Learning and Growing with the Rocky Horror Picture Show

The first time I watched The Rocky Horror Picture Show (RHPS), I was a middle schooler camped out in a friend’s basement, surrounded a group of longtime friends. We had heard tell of this piece of queer iconography and wanted to see it for ourselves. I naively expected to come away with a greater sense of community, or at least to laugh. This was not what I got. Instead, I left my friend’s house feeling vaguely unsettled and disturbed for reasons I couldn’t quite yet put my finger on.

Flash forward to me, a junior in college, many queer friends and classes later. I was planning to see a live showing of RHPS with some friends and I decided to watch the movie beforehand by myself. Sitting in my college dorm room, every new scene of the movie seemed campier and more transphobic, the silly songs made darker by their context. Dr. Frank N. Furter and his crew are sex obsessed to the point of eschewing consent and are such stereotypes it’s almost painful to watch. Needless to say, I was not impressed. I began to worry that the live show would be a similarly negative experience.

The live show experience with Lips Down on Dixie was nothing like the movie. Sure the movie plays in the background, but a cast of creative volunteers act the scenes out and heckle the movie so much that the horrible becomes hilarious. Going on pride weekend made the experience especially enjoyable, with everybody expressing openly their love for each other and the community. I had a great time, and finally got the connection I wanted when I first saw the movie in middle school.

Although shockingly candid and open for its time, RHPS has inherent flaws that should be understood before it is watched. Richard O’Brien, co-writer of RHPS and original actor for Riff-Raff, openly states that he doesn’t believe that trans women can be real women, and his views show in RHPS. Nevertheless, the LGBTQ+ community surrounding RHPS is vibrant, and a wonderful way to get out and be proud.