Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Rocky Horror Picture Show, Or—How I Figured Out I Wasn’t Heteronormative



It was a typical blustery New England Autumn evening. I was a freshman in college at a small school in the old mill town of Worcester, Massachusetts. Most weekends (okay, starting on Thirsty Thursdays) the girls from our dormitory, a converted historic mansion, would roam the streets of downtown, hanging out in the restaurants that we hoped might serve us beer though we were underage. And as that worked less often than we might have liked, our strolls inevitably took us to the large technical institute located a few blocks down the street. There we would find fraternity parties guaranteed to serve drinks and offering a myriad of musical choices and themes.
                Even fraternity row can get boring and one evening I was invited to make the two hour car ride into Cambridge to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show extravaganza. For reasons I shall explain shortly, I had never heard of this cultural event. I met up with the carpool at the appropriate time.
                Let’s back up. It had only been the previous summer, after graduation from high school that I had finally been allowed to spend the summer at the family cottage on Cape Cod without parental oversight. I worked several jobs and partied. It was wonderful. One of my jobs was serving fried seafood to the elderly of the mid-cape region and the other staff and I had great times, although I must admit to never looking at tartar sauce quite the same way again.
                One balmy night we had jumped in the car and headed down Route 6 to Provincetown. For those who have never been, you must go. Used bookstores, great restaurants and, as I was soon to discover, a non-stop summer bash for GBLT folks.
                After parking and beginning to wander down the main street through crowds of tourists, I began to take in the sights. The Atlantic Ocean with its subtle roar was balanced only by the roar of every musical genre’s representative bar and crowd spillage. The lights from the various neon beer signs and the tinkle of tiny white Christmas lights wrapped through the fragile trees created a warmth and friendliness that certainly was different than the energy of our main party town, Hyannis.
                As dusk finally faded to darkness and we returned from the breakfront, on which other side we had quickly downed our ill-gotten beers, we wandered together down a small alley behind a theater. The alley was crowded and dim, and I had the beginnings of claustrophobia.
                Quite suddenly, I realized that I had become separated from my friends. As I looked at the people surrounding me on all sides, I was gripped by a feeling of illusoriness. The women around me were all much taller than me, an experience I had not often had. As well, they were all damn near perfect. Iconic, flawless women dressed for a ball. Princesses come to life. I froze in astonishment. And then I heard the voices, men’s voices. Somehow what my eyes were seeing and what my ears were hearing were in conflict. Having grown up in the woods of Massachusetts, in a fundamentalist Christian home, I had no vocabulary for what I was experiencing. I was both troubled and entranced.
                The main fish cook had realized that I was missing and returned to find me frozen, immobile. He laughed and took my hand, asking, “Haven’t you ever seen a drag queen before?” He pulled me through the crowd as I looked back to take it all in; the glamour and splendor, the voices, the magic.
                Now, not a year later I was to discover that gender could be played with on many levels and that while my own gender had never caused me any discomfort, outside the proscribed roles of a girl in fundamentalist culture, I was interested.
                The gang and I had enjoyed the show. The subculture that is The Rocky Horror Picture Show was in full swing that night in Cambridge. The entire cast was represented below the screen. In the darkened theater I had experienced the audience’s complete participation and had bread and rice in my hair. The person next to me, as I was at the end of the seating arrangement of my friends, was dressed as Frankenfurter and easily cleared six feet in his platform shoes. It was liberating and the music was terrific.
                After the show, the audience and the under-screen cast tumbled out into the street behind the theater together. So many people were dressed as characters from the film it was difficult to concentrate. But once again, I had found myself in a crowd of people unlike any I had ever known and I was enthralled.
                As I turned to find my friends, there was a split in the crowd and I could see a car that had been parked on the shoulder. Atop the car was the person who had played Columbia under the screen. She was perched on the hood of the car, fishnet-clad legs spread, sparkling bowler hat, and jacket the extent of her costume. She was looking directly at me.
                As I stared back, I became aware of my senses telling me that “she” was not a she at all. Something about the eyes, the posture, the aggressiveness of the stare, made me realize that I was most likely looking into the eyes of a man. Something clicked. I realized I did not care if she was male or female. I just wanted her. And my life changed.
                The ride back to Worcester was hell. As my friends dissected the night, I was silent. I listened as they compared the show to others that they had seen and commented on the quality of the actors below the screen. I murmured when a response was unavoidable. Somehow, I knew that my physical and psychological response in that back street had nothing to do with what they were experiencing and I had no understanding of what it meant that I felt the way I did. I was also angry and felt a bit ripped off as I had not had the courage or the time to approach my magnet on the car.
                Years passed before I finally began to read the right books and meet the right people who could begin to help me understand myself. There were a few women I got it on with in college, but I knew I wasn’t a lesbian. I based this knowledge on the fact that I have never had a strong connection with women and only had developed close friendships with a few. I am, I guess, a guy’s girl. Men are easier for me to understand and I am more comfortable around them.
                Someone on Twitter had asked some questions about bisexuals. How do they self-identify, what did people think about the idea that Bi’s are just gays or lesbians who won’t commit. I tweeted in response that some of us just didn’t care what “package” the other person had; we would work with what was offered. And then I began to think.
                If you were to pass me in the supermarket, I would look absolutely “normal.” I am a fem-looking woman, a mother and married to a heterosexual cisgendered man. On Facebook and other social networks, I identify as bisexual so as not to discount those lovers I had from my own  gender. If I were not monogamous, I would be open to being with a woman again. Also, one of my children is gay and so I identify so that he need not be “the only one.”
                But I struggle with the label of bisexual. For me that implies a desire for that particularly womanly taste and scent, the softness of the curves of the female, balanced with a longing for the hardness of males. This is not my experience. I cannot claim “queer” as an identity, as I am objectively “not-queer.” I am ambisexual, uni-sexual, ambiguously sexual…who can say. 

I am, in the end, just me.           

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