The Scene and the Silver Screen
Fifty minutes and forty seconds into The Rocky Horror Picture Show, I realized I was gay. I was 11 and sitting on the living room floor. My parents were on the sofa behind me. The “Time Warp” had come and gone. Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania,” had given life to the lamé-clad Rocky and brutally murdered his ex, all between three songs and a reprisal. Afterwards, the film’s bland but handsome couple are shown to their separate rooms. Brad lays sleeping in blue-lit silhouette. Janet enters. They reassure one another, first and then “heavy petting.” Suddenly, Janet’s wig comes off, revealing she to be a he – Frank-N-Furter.
I froze. Fear and excitement coiled in my stomach and fastened me to the spot. Feelings I’d denied and kept secret and refused to name, even to myself, especially to myself, had been captured in celluloid and emblazoned on the screen for the world to see. I was horrified but at the same time hopeful. Surely, my 11-year-old self thought, there’d be more movies like this.
If only. My love of cinema would survive the years that followed; my love of queer cinema, however, would ebb and wane before almost disappearing completely.
Like most people I know, the majority of what I learned about gay culture I learned through pop culture. My family was more liberal than most, but that didn’t mean guy on guy romance was a topic of conversation. And while I wasn’t the straightest kid around, I wasn’t prepared to rent films like My Beautiful Laundrette or Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, either. My secret education, then, was left largely to the Internet. For a 14-yearold boy, however, the sites returned by searching “gay” were too tempting to ignore. I learned a lot from porn, but very little that answered the fundamental questions of how to live.
I entered adolescence just as gay themes were reaching the mainstream. Friends had held a lesbian wedding, John Waters had been on The Simpsons, and Dawson’s Creek had Jack McPhee, while shows like Ellen and Will & Grace had prime-time slots all to themselves. Not that I watched them, or at least not publicly. I was 13 at the time – just the word “gay” would send me into a fluster of self-consciousness. The family tradition of watching the Mardi Gras parade was simultaneously alluring and panic-inducing; all I can remember now is a flamboyant montage of feathers, sequins, and bobbing cod-pieces.
The older I got, however, the bolder I became. Every Thursday night I would creep downstairs to watch Queer as Folk. I’d perch on the edge of the sofa with the sound turned low to make sure I could hear the movements of my family. If I heard anyone coming I’d quickly switch to another channel. In this way my ideal of “gay culture” grew. Soon, I thought, I’d be part of it.
In hindsight I was wildly naïve. Also gullible. Even if I’d packed my bags and moved to the big city of cinematic cliché my expectations would have gone unsatisfied. Worse still, I come from a city sometimes referred to as “a big country town.” When years of media-fed daydreams finally met with reality, the result was a head-on collision of mismatched expectations.
I wasn’t scooped up from the dance floor by a bunch of sassy fruits; I wasn’t saved from a bathroom brawl by a wizened drag queen with a heart of gold; I didn’t unexpectedly meet a brooding but beautiful soul on the outskirts. There was no makeover montage. No eyes met across the