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Friday, June 5, 2020

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ Again [Trapped By Gender]

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is one of the ultimate queer classics. For those of you that haven’t seen it, this flick is a parody of B-Movies from the 1950s and earlier in the genres of Science Fiction and Horror. It was created originally as a stage play by Richard O’Brien and adapted to film by the same person. You can get a really, really good idea of where this movie’s inspiration is from in the song ‘Science Fiction/Double Feature’. Within the lyrics they name drop movies and serials such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, Flash Gordon, The Invisible Man, and Dr. X. It starts with two newly engaged people who are extremely sheltered named Brad and Jane. During a trip they get a flat tire and hike to a castle they saw on the way to find a phone for a tow truck but instead of that they experience the perversity of an insane household. It’s like the “wholesome” values of the 1950s clashing with the “degeneracy” of the 1970s. They go through an array of queer experiences such as cross dressing, homosexual dalliancies, and navigating the relationships of a queer polycule of people that inhabit the mansion.

For many this was their first introduction to queer and trans people. I was no different.

Around the time I was seven or eight years old I was staying over at my aunt’s house. Being one of the original fans, she saw it in the theater, knew what to yell at the screen, has an 8-Track soundtrack, a book on the making of the film, and of course the video tape. So like any child of the 80s and 90s I was going through her collection of VHS looking for stuff to watch when I’d stay at her place and every single time I’d come up to the Rocky Horror Picture Show I was told I would need my parents’ permission to watch it. Of course being a child who was told no, I wanted to watch it even more – so I badgered my aunt and parents until they allowed me to watch it.

There was just something enticing about the front cover of that video tape. It was all black with a pair of lips and a really cool font. I think it was the bold red lips that drew me to it. Eventually my parents relented and my aunt lent them the tape; I was beyond excited. They insisted on watching it with me to explain the film and I had to wait AN ETERNITY to get them to watch it with me. Once the day came, we watched it and then they didn’t explain anything at all. I was so pissed that I had to wait just for them to not follow through with what they said previously. But it really didn’t matter at that time; I had no questions so I didn’t ask any. I was young enough that seeing all the gender fuckery going on normalized it for me and didn’t seem out of place. In fact after that I thought all musicals were like Rocky Horror, and I was disappointed when I found out that they weren’t all weird and campy.

After that first viewing I was allowed to watch the film as much as I wanted to, so I took advantage of it! I went onto the internet, when it was only text with a scattered image here and there, and downloaded a script with all the audience call-backs to the film. I printed it out, bound it, and proceeded to memorize everything you could yell at the screen because I was told that one day soon I could go to the movie theater and see it. It played every single weekend with my local shadow cast. That didn’t happen for over a decade. I was so obsessed that I had an album that was a recording of the film with the audience participation included so I could listen to it on the go. For a long time, Rocky Horror was life. I watched it almost every single day for years and I had the soundtrack on repeat. How my parents never thought I could be a queer trans woman and were surprised when I told them is beyond me. The signs were there!!

The first depiction of a trans person I ever saw was Frank. I never thought they were freaky or weird. They looked like fun, and I enjoyed that they didn’t care what anyone else thought and how they were unabashedly themselves. I thought it was so cool and wanted to be like that: giving zero cares as to what anyone thought of me. It gave me strength to grow a thicker skin and try more things out of the ordinary; I looked up to Frank. For the longest time before seeing the movie I’d always wished I could switch between gender at will and it was really cool to see someone who could at least on the surface do so before my eyes.

In the film they refer to Frank as a transsexual and not just in reference to where they’re from. When the film was made in the late 70s that was the term most in use to describe a trans person. The difference between the two words is that “transgender” is an umbrella term that encompasses the whole community while “transsexual” denotes a certain type of trans person – according to outdated medical terminology. As of 2020, “transsexual” has fallen out of favor to denote a trans person due to the social stigma imposed on the word as well as the way medical “professionals” treated those who label themselves as transsexual. That’s not to say that some people don’t still identify as transsexual and that’s fine; they’re valid and can identify how they want. However, overall it’s not a word that is widely used anymore. When words are put to film, especially one that is as ubiquitous as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, they have a habit of sticking.

A similar thing happens to people as they age. They cement their beliefs and become more rigid in how they believe things work in the world. They become out of touch with an ever changing reality and language. It’s why people of older generations have a tendency to insult or be befuddled by those of younger generations. Each generation has their own terms and beliefs and many times these things conflict. Richard O’Brien, despite identifying as a third gender and talking at length about gender fluidity since the film’s release as well as reportedly being on hormone replacement therapy, have said some very hurtful and transphobic statements. They’ve said that trans women aren’t women and could never be. Some would argue that trans women haven’t lived their entire lives as women and that’s just flat out wrong. I’ve lived as a woman my entire life. A woman is who I am and my life experience is that of a woman, socialized as such and everything. Trans women have always been women whether they have identified as it from the beginning or had the realization come to them later in life. There is no universal experience when it comes to being a woman; it’s unique for each individual, cis and trans. Therefore trans women are women.

In the transgender community there is a term for a trans person who hasn’t realized it yet and they’re called Eggs. They haven’t hatched fully yet. For me the thing that put a huge crack in my egg before hatching was The Rocky Horror Picture Show. When I first heard about O’Brien’s comments I felt hurt. Someone from within my own community holding such uncaring and callous views of people who are just like them saddened me. I hope they’ve been able to battle their demons since saying that. Internalized transphobia is a thing. Stigma, intolerance from society, and ignorance is the perfect melting pot and you’re on your way to internalized transphobia. Then you see the way society treats you like a joke and the violence incurred against people like you; it all mixes together and boom you’ve got some self-hatred you didn’t even know was there until someone calls you out on it. Society is great at normalizing hatred.

It’s interesting that a film that parodies sci-fi and horror tropes that have permeated the genre since the beginning would become such a seminal queer film. It doesn’t surprise me that this happened, I just find it interesting. You’ll hear me say over and over again that horror is queer culture. It’s made by those who are the outcasts and othered by society; a lot of the time that’s queer people. Queer people have tended to find relative safety within creative spaces. The sheer amount of queer people that have worked and currently do work in horror is higher than I’ve noticed in other subcultures. Queer stories are regularly told through the lens of horror to help people who don’t live that experience to understand the horror inherent within common situations. It lives in the lives of many queer people who can’t talk to their parents because they’re afraid of being kicked out and made homeless. It lives in the real fear of being scared to hold hands or show affection in public. It lives in being scared to dress as yourself when you feel you don’t pass.

At least within the text of The Rocky Horror Picture Show there is one of the more positive messages regarding your queerness or your transness than in other genres and that comes from a song near the end of the film during the floor show that says, “Don’t dream it, be it.” I took that to heart and now here I am.

Your Horror Tran,

Alice Collins



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3587316/learned-stop-worrying-love-rocky-horror-picture-show-trapped-gender/

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