The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a 1975 musical film, became a cult classic particularly popular at midnight showings in the 1970s-80s where interactive audiences dressed up and talked back to the screen. Its unconventional celebration of sexuality, nonconformity and bizarre characters made it a cult classic for a long time, including the interactive creative campy transgender and hypergender dressing up, singing along with the movie and even the messy traditions of throwing food at the screen and bringing all kinds of props into the theatre – usually with permission and sometimes not.
The movie challenged traditional gender norms and paved the way for greater acceptance of sexual fluidity and freedom of expression.
For many young women especially, the film’s message to “Don’t Dream It, Be It” was liberating. Conventional expectations confined them to passive roles, pressured them to repress desire, and narrowly defined female beauty. Yet Rocky Horror’s embracing of fishnets, lingerie, heavy makeup, and an aggressive female protagonist gave teens, both male and female identifying, permission to experiment. The over-the-top costumes and makeup seen in theater shadows was itself an act of rebellion, allowing fans – even those from conservative communities – to take pleasure in “bending gender” (an older term at this point but suitable in its day).
While over the top both then and now in a very self-aware aware yet unserious fashion, it nevertheless was a foreshadowing of second and third wave feminism’s strong emphasis on embracing authentic selves without labels, a view that seems a little old fashioned or perhaps a little “too soon” from today’s eyes and yet in its day, it was an expression of freedom for those who participated and embraced its message.
Digital Transgender Archives – based at Northeastern University in Boston yet compiled with collaborators in the United Kingdom and across the United States: https://www.digitaltransgenderarchive.net/