The Gay Christmas Equivalent of the Peanuts Movie
Perhaps my love for “Gay Christmas” should have been an early clue about my queerness. I love a good Christmas movie, but Halloween just isn’t Halloween without Rocky Horror Picture Show.
There are lots of reasons why the film would never be okay if it were made today–there are definitely some blurred lines about consent, there’s the whole “transvestite” bit and plenty of other things that fly in the face of how we now handle gender and gender roles, ableism, queerness and more. But nearly fifty years ago? This was phenomenal, groundbreaking stuff!
And a tremendous flop at the box office.
It’s Easy to Forget How Far Ahead of its Time Rocky Horror Was
In 1975, when the movie was released, homosexuality was still illegal in many places. People often thought of it as a mental illness, even though the APA had removed it from the DSM in 1973. And Rocky Horror challenged people. It was about hedonism and letting your freak flag fly. It was made for weirdos and outsiders. Told us “Don’t worry. You’re not alone. You’ll find others like you.” Reminded us that when we did find that crew, that we could stop hiding ourselves and be real. “Give yourself over to absolute pleasure,” the movie instructed us.
No wonder I fell in love with it as a scared, closeted teenager.
My First Gay Christmas and my First Rocky Horror
I lost my virginity (the Rocky Horror kind…) in New York City when I was sixteen. Rosalyn (my very first girlfriend) had invited me to join her and some friends to go see the movie. At sixteen, and very closeted, I longed for any opportunity to let my guard down, and eagerly accepted the invitation. I didn’t quite know what I was getting into–.
I knew about the audience call and response, and I knew about the costumes and props, but no one had prepared me for having a big red “V” scrawled in lipstick on my forehead or being dragged up in front of the audience and having a balloon shoved between my thighs which I had to try and pop. The “deflowering” ended with the audience shouting “You are no longer a fucking virgin” at us. I embraced every moment of the performance, though. It was a fantastic opportunity to goof around and be silly without consequences. No one from school would see me. And Rosalyn’s friends knew what this was all about.
I made my way down from the stage, took my seat next to Rosalyn and took in the spectacle of Brad and Janet discovering themselves. I huddled under newspaper. Threw rice. And held Rosalyn’s hand whenever I could. I was completely taken in. I wanted more… more… more.
A Chance to Stage a Rocky Horror Production
A few years later, I was in college and I saw a flier advertising a casting call for performers to bring the show to our campus. I knew I had to check it out. I mustered up the courage to audition, not expecting to get cast, but looking forward to working on the technical side of the production.
As I waited to be called, I chatted with the woman sitting next to me, M. We bonded instantly over our shared love for the show along with similar taste in movies and music, a love of late-night Chinese food and Ben and Jerry’s, and a strong preference for Diet Coke that led us to the fringes of campus to buy it instead of the Diet Pepsi that was readily available in campus buildings. She was beautiful–just the kind of woman I was attracted to. And heartbreakingly straight. She would also become one of my best friends.
I stumbled through the dance audition in my usual clumsy fashion but eagerly played all of the audition games that the director engaged us in. It was his way of seeing how we worked with the others who were auditioning. A nice change from the usual vocal auditions and prepared monologues.
Making Fateful Friendships… But Still in the Closet
M and I left the audition together and made our way to the cafeteria where we continued to talk for hours, stopping only when the cast list was posted. We made our way back to the room where auditions had been held. She was cast as Magenta. And to my surprise, I’d been cast as the narrator.
Because it was already mid-September and we had to put a show together for the end of October, the schedule was intense. Rehearsals several nights a week. At least one night a week was given over to making costumes and props, or trying to find sponsors. It meant many hours together as a cast, getting to know each other.
In the middle of this incredible cast, putting together one of the queerest shows of all time, a show all about pleasure and the awakening of desire, that takes direct aim at heterosexual norms,I was hiding. I was spending a tremendous amount of time that September with my own band of weirdos, but I was afraid to be me. My (not so rich) weirdos were trying to source corsets and fishnets and high heels for our cross-dressing cast, and while I worked with them, I tried to maintain the straightest of appearances.
Bonding between Cast and Crew
We had a few showmances develop. And we did try and make sure we had some time together as a cast just to bond with each other, away from rehearsals. As we drank and goofed around one night, someone started a game of spin the bottle… something I hadn’t played since junior high. It was inevitable that eventually the bottle would point at someone whose gender matched that of the spinner. Maybe it was the alcohol. Maybe it was the group of people or peer pressure… But I sat there that night and watched two straight men kiss. Because those are the rules of the game.
A Gay Christmas Miracle
I think something inside me broke that night. Something chipped away until it uncovered truth I was trying to keep from everyone, including myself. For that night, no one seemed to care who kissed who. No one hid who or what they were into. Whether it was the person who brought their own personal riding crop for us to use as a prop during the show, or the gay guy who had never kissed a girl and wanted to try it. Everyone was open about who they were. Everyone except for me.
By the end of September, I’d memorized every word of the film. I’d learned the blocking and the audience’s lines. I was practically eating, sleeping, and breathing this movie whose main character is not gay, nor straight, not boy nor girl, who is perhaps in between in nearly every way other than being unabashedly, flamboyantly queer. And the one thing I couldn’t do was come out.
A few weeks before our show, fueled by pizza, bug juice and vodka, I did get to kiss M during yet another game of Spin the Bottle. It was one of the worst kisses I’ve ever had. Not because she was a bad kisser. Truthfully, she was a very good kisser.
“I wouldn’t have–I’ve never… never… never…”
By then, I knew I’d have to come out. Whether I wanted to or not, living with the secret was becoming far more painful than the imagined consequences of saying it out loud. It’s not like someone had given me an instruction manual for coming out. But my very straight friend picked at the lock on my closet door. She saw through what I’d been trying to bury and dragged me to LGBA meetings (the queer group at our university). Forced me to sit down and have a serious conversation with the third member of our trio… Who wasn’t involved at all with Rocky Horror, but was on the LGBA board and had himself been out since high school. She’s the one who spent weeks reassuring me that coming out wasn’t the end of the world–even before I’d even mentioned any confusing feelings to her.
I don’t want to spoil the film with too many details, but at the end of Rocky Horror, Brad and Janet, two of the main characters, return to their old lives, changed forever. And at the end of this show… that’s what I did, too.