The creator of the Rocky Horror Picture Show is holding firm to his belief that transgender women can never be “natural women” and showing tacit understanding for author J.K. Rowling’s recent attacks on the trans community.
Richard O’Brien, who also played Riff Raff in the cult movie based on his play, identifies as transgender.
The movie version of the fun story about a “sweet transvestite” from Transylvania is iconic in the queer community for its embrace of gender fluidity, gay themes, and bad acting. Fans dress up as characters for showings and perform the movie live in the theater.
O’Brien, now 78, tried to strike a third way between Rowling’s diatribes and complete acceptance.
In a 2016 interview, O’Brien posited that trans women can only “be an idea of a woman.” Asked if he still holds that position, O’Brien fumbled when trying to explain his reasoning.
“You and I have to be very careful here,” he said. “We’ve seen what’s been happening with J.K. Rowling. I think anybody who decides to take the huge step with a sex change deserves encouragement and a thumbs-up. As long as they’re happy and fulfilled, I applaud them to my very last day. But you can’t ever become a natural woman.”
“I think that’s probably where Rowling is coming from. That’s as far as I’m going to go because people get upset if I have an opinion that doesn’t line up with theirs. They think I’m being mean-spirited and I don’t want that at all.”
When O’Brien came out as transgender, he described his gender identity as what is now commonly described as gender fluid or non-binary.
“I believe myself probably to be about 70% male, 30% female… I think of myself as a third sex and it makes things easier.”
He thinks Rocky Horror helped contribute to advances in LGBTQ rights and understanding, saying, “That wasn’t intended but I’m grateful it’s helped other people feel less isolated or lonely.”
“Being transgender is a nightmare for many people. I’m very lucky that I’m in showbiz where I can be this eccentric person and therefore it’s allowed. If I were a primary school teacher maybe that wouldn’t be the case.”
The film version of the production has become such a cult classic that a recent video of Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren doing the show’s hit song, “Time Warp,” with Tenacious D and Susan Sarandon went viral right before the election.
Sarandon, a frequent critic of Democrats, starred in the movie when it came out in the 70s.