lasagna, ravioli, and of course donuts. I probably have pasta two to three times a week, honestly. But, the whole concept behind Damandyz was not only following our journey around the world, tasting the world’s best donuts, which is super fun and light-hearted. And it gives us something fun to do on the road that’s not so intense and serious. But also it’s something that definitely has a message behind it. Life’s all about balance. I don’t believe in 100% restriction from anything. I think it’s important to have balance in your life. And it’s important to realize that if you work hard, you can reward yourself. We’re firm on that. We put in the work. We don’t miss a workout, six days a week we’re in the gym. But that means we can have a donut once a week. It’s super fun and we have a good time with it. 

AE: That’s another thing that I’m thankful is out there. I suffered from having an eating disorder and I think most women do go through it, just because of the way society is. But I’ve gotten to the point where I’m just like that. I work out five days a week and Saturday I’m at the donut shop.

DB: You know what, that’s another good message because of the way society is and the way social media is. How exposed we all are — especially us with our platform with WWE. We choose to put our lives out there. But with that, comes a lot of positivity and comes a lot of encouragement. And with that comes a lot of negativity, a lot of negative feedback. Anything you do, anything you post is going to be scrutinized in a certain light. You definitely have to be grounded, and you definitely just have to sometimes look inside. I think a lot of what social media has created these days is a constant external reflection of what everyone else thinks of you. I’ve dealt with the struggles of that for sure. But at the end of the day, you have to make yourself happy. And eating lettuce everyday doesn’t make me happy. So I’m gonna have my donuts. 

AE: I can’t imagine anybody would be happy like that.

DB: Exactly! It’s important to love yourself the way that you want to be. That comes in so many different forms, too. That’s not one mold or one body shape or one look. 

AE:  So, doing that plus all the things with the fashion line, that’s a lot going on. Where do you find the time? 

DB: Damandys Donuts also has its own merchandising line, which I run from my house. Right before you called, I was actually upstairs shipping out the new shipments of our T-shirts we just got in. It’s a lot, but I love it. I don’t like to have down time. I’m kind of like a doer, it’s just how I’ve always been. I enjoy doing it all and juggling the busy schedule with WWE. 

AE: And all of it with such a positive message, too. 

DB: I try. I think that everything happens for a reason in life. I do think that I’ve been given this platform and afforded this opportunity, not only for my own success, but also to spread a message. I have a lot to say. We all have a voice. I think if you’re blessed enough to have a story to tell, you should tell it. 

AE: Apart from that, are there any LGBT initiatives that you support? 

DB: I’ve worked with GLAAD over the past three years. Really tying together the relationship between GLAAD and WWE. We did New York City World Pride. We were on the GLAAD float last year, which was so much fun and also insane. New York World Pride was the biggest last year. It was so much fun. And doing signings with them last year at ComicCon and all kinds of stuff like that. Just trying to create a spot in WWE where people from the LGBTQ community, not only feel comfortable joining in, but also feel represented and supported. And that’s been a goal of mine. I think WWE has been so on board with it since we got together and spoke about it. It’s been a really cool evolution over the past few years to see the waves we’ve made and how much more there is left to do is exciting and motivating for me. 

AE: Is there anything we can look forward to? Despite us all being under quarantine right now. 

DB: The Rainbow Love line, we are working with multiple charities right now. All we have left to do is to figure out the actual logistics. There will be donations made through that. I’m actually going to get on a call with my business partner later today and hopefully nail down some of that. And that will be coming soon, so stay tuned. Because obviously, with a line that speaks so heavily, we want to make sure that it can help in different ways, financially as well. That’s super exciting. 

Pride Month is coming up. I know a lot of things are getting postponed like the L.A. Pride Parade, I think, is already pushed back. I’m hopeful that I will definitely be a part of Pride coming up. And hopefully in conjunction with WWE as well. So that’s something definitely to look forward to. 

AE: And we still have SmackDown every week?

DB: Yes! SmackDown Live, we are going on air every week with no crowd. Like I said, it’s just been so cool to be part of a company that is trying to — we’re still going to work everyday in the safest way possible to try to entertain people and hopefully lift some spirits. So I’m excited. WrestleMania, our biggest show, is still happening in front of no crowd. We aren’t stopping. We’re trying our best to stay consistent for our fans and hopefully put a smile on your faces. 

AE: We definitely appreciate it. Thank you so much for everything. Not just this interview, but for everything that you’re doing.

DB: I appreciate you talking to me! Thank you so much.

Sonya Deville is always ready to throw hands. Anyone who steps into that ring is at her mercy. But Daria Berenato is more likely to offer her hand as a friend. Determined to use her platform to do good, her YouTube show is a light-hearted way to mend some of the wounds of disordered eating in women. Meanwhile, her clothing line seeks to remove the taboo around talking about mental illness. You might wonder how anyone has the energy to be a WWE superstar, do a YouTube show, and run two clothing lines all as a way to spread positivity. Well, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. That’s just the power of lesbianism, babes.

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