To mark LGBT History Month, 2013, Polari asked its contributors to recall a song that had an impact on their own stories.
‘Sweet Transvestite’ – Dr. Frank-N-Furter
by Gareth Joyner
I wasn’t like other 12 year olds. The other kids were into chart music, roller-discos at the Leisure Centre and exploring their freshly blossoming sexualities with awkward snogging and misplaced gropes behind the bins. As for me, I avoided the Leisure Centre in favour Rotherham’s central library, reading up on the history of Musical Theatre. Instead of the charts, the soundtracks to Oliver! and The Phantom of the Opera blared out from my pre-teen bedroom. In place of snogging and gropes, I’d practice lines and dance routines for whatever am-dram production I was involved in at that moment. I was into magic tricks, I had a Ventriloquist’s Dummy and I read the Beano. With the power of retrospect, I’m ready to admit that at the time I could have possibly perceived as being slightly ‘uncool’. And innocent.
That changed one night during a sleep-over at Ben’s house. Ben was my best friend at the time. A different breed of geek to myself, Ben was into computer games, horror films and Michael Jackson. On the other hand he was also into amateur dramatics and magic, so it seems at a compromise we both accepted to ourselves that the other would have to do. We were happy.
Back then the BBC were airing a series called “I Love the 70s”, a compilation ‘best of’ show running for ten weeks with each Saturday night dedicated to a specific year of the decade. After the programme they’d air a film from the year in question, and on the night of Ben’s sleepover it was 1975, and the chosen film was The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
I’d seen a still from the film earlier that week in the TV guide. Little Nell, as Columbia; a white, eyebrowless face peering over a fishnet clad leg. It intrigued me, and I’d resolved that whatever happened that night I had to see this film. Saturday came, Ben had the luxury of a television in his bedroom (spoilt child that he was) and by selling it to him as a horror film (“The word is in the title, Ben!”) I got my own way. At midnight we sat up-close to the screen with the volume down low and eventually Patricia Quinn’s iconic lips appeared for Rocky Horror’s opening number, ‘Science Fiction Double Feature’.
What followed is now something of a blur. I’d like you to believe this is due to some kind of emotional turmoil the film flung me into, and that I sat transfixed systematically resolving internal questions about myself and who I was. The reality is I was 12 and it was a long time ago. But there’s one particular moment that made a particular impact on me, has stayed with me ever since.
The Transylvanians have just danced the Time Warp and lay scattered across the floor of a ballroom in front of our protagonists Brad and Janet, who look on bewildered. A drum beat starts. Brad and Janet slowly edge their way out of the room backwards as behind them a lift creaks into action. We get a flash of a white, rhinestone platform stamping rhythmically beneath a satin cap. Transylvanian’s bring themselves to their feet craning their necks for a better view. Eventually Brad and Janet hit the lifts scaffolding. The cloaked figure spins round to reveal a powdered white face with deep red, almost purple lipstick, Janet screams, the door slams open and a guitar chords strikes into action as Dr Frank-N-Furter belts: “How do you do I, see you’ve met my faithful handy man!” In ‘Sweet Transvestite’ Frank wasn’t just introducing himself to Brad and Janet, he was introducing himself to me.
I had no idea what this thing in-front of me was, but immediately I connected with it. It was confident, it was dirty, it had grit, it was sexy! Tim Curry threw himself around that screen, flirting with Brad, Janet and the camera in equal measures. I remember being enthralled, drawn in and yet at the same time trying to exert a sort of cool disinterest as a result of that exciting guilt that dominates pre-teen sexuality. What if Ben twigged that I was excited by this?
Eventually the guilt subsided as I rapidly grew more comfortable with myself. My relationship with Rocky Horror blossomed and developed as I grew and in many ways it knew me before I knew myself. At school I became a sort of Rocky dealer, forcing it on friends and lending the video to anyone and everyone like it was some kind of medication. “Keep with it until the castle, it gets really good at the castle!” I’ve joined fan-forums, bought cast albums and been to the stage show looking like a badly dressed lingerie mannequin on a market stall. But the sensation of hearing ‘Sweet Transvestite’ for the first time has always remained with me. Frank-N-Furter standing defiantly before Brad and Janet not demanding they accept him with words, as with the more fay ‘I Am What I Am’ from La Cage Aux Folles, but rather forcing them to digest him by simply and unapologetically ‘being’. It’s a very powerful moment. When that white rhinestone platform heel stamped on that lift floor for the very first time it let a very susceptible 12 year old know that somewhere out there something was very right in the world.