Jul 18, 2023

Why Do Gay Men Like "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"?

"Like" is too weak a term.  To gay men of a certain age, it is the movie.  It is more than a movie, it is salvation.

They don't attend the audience-participation midnight showings, with young oddballs throwing toast and rice, yelling nasty, often homophobic lines at the screen, and cheering when the "Frank the Fag" is killed.  They watch at home, alone, a private communion.

 Gay empowerment was not at all what Richard O'Brien intended when he wrote the script of a science fiction-horror musical comedy pastiche.

 If yo're looking for positive LGBT representation, you must overlook or excuse quite a lot:

Frank N Furter is a villain!  He keeps Brad and Janet prisoner, turns them to stone with his Medusa ray, brutally beats his servants, kills Eddie and then serves him to his guests for dinner!  That's not just villainous, it's psycho-killer!

And what do you make of the song "Superhero", which Brad and Janet sing in the wreckage of Frank's lab at the end of the movie:

Superheroes come to feast, to taste the flesh not yet deceased
And all I know, is still the beast is feeding.

Not exactly uplifting, is it?

There's no one gay in the film.  The male characters are all bisexual, capable of sexual relations with men and women both, and the female characters are all heterosexual.

The main sexual awakening isn't same-sex, it's Rocky and Janet.

The "don't dream it, be it" scene in the pool isn't gay, it's a pansexual orgy, while Frank is floating on a life preserver from the Titanic.

That pink triangle on Frank's lab coat was not intended to be a gay symbol.  It just happened to be on the coat they bought for a prop.

So how did gay men of a certain age get around all that?

1. They didn't notice Frank's villainy.  All gay and bi men in the mass media of the era were villains, usually psycho killers.  It was business as usual.  You simply didn't notice.

Instead, you noticed the scenes where Frank becomes a sympathetic character, longing for home:

I see blue skies through the tears in my eyes,
When I realize, I'm going home.

Telling about his first drag dreams:

Whatever happened to Fay Wray, that exquisite, satin-draped frame?
As it clung to her thigh, how I started to cry, 'cause I wanted to be dressed just the same.

2. There was same-sex desire!  Even the gay men in the mass media of the era never expressed same-sex desire.  Gay meant feminine and not interested in women, period.  You never saw a gay man with a boyfriend except Jodie in Soap, who was planning a sex change to "become a woman" for him. (They didn't understand trans people, either.)

Then you go to Rocky Horror, and Frank belts out:

A deltoid, and a tricep, a hot groin and a bicep
Makes me shake, makes me want to take Charles Atlas by the....hand.

3. There were bulges!

You rarely saw men shirtless in movies of the 1970s, and costumers tried their best to remove all hints of a bulge.  But Rocky and Brad are both half-naked most of the time, in extremely bulgeworthy outfits.  Male beauty was celebrated, not erased.

4. There was transformation.

I feel released
Bad times deceased
My confidence has increased
Reality is here

After years and decades of being told, over and over, that you, like every man who had ever lived and who ever would live, longed for women and shuned the touch of men, that same-sex desire did not and could not exist, you heard Frank sing:

Don't dream it, be it.  Don't dream it, be it.  Don't dream it, be it.

You left the theater with tears streaming down your face, transformed, literally saved.

I was lost, but now I'm found.  Was blind, but now I see

See also: Beefcake in The Home of Happiness


  1. You forgot that Frank rapes both of them. But yeah, gay guys in this era were all psycho killers. In fact, Hollywood would use gay-coded tropes for psycho killers at least as late as Silence of the Lambs. long after it became un-PC to portray gay villains, they just used bisexuals because hey, it's not like we're real anyway. (Proving Hollywood's cranial-rectal inversion is so severe, they've never even seen the rest of LA: There are practically no Kinsey 0's in the Los Angeles music and fine arts scene, and even the sports scene, let's just say it made college fun.)

    If Freud was sympathetic to gays, the neo-Freudians definitely weren't. That's where you get tropes like being "latent".

    1. I don't think it constitutes sexual assault, at least by 1970s standards. Frank did use a ruse to initiate contact with Brad and Janet, but he waited until they expressed consent before initiating sexual activity. The joke is that, although they are straight-laced and conservative, they are both willing to cheat on their partner with a stranger, and in Brad's case, to engage in "decadent" same-sex acts.

  2. I was in high school when the midnight shows of this was the rage- but for some reason I never went to see it- maybe I should have - I knew girls who were really into it not guys - but hey this was the 1970s. I've never seen the whole film just clips but yes I can see why for some gay men of my generation this was the film- by the way they do use a clip of this in "Fame" where the only gay kid is very lonely- and the first time I saw two men kiss in a movie was in "Midnight Express"

  3. Magenta and Columbia sleep together, with the implication that there was sex, even though Magenta is married to RiffRaff and Columbia has a thing for Frank.


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