Has Richard O’Brien taken a step to the right politically?
Creator of the Rocky Horror Show and TV game show The Crystal Maze (yawn), Richard O’Brien, has stated that transgender people cannot be women.
In an interview with UK free newspaper, The Metro, O’Brien says that he agrees with the view of Germaine Greer and drag queen Barry Humphries. When asked about his views on trans-exclusionary feminists, including Greer, who has said “Just because you lop off your cock and then wear a dress, doesn’t make you a fucking woman.”, O’Brien replied “I think I agree with that. I agree with Germaine Greer and Barry Humphries,” he said. “You can’t be a woman. You can be an idea of a woman. You’re in the middle and there’s nothing wrong with that. I certainly wouldn’t have the wedding tackle taken off. That is a huge jump and I have all the sympathy in the world for anyone who does it but you aren’t a woman.”
Earlier in the interview, genderfluid O’Brien said that he thought of himself as a “third sex”, who is “somewhere in the middle” of the two binary genders.
“I wish we would see ourselves as members of a sentient race of beings and be nice to each other,” said O’Brien, “as human beings as opposed to male or female.”
Yes, Richard, dear, I would love very much for everybody to be nice to each other. But when an odious cow like Germaine Greer spits venom at transwomen, then don’t be surprised when the transgender and genderqueer communities return fire in kind. And if you agree with her, and say that anyone who has undergone gender reassignment surgery cannot be a woman, then that makes you every bit as bad. Lay down with dogs, do not be surprised if you wake up with fleas.
And in asking for us all to be ‘nice’ about it, O’Brien is in effect no different from those during the civil rights movement who suggested that blacks should be quiet and ‘slow down’. Fuck that. The transgender / genderqueer community are just beginning to make themselves heard, and as Dr Martin Luther King Jr once said, “slow downism leads to stay stillism, and stay stillism leads to do nothingism”.
Richard O’Brien is famous for creating the Rocky Horror Show (1973) and the subsequent movie it spawned, the Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), which for those of you who have been living under a rock these past 40 years, is a zany musical tribute to B movies, in which a stranded couple seek help at the home of the mad Frank N Furter, who turns out to be a transvestite from outer space, who is creating his own man, Rocky. The show has every member of the cast dressed up in drag. The movie, which famously starred Tim Curry as Frank N Furter, and had a wonderful cameo from a very young Meat Loaf, is being remade with transgender actress Laverne Cox playing Frank N Furter.
Now with O’Brien’s comments, there has been the predictable backlash from the LGBT+ community, including those who say they ‘hate’ the Rocky Horror Show, claiming that it exploits transgender people.
Does it really, dears? And do tell me, just how many transgender and genderqueer people identify themselves with drag queens, which essentially what Rocky Horror portrays? Not this genderqueer person for sure.
Where O’Brien makes his biggest mistake is in being guilty of a Typical Mind Fallacy; making biased and overconfident conclusions about other people’s experience based on his own personal experience. Because he identifies as genderfluid, he assumes the true must be the same for all genderfluid and transgender people. Yet where those who are transgender / genderqueer people lambasting Rocky Horror make their mistake is by thinking that the portrayal of drag queens in any way represents them.
The characters in Rocky Horror, particularly Frank N Furter, are sexually fetishtic transvestites. Now, of course we all have our sexual dynamic, but can anyone who is transgender or genderqueer honestly say that their gender governs their sexuality? If they do, then I would be surprised, for as gender and sexuality are two different things, it does not govern anyone’s sexuality; and that is true of all genders.
This is where I have one of two problems with the remake of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. The first is that it is being remade in the first place. I sincerely doubt it can ever be as good as the original, which is a classic with a cult following. The second however is the casting of Laverne Cox in the role of Frank N Furter.
Myself and many others are first to complain when a cisgender is cast as a transgender person in a movie, as happened with Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl. If we then accept a transgender woman playing a sexually fetishtic transvestite, are we then not simply playing the transphobic cisgender community’s game for them? The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and To Wong Fu, Thanks for Everything, can certainly be seen as LGBT+ movies, but the point being that those movies surrounded the stories of drag queens, not transgender / genderqueer people. At the other end of the spectrum we have one of my favourite movies, Cloud Atlas, in which most of the cast take on roles on both sides of the gender binary, but which is by no means any sort of comment upon gender, or sexuality for that matter. But dang, Tom Hanks makes a damn fine woman.
Movies like Rocky Horror are not a gender political statement, neither do they represent the mainstream transgender / genderqueer communities. But the moment anyone tries to claim that they misrepresent us, then they become so. But if we identify with that, then we can hardly complain about Laverne Cox, whom I have no doubt will play Frank N Furter brilliantly (although I doubt ever as good as Tim Curry), taking a starring role in a spoof musical comedy, where sexually fetishtic crossdressing is part of the theme. Sorry girls, but we simply cannot have our cake and eat it too (and we’d never get into our dresses if we did).
Neither should we worry about what Richard O’Brien says. He created a gem in Rocky Horror in the 1970s, and has done little to nothing ever since. Even The Crystal Maze was pulled from Channel 4 eventually when ratings plummeted. Certainly, his views are bigoted and ignorant, just like those of Germaine Greer, Barry Humphries, Jeremy Clarkson, et al, but notice what all of these people have in common; they are all tired, bigoted, old farts whom no-one listens to any more.
And while we’re about it, how come none of the above (or most transphobes) have ever said a transgender man isn’t a real man?
I am predicting and awaiting calls to boycott the remake of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and I equally predict that it will prove as effective as the boycott of Zoolander 2 – i.e. not one jot.
Perhaps the best comment I saw on Richard O’Brien’s statement came from one transgender woman, who commented “He’s right. I don’t think I am a woman, I know I am a woman.”
That’s the spirit, gel. And that’s the way we all should view our gender; don’t dream it – be it.
I am an honorary woman. I am an asylum seeker, not a colonist.
“And while we’re about it, how come none of the above (or most transphobes) have ever said a transgender man isn’t a real man?”
For the same reason that feminine males are also policed more violently in society. Transphobia is mostly a byproduct of intersectional sexism and heterosexism (albeit misdirected). The institutional systems of oppression that result in discrimination and violence toward AMAB trans people are not much different than those that gender nonconforming males are subject to. It’s just that when it happens to trans people, it is called out as cissexism, yet when it happens to gender nonconforming people it is dismissed as “no way, cisgender people cannot be oppressed”. Until we can overcome this misconception of a simplistic cis-vs-trans dichotomy, where only trans people are victimized by such prejudicial attitudes, I don’t think we’ll ever be able to properly address your question. I hope this clarifies.