When someone brings up the subject of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, I think the image of the famous red lips and Dr Frank N. Furter’s alluring fishnet stockings are two of the first things to come to mind. Both are significant symbols in the gender bending concept of the entire show.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show switches between harsh contrasts between masculinity and femininity, and a blur of gender neutral freedom. As I see it, this movie forces you to face the stereotypes of your gender and recognise it within yourself, just before it tears that away from you and leaves you open and exposed, without any labels to cling to.
Let’s take a look into a few parts of the Rocky Horror movie that give is this effect…
Firstly, those lips. They’re iconic and instantly recognisable. Those lips belong to Magenta, or Patricia Quinn. They appear as rather feminine lips, too, however as they sing, you’ll realise that the voice is that of Riff-Raff, or Richard O’Brien. This is a pretty obvious and major message about the collision of two genders, as at that time they are in sync, and some don’t even know that it’s another person singing. It’s a blur, just like so much many other gender aspects in this movie.
Dr Frank N. Furter himself is a walking question mark when it comes to gender identity. He is a dominant personality, which in Rocky Horror is often addressed as a manly trait. However, his appearance, the stockings, the make-up, and his mannerisms too, are all aspects of seductive femininity. So we’re getting both energies from this one person, and to the characters in the movie, something about that is irresistible. I don’t know if we the audience find this attractive, but perhaps it’s simply the confidence portrayed by Frank N. Furter that makes him a sexual symbol, it could also be the fact that he is free of labels and any gender normalities, and this is something we may secretly crave.
“Give yourself over to absolute pleasure. Swim the warm waters of sins of the flesh—Erotic nightmares beyond any measure, and sensual daydreams to treasure forever.” This quote right here, much like the rest of the feature, is open to many kinds of interpretation. In my mind, I relate it back to that same concept of Frank N. Furter’s sexuality coming from his unidentifiable sexual nature. The Rocky Horror Picture show is letting you know that you can push the boundaries of identity and take your own gender identity further than it was ever thought possible. Gender is a concept that is open to you, and its there for you to play with if you want to. Rocky Horror makes you aware of the freedom that you have with your own self and the way you are perceived too.
What is the absolute pleasure? Is it perhaps complete freedom, is it complete lack of control over your body and its functions and simply giving into feeling?
Erotic nightmares beyond any measure — this takes my mind to the scenes with Frank N. Furter seducing both Brad and Janet separately, these two scenes play out exactly the same way despite the two being male and female. They both think he is their partner, and both refuse when they realise he isn’t, but with hardly any convincing at all, and both asking ‘promise you won’t tell?’ They give in to him… What is it that attracts Janet to the feminine appearance of Frank N. Furter and what is it that takes over Brad’s mind and seduces him into laying with a man? I think the entire representation of this gender-neutral aesthetic being incredibly sensual and being able to hold power over others makes the entire ‘genderless’ concept seem attractive to everybody watching these scenes, it sort of makes you want to become a mystery because of the control you’ll have over yourself and the power you’ll have over the others who haven’t given themselves over to the absolute pleasure.
The outfits of The Rocky Horror Picture Show are somewhat obvious when it comes to sending a message about gender stereotypes. During the beginning of the movie, we are in a vintage wedding setting, and when it comes to weddings, outfits are very stereotypically separate between men and women. Women wear dresses to weddings and men wear suits. That’s how it goes, and that being apparent within this movie is quite like being slapped in the face with normality. I am someone who wears very feminine 1950’s style dresses on a day to day basis, but that stands out in everyday situations. That’s because at this point, in the real world, fashion has become a lot more gender-neutral, but even with that, the stereotype remains that this is what each gender should wear, and when it comes to formal events and special occasions suddenly we all do just that. These stereotypes are spotted in outfits later in the movie, too, particularly with Riff-Raff and Magenta. Magenta is recognised as wearing a french maids outfit, which is a very typical outfit that sexualises females. Then there are the outfits worn during the Time Warp song, where all characters wear neutral suits. This whole song brings people together into a faceless collective, which works well with the gender-bending concept. You’ll notice a pattern of people being stripped down to their underwear, as it happens with Brad and Janet, and happens near the end of the movie, and these scenes have a feeling of acceptance surrounding them, as the characters are stripped of what labels them, clothes, and their core self is out in the open, it is much easier to connect with people when all this is taken away and this is recognised in these scenes.
I have often thought, even though The Rocky Horror Picture Show came out at a revolutionary time for sexuality, that the film might be even more apparent today when it comes to gender. Recent years have been game-changing when it comes to gender identity. We have seen the introduction of maybe hundreds of genders and they are all fully developed. No matter what your own opinions are about these genders, there are people in the world who currently identify with them, and believe it or not, Rocky Horror is a story that has actually helped people to discover that they don’t identify as what they once thought they should. We have also seen a huge increase in the number of people who don’t identify as any particular gender and live freely without labels, and this is what I see the gender aspect in Rocky Horror to portray. Dr Frank N. Furter may announce himself as a sweet transvestite, but he is really a free spirit, he isn’t any gender, he also, of course, isn’t any kind of human. But that’s another conversation.
I have undertaken a number of different labels trying to come across my own gender identity, but I’m now someone who lives without a labelled identity, and that makes me happy. I wear what I want to wear and act how I want to act, like so many people are learning to do. Perhaps without growing up with movies like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, this concept wouldn’t even be known to me, so I can definitely say that this movie is special, and helpful to those of us searching for things in our life.
Rocky Horror is special for thousands of reasons, and that’s why the 25YL writers are dedicating a whole series of articles towards it. It’s a movie that is a whole lot of fun and has a whole lot of meaning to be discovered.