‘Rocky Horror’ Helped Me Find My People

On it's 50th anniversary, our columnist Ruby Hayworth writes about how "Rocky Horror" helped a 10-year-old find herself and a love of theater. / Illustration by Zuyapa Saavedra

I was ten or eleven years old, bored out of my gourd on a weekend at home. 

Listlessly trying to find something to do. I flipped on the TV and aimlessly shuffled through the basic channels we had. My best bet was a re-run of Gilligan’s Island I’d seen a trillion times. Just like the castaways, I’m sick of coconuts. Right when I was about to give up, I stumble upon something that makes my little eyes and ears perk up. Frank-N-Furter. 

I wasn’t quite sure what my senses were registering. I watched, fascinated. My first exposure to The Rocky Horror Picture Show 30 odd years ago, was especially interesting, since the subject of gender, gender norms, sexuality, sexual preference, and the morality revolving around all that, is a such a hot topic of debate these days. Not once did I question what I was seeing. 

When you’re a little kid, you’re just barely starting to figure things out in the world, so as a point of reference, you naturally start to put things into boxes or categories. Man, woman, boy, girl, husband, wife. Good, bad. But for some reason I never once questioned whether Tim Curry was a man or woman, gay or straight. I purely loved the glamour and theatricality of what I was witnessing. The drama and the darkness. The weirdness. The absolute sass. Whether or not I realized it at the time, I think I knew, or intrinsically felt, this was the first time I knew I belonged somewhere. My first communion into the Church for the Unholy. The ones that didn’t fit in. My people. 

That’s a lot for someone that young to see and come to understand. It didn’t dawn on me until many years later how highly edited for TV that version was, even though it still seemed incredibly titillating to me at the time. Yikes. Probably for the best. 

I also didn’t realize until quite some time later there were live showings, where actors act alongside the movie, with props and call outs. And it wasn’t until even later that I learned there was an actual musical stage show of Rocky Horror. My learning curve was bassackwards, in a sense. 

I can remember going to my first live showing. I hadn’t fully accepted my whole hearted weirdness yet. I was still longing to be normal and accepted. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know any of the callouts or prop cues and I was terrified of being singled out as a Virgin, and even more scared to dress slutty, as is appropriate. My still repressed self settled somewhere along the lines of corporate slut — sensible, with a dash of spice. 

I loved seeing the community of it all though, and desperately wanted to be as bold, carefree, creative, raunchy, obnoxious, outgoing, loving and happy as the people I was seeing in the movie theater. My people.

Later, when I began seeing the actual stage musical, I felt like I was home. That feeling of being a kid again, and of being what you want, or moreover, the magic of the epiphany that you can be whatever want, even if it’s different. 

From the catchiness of the songs, to the utter glamour, camp and nods to Sci fi and beloved old movies, to seeing and feeling how much fun the actors were having on stage and how that was so infectious to the audience, they feed off one another. It’s a sense of freedom that I didn’t then, and still don’t get to feel very often. A guaranteed good time that never gets old. 

It’s hard to believe the Rocky Horror Show is turning 50, with the original show in London debuting in 1973 and the movie in 1975. But easy to see why people still love it. It’s still so fun, relevant, and such a part of pop culture. It feels like it’s simply part of what has always been. 

Becoming an old timer myself, it’s cool to see the younger generations beginning to experience Rocky, but I bite my tongue, wanting to tell them how easy they have it. That it’s easier to have acceptance these days. You get to be weird and it’s cool. You don’t understand how much this weirdness is hard earned. But as long as they appreciate it, that’s all that matters, right?  I guess it’s just like anything else, we fought in the weird wars just so the younger generation could have their freedoms. Enjoy it, kids.