I remember the first time I wore The Outfit.
In the years to come, dressing up as Frank N. Furter would take on an almost iconic quality - the same black teddy, silk underwear, stockings, high heels, and of course the makeup and wig - but that first time, I had a pit crew of friends assembling me by hand. A team of girls were in my bedroom, slathering me in makeup, telling me how to dress, crying out for lipstick as they put together a Frank.
Why did I need a team? Because it had never been done before. The Rocky Horror Picture Show had been playing for three weeks at the Sono Cinema, but sales were slim. The owner of the Sono, knowing I had RHPS experience and absolutely no sense of shame, asked me if I would lead the stage show.
I said yes. And then regretted it.
I didn't know what would happen; my friends were having a laugh, yes, but what about the strangers? I was going to dress up as a woman and sing. There was a good chance that people would think of me as even more of a freak than I was - some ugly faggot moron in a dress, ready to be beaten up, then mocked for not being man enough.
I had just started getting laid. Was I shovelling black mascara on the grave of my new-found sexuality? I had no idea.
My mother, of course, was horrified. We weren't doing a full-on Frank - for that, you needed a glittery vest, fishnet stockings instead of pantyhose, a better set of gloves. This was a scrapmakers' Frank, a loose interpretation. And I had to keep asking, "Mom, do you have any bright red lipstick? How about some dark pantyhose? Do you have mascara that's tear-free or something?"
She shoved the mascara into my hands. "This is my mascara," she said firmly. "I am now going up to my room. You will not bother me again, and in return I will not ask you any questions about what you're doing tonight."
That sent a chill up my bones. And I was chilly enough; this flimsy teddy exposed too much skin, I teetered unsteadily on unaccustomed heels. I'd finally discovered why lingerie was sexy: it itched. It was uncomfortable. Hell, I'd fuck anyone if it meant I could take this goddamned thing off.
My friends ushered me out to the car under a coat, like friends ushering a celebrity out from underneath the flashing bulbs of the paparazzi. But there was nobody waiting at the Sono Cinema; I got there very early, sneaking in before the crowds to hide in the small dressing room in back. Well, not so much "a dressing room" as "a combination fire exit and storage closet."
People trickled in. The whole time, my guts were churning ice; this could be the end of my reputation in Norwalk. This is the kind of thing you can't take back - being not just a girl, but a pretty pretty girl, in front of a crowd of people. And the movie took forever to start, as the other players came in back and cheer me up - and then when it starts, it took so long for Frank to arrive. And I kept thinking, can I get out of this? Is there a way?
Then the argument came. If you're into Rocky Horror at all, you know the one.
JANET: I'm cold, I'm wet, and I'm just plain scared!
BRAD: I'm here - there's nothing to worry about.
I strode out to the center of the stage.
Frank's heel was above me, wide as a billboard, stamping on the elevator floor.
The crowd was shouting "STEP!" along with each of his bootheels - along with each of my bootheels. I was there now, they were chanting to my rhythm....
...and I turned.
And became something else entirely.
To this day, I tear up when I think of the sheer power that overcame me. It filled my chest with lightning, my arms with fire - all the fear burnt off of me in that moment, as I tore loose my gown and revealed my negligeed self to the world, wig jiggling loose on my head, and the crowd whooped and gasped in cheer as Ferrett died and someone else burst from the wreckage.
There was no fear. That crowd was mine. I owned it, like I owned this teddy and I owned this lipstick and I owned this whole fucking theater - and I was not Frank. I'd seen other guys try to do Frank, and they always failed - you can't channel Tim Curry's rampant power by sheer imitation. No, what was there was not a mask.
It was another side of me.
I was soaked with sweat when I finished, and hard as a goddamned rock. But I knew that I wanted more, because suddenly I was fucking legend.
...maybe not. "Legend" is a big term for a guy with a small cult following in a local RHPS. People knew me in town, sure, and I had fans - a weird thing, to have fans - but was I legend? Who knew? All I knew is that when I was on stage, in The Outfit, I was fucking untouchable.
You wanna know how I got up over a hundred sexual partners? It wasn't me. It was Me. I would do fucking anything in that outfit - I would flirt outrageously with girls I'd never met, playing with their hair if they played with mine. Which was often. (Occasionally, and accidentally, in front of their boyfriends.) I wound up with more dates than I could handle. In the outfit, I looked like a freak to Middle America - but I was something greater than myself, not hiding but shining through.
When you stood up there in The Outfit, you got backed into two choices: cringe and wither in front of the crowd, or say "fuck it" and ride the experience. I rode.
And you can't fucking explain how that feels. Not to someone who hasn't experienced it. You don't know what it's like to step forward and just Be, unless you've done it.
When I think of me in The Outfit, I'm always reminded of what I saw during the Cleveland Air Guitar try-outs. One of the judges - a world champion air guitarist, if such a thing can be said - was talking about someone's performance, and he said, "One of the questions I always get is, 'do you get groupies, playing air guitar?' And I'm ashamed to say it, but...
"...yes. Yes, we do. There's something inherently attractive about someone who's willing to get on stage and let loose, and if you perform in any capacity, you will find someone who wants you."
Thing is, at Penguicon 2008, there was a drag party, and I promised some friends I'd do Frank again. So I got out the old outfit, and some heels, and dressed up - and even though it was twenty years and fifty pounds later, you know what? It was still there. Part of it's the heels, of course - you have no choice but to strut in heels, really, and your posture is so much better - but part of it felt like an untapped reserve, fallow until I was ready to call upon it.
I had no fear.
No fear at all.
And this year's Penguicon, they had a drag show, and I didn't bother to go because, well, The Outfit's just so much effort. But I watched them all come out, men as women and women as men - some nervous, some experienced, some crazy. But the ones who weren't nervous amazed me.
I saw them. They all felt that power. They all knew what it was like to have a crowd fucking chanting your name because in this moment you are a rock star, you're unstoppable, you're the fucking bomb, and each of them were me and I was them and goddamn I ranted and raved. It wasn't just me, it was some Jungian well that they all could draw from, and I just bathed in that power and exulted and cheered because this strange orgone was flowing through all of us, a link between me and my trembling twenty-year-old self and a guy in a beard and a dress owning everything in that room and me too.
It's a weird thing to say in public, but it's true: In the right women's clothing, in some ways, I'm more me than the guy here in the jeans and T-shirt.
I remain unashamed.