This was no big deal, I thought as I adjusted the packing in my golden shorts. I had played Rocky a few other times, and had done it flawlessly, I could do it again in my sleep! The only difference was that instead of the typical movie-theater size crowd, there was somewhere between 850 and 900 people in this audience.
Okay, so maybe this was a big deal.
As I sat in the green room having an early dinner, my castmates excitedly chatting and moving about, I couldn’t help but think back on how far I’d come. Back before I’d joined this Rocky Horror Picture Show shadow cast group, my life, especially in theatre, was going nowhere fast. I had never gotten more than a chorus member in the background, lucky if a director gave me one tiny line to stop my complaints of never getting anywhere. I had just graduated high school, and could count my friends on my fingers. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, or even who I was anymore.
“We’d cosplay the characters, sing along to the songs, we had even befriended some of the castmates!”
It wasn’t until I did something I hadn’t done in almost two years- go see a shadow cast performance of a movie called “Repo! The Genetic Opera”. I used to go see these shows every time they were being performed- the movie would be shown on a screen, and actors in full costume would act it out in front of the screen. I used to join a few friends in going to these shows. We’d cosplay the characters, sing along to the songs, we had even befriended some of the castmates! It was so much fun and we always looked forward to it! We would talk happily about the day we’d be old enough to join the group ourselves. Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be for most of us. What with people moving away, losing interest altogether, or just separating from everyone else, I was the only one to even go back after high school ended.
When I went back, I took a friend to the show, and all the excitement I used to have on these nights came flooding back in a sea of nostalgic happiness. It was like I had never stopped coming to see the shows! Afterwards, I knew what I had to do. I wasted no time, went right up to the actors, some of which were ones I knew from back in the day, and asked about auditions.
My audition went smoothly, and I was in the group! I was so happy, but also my stomach turned nervously- I barely knew anyone! Though normally I do well in new social settings, I couldn’t help but feel terrified and shy. My first rehearsal, I kept to myself, shying away from most conversations. A couple of rehearsals in, I convinced the friend I had taken to the last Repo show to accompany me to rehearsal, with the half-lie that I worried about getting too tired to drive home (as rehearsals ran Saturday nights, sometimes past midnight.) and reluctantly, he agreed. He didn’t really do much or show interest the first few times, but soon found himself doing little bit parts halfheartedly.
“I was so new to it all and was a nervous wreck most of the time.”
A few months after signing up, I found myself awkwardly clomping around in five inch heels in a shadow cast of Repo at a con. I was so new to it all and was a nervous wreck most of the time. I knew the group I was part of had also begun doing Rocky Horror in the past few years- the movie that sparked the cultural phenomenon of shadow casting. I hesitated to join that part. I didn’t know if I even belonged in the group yet.
When I signed up, I felt it would be another thing I did for a few months, enjoyed most of the time in it, and then would rapidly feel more and more like I didn’t belong, realize no one liked me there, and move on, like everything else I ever did.
That all was soon to change.
One night during Repo, I stuttered out my coming out as bigender and requested to be called “Bailey” from then on. Most people took to the idea instantly, even more so when I came out as FTM a few months later. We had other transgender, non-binary and gender nonconforming cast members- I was not the unusual one.
After being convinced by a castmate who had known me since I was just an audience member to join Rocky, I found myself more and more involved with the group. At my first Rocky rehearsal, I was given the role of Brad Majors and had three weeks to learn the role and gather costumes.
By that time, the person I had been dating was growing distant from me, and I could feel our relationship fizzling out completely. A few weeks after being dumped the night after my second Rocky show, on Halloween, the friend of mine, who had been roped into doing crew without ever having seen Rocky Horror once, took the opportunity to ask me out. I stopped and thought- we had been friends for a few years now, he had been there for me at every turn and supported me the most when I came out. I said yes, and soon began a relationship with Paul, the love of my life.
As I carried on the role of Brad, I began to feel more connections with certain people in the group. One night, as we were packing up after a show, one cast mate came up to me and asked if I wanted to hang out one day. I was stunned- was that really happening? Were people wanting to be around me more than they needed to? Even then, I still just didn’t know if I belonged fully.
“Once I began testosterone, life began to pick up a little bit.”
Once I began testosterone, life began to pick up a little bit. However, the stress of dysphoria was still too much at times. When I found myself in a state of anxiety and dysphoria to the point where I needed to run out somewhere one night, I drove a few minutes before finding my legs trembling – an effect of anxiety I hadn’t experienced since high school! When it became too much to drive properly, I pulled into a parking lot and pulled out my phone. Meaning to try to message a friend I knew was relatively close by, I clicked on the wrong Facebook conversation and messaged my Rocky director. Soon realizing my mistake, I tried to apologize and move on, but he persisted in getting a straight answer of did I need him to come over there. I said yes.
That night, after two hours of talking with someone I barely knew and wasn’t even sure wanted to be my friend about everything and anything, I began to feel as if I had made the right choice in joining the group. All I had to do was open my eyes to the fact that these people really did like me and wanted to be friends. After all, they were the ones to immediately accept my identity and help me through the worst nights of dysphoria and anxiety when my own blood family refused to accept who I was. With me ending up being one of four transgender cast mates, with several non-binary cast mates with us, and everyone being there to validate the way I felt, I became stronger and dysphoria became more and more manageable.
Saturday nights at rehearsals started to feel like home. They also became the first people to give me real feedback on my acting skills and make me feel like I could improve and actually have potential. When my voice began to settle on testosterone and we were rehearsing for an upcoming con, as I was singing along to one of the songs, I heard the founder of the group say, “Wow, he sounds good!”
Soon most of my castmates were like family to me. I’d spend many nights going out for late night snacks, swapping hilarious theatre stories, spending days hanging out, going to the best parties I’ve ever been to, and laughing at inside jokes. They became people I’d always look forward to seeing. They would always find ways to make me smile when I needed it. They even stood up for me when one transphobic person decided to try to ruin my first night as Rocky- which thanks to everyone in the group, he didn’t!
I even pulled an old friend from high school into the group, after she expressed how after a bad break up, she wanted to come back to theatre. Once she became part of the group, her happiness escalated and I don’t think we’ve ever been as close as we are now.
“Paul and I were even celebrating our first year anniversary that night, which made the night all the more special!”
As for that show in front of hundreds, once I got on stage, my nerves were gone. My friends on stage beside me, us all helping each other along made for the best Halloween I’ve ever experienced. Paul and I were even celebrating our first year anniversary that night, which made the night all the more special! The audience cheering after a show is something you never get tired of hearing, and it never fails to give me such elation.
The stage has become a welcome place for me and I’ve begun to branch out into other theatre groups, mostly through hearing about auditions from Rocky Horror castmates. I feel I can actually pursue a career in acting thanks to what I experienced doing RHPS and meeting the people I call my friends. I know that had I never made the bold move to audition, dysphoria would’ve won and I would likely not be here today.
I will always speak up when people try to put down Rocky Horror, calling it “transphobic.” You can think what you want, but you don’t speak for everyone in the community. As a transgender man, I’ve found pure happiness in being part of Rocky Horror- and I know for a solid fact I am not the only one in that position. So many can say “Rocky Horror saved my life.” I am one of those people. It’s not so much about the movie itself, but of the people involved, and how I found my way out of the worst, most painful times in my life, thanks to them.