Glee: What we can learn about fandom through the “Fandomspotting” podcast

Yesterday the weekly live podcast show “Fandomspotting” aired an episode about Glee (entitled “Better Than Regionals!”) with a panel of interesting guests, all of whom consider themselves Glee fans:

The show has been archived on YouTube, and a transcript has been created by some of the listeners.

Thanks to European-friendly timing, I was able to listen to the show live, which resulted in my first time of liveblogging over on Tumblr. Now that I’ve had the chance to revisit the recording and transcript, I’d like to follow up on that with some further thoughts.

First of all I have to say that I was expecting something completely different from this podcast. I expected conversation about Glee fandom, by the selected media professionals and/or fandom experts. I was hoping to hear interesting comments on how Glee works compared to other shows/formats, how it tells its stories, how fandom reacts to Glee (e.g. are there favorite tropes in Glee fanfic?) and how that ties in with fandom/creators interaction, and maybe even a brief summary of the most popular fandom hot button issues.

This is unfortunately not what we got (with some notable exceptions).

What we did get was more or less a repetition of the same debates that have raged ever since Glee fandom became a thing, plus some spoiler-based speculation about the next episode (Sadie Hawkins, 4×11) and general fantasies about the Glee the panelists would like to see.

Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the announcement that claimed that “no one loves to hate their favorite show like Glee fans,” and invited listeners send their “questions and comments—snark and screaming encouraged!—because this week’s panelists are ready for the fray,” (bolding mine) because that sure sounds more like Jerry Springer than like a thoughtful discussion amongst fellow fans…

But let’s look at some parts of the conversation in more detail.

When the panelists first gave their opinions on Season 4 of Glee, I was surprised to find out that one of them (Catherine) clearly didn’t even like the show as it is right now (she later said she much preferred the first thirteen episodes [2]), and another one (Tamila) hadn’t even watched anything after Makeover (4×03) [3]. That seemed odd for a podcast that was explicitly about fandom, and not about the show.

As the discussion went on, it became clear very quickly that there are two different approaches to watching Glee that were represented by one or more of the panelists (and all of the panelists actually represent parts of the larger Glee fandom here) [4]:

  • Some Glee fans (here most obviously Tamila and Catherine) believe that Glee’s goal is (or should be) to show an ideal world with many happy LGBT characters and same-sex couples, and to generally celebrate diversity. These fans often foreground one kind of main interest (e.g. LGBT issues, or gender, or race, or disability) and blame everything that doesn’t relate to that main interest for taking away time from what they believe is the most important aspect of Glee. They also tend to demand unambiguous “heroes” and “villains,” believe that the show should transport a clear moral, and think that offensive statements/actions by characters should always be contradicted within the text. They often expect trustworthy narration, tend to take Glee at face value, and focus mainly on the parts of storytelling that take place in dialogue and in center-stage action on-screen.
  • Other Glee fans (here most obviously Racheline) believe that Glee depicts the terribleness of the world as it is, with the promise of “a happy ending at the end of the tunnel.” They tend to be interested in the intersections of “otherness” in various characters (e.g. being LGBT and a person of color, being female and disabled), even if the show focuses an explicit storyline on one of these aspects only (which may not be their own personal main interest). They believe that the world shown in Glee is fundamentally unfair, that narrative/poetic justice won’t necessarily happen, that all characters are morally ambiguous, and that the main goal of Glee is interesting storytelling (instead of public service announcements or the presentation of a better world). They also assume that what seems to be the storyline of any given episode may in fact not be what that episode actually is about (see the podcast parts about the “lesbian blogger” comment in Glee, Actually [4×10]). They often consider non-verbal elements (e.g. props, sets, costumes, or background action) and implied off-screen action to be a fundamental part of how Glee tells stories and believe that the show’s creators assume a culture-savvy viewer with a lot of pre-existing knowledge, especially about but not limited to past and present LGBT culture and musical theater.

If there was any doubt left: my own approach to Glee falls firmly into the second camp, so this colors my opinion of Glee and this podcast. Like anyone else, I am no objective observer. I believe that Glee is a smart show that assumes smart viewers who are willing and able to look (at least) twice, do their research, and understand intertextuality as one of the ways to produce any kind of culture these days (no matter whether they can talk about it in fancy university-speak or not) [5].

If we look at most of the debates that repeatedly rage through Glee fandom as debates between these two approaches (and shades and variations of them), it might be easier to understand why we keep saying that “we are all watching a different Glee.” Because we are. Because depending on our expectations, Glee shapeshifts from a horribly offensive show with some terribly botched storylines and a ton of serious issues about the depiction of women, people of color, people with disabilities, etc. to a brilliantly intertextual show with amazing micro-continuity, a ton of inside references to LGBT culture that fly right under the radar (or over the heads) of any potential censors, and a spectacularly diverse cast of characters, none of whom actually is a stereotype (no matter how much they seemed to be one at first). And very often, all of this is true at the same time.

And since so much of this seems like Reception Theory 101 [6] and general basic Literary Theory [7] to me (yes, I have an academic degree in this area), I can’t finish this post without saying how bitterly disappointed I was that a “fandom academic” (Catherine), who has written her doctoral dissertation on fanfiction of all topics, didn’t seem to be able to apply any of these things to Glee. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect a conversation in academic jargon (of which I’m actually not particularly fond anywhere), but I did expect academic ideas about cultural “texts” and their reception to influence her private fandom and her public discussion of a show like Glee. I did expect someone with an academic degree in these areas to be able to at least wonder if maybe Glee is the way it is (and always has been) on purpose, and if so, what that might mean for watching it. But the only person who actually did any of that (and did it well) was Racheline.

I also would like to say that I found it upsetting to hear Tamila (who, remember, hasn’t even watched any of the seven episodes that have aired after 4×03) first demand “evidence” from Racheline for a claim she made about the development of the character of Blaine Anderson in this season (a claim which she has already written about on her blog and for which she could have offered plenty of supporting data from the show) and then basically prevent her from saying anything about this at all. I also found it upsetting that the moderator (David) just let this happen and then immediately switched topics [8].

This, together with Catherine’s claim that “Will Schuester getting really really drunk, ripping off all his clothes, running screaming down the halls of McKinley and finally molesting a student like he’s so desperate to” was her “fondest dream for [future] Glee” and her and Tamila’s interruptions of Rae’s explanation why she thinks Glee needs to stay at least partially in Lima to share their hate of Finn left a really bad aftertaste for me about a podcast that was otherwise mostly calm and respectful in tone.

All in all, I found the podcast an interesting example of existing conversations in fandom (that I now get to analyze – yay!), rather than a source of new thoughts about aspects of Glee or Glee fandom.

Mostly, however, I mourn all the contributions we didn’t get from this group of people, and I’m afraid the moderation is mostly to blame for that [9]. I know that a lot of the conversation in Glee fandom happens around speculation and spoilers and favorite episodes/characters/songs/relationships. I know that these are all easy conversation starters and/or ways to make sure everyone can contribute something (and all listeners can relate to something). So I’m all for having some elements of that in a podcast like this. But why have experts/professionals (who are also fans) on a show like this when they don’t get to be experts/professionals? I would have loved to hear how everyone’s work (paid or volunteer) influences their way of being a fan. I would have loved to have some input from their different areas of specialty (academic fan studies, professional media work/writing, involvement with huge fandom projects and charity). I would have loved to hear how their different perspectives impact how they perceive Glee fandom at large. And I’m very sad to say that I consider most of this podcast a waste of the potential and knowledge and experience every single panelist brought to the table [10].

So this is my wish for future rounds of conversation amongst different kinds of Glee fans: Let’s not be satisfied with the smallest common denominator of topics. Let’s not consider our vastly different backgrounds and experiences of Glee a hindrance. Let’s not repeat the same old conversations that we have already had a hundred times on Tumblr in other fan-made media. Instead, let’s be curious about each other. Let’s find out what story each of us has to tell and what we can teach each other about how life (and Glee) looks from where we stand (or sit, or lie, or dance). Let’s take closer looks at aspects of Glee that help people understand how its intertextuality works and how its non-dialogue storytelling adds so much depth and nuance to the show. Let’s talk more about what we love about Glee. And if we don’t particularly love Glee at any given point, then let’s talk about what we love about Glee fandom and its products. And if we criticize things about Glee (as we also should!), let’s do so in a way that doesn’t assume there is only one right way of telling a story or getting a message across to an audience. And if there’s really nothing to love anymore about Glee and its fans, then maybe let’s go and watch Teen Wolf instead [11]?

——-

Notes:

[1] I’m going to refer to the podcast participants by their first names from now on, because not all of them have given their last names and I don’t want to create hierarchies that way, and also because they addressed each other by first names on the podcast.

[2] Episodes 1×01 to 1×13 were produced in a block before any audience reaction could happen and influence the show. Later Glee episodes were and are written and filmed only a few weeks before airing, with some scenes being shot a lot closer to the air date. Because of this, the “First Thirteen” are often considered a different kind of Glee than everything that followed them.

[3] Please keep that firmly in mind when you consider her plentiful comments about later episodes.

[4] My explanation of these approaches is of course simplified, and there are probably many shades of the two as well as paradoxical combinations of the two. I don’t mean to imply that any of the panelist’s opinions are as unambiguous as my summary. In summarizing these two approaches, I’m also extrapolating not only from what has been stated in the podcast but also from what I have seen on Tumblr in the past six months of my own active participation in Glee fandom.

[5] Of course I know that this is not an accurate description of the average (read: very casual) Glee viewer. I also acknowledge that Glee (like any other cultural product) works differently when looked at only once. But none of the Glee fans who come together on Tumblr (or a podcast about fandom, for that matter) are “average viewers,” and hardly any one of us looks at any given episode of Glee only once (especially not if we also count the massive amounts of gif sets and screenshots that constantly float across our Tumblr dashboards). That said, I wish we would stop assuming that “the average/casual viewer” of Glee is automatically too little involved to understand the complexity of Glee. And that we also stop assuming that young LGBT people are unable to be media-savvy about Glee (especially since many young people are infinitely more familiar with remix culture and finding out shit on the internet than many of us 25+ or 35+ folks).

[6] Basically, reception theory says that a “text” (that is, a book, movie, piece of art, TV series, song, etc.) isn’t just passively consumed and accepted as-is by its audience. Instead, the reader/viewer/listener understands and interprets the meaning of this “text” based on their individual cultural background and life experiences. That means, the meaning of a text is not some kind of “truth” hidden in the text itself, but that the meaning (or rather, meanings) of the text is created in the relationship between the text and the reader/viewer/listener.

[7] Most importantly, deconstructivism, postmodernism/post-structuralism, and queer theory. Please forgive me for this one academic footnote without explanation of these concepts. Some tiny summaries of them (and of course links to further information) can be found in the Wikipedia article on Literary Theory, but to expand on all of them here would completely blow the scope of this post and footnote.

[8] The show went on for almost another fifteen minutes, so I don’t buy the argument of there being time constraints. It also didn’t seem like an undue elaboration of a single point after the panelists spent a huge chunk of time on discussing bisexuality earlier on.

[9] Or possibly the concept of “Fandomspotting” as such. I know too little about how the podcast generally works to judge that.

[10] This is not to say that fans who have more-than-average knowledge/experience in entirely different areas wouldn’t also bring immensely interesting perspectives to such a podcast (personally, I’ve read fascinating comments about aspects of Glee from teachers, singers, fencers, etc.).

[11] Which I haven’t seen a single episode of. Probably because I’m way too happy with Glee and Glee fandom.

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Shippers, and Tumblrs, and GIFs! Oh, my!

This is how I put it two weeks ago, over on Tumblr.

Oh, fandom…

…you sucked me in so hard.

I feel like I hit on something that I didn’t even know I missed and it keeps waking me up on so many levels. And I’m so, so late to the party, and the conversations that happen don’t involve me, and when I say stuff it goes unanswered, and I feel like I need to do some spectacularly awesome shit to get noticed and welcomed, but then what do you do when other people have had years to do the spectacular and awesome stuff long before you (and have indeed done it in ways that blow my mind and crash my heart again and again), and really I’m just terribly impatient because I want to belong so hard.

So I spend hours and hours and hours trying to gobble up enough knowledge of fanalysis and meta to be able to understand what people are saying, to see the connections, to learn the new language that is fanspeak (and Tumblr-speak), to offer a comment here and there that I so hope is not stupid and yawn-worthy in the hope that someone might notice it, to enter into a dialogue where someone actually says something back to me.

And I know it takes time and that doing the work is just how it goes. But you know how it is when you found something that makes you say YES YES YES OH MY GOD YES all over, and it just slammed smack into that soft place you almost forgot you even had, and it hurts but in a good way, and it makes stuff pour out, and you can’t sleep because of all the THOUGHTS (and let’s not forget the FEELS. Let’s not ever forget the FEELS), and you just want to jump into it and hold it and not be mature and sensible and wait until later?

jumphold

That, fandom, is how I feel right now.

But there’s more to say, of course.

Because only a few days later, conversations were happening. And I didn’t do any crazy spectacular shit to make that happen, except tell a few people they hit a nerve or sparked a bunch of brain cells with what they wrote and keep putting my own thoughts out there. Apparently, it’s not that difficult to be welcomed into the Glee/Klaine fandom.

So now I’m thinking about being a fan. Because, you see, I’ve never been one before. At least not in this way, as part of a fandom.

Sure, during my teens in the 1980s I had some popstar posters up on my wall, and eventually a few punk band t-shirts in my wardrobe, but I don’t remember ever being seriously all over anyone or anything. On the contrary, the kind of fan behavior that was described to me in youth magazines (screaming, fainting, holding up signs that said “I love you, [celebrity name]!” or collecting autographs) seemed pretty silly most of the time. Perhaps I saw through the whole media machine around stars very early on. Or perhaps I was just a bit more cynical than others my age. At any rate, I never wanted to meet a star for a minute or three just to be able to say I met them. My fan relationship to the stars I liked was very solitary and all-in-my-head, and it mostly consisted of fantasizing that the male stars I liked would be my boyfriends and dreaming that I would one day be as cool and desirable as the female stars I liked (because apparently there wasn’t a single real boy around who thought that I was girlfriend material).

Things changed at age sixteen when I became majorly obsessed with The Rocky Horror (Picture) Show, an obsession that lasted for several years (and I still have flare-ups of it quite regularly). I have recently told the story about being in the Rocky Horror Show when we did it as a school play in 1989 and in another Rocky Horror production that ran for almost a year at a semi-professsional theater about two years later. The entire Rocky Horror experience turned out to be basically the foundation upon which I built an idea of my body as an erotic and powerful thing (instead of an awkward and undesirable one) and a rather early, matter-of-fact acceptance of many strange desires (even if I only discovered most of my own strange desires much later). This fan experience was a little less solitary than the previous ones because I had a best friend who shared my obsession at a slightly lesser degree and who found Tim Curry as Frank N. Furter as hot as I did. And I had a bunch of fellow actors who also spent a lot of time with that story and these characters in our minds and bodies. Thus, shitloads of improvised role-playing went on among us between arriving at school/the theater to put on costumes and make-up and going on stage, or after the show before we had fully transitioned back into our everyday selves. There was a lot of blurring of the boundaries between characters and people, and it was exciting, melodramatic, hot, silly, heartbreaking, and probably rather unprofessional. And I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

But, see, we had no Internet. We only had libraries and footnotes in books and a little bit of merchandise like librettos and comic books and trading cards that had found their way to Germany. And the first Rocky Horror Picture Show VHS came out in 1990, when video was still very expensive and having a VCR was still the exception. So we had to wait for the movie to be shown at a cinema (and there were no weekly screenings anywhere near where I lived) or student club, aired on TV and otherwise make do with the vinyl record that had the entire film complete with audience participation callbacks (there are some RHPS quotes that remain part of my active vocabulary to this day). That meant that learning all the nuances and tidbits and details that fans obsess about happened rather slow, but it also was a huge event to find (out) something, anything new back then. Since I was really very obsessed, I even dreamed of joining the RHPS fan club, but it was based in New York, and what was the point of that when I was in Germany, so I never sent in my application letter with my lovingly handdrawn RHPS title font on the envelope. In short: this fan/fandom experience was slow, and very local, and still rather solitary, especially after the plays had ended.

The next relevant fan experience happened when I came across Tribe 8 and other queercore bands in my mid-twenties, which resulted in yet another mostly solitary fixation. This one was mostly about keeping me sane in an environment that kept telling me that people like me didn’t exist and that I therefore couldn’t exist, either, at least not as what I declared myself to be then. It also helped with the intense loneliness I experienced during some of those years due to being “the only one like me.” At times I felt like I existed solely on a few records and a handful of zines. And even years later, when I heard Tribe 8 were splitting up, I cried my heart out like I had been suddenly left by an enourmously important soulmate and seriously considered flying over the Atlantic solely to see their last show with money I didn’t really have.

After that, I got a taste of secondhand collective fandom when my Beloved started writing Harry Potter slash and spent a lot of time interacting in the respective fandom. I did a bit of beta-ing on some of his stories and ended up liking all things Harry Potter a lot better than I originally did (which only goes to prove that things often get a lot more interesting if only you look at them closely enough). In fact, I even started to find Alan Rickman as Snape hot because of the way my Beloved had written him (okay, that and Rickman’s voice). And I say that as someone who usually doesn’t count (cis)men among the objects of her desire. Anyhow, that’s when I learned about the fanfiction community, and fanvideos and fanart and GIFs and all these things. My punk-grown, DIY heart was of course delighted about all of this, even though I didn’t participate in this community myself (apart from reading some great stories that only deepened my fascination for Snape and Snarry and enriched every subsequent reading of the books or watching of the movies).

And now, after a long break from anything even remotely fannish, there’s Glee. Over which I stumbled by way of an email with a YouTube link to “Teenage Dream” sung by the Warblers. Without any previous awareness of the existence of either Glee or the song, I immediately read it as the beginning of a love story that I just knew I had to find out more about. So I started watching the old episodes and kept doing so, mostly for Kurt (and Blaine). At first, Glee was just something nice to watch after long and frustrating work days. After a while it started nudging that dream of overcoming my fear of singing in earnest when someone else could hear me. And then I somehow stumbled across Letters from Titan with its brilliant and detailed fanalysis of Glee in general and Kurt and Blaine in particular, and had my mind blown wide open by it. Then there were other thinky blogs about Glee (such as Deconstructing Glee or Don’t Turn It Off! or Biyuti) that blew it open even further. And then there was Tumblr and I started participating by reblogging other people’s posts with my own comments or publishing little bits of my unfinished thoughts and random observations as I watched the whole series for a second time.

So, in the last three weeks, I obsessed about several scenes involving Kurt and Blaine, watched them over and over again, examined my multiple identifications with Kurt, searched for details of wardrobes and set dressings, read lots of thinky posts that made me think in return, and was extraordinarily touched moved by all of it. Which was much intensified by finally having an actual fan community that was accessible for me in real-time (if only virtually) to share these things with. There were other people who shared my obsessions, people who liked my posts, people who reblogged my stuff and started following me, people who told me they appreciated my thinking. There was communication, and exchange, and I was floored by the effect it had on me. Because, as you have seen, this is totally a first for me (did I mention I’ll be forty next year?). And then Ryan Murphy got Twitter and released the Kurt/Blaine box scene and I was there to witness all the madness of fandom that went with it. And it was glorious.

I still feel very late to the party, especially since some people seem to be ready to de-obsess about Glee already, now that season 4 is around the corner. While I am still giving myself a learning-by-doing crash course in using Tumblr (next lesson: how to be at peace with NOT reading every single new post on my dashboard), catching up on all most many of the wonderfully thinky blog posts that have already been written about Glee, and slowly exploring the world of fanfiction to see what kinds I click with and why. In other words, I have only just started as a fan in this fandom, although I can tell that the first surge of madness is ebbing a little. Which is probably good because there are things I need to do, and I can only keep up such intense emotions for so long before I need a break. And they usually return pretty soon anyway.

And this is really what fandom, to me, is all about: unapologetic, shameless emotionality. Squees and feels and asdflfdkgjdljig. Unrestrained gushing, squealing, and flailing. Sitting in front of a computer screen, watching/reading something, crying about it, and telling the world. And I finally get why this is such a glorious thing. And of course that’s also why fan culture of this kind is so often so much ridiculed and assumed to be something only teenage girls engage in. But that’s sexism (and ageism) for you, and people who have no idea what they’re missing. And I’m soooo glad that I’m not one of them anymore.

‘The Rocky Horror (Picture) Show’ oder: Wie ich damals in der Schule queeres Begehren lernte

Der Butch-Liebste und ich sind gerade schwer im Glee-Wahn und gucken uns alle alten Folgen nochmal an, während wir auf die jeweils neueste Folge des Glee Projects und natürlich die Fortsetzung der Serie im Herbst warten. Außerdem habe ich vor ein paar Tagen endlich ein paar Blogs gefunden, die sich intelligent, detailliert und kritisch (u.a.) mit Glee und dem eigenen Glee-Fandom befassen (z.B. Letters from Titan, Deconstructing Glee oder Biyuti) und könnte mir daraus problemlos ausreichend Hirnkicks für mehrere Wochen holen. Ich könnte auch vieles zu meiner eigenen Sicht auf Glee schreiben, z.B. darüber wieso ausgerechnet diese Show mich nach über zwanzig Jahren erstmals wieder zu einem ziemlich obsessiven Fan gemacht hat und was an ihr trotzdem problematisch ist. Aber: ein andernmal. Vielleicht. Hoffentlich.

Mit Glee hat meine Idee für diesen Text nur insofern zu tun, als dass jede amerikanische High-School-Darstellung in den populären Medien mir stets aufs Neue klarmacht, dass mein Leben in einer mitteldeutschen Großstadt in Westdeutschland zwischen sechzehn und achtzehn definitiv anders aussah als in diesen Filmen/Serien.

Case in point: The Rocky Horror (Picture) Show.

Als ich sechzehn war, haben wir die Rocky Horror Show mit der Schultheater-AG meines Gymnasiums aufgeführt. Das war 1989. Und abgesehen davon, dass unser Rektor kurz vor der Premiere ein peinliches Interview im lokalen Radio gegeben hat, in dem er wirres Zeug von “humanistischen Werten” geredet hat, war das Ganze für die Erwachsenen um uns herum im Grunde kein großes Ding. In anderen Worten: im Unterschied zur Inszenierung in The Rocky Horror Glee Show (02×05) trauten uns offenbar fast alle Erwachsenen zu, dass wir mit den Themen dieses Musicals ohne moralisch-psychologische Betreuung und erotische Entschärfung zurechtkommen würden (und im Gegensatz zu amerikanischen High Schools waren die Schüler*innen dieses Gymnasiums – und damit ein Teil unserer  Zuschauer*innen – immerhin teilweise erst zwölf!).

Und je unaufgeregter die Erwachsenen mit der Sache umgingen, desto einfacher war es für uns, uns halbwegs entspannt mit all den sexuell grenzüberschreitenden Elementen von Rocky Horror auseinanderzusetzen (was natürlich genau das ist, was die besorgten Lehrer*innen und Eltern in Glee und ihre realen Gegenstücke nicht wollen). Und genau das haben wir dann auch getan.

Als erstes haben alle Theater-AG-Interessierten den Film (d.h. einen Mitschnitt aus dem Fernsehen, denn das erste RHPS-Kaufvideo erschien erst ein Jahr später) gemeinsam mit unserem Lehrer angeschaut. In einem Klassenraum. Auf einem dieser Fernsehwagen, auf denen wir sonst im Religionsunterricht Problemfilme wie “Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo” angeguckt haben. Auf englisch mit deutschen Untertiteln, die man bestimmt nicht von überall im Raum lesen konnte. Es war also definitiv kein Setting, das irgendwie offensichtlich erotisch konnotiert gewesen wäre – abgesehen natürlich von der Erotik der Grenzüberschreitung, genau diesen Film in genau diesem Setting mit einem Haufen praktisch fremder Menschen zu gucken. Natürlich konnte niemand von uns offen zeigen, dass irgendetwas an dieser Erfahrung erotisch aufgeladen war, egal, wie groß dieser Elefant im Zimmer herumstand. Dabei will ich nicht behaupten, dass ich den Film und alle seine Referenzen damals auch nur annähernd verstanden hätte, aber dass irgendwas daran sensationell war, transportierte sich trotzdem. Und ich bin mir trotz meiner etwas nebligen Erinnerung an diesen Teil ziemlich sicher, dass ich Frank N. Furter spontan verdammt spannend fand. Zu einem Zeitpunkt, zu dem ich in meiner eigenen sexuellen Erfahrung gerade mal beim gelegentlichen Partygeknutsche mit diversen Jungs und unerwiderten Crushs auf andere Jungs angekommen war und mich selbst für zweifellos unterdurchschnittlich erotisch hielt.

Im Gegensatz zu allen anderen “Männern in Frauenkleidung”, die ich bis dahin gesehen hatte (z.B. Peter Alexander in Charleys Tante) war Frank N. Furter nämlich ganz klar keine Witzfigur und trug weder aus Not und Sachzwang, noch zu irgendjemandes Gefallen (außer seinem eigenen) seine Outfits. Er war nie komödiantisch “effeminiert”, nie unsicher in seinem geschlechtlichen Auftreten, nie entschuldigend (außer als es am Schluss um sein Überleben geht, und auch da blieb unklar, wieviel davon nur eine manipulative Show für seine Widersacher war) sondern immer eine Mad-Scientist-Boss-Diva, die ganz genau wusste, was sie wollte und wie sie es bekommt. Und auch heute lese ich Frank nicht als Transfrau oder als cross-transgender im “alltäglichen” Sinn. Womit ich eigentlich meine, dass ich bei Frank absolut nicht die geringste Passing-Absicht als Frau (oder Mann!) erkenne (die, Disclaimer, natürlich auch nicht alle alltäglichen Transfrauen/Cross-Transgender-Leute haben), sondern vor allem eine geschlechtliche Existenz komplett jenseits dieser Kategorien und auch jenseits jeden Alltags. Ich finde seine Attitüde (wenn auch nicht sein Geschlecht!) in diesem Zitat aus einer Rezension der Rocky Horror Glee Show ziemlich treffend beschrieben:

In the movie, [Sweet Transvestite] is our introduction to Frank, and it’s about celebrating who you are even though others might think it’s strange. Frank doesn’t say, “Oh, by the way, I’m a transsexual.” He says, “I’m a transsexual and I am fucking fierce, bitches!” [von hier]

In meinem beschränkten Vokabular von 1989 war Frank für mich jedoch ein “Mann”, der in Netzstrümpfen, Strapsen und Lippenstift schlicht und ergreifend verdammt sexy und wunderbar polymorph pervers war (um nun doch wieder in meinen jetzigen Sprachgebrauch zu wechseln). Was insbesondere für Tim Currys Verkörperung galt, aber nicht auf ihn beschränkt blieb.

Jedenfalls wurde ich kurz darauf eine von den Transsylvanians, die in unserer Version des Stücks allesamt weiblich waren und als eine Art griechischer Chor in aufreizender, spärlicher Bekleidung fungierten. Es war unsere Aufgabe, Frank N. Furter und diverse andere Charaktere anzuhimmeln, ein bisschen Backgroundgesang zu betreiben, sexy am Bühnenrand herumzulungern und zwischendurch das zu simulieren, was unser Theater-AG-Leiter für lesbische Erotik hielt. Unter anderem lernten wir die offenbar fundamental wichtige “Blauer-Engel“-Pose und übten uns in groupie-eskem Begehren insbesondere von Männlichkeit mit Strapsen, Netzstrümpfen und Lippenstift (Frank), aber auch von Männlichkeit ohne jeden Verstand, aber mit dicken Muskeln (Rocky), Männlichkeit in punkiger Lederjacke und Springerstiefeln (Eddie) und diversen Weiblichkeiten in Strapsen, Korsetts und High Heels (die anderen Transsylvanians). In ungefähr dieser Priorität. Außerdem sollten wir eine Art Spiegel und Verstärker der lesbischen Seite von Magenta und Columbia sein, insbesondere während des Lieds Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch me. In anderen Worten: wir bekamen Unterricht im Ausdruck mehrerer Arten queeren Begehrens und in femininer, erotischer Selbstdarstellung. Und all das war offensichtlich vollkommen in Ordnung und überhaupt kein Problem.

Obendrein fand all das im geschützten Rahmen der Öffentlichkeit der Theater-AG statt, mit der stets präsenten Möglichkeit, sich auf die verkörperte Rolle zu berufen und sich von eben jener zu distanzieren, wenn sich plötzlich etwas ein bisschen zu “echt” anfühlte. Was nicht heißt, dass wir Darsteller*innen nicht ausgiebig das Verschwimmen zwischen Rollen und Personen ausgekostet hätten. Im Gegenteil, ich erinnere mich an eine allgemein experimentierfreudige Atmosphäre, in der eine erstaunliche Bandbreite von Erotik und Sex grundsätzlich positiv besetzt waren (auch wenn ganz bestimmt nicht jeder Witz und jede Anspielung immer nur respektvoll und wertschätzend waren). Mit meinem heutigen Vokabular würde ich übrigens viele der Begegnungen am Rande der Proben und später der Aufführungen als “Fanfiction meets Improvisationstheater” bezeichnen. Das einzige, das ich in all dem ein bisschen unangenehm fand, war die etwas sehr überschwenglich-“lesbische” Darstellung von einer der Transsylvanians (im Nachhinein würde ich sagen, sie hatte aus mir unbekannten Gründen ein Problem damit, anderer Leute Grenzen und die Grenzen des gegebenen Rahmens wahrzunehmen). Aber grundsätzlich kann ich mir kaum einen besseren Rahmen für mich in dieser Zeit vorstellen, um Erotik und Begehren außerhalb und unabhängig von “Beziehungen” zu erkunden.

Wir alle fühlten uns trotz der relativ entspannten Erwachsenen um uns herum dennoch sehr rebellisch und cool mit dem, was wir da taten. Schließlich ging es immer noch um Sex, und um devianten, grenzüberschreitenden Sex noch dazu (nicht, dass wir das damals so hätten benennen können, aber klar war es uns trotzdem). Und außerhalb der Theater-AG-Stunden ging das “normale” Leben ja trotzdem erstmal weiter. So war allein die Tatsache, dass wir uns für die Show Strapse anschaffen mussten, praktisch eine Art Initiationsritus. Zur Erinnerung: es gab damals weder einen H&M, in dem Strapse und Korsetts für jeden Teenie unproblematisch und preisgünstig zu finden gewesen wären, noch das Internet, in dem wir solche Dinge bequem von zuhause aus hätten bestellen können. Nein, wir mussten uns persönlich in das örtliche Miederwarenspezialgeschäft begeben und mit verlegenheitsglühenden Wangen äußerst anständige Verkäuferinnen mittleren Alters fragen, ob sie Strapse führen, woraufhin wir ein sachlich-kompetentes Beratungsgespräch zum Thema “Strumpfgürtel” bekamen, bevor wir dann zwischen den exakt zwei vorrätigen Modellen wählen konnten. Ähnliches galt für die dazugehörigen halterlosen Strümpfe. Ich persönlich habe für Rocky Horror auch meine ersten Pumps überhaupt gekauft (sie waren nicht besonders schick, aber immerhin schwarz und bezahlbar) und gelernt, darin zu laufen und zu tanzen. Besonders hübsch und in ihrer Seltsamkeit äußerst stimmig finde ich auch die Tatsache, dass meine Mutter mir ihre weißen Satin-Hochzeitshandschuhe als Teil meines Bühnenoutfits überlassen hat. Ich nehme das im Nachhinein mal als weitere Initiationshandlung in mein Dasein als sexuelles Wesen.

Das Stück wurde nach Abschluss unserer Proben (selbstverständlich, und anders als über zwanzig Jahre später bei Glee) vollständig aufgeführt, auch wenn es vom Theater-AG-Leiter eine weitere Rahmenhandlung drumherumgeschrieben bekam, in der wir alle die Insassen einer psychiatrischen Klinik waren, die angeblich an einer “Gruppenpsychose” litten und vom Klinikleiter nun dem geschätzten Publikum im Stile einer wissenschaftlichen Freakshow vorgeführt wurden. Ganz wie damals zur Zeit des Hays-Code also, als Manche mögen’s heiß seine eigene Rahmenhandlung bekam, innerhalb derer dann unglaublich subversive Geschichten über Gender und Sexualität erzählt werden konnten (und der Hays-Code letztlich als solcher ad absurdum geführt wurde). Nicht die schlechteste Tradition, in der wir hätten verortet werden können, auch wenn die Sache mit den zur Schau gestellten “Geisteskranken” leider nicht eindeutig als Kritik an historischen akademischen Praxen gelesen werden musste, sondern auch einfach als stereotyper “Witz” über die “lustigen Irren” rezipiert werden konnte. Und abgesehen davon, dass ja der Erzähler/Kriminologe im Stück selbst bereits einen ähnlichen Rahmen schafft. Aber offenbar hielt unser Lehrer es für nötig, hier noch etwas dicker aufzutragen. Uns war es egal, denn es war sowieso klar, dass kein Mensch die Rahmenhandlung ernst nehmen würde. Uns interessierte nur, was im Mittelteil passierte.

Ich verdanke also einen enorm wichtigen Teil meiner erotischen Sozialisation der Rocky Horror Picture Show und unserer Inszenierung davon. Bis heute bin ich fest davon überzeugt, dass ich später im Leben mit den verschiedenen Aspekten meiner Queerness deutlich mehr Probleme gehabt hätte, wenn ich nicht so früh dieses grundsätzliche Okay für alle möglichen geschlechtlichen und sexuellen Normabweichungen von der Rocky Horror Picture Show bekommen und nie wieder vergessen hätte. Unsere Schulinszenierung verschaffte mir dann auch meine erste persönliche Bekanntschaft mit einer richtigen, echten Lesbe, die einige Jahre später dann ein ungemein wichtiger Kontakt für meine ersten Schritte in die örtliche FrauenLesbenszene war und für die ersten Bausteine meiner Grundbildung in lesbischer Kultur von k.d. lang über Desert Hearts bis zu Susie ‘Sexpert’ Bright und ihren Informationen zur großen weiten Welt von real-existierendem lesbischem Sex war. Wer hätte das damals ahnen können?

Vermutlich war die Rocky Horror (Picture) Show dann auch nicht zufällig meine erste, richtige Fan-Obsession, auch wenn ich nie Teil eines Fanclubs oder eines Shadowcasts (das sind die Leute, die die Handlung des Films vor der Leinwand parallel mitspielen) gewesen bin. Und so besitze ich bis heute eine Sammlung von Rocky-Horror-Devotionalien aus dieser Zeit. Sie enthält zum Beispiel Dutzende klitzekleiner Ausschnitte aus Fernsehzeitungen, in denen die Ausstrahlung des Films angekündigt wurde, einen dreibändigen, schnell dahingeklatschten Rocky-Horror-Comic, den ich mal irgendwie zufällig im Comicladen entdeckt hatte, Auszüge aus Musical-Fachzeitschriften mit Rocky-Horror-Kritiken, die ich per Fernleihkopie in der örtlichen Stadtbibliothek bestellt und wochenlang ersehnt hatte, nur um am Ende enttäuscht festzustellen, dass noch nichtmal ein Bild dabei war, und natürlich den Zeitungsauschnitt aus der Lokalpresse mit dem Foto, auf dem auch ich ganz am Rand in unvorteilhafter Tanzhaltung zu erkennen bin (ich weiß es noch genau: ich kam in dieser Szene als letzte auf die Bühne und meine Co-Transsylvanians hatten mir leider nicht genug Platz gelassen, um “richtig” zu tanzen). Das Herzstück meiner Sammlung war lange die Doppel-LP mit dem Soundtrack des kompletten Films mitsamt Zuschauerkommentaren, die ich rauf und runter gehört habe und bis heute (vermutlich) komplett mitsprechen kann. Besondere Erwähnung möge hier außerdem das Elektromesser finden, dass mir eine frühere beste Freundin auf dem Flohmarkt gekauft hatte und es mir in ein Metal-Hammer-Poster zum Soundtrack der Dinner-Szene aus dem Film überreichte. Zusammen mit selbstgebackenen Rocky-Horror-Keksen. <3

Aber das war ja erst der Anfang meines Lebens mit Rocky-Horror. Etwa zweieinhalb Jahre später war ich dann Columbia in einer Rocky-Horror-Inszenierung an einem semi-professionellen Theater in einer anderen Stadt (und war erneut sehr schlimm und unerwidert in einen der Frank-Darsteller verknallt und dachte außerdem so langsam ernsthaft über das Küssen von Frauen nach). Weitere zwei Jahre später gab es ein Revival der ursprünglichen Schultheateraufführung mit fast vollständiger Originalbesetzung. Das war relativ kurz nach meinem lesbischen Coming-Out und während meiner separatistischsten Lebensphase, was eine komplett neue Auseinandersetzung mit dem passenden Bühnenoutfit, der Simulation von lesbischer Erotik und der Präsenz einer weiteren Lesbe im Ensemble (die mich aber nicht weiter zur Kenntnis nahm) mit sich brachte. Sogar in der Uni habe ich (nochmal zehn Jahre später) Platz für meine Rocky Horror-Leidenschaft gefunden und einen fan-akademischen Blick auf das Phänomen der Zuschauerbeteiligung werfen können.

Zwischenzeitlich tendierte meine aktive Fan-Praxis zwar immer mal wieder gen Null, aber Rocky Horror hat wegen all dieser biographischen Verknüpfungen und des schieren, unbeabsichtigten Genies dieses Films noch immer einen ganz speziellen Platz in meinem Herzen und meinem Hirn. Und in den letzten Jahren entzücke ich mich weiterhin über immer neue multimediale RHPS-CrossoverKreationen