Friday, October 15, 2010

let there be light

"Don't dream it.  Be it."

Pre-teens in peril have overshadowed Halloween, this month.  I'm sorry, dolls. I know it's gay Christmas, but rather than banter about the disproportionately basic sorority girl  to hot guy ratio in Hell Night, or  writing an essay dissecting the nuances to be found in the production design of House of 1000 Corpses, I've been pondering my own growing up and coming out process.  

My friend, Oprah, says we should write letters of encouragement to our twelve year old selves...and I make a point to never disobey Oprah or Rosie O’Donnell and that’s served me well.

Not a lot phased me growing up.  Since before I was born and right up until his death, my father had the nasty habit of trying to kill me and my mom.  That meant we moved around every few months in case he broke the restraining order. 1990 was the worst. I was going to St. Ann's Catholic School in Gloucester, MA.  It was the fifth grade and it was hell. There were fist-fights, people spit on my things, I engaged in verbal altercations - all because I saw no shame in showing off my Keith Haring t-shirts and back issues of Fangoria.  
Hand to God, the teachers were worse than the students.  They hated my mother for not being married and they hated me for being a latent homosexual in training (the only training I was conscious of was the hours I spent perfecting my British dialects to Andrew Lloyd Webber LPs). 

 To make matters worse, I was fat.  Not gay-fat, but actually fat. I was a Dcup, but I was never a victim. I remember the time a girl wearing a headgear asked if  I "fornicate with men" and how I maturely responded, "only your father." Good times. My grades started slipping. I was miserable.  I wanted to die.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, everything was about to change with a single advertisement on the television.  1990 apparently marked the 15th Anniversary The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  My chubby little heart was set to burst from that thirty-second spot for a movie I'd never even seen.  Mom was always a handful, but she was remarkably permissive when it came to what I wanted to watch. She took me with her to see Fatal Attraction because she didn't want to go alone.  She let me watch Twin Peaks alone in my room every Thursday.  Mary had no qualms with me fixating on a movie musical, even if Streisand wasn't in it.

In the month that passed before it was finally released on VHS, I was dreaming about that commercial.  I was drawing pictures of big red lips and writing with bloody bubble fonts in my New Kids on the Block trapper keeper.   The day it came out, Momma took me to Lechmere where it was patiently waiting for me in its sleek black slipcover, decorated only with those gender-bending glossy red lips.  

I had found my out, at last!

What I saw when I popped this holy grail into my VCR defied description.  The Rocky Horror Picture Show is about sexual awakening.  It's about transformation. It's about cannibalism!  It's a horror movie, it's science fiction, it's a musical.  It may be the greatest "dark and stormy night" Halloween film ever made.  It seems impossible to discuss this movie without gushing. Tim Curry is electric.  There has been no performance that can rival his mad scientist, Dr Frank-N-Furter. He's sexual.  He's scary. He's he's not pandering for lowest common denominator "guy in a dress" jokes. Gender binaries aren’t real.  He's defiantly masculine and beautifully femme in makeup and panties at the same time. Patricia Quinn was a lifeforce with big, unapologetic hair and an even bigger mouth.  The sheer audacity of Nell Cambell's nipples popping out during the floor show! And don’t get me started on Barry Bostwick - he was everything I wanted to be when I grew up - tall and thin with gorgeous frames. 

I can't adequately express the power that comes from suddenly knowing you aren't alone in the universe.  Thirty-five years before Semi-Precious Weapons was setting minions of little monsters free (regardless of political and social context), there was The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  By no means a gay movie, it presented a world in which sexuality and gender were fluid.  This movie was dangerous. I had friends who weren't allowed to come over my house anymore after they told their parents we watched The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  That, boys and ghouls, is rock and roll! 

A lot has happened in twenty years.  We have cell phones and internet. Movies stream magically from the ether directly into our sixty-five inch plasma televisions and The Rocky Horror Picture Show is now considered mainstream.  I still can't help but think that I owe a chunk of my self-reliance and serenity to that VHS tape from 1990.  

Mom and I moved a couple months later and I flourished in a public arts school for the remaining years until college.  I lost my baby fat and lived happily ever after.

Time heals everything, even as far as movies are concerned.  What was once rejected as schlocky, b-movie camp is now accepted as a well-shot, gorgeously designed movie musical for the whole family. When a karaoke show like Glee can devote an entire episode to something as sexually-charged and subversive as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the times they are a'changin. But take a closer look and you'll find that this movie is still as shocking and unapologetic as it ever was.  It's still rock and roll. Accept no imitations. Pick up The Rocky Horror Picture Show (35th Anniversary Edition) [Blu-ray] and see for yourself.


  1. "...I remember the time a girl wearing a headgear asked if I "fornicate with men" and how I maturely responded, "only your father." "
    Awesome! It sounds like you were adorable (why couldn't I have been that verbally fast on my feet back in school?)!

  2. Thanks for this. It's inspiring. I never thought of Halloween as "Gay Christmas" before, but I will from now on.

  3. My parents rented this for me when I was 7 years old, and it's still one of my favourite movies ever. Hooray for irresponsible parenting!