Revisiting the queer musical horror classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) shows that its themes about feminine men are still relevant.
(Major spoilers ahead.)
If you haven’t re-watched lately, the plot goes like this: engaged couple Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon) have their car break down and, seeking a phone, end up at the castle of Dr Frank N Furter(Tim Curry), a transvestite mad scientist who creates a living muscle man, Rocky (Peter Hinwood).
While there’s more to it, the film isn’t terribly concerned with plot (which gets lost somewhere in the middle) so much as its sets, performances, and queerness.
Frank’s queerness is what gets him killed in the end, not his “failed mission”.
Exploring queer presentation versus identity is still needed. The separation between the two is wide and crucial to understanding individual experiences.
Gay and queer men are still treated horribly, by folks in and outside of the community, if they present in a way that’s unsavoury.
Think of dating app profiles that say “no fats, no femmes, no Asians”.
Fatphobia, femmephobia, and racism exist everywhere, and being queer doesn’t mean you get a pass for them.
Frank doesn’t conform in his presentation.
He wears corsets, heels, makeup; even in his first scene, he boldly proclaims himself a transvestite and sings that he’s “not much of a man in the light of day”.
Looking at Rocky Horror through a 2021 lens, the use of transvestite is outdated and potentially offensive to some, but Frank uses it to describe himself.
He’s clearly bisexual (or pansexual) and manages to seduce both Janet and Brad, creating their sexual awakenings in different ways.
Everything becomes more chaotic near the end of the film, from the stage performances to the pool orgy.
As soon as Frank starts singing ‘Wild and Untamed Thing’, it’s clear that everyone is changed.
It’s an explosive yet tragic song for Frank specifically, as he essentially states that he’s going to continue being himself – no aspect of him can be tamed by anyone.
Riff Raff (Richard O’Brien) singing that Frank’s lifestyle is “too extreme” screams how cishet conservatives see the queer community – his being femme or androgynous is too much.
The “mission” of Frank, Riff Raff, and Magenta (Patricia Quinn) is never made entirely clear.
It seemed more like Frank was there to have a good time, create Rocky, and potentially stick around for a while, alien overlords (another plot element that seems thrown in) be damned.
His unabashed queerness, including his mad scientist behaviour, garnered too much attention.
Frank’s death is like the killing of queer expression.
Identity is one thing, but a queer man presenting as femme is still not so accepted.
Even the use of the term femme for folks who don’t identify as sapphic is still debated.
But if you, like Frank N Furter, are a wild and untamed thing – maybe it doesn’t matter so much.