When my sister and I were young, we were allowed to watch the first 15 minutes of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. We didn’t get to see many movies and the tv wouldn’t turn on without the pliers my dad hid from us, so we relished the times we could indulge. Plus, the songs were so much fun. We would play it over and over, singing along to “Dammit Janet” and the “Time Warp.”
We memorized the lyrics and would sing them together, stepping to the right and bringing our knees in tight. We would break out in song when inspiration struck, just out of the pure joy of it. It wasn’t the result of a cool confidence. It was mostly us not knowing that we weren’t cool. This is something that has followed me through my life. Pretty much every time someone has praised my confidence, I was just cluelessly walking around as myself, forgetting that I shouldn’t.
Our expert performance of this adult classic made for a great gag at parties but some uncomfortable moments in public. One October, we were walking through a pop-up Halloween shop with our dad, looking at costumes we weren’t allowed to buy. We found glittery gold top hats and the discovery spurred a full-on performance in the middle of the aisle. A middle-aged suburban mother turned toward us right at the moment we started doing pelvic thrusts. She scoffed, gave the three of us a disapproving glare, and turned the corner.
Feeling her stare, I remember doubting my sick moves for a moment. Now, I’m sure she thought we had been watching the whole campy, scandalous film, but, even though I didn’t understand it, her scorn distressed me. I took off the hat.
Then I looked over at my dad, who was chuckling to himself. He gave us a nod of his head—a universal Midwestern father signal of approval. I’m not convinced his response to the situation was meant to show us we were ok or if he just got so much happiness out of pushing the limits of this buttoned-up woman. He’s prone to a bit of contrarian behavior, so it was at least a bit of the second. But it was enough.
This isn’t a fairytale. I didn’t gain some superhuman confidence that day, but I did put the hat back on. That chuckle showed me it can be really fun to be yourself in the face of people who are uncomfortable with that very awesome you. Maybe the woman just wished she could do the Time Warp in the middle of a shopping center. To her, I say, “you can.” It’s just a jump to the left.