So a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (I think it was earlier this year on twitter, but you know the internet) I promised Wil Wheaton that I would write up my Rocky Horror Picture Show experiences, as he had done.
Well, it turns out yesterday was the film's 35th anniversary. And since I just finished a draft, and given (the great) Tim Curry's recent fairly outstanding turn as a villain on Criminal Minds (where Mr. Wheaton has also appeared as a baseball-bat wielding psychopath) and the forthcoming tribute episode of Glee (I have been resisting the siren call of Jane Lynch (see also, Criminal Minds (and in the nested brackets are starting to look like a "Connections" column)) but yes, I will watch the hell out of that episode) now seems like the most opportune of opportune times.
I lost my Rocky virginity in the summer of my 17th year, June 1989, between high school and college, when a couple of guys from my gaming group (one of whom I was, through a signal failure of judgment, desperately in love with) called me up and said, "You wanna go to a midnight movie?"
Reveling in my newly adult, curfew-less status, I said, "Sure."
They were kind enough not to out me as a virgin (I probably would have cried. Lingering "Farmer in the Dell" trauma. Don't ask.) and I, being a somewhat socially isolated teen, had no idea what I was getting into. I remember mostly a gorgeous redhead kitted out as Frankie, an amazing crew of SCAdians and weirdos and freaks wearing barely anything and carrying rolls of toilet paper.
And a lot of screaming and hysterical laughter. And sticky, sticky floors.
The genderfuck wasn't much of a revelation to me--I grew up in the radical separatist dyke culture of the 80's*, which was not anything like the academic lesbian culture I've encountered elsewhere. But what was a revelation was how much fun it was. And that there were guys doing it, too. I knew drag queens--but this was somehow different in its performativeness.**
In the midst of all that performance, for the first time in my life I kind of felt like I didn't have to perform. Like I could be my kind of badly socialized self and nobody would care.
It was really nice to fit in, for a change. And it was nice to be part of a gang of people shouting (very, very funny) (very, very filthy) catchphrases at a very silly movie, where (in the movie and the gang) nobody cared if you were gay or straight or undecided, male or female or straddling that imaginary line. It was pretty much my first experience in being part of an in-group****, even if I was the new kid, and I liked it.
I wound up repeating the experience probably the majority of weekends of my college career. I wasn't the most hardcore of Rocky sluts, but I did play every female role (except Frankie)--badly, I hasten to add. I am not an actor.
I still kind of miss it, since there's no local show anymore. I'd probably still be going, for the catharsis and the camaraderie and the chance to surround myself with people just as weird as I am.
Oh, and I kind of fell in love with Richard O'Brien. Because damn, that man has skills.
I always felt bad for Frankie. He just wanted to make something beautiful.*****
I don't know for sure that that movie saved my life. But on all the nights when I sat in the Vernon, Connecticut Denny's at 3 am with a bunch of other people hoarse from shouting, eating things that were only loosely derived from food, I think I was soaking in some kind of acceptance that got me through the rest of the week.
*this may have contributed to the social isolation. just a little. that, and being a horrible nerd and a complete active PTSD case. I mean, I was such a horrible maladapt that the other nerds and goths hated me, and the gamers only put up with me because I was a girl. By senior year, I was starting to figure out how to fake it well enough to fit in as the "weird one" in the theatre crowd and with some of the gothy gay boys. Though the term "Gothic" was still an adjective then, applied mostly to music, so we didn't really have a label for our black-turtleneck-wearing-selves. But we listened to a lot of Queensryche, and the Smiths.
**shortly thereafter I would discover early David Bowie******, and realize that gender is in fact mostly role-play***
***I realize that this is not true for everyone, but it is true for me. I'm speaking in specifics, not generalities, and I recognize that it might be different for others.
****There was the theatre crowd, where I liked an awful lot of people but always felt like I stood out; and the gamers, where I was a girl gamer (rare in those days); and the women's music festival crowd, where I loved a hell of a lot of people, but it was a grownup group and I was not a grownup)
*****And why doesn't the damned soundtrack have "Planet, Schmanet, Janet?" on it?
******It was the Eighties. Lots of people did regrettable things in the 80's. Like "China Girl."