A Rocky Horror exclusion show

Trigger warning: ableist, homophobic, and misogynistic slurs; brief discussion of rape

This might sound weird to a lot of people, but damn do I owe a lot to Rocky Horror. The soundtrack, minus one or two songs, got me through a lot of rough patches, from puberties to abuse.1 The songs are permanently etched into my head — I have Rose Tint My World stuck in my head right now, actually.

And so what could be better than going to a shadowcast? I’d have other freaks and geeks there with me, people who gladly and repeatedly immersed themselves in the funky waters of both subversive and exploitative sexualities, and who continuously reflected upon all the kinky morals and moral kinks in the movie. A safe space.

Goddesses, I can be naive.

I went to a shadowcast and I’m not sure I ever want to go to another. I can listen to the soundtrack without feeling horrible, thankfully, but I’m not sure I’m going to be okay watching the movie itself for quite a long time. It was fucking terrifying to see just what blends of misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, acephobia, ableism, and compulsory sexuality other freaks and geeks can come up with.

Movie: …Brad Majors…

Audience: Asshole!

Movie: …Janet Weiss…

Audience: Slut!

…first off, has anyone thought of how absolutely fucked up it is to call a rape victim a stupid slut repeatedly? No, no, I will not have anyone telling me that it was okay because she enjoyed it, or because it opened her eyes to the idea of sex. What Frank did both to Janet and to Brad was not okay; both of them were raped, pure and simple.

And then Janet gets rhetorically pummeled for it. ‘Oh, what a shame it is that Janet didn’t remain a dainty little virgin and save herself for Brad’s honeymoon suite. How dare she get raped, and then how dare she have consensual sex with a second person instead of waiting for her owner to fuck her as is proper,’ said no decent person ever whose lips weren’t positively dripping with sarcasm and vitriol.

So what does the audience want, exactly? Is there any route Janet could have taken to avoid being ensnared in the sharp thorns of the madonna-whore dichotomy? Of course, the answer’s going to be ‘no.’ The whole point of the movie is to present a metaphor for the dangerous, multi-faceted, terrifying world out there; it’s a paradise lost scenario with sex and kink serving as heaven, terra, and hell all at once. There was no way for Janet to avoid her fate and keep the same narrative, so the fault is with the audience, no? The movie uses rape as a narrative vehicle and we use rape culture as a weapon against the most ‘shrill’ and ‘uppity’ woman around.2

And that’s not the only thorny piece of obligatory sexuality that popped up. This one, though, was probably not part of the standard script, just a whim of my particular cast. The Virgin sacrifice we had was just horrible. Four random people were picked out of the Virgin lineup, posed as homoerotically as possible, given popsicles, and told to suck on them all the way down to the wood.

Did we enter a time machine to the 1960s on crossing the threshold to the theater? For a supposedly ‘progressive’ crowd, there was a lot of hee-hawing about having some random people (who are always assumed to be straight unless proven otherwise) be all gay with one another.

I’m not harping on the fact that they wanted ‘straight’ humiliation because I want to garner pity for the straight folk of the world. I bring it up so much because I think it’s problematic that people are, by default, assumed to be straight.

I also bring it up because it’s wrong to make crowd acceptance conditional on being forced to be sexual. That hurts rape and abuse victims; asexual, demi, and other gray-a people; autistic and otherwise non-neurotypical people; and is just generally creepy and invasive. Don’t do it, please.

Zeroignite and I, nervous and wanting to gain the approval of the fickle crowd, almost made out for their amusement, but didn’t get the chance to do so. We’d be outing ourselves as lesbians, and thus as certified queers, we wouldn’t be the main attraction; they were out for the blood of those they assumed are/were straight. Talking about it later, we were both glad that we didn’t do it; it wouldn’t have made us any happier to be sex fodder for a creepy and demanding audience.

It was this way the whole movie. The audience enjoyed engaging in the sharpest, loudest, most discordant way possible. They threw out words like cripple, faggot, bitch, slut like there was no tomorrow. I was half expecting someone to yell out the n-word in the middle of it, just to make it as clear as can be that I and my friends are not welcome here.

A friend blamed this on a particularly bad audience that night, but I think that it’s more than that. Even she, someone I trust almost wholeheartedly to be a decent person, gave in completely to the crowd’s problematic attitude.

The show encourages you to become uninhibited, but… still, that shouldn’t be more important than hurting people. I mean… the point of sharing in a shadowcast is to be together. Some people might claim that some of the things I’m talking about are part of the typical experience, but then… unless you want to create a very specialized clique of mean-acting people, why would you stand for it? I want to be part of the experience, I want to feel at home with everyone, but I also can’t do that with so many parts of my identity being attacked.

I’m a biracial trans* immigrant; a girl with nice magenta hair and a wicked classy black dress which I wear whenever I can; a victim of abuse who grew up with a caretaker in a wheelchair and two senior citizens; a bipolar, depressed vegan with increasingly pained feet from lack of a good pair of shoes; a video game nerd and programmer and staunch intersectional feminist. It’s hard enough trying to deal with society as a whole. Please don’t add to the strain in what’s supposed to be a refuge for us all.

  1. Sweet Transvestite and I’m Going Home, as a trans* person, are both… complicated songs. I have a love-hate relationship with them.

  2. I don’t feel that it’s my place to debate whether Rocky Horror’s use of rape as a narrative vehicle is a good thing or not. I haven’t been a victim of rape and I don’t want to appropriate or twist anyone’s experiences in my ignorance. I have to defer here to the people who (tragically) know better than I.

6 thoughts on “A Rocky Horror exclusion show

  1. I’ll go ahead and insert a trigger warning here before I keep going.

    A note on the audience: It’s a behavioral phenomenon known as deindividuation; the loss of inhibition in a group setting. This goes hand in hand with cognitive dissonance.

    As a rape surviver, I can say that the use of rape is just part of furthering the shock value of the whole film itself. While the audience shames Janet for being raped, Brad isn’t really mentioned. The audience seems to forget that men can get raped, too. In any case, both instances of rape in this movie do bother me.

    A lot of Rocky Horror’s cult appeal is the shock value. It doesn’t mean that it’s right. It doesn’t mean that it’s okay. It doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t bother us. It just sells tickets at midnight screenings.

    Interestingly enough, Richard O’Brien (writer of the movie and the actor playing Riff Raff) has described himself as trans*. In a 2009 interview, O’Brien talked about his struggle with gender roles. He stated “There is a continuum between male and female. Some are hard-wired one way or another, I’m in between.”

  2. TRIGGER WARNING (rape and sexual assault)

    I think these questions, while they can be uncomfortable, really should be addressed, if not within casts themselves, with people who see themselves as fans of the movie and of the subculture that’s been built up around it.

    I do agree that much of what makes Rocky attractive is the shock value, but I think many of its fans would be more likely to identify as “socially progressive”, especially in the area of LGBT issues. In light of that observation, it might be wise to examine the problematic elements of both the movie and the audience participation callbacks, and be aware of who we might be hurting (not offending, hurting) by shaming a rape victim in such a way, or using the t-word to refer to characters.

    Unfortunately, I can speak to my experience of trying to relate to Rocky after being raped. Rocky had been a significant part of my life for a while, and coming back to it after the assault was difficult because I began to realize that the way Brad and Janet were treated by Frank was similar to the assault– and worse, they appeared to enjoy it after a little persuasion, where I was left unable to enjoy being my sexual self without being in pain for a long time.

    Even though I enjoy the show and the meaning it had for me when I was involved with a cast, the problematic elements are very much at the front of my mind, and it seems impossible to reconcile the images of “accepting of marginalized peoples” and “mocking a (female) rape victim for shock value”.

  3. Terribly sorry that you lost any sense of fun in being abnormal. Maybe you should just stick to…I have no idea, because whatever you want is some weak-ass bullshit that give no one joy. You’ve forgotten that Rocky is about empowerment and laiughjter through transgressiveness. it’s supposed to rankle your senses. It’s freak shit. Freka pride. Freaks aren’t out to make you feel nice about your concern for cis-wymyn and the kyriarchy. it’s abotu busting a gut and takign rpide in weing weird, freaky and transgressive. It’s about taking the piss out of everyone and everythign, especially the Pinks who want to take that away form us. You’ve just come out on the side of the mainstream. We hould all feel normal! We shouldnt; ever be sassy rude mean ro offensive! Let’s be lovely little fucking doves who cuddle! No. Fuck you. Janet is a dumb slut. Frank is a sex god. Meat Loaf IS sex. Rocky Horror is a bachanal of dirt and filth and raunchiness and rudeness, and if that bigs you then cograts, you’ve become one of the Barbies and Kens. Might as well vote for Romeny if you don’t give a shit about freak power.

    Don;t mean to sound so crude, but I say what I say out of love and cocnern that, perhaps you care too much about legitimacy, and creating a soft world. The world isn’t soft, and shouldn’t be soft, and because it’s the deaht of humor, and the beginning of taking yoruself too goddamn seriously, and you definatley seem like you believe in things too strongly to be sane.

    Praise “Bob”. Whatever you believe, believe the hell out of it dalring. Just rememebr, you’re a dumb ape, and so am I, and whatever we believe is probably wrong. No amtter how serious you are, you’re gonna be dead as hell one day and so am I, and if you take your own joy away then no one can save you, and if you take it from others then, well, you’re lucky there isn’t a hell to go to.

    But mind you, all said in lvoe, and I respect you’re thoughts. I just think you
    ‘re wrong as hell and giving too much into the forces of seriousness and joylessness in an unserious world of chaos and faulty nervous systems.

    • You’re very good at condescension. You tell me very obvious things as if I should be impressed. Do you talk to all women like this, or am I just special?

      It seems as if you didn’t read the post well, or as if you really care about making judgments of me. I don’t want the shadowcasts to stop, and I don’t want the film burned in a mass pyre. I want people to be more self-aware, to realize that some of the things they’re saying are oppressive as fuck.

      Because calling a rape victim a “slut” isn’t transgressive. Because calling a woman who has sex with multiple people a “slut” isn’t transgressive. It’s all too common. Have you not listened to all the rhetoric about “forcible rape” or “legitimate rape”? Have you not heard assholes saying that women who dress in revealing clothes are “asking for it”?

      Congratulations. You’re just another groove on a very broken record, baby. You worship a rapist and vilify a rape victim. All I’m asking is that you at least be up front about it, and that you realize that there are other things to Rocky Horror than just the same old cultural narrative that sexually active women are bad and should feel bad for themselves.

      Rocky Horror is about trangressing societal norms, about the process of losing your innocence, about fucking around with gender, about what happens when humans encounter a depraved overpowering force.

      There’s a lot more to the film than rape culture. There could be a lot more to the shadowcasts than forcing people to be sexual, sometimes against their will. You can be transgressive and radical without oppressing people, or triggering flashbacks to their rapes/abuses. You can be better.

    • This comment is exactly why I don’t trust many people to separate the bold, irreverent queer pride of the film from the film’s uncritical portrayal of something incredibly mainstream under the guise of irreverence: the idea that “no” is just a mispronounced “yes”.

      What’s ironic is just a simple change of the script, a line or two, would make this an incredible paean to those who gave us the courage to transgress. If Frank had accepted Janet and Brads’ refusals, and then they each called him back, then it would not carry the stench of relenting to unwanted sex under duress and inability to escape, a.k.a. first degree sexual assault. That way, the ritualized chanting of “slut” at Janet would be a mark of pride that echoes her own celebration of her awakening sexuality.

      Instead, what we are treated to is a visibly, outrageously, amazingly transfeminine queer character cast in the role of a predator. It also forever taints Janet’s celebration of her “awakened” sexuality through something uncomfortably close to a portrayal of a successful “corrective rape”, the horrific idea that the right sex partner can, against your will, make you love and desire a particular kind of sex. Combine this with the public chanting slut ant the woman for relenting, and you have a perfect storm of the worst displays of misogyny being given a green light because it also happens to include some queer pride elements.

      Make no mistake, the fact that what Frank did is completely transparent as sexual assault both to the filmmakers and many viewers is a neon blinking finger pointing to the problem with how our culture treats male and female sexuality, and their relationship to one another.

      Particularly with regard to the Brad scene, and the way in which it is not seen as a celebration of a nascent bisexuality in a male character, but rather as a well-deserved shaming of a prudish asshole (by strongly implying a literal “shaming” of his anus) that the audience is meant to hate. It plays on the same trope that being a bottom is “less than”, when there is a simultaneous suggestion that Rocky is meant to be Frank’s top (which is itself premised on the idea that the person penetrating is the “man” and the person receiving is the “woman” and that that is how sex works). How cool would it have been to see a bisexual character like Frank, so assured of his sexuality that he could engage in any act in any position, interacting with a bisexual man in a fashion that wasn’t set up to be the latter “getting what he deserved” as a “punishment” for being uncool?

      Unpacking all of these things while still being mindful of the time in which the movie was originally made is not something I expect many people to do well. It’s hard to have such a queer-positive film handle some of the elements of sexuality in such a problematic way, because I want to be able to celebrate the film without reservations or caveats. It’s too central a part of my own queer history to excise it from my life without losing something that makes me who I am. But I am also at a place in my life now where I can look back at this and be honest about its flaws.

  4. I’m a vistim of molestation, and this film triggered me *A LOT*. After I watched it, I self-harmed for several hours. When I found out that this was the film that has been used to represent the LGBT+ community for decades now, as a polyrom ace, I felt ill. Holy fucking prude-shaming, rape culture enforcing, and making a joke of the gay and trans communities as a whole.

    While I’m glad that Columbia and Riff-Raff later called Frank out on his shit (killing Eddie), I’m sad that they never called him out on being a rapist.

    I really really really hate this movie and wish people wouldn’t suddenly associate something so gross and rape-y with the LGBT+ community.

    This is to the LGBT+ community as Happy Tree Friends is to Animal Rights. It’s not.

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