Being in-between: Sexuality and The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Being in-between: Sexuality and The Rocky Horror Picture Show

[Written by Rowen Leverentz]

[Illustration by Norliza Matheson @norxillustrations]

The first time I watched The Rocky Horror Picture Show I was probably about 14 or 15. My parents didn’t want me to watch it at the time, so I went around to my friends and we watched it secretly together. The show is based around a heteronormative engaged couple named Janet and Brad, who end up in a spaceship inside of a castle. The ship is full of aliens obsessed with fashion and sex that sing the whole way through. It’s probably the most ridiculous thing you will ever watch, but the show made me feel comfortable within myself due to its openness surrounding sexuality.
Rocky Horror was impactful for me as there is no focus on questioning and labelling sexuality in the characters. The couple are mesmerised with the aliens, especially Frank-N-Furter the scientist transvestite from Transylvania. Through the course of the play Frank-N-Furter sleeps with both Janet and Brad. As the audience, I ended up focusing on their loyalties to one another, as opposed to the genders; following their infatuation with the aliens, rather than mapping their heteronormative standards. This as a teenager made me feel so comfortable in my own skin. Watching the film was transformative for me as I had just come to terms with the fact that I might not be straight, but I knew I wasn’t gay, I was just somewhere in-between and wasn’t aware of bisexuality. The show displays multiple identities with the archetypes of a beautiful heterosexual couple, getting involved with Frank-N-Furter, a compilation of attractiveness in both genders. This connection illustrated freedom, and the beauty of all genders showing them freely explore that without shame.

Costume was also a factor of Rocky Horror that left an impression. In the safe confines of the musical the characters could wear literally anything with confidence regardless of gender and identity. It didn’t matter that it was overtly sexual, that was part of the charm. Sexuality was then used as an expressive device with no restraints. This affected me personally as I began to think of how I was portraying myself. Every aspect of the characters from their speech, dance and fashion choice is free and exciting. Such as the costume largely involving fishnets and corsets. Fishnets are common now, however when I was younger they were less mainstream with sexual connotations attached. They looked good so were part of the costume, there was no shame.

This didn’t only come across in clothing choice but actions of the previously repressed couple, Janet and Brad. Janet is overcome with her attraction to Rocky, who was supposedly the creation of a perfect being. She then expresses her desire to be with him with the song “toucha toucha touch me”. Women are still judged for being sexually free, so for her to take her own initiative normalises female desire. Watching this as a younger person helped me to question the patriarchal standards pushed on me as a child. I came to terms with my own sexuality alongside the show’s expression of it as a fun and exciting thing and it made me relax; it made me feel like I wasn’t alone. The characters sleep around purely because it’s fun and they are celebrating beauty. There are no social pressures holding them back, they’re just enjoying the human form regardless of social standards.

So, with the freedom of sexual partners, uninhibited clothing and confident vocal desire; The Rocky Horror Picture Show expressed openness, comfort and transparency surrounding sexuality. Watching this in my formative years allowed me to see sexuality as a beautiful expressive act, and not a structured shameful one. It made me comfortable in myself.

[Image Description: A black background with an image of Frank N Further with a cigarette in their mouth, showing a tattoo of a heart with the word ‘Boss’.]

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