Daria Berenato lives her life in the spotlight. As WWE star Sonya Deville, her job regularly entails performing live in front of tens of thousands of people every week and millions more who are watching around the world.
This aspect of Berenato’s profession is not unique. But what makes Berenato an outlier is that she has done all of this while being the first openly gay female performer in WWE.
Berenato, 26, initially came out to the public in 2015 during her debut on WWE’s Tough Enough, a reality show designed to find new talent for the company. During the show, Paul “Triple H” Levesque, WWE’s executive vice president of talent, live events and creative, asked Berenato if she was in a relationship.
“I have a girlfriend, but she’s not my wife yet,” Berenato replied at the time.
Four years later, Berenato’s reach has expanded to include not only the fans who watch WWE’s wrestling programming but now those who watch Total Divas on E!.
“When I found out about it, I wanted to be a part of the cast,” Berenato tells Yahoo Entertainment. “Total Divas has been one of the things that has helped the girls who have been on it by allowing them to expand their character beyond who they are in the ring.”
Berenato, along with Carmella and Ronda Rousey, is one of three new cast members joining the ninth season of the show (Carmella skipped the eighth season). They join show regulars Natalya Neidhart, Trinity Fatu and Nia Jax.
In a profession that has traditionally been protective of not breaking kayfabe — wrestling personas and storylines that play out on television — Total Divas sheds light on the women of sports entertainment.
“They get to know us on a more personal level and see a more vulnerable and sensitive side of us. With my in-ring character being this bad-ass fighter, this tough guy, it was really cool to let my guard down a little bit and show the world this different side of me.”
Despite having come out publicly and her status as a WWE star, Berenato’s participation on the show allows her to speak more openly on television about her sexuality.
While Berenato has worn LGBTQ-inspired attire to the ring — from her gear during WrestleMania 34, to her more subtle rainbow-colored towel and shoelaces — and has been able to work with WWE and partners like GLAAD to promote the cause, there hasn’t been a true chance to connect with fans on a more personal level until now.
“It’s one of those things where the cameras have been on since the moment I came out,” Berenato said. “With Total Divas, this was the first time I was really able to talk about it and be able to tell people the full story on that big of a scale. That was cool for me.
“When you say the words out loud, it gives them life and value. Although I knew it was OK to be gay, I knew it was OK to share my message, I knew it was OK to wear rainbow gear, to say it out loud and share my story, it gave me a sense of confidence and further instilled that in my brain.”
Doing the show wasn’t entirely a no brainer, though. WWE stars work a demanding, travel-heavy schedule and adding another responsibility to the mix essentially ends any semblance of free time a person would have.
“I give girls like [Natalya Neidhart] so much credit because she has been on for nine seasons while also being on the WWE roster full-time,” Berenato said. “It’s a whole other job on its own. You add our travel schedule for work to the Total Divas filming schedule and you basically have zero days off. You have to be committed and it has to be something you’re passionate about doing or it wouldn’t be worth it.”
In addition to that, the show pulls back the curtain on certain aspects of life as a WWE star.
“Any time you’re on television, you’re under a microscope and you’re going to be critiqued,” Berenato said. “The reason it’s not so scary on Smackdown is because we’re playing a character to a certain extent. On Total Divas, you’re just putting your real-life persona out there to be judged and criticized. It’s for sure nerve-wracking, definitely something I was nervous about.”
One of this season’s early storylines is Berenato’s reconciliation with her girlfriend, Arianna Johnson. The first two episodes follow Berenato as she reconnects with Johnson.
“It was super weird [to see that all play out again],” Berenato said. “My girlfriend didn’t want to do the show. She’s not in the spotlight like we are, she didn’t sign up for that. She loves me as a person but she wasn’t ready to take that journey with me, so we decided to part ways just before I started filming.
“A few weeks in, we stayed in touch and obviously still cared about each other. We didn’t want to throw it all away just because of the show, so she compromised and decided to do the show with me. That was something that really meant a lot to me and is something that played a big role in our relationship. I think she’s happy now that she did it. I think it’s cool that we got to share our relationship and journey on the show. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”
Although there have been happy moments to look back on, Berenato admits she has a hard time watching some of the sillier moments on the show.
“I cringe every time I watch an episode,” Berenato said. “Watching me walk into Carmella’s party with nine-inch stripper shoes on was very hard. It’s fun. We had so much fun filming it. It was my first time doing this, I put myself out there and I don’t take back anything.”
Hectic travel schedule and cringe-worthy television moments aside, Berenato genuinely enjoyed the experience and says she’d be “happy” to return to the cast for a possible 10th season.
“Publicly and socially, it’s increased my platform and given me a whole new demographic of people to share my story with,” Berenato said. “I think it’s been really good for me and my character. It lets the fans see that I am normal and I do have insecurities, I do have struggles. I am going through a lot more than what is seen on WWE.”
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