Taylor Drake ’21
I’ll never forget seeing Davidson College’s rendition of Rocky Horror Picture Show my first year here. I walked into the 900 room with a bright red “V” shining on my forehead and a funny feeling in my chest. My only exposure to Rocky Horror was through the one Glee episode, and the way even this cult classic addressed sexuality and gender was so taboo for me at the time. I was planning on leaving early because “it started so late” until my friend and I took the only two seats left–in the front row.
I felt like Brad and Janet in Frank’s castle. I was just a closeted little twink from small town Tennessee visiting a new planet populated with glamrock bops, fishnet tights, and unabashed queerness.
I feared coming out of the closet more than anything and seeing queerness performed and celebrated by the Davidson community through Rocky Horror was a very liberating experience for me. This celebration of queer aesthetics and ideals made me feel like my queerness/queer identity could and should be celebrated here.
A couple months after doing the timewarp for the first time, I came out to myself and a couple of friends. I attribute the beginning of my journey of self-acceptance to this science fiction double feature.
When I was asked at the beginning of this year to play Rocky in this years’ “production” I felt an immense sense of honor and responsibility to give all the Rocky Horror virgins, especially anyone in the same position as me, a transformative experience. Beyond losing Katie Walsh’s corset, nearly concussing Meg Houck (Janet) during “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me” and scattering toilet paper across the 900 room, I felt I did my part in rose-tinting the audience’s world.
It was some of the most fun I’ve ever had, and I will remember this show as one of the most rewarding things I’ve been a part of here at Davidson. As a queer person, it felt incredible to perform in a tradition which, though it also merits critque, means so much to me and my community.
However, performing a queer character as a queer person for an audience of my predominantly cis-heterosexual peers made me consider how queer aesthetics and ideals are perceived and consumed here at Davidson. What aspects of queer culture are comfortable enough for us to and celebrate and what still remains taboo?
This upcoming December 2nd, Wildcats will walk to class and see their favorite sculptures covered with scarlet red sheets as Davidson College honors World AIDS Day (one day late due to Thanksgiving break) by participating in the global campaign “Day Without Art”. The activist, non-profit organization Visual AIDS started Day Without Art in 1989 as “a day of action and mourning in response to the AIDS crisis.” The campaign covers up public art to highlight the lives and achievements of people, specifically queer artists, who we’ve lost due to AIDS. The covering of art, especially of Davidson’s sculptures, leaves a haunting phantom of the art we walk by everyday. Day With(out) Art has such a jarring effect because the physical engagement with sculptures transgresses cultural etiquette about art.
I applaud the Director and Curator of the Van Every/Smith GalleriesLia Newman’s dedication to raising awareness of HIV/AIDS through organizing Day Without Art on our campus.
However, If Davidson College celebrates covering its sculptures in the participation ofDay Without Art–a tradition started by queer activists, why does the administration demand the removal of the Davidson Microaggressions Project’s flyers from these same sculptures?
If we as students hoot and holler at drag shows in the Union why do we raise our eyebrows in response to digital art in Wall that explores gender performativity?
If we celebrate gender fluidity in Rocky Horror why are gender neutral housing, accommodations, and restrooms for trans and gender non conforming students not a higher institutional priority?
Events that center queerness such as the Rocky Horror Show, the (now) annual Drag Show, or Day Without Art shouldn’t be the only aesthetics and ideals of queer culture that we celebrate collectively as a campus. We should celebrate our queer students and their work to better the Davidson community. Queer people, aesthetics, and ideals bring people together here at Davidson and work to address the systemic injustices that still pervade our college and greater society.
And because Rocky Horror is such an important event for queer visibility, more queer students on campus that love Rocky Horror should be included in its production. We should be centered in the cultural events that represent and celebrate our community.
As the horror-ble Franken Furt once said: Don’t dream it, be it.
Instead of solely honoring the entertaining figures and traditions of queer culture here at Davidson, cis-heterosexual audience members/consumers should embody the ideals they present, celebrate the people who live them out proudly, and support action that prioritizes our well-being here.