I was scrolling through my phone and clicked on my Tumblr app. One thing to appear on my dashboard was the followed tag, “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” The first item to appear was a shared news article that bared a shocking headline, “Richard O’Brien says, ‘Trans Women Can’t Be Women.’”
Now it did at first send me into a panic. For two years now, I’ve been involved with a shadow cast group that performs Rocky Horror Picture Show on a monthly basis. I’m one of four transgender castmates, (three FTMs, including me, and an MTF) as well as several non-binary people. I’ve often stated that if it hadn’t been for my joining the group when I did, I would’ve likely committed suicide. It was a few months after I joined that I came out as bigender, and ultimately discovering I’m FTM. The castmates I currently associate with have helped me through a lot of rough times, are there to share laughs, and just make the idea of weekly rehearsals amazing and fun. I had also pulled my best friend at the time into the cast when I felt too shy to go it alone at the beginning. He is now my boyfriend of a year and five months, and is my biggest support in my transition.
“MY SOLE DEFENSE HAD NEVER BEEN RICHARD O’BRIEN’S OWN GENDER IDENTITY (THAT OF BEING A “THIRD SEX”), BUT IT HAD BEEN A COMMONLY USED ONE.”
As I stared at this link, I wondered if my defenses against people commonly known as “social justice warriors” (SJWs; people who take everything that might be the slightest bit offensive to heart, even if they’re not among the people who might be targeted with the topic in question.) were now a laughing stock. My sole defense had never been Richard O’Brien’s own gender identity (that of being a “third sex”), but it had been a commonly used one.
When the initial shock wore off, I began to search for answers. First, I went to Google. I put in O’Brien’s name, and the only news article to appear was the one that had been linked in the post. The article was posted five hours earlier, and I felt that it would’ve been picked up by other news sources by that time. After all, the movie had just celebrated it’s 40th anniversary- with a con in NYC last September (in which I had the pleasure of attending and meeting Barry Bostwick at.), followed by the BBC broadcast of a performance of the original stage show that same month, along with the upcoming remake (one I still shudder at the idea of.) the movie was surrounded by hype and was being talked about a lot. Surely something of this caliber would cause a stir immediately.
Next, I googled the reliability of the one news site that provided the article. It seemed to be usually a reliable site, but neither of these things gave me much reassurance. After all, people tend to go with their knee-jerk reactions to things, and have a tendency to lean towards whatever reflects their opinion. I am guilty of this as well, and I tried to keep this in mind.
“A LOT OF WHAT I SAW IN RESULTS GAVE ME THE IDEA THAT HE REALLY SAW THE WORLD IN TERMS OF GENDER NEUTRALITY- THINGS LIKE HIM SAYING, “SOCIETY SHOULDN’T DICTATE GENDER.” AND “I DON’T SEE GENDER, I SEE THE PERSON.”
A google search suggestion caught my eye- “Richard O’Brien gender.” I clicked it. I had already known about his gender non-conformity, and how he sees himself. A lot of what I saw in results gave me the idea that he really saw the world in terms of gender neutrality- things like him saying, “society shouldn’t dictate gender.” and “I don’t see gender, I see the person.” But before I could conclude my thoughts and rebuttal to the person who posted the article (on Tumblr), I swallowed my pride and clicked the initial source of distress- the article itself.
To sum up the article, two other performers had very nasty views on being transgender, one of them saying that if you, “lop off your cock and then wear a dress” that doesn’t make you a woman. O’Brien stated his agreement, adding, “You can be an idea of a woman.”
I immediately saw how that could anger someone. The short article fairly mentioned much more, save for O’Brien’s own gender identity. It ended with another quote from him- “I wish we would see ourselves as members of a sentient race of beings and be nice to each other as human beings as opposed to male or female.” (sic) That added to my hypothesis from my searches moments before. He really sees the world as genderless.
“AS MANY THINGS IN MEDIA ARE TAKEN, HIS STATEMENT MAY VERY WELL HAVE BEEN TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT.”
As many things in media are taken, his statement may very well have been taken out of context. With a few harsh words added from other actors, maybe a slyly added editorial or two, and the eye-catching headline (which many don’t even read past.), you can twist someone’s words around to mean the opposite of what they said. In truth, I feel by him saying “the idea of a woman”, he referred to this ingrained idea that a vagina makes a woman, and a penis makes a man. If body parts don’t matter, why do we feel the need to change outside?
So many times, even in our own transitions, we put so much focus on the outward appearance, and forget our primary argument- this is how I feel inside, and nothing else should matter! Though, with the way things are going, many transgender people are just pushing themselves to the other side of the binary that they’re trying hard to escape from. In breaking from the “idea” of what a woman is to become a man, we reinforce the “idea” of a man, and vice-versa. Society dictates a man has a flat chest. One day soon, I hope to have that myself. Had society never said that, I have to ask myself- “would I still want top surgery?”
In the few weeks before I saw this article, I’d been thinking on how what makes a “man” and what makes a “woman” is subjective. One person’s idea of a man might be to just be born with a penis, but the person next to him might think that if you undergo phalloplasty, it’s the same thing. Yet another person might say you don’t need a penis to be a man. I thought about how some things that were once thought of as a “man’s job” a woman can do now without question, and the other way around as well.
“THE FACT THAT SOCIETY FORCED THE IDEA OF “WOMAN” AND “MAN” AND “NOTHING ELSE IN BETWEEN” ON US TENDS TO SUBCONSCIOUSLY PLAY INTO OUR OWN VARYING DEGREES OF DYSPHORIA AND TRANSITIONS..”
I thought back even more to the hypothesis I developed last semester; how there is a percentage of gender dysphoria that stems from your upbringing, and every last thing involved in it, and the rest is brain chemistry and structure (possibly along with other things.) to create the perfect storm of gender dysphoria. The fact that society forced the idea of “woman” and “man” and “nothing else in between” on us tends to subconsciously play into our own varying degrees of dysphoria and transitions, whether we know it (or want to know it) or not. It brings me back to my (still unanswered) question of what I’d want without any influence from society’s views. I can’t imagine with one hundred percent accuracy what I’d want in that situation. Can anyone do that? I think that I’ll probably never know.
In truth, I’m still discovering what being a “man” is to me. Being on T has changed more than my outward appearance, but my mental/emotional health has balanced quite a bit, and even some other issues in neither category were adjusted unexpectedly. For now, I can guess that comfort and feeling what fits right to us is the reason we identify how we do. There are so many different forms of transgender people, and we don’t stop to realize how it’s not just one way to go with either transition- while I’m on T and am making plans for top surgery, other trans men don’t go on T at all. While some other trans man is happy with idea of phalloplasty, I’m perfectly fine with what I have in my pants.
Being transgender does not carry a solid idea. Being cisgender doesn’t carry a solid idea. It is the same with non-binary. We all get caught up in our own ideas and try to erase those ideas that don’t fit the majority. Many people, transgender people included, will deny the existence and validity of non-binary people. In a way, I have to laugh- looks like the tables are turned for once, and people can’t handle what they’ve dished out. We commonly forget that we’re focused on our own views and can’t picture what it would be like to feel a different way, so we automatically label it, “wrong!” and put up walls that further divide us as a species. I have done this many times in my own life, and I can guarantee I will do that many more times. That’s just human nature- you can’t do, say or think anything without some form of bias! I can bet that someone will be whining about how I “defended O’Brien because you loved the movie from the beginning!” or whatever. Maybe I went into deep thought to try to defend O’Brien as well as Rocky Horror. Maybe I did so to protect my own mind and the past events that have prevented me from taking my own life. Maybe I did so for a lot of reasons, but that doesn’t make me wrong, nor does it make me the only person to do so.
“I DON’T LIKE THE WAY O’BRIEN SAID WHAT HE DID. NOR DO I FULLY AGREE. BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN I GET OUTRAGED- I TRY TO SEE WHERE HE’S COMING FROM.”
I don’t like the way O’Brien said what he did. Nor do I fully agree. But that doesn’t mean I get outraged- I try to see where he’s coming from. To be honest, I see a lot of where he’s coming from. He feels the world ought to be genderless, and that changing the outside appearance is just making it worse. I am comfortable in my identity as male, despite my lower parts, and that’s me. Others can feel how they want. My world still turns.
You can love Rocky Horror. You can hate it. You can say why you feel one way or another about it. But if you really want to bring the world together, maybe start thinking about how everyone sees everything differently, and no matter what you talk about, there’s going to be someone who agrees with you, and someone who disagrees. I’m fine with people hating Rocky Horror and Richard O’Brien. But I’m tired of those who try to make the world think one-way or the other.