[content warning: critical discussion of rape culture in Rocky Horror, discussion of sexuality generally]
Like many queer youth, I had a time when I was really into the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Unlike some queer youth, I hadn’t yet realized I was queer. But Rocky Horror, in all its mess and glory, didn’t demand queerness of me. It was there in all its bisexual genderfuck debauchery whether I was fully along for the ride or not.
When I went to the Neptune Theatre’s anniversary shadowcast showing of Rocky Horror, I made a pretty fabulous Magenta. I ratted out my already-big Jewish hair, sprayed it red and made my own “domestic” costume from a black velvet wrap dress and towel scraps.
I went with two friends, both of them dressed as Columbia. Our Columbia-at-night, in her Mickey Mouse ears and striped pajamas, was my first girl crush, but I didn’t know it yet. I just thought it was really fascinating that she was bi and I wanted to listen to all her favorite music and buy her the zebra-striped bra she wanted.
It’s been a while now since I went to a shadowcast production of Rocky Horror, but I’ve kept the maid outfit and the red hairspray around in case I ever suddenly needed to be Magenta.
With my affection for Rocky Horror dormant but still in my heart, I had hopes for the remake. Specifically, I hoped that it would keep the queer and sexual awakening for Janet and Brad while writing out the original’s rapeyness and replacing it with informed consent. Instead, the remake keeps all of the original’s rapeyness while censoring out some of the only (implied) consensual sex in “Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me.”
Let’s get one thing queer: Columbia and Magenta are femmes, they are friends, and they are fucking. In the original, they start the “Touch Me” scene having fun together while watching Janet singing in her underwear and seducing Rocky (who is at best questionably capable of consent). While their voyeurism isn’t consensual, their intimacy with each other is a rare scene in the movie in which two people fully understand the circumstances in which they’re consenting.
The two are touching from the beginning of the scene, Columbia painting Magenta’s toes and Magenta blow-drying her hair and gossiping about Janet’s virginity. When Janet hits the first chorus, Columbia clutches, then strokes, Magenta’s leg.
After the second chorus, the scene cuts from Rocky massaging Janet’s breast to Columbia holding Magenta’s leg and shoulder, bringing their faces together as she sings, “Touch-a touch-a touch me.” Magenta laughs, grabbing Columbia’s boob then pulling her in by the unbuttoned pajama top as she echoes, “I wanna be dirty” in reply. Columbia leans her whole body over Magenta’s, her face briefly dipping into Magenta’s neck.
Magenta points her blow-dryer at Columbia’s chest and Columbia cries out just as the visual cuts to Janet’s moan at the beginning of the third-chorus climax. As Rocky and Janet switch positions so Rocky’s on top, we see Columbia get directly on top of Magenta again, her body between Magenta’s spread, fishnetted legs, both of them laughing and writhing in ecstasy. It’s a sweet moment and also one that the parallels between couplings mark as undeniably sexual.
If there was any doubt left that this was multisexual, promiscuous, and a sex scene, the “creature of the night” montage gives us Janet on bottom, arching her back and grasping at the air, and everyone else on top.
Fox’s remake opens with femme friend fucking potential that quickly evaporates. Columbia and Magenta share a bed, Columbia again in pajamas and mouse ears, Magenta in a short dress and fishnets. They both suck blue lollipops while watching Janet and Rocky on the monitor and exchange a glance as the song begins. Magenta and Columbia aren’t facing each other, but Magenta’s legs are wrapped around Columbia’s waist. When they gossip about Janet’s virginity, they’re lying side by side, touching only incidentally.
The remake gives most of their screen time during the song to Janet and Rocky, even during Magenta and Columbia’s brief echo of the “touch me” line. There is a moment of Magenta and Columbia standing in bed, Magenta sliding her body down Columbia’s, but the shot quickly cuts back to Janet and Rocky. Lest anyone find too much woman-on-woman sensuality in this, our final view of Columbia and Magenta is of them standing up applauding for Janet and Rocky, not touching each other at all, with Magenta fist-pumping and whooping. This version of the song has no montage; Janet and Rocky are the only creatures of the night here.
Where the original built the enthusiasm and intimacy between Columbia and Magenta throughout the song, the remake gradually reduces it to nothing.
Even the Glee rendition of “Touch Me,” with its substitution of “heavy sweating” for “heavy petting” and complete lack of a bed for anyone, gives its lesbian and bi couple more sexuality and intimacy than the Fox remake does. Brittany and Santana have all of the screen time for their own lines as they watch Emma the guidance counselor seduce Mr. Schuester the choir director in a classroom. They clutch each other’s arms and shoulders throughout the scene and each get a moan just before the second chorus. For their echo of the “touch me” line, we see them joyously dancing through the halls, Santana twirling Brittany around. They’re clearly into each other and clearly aroused. The contrast between Glee and the Fox remake is all the more baffling because Glee also aired on Fox.
To be fair, the Fox remake also gives Janet and Rocky a pretty de-sexed “Touch Me.” With Rocky flexing, bicep curling Janet, and thrusting her into the air rather than thrusting on or into her, it looks like his muscles are the only thing that might grow while he poses.
Still, if Fox chose to keep Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s sexual violation of Brad and Janet in the new version of Rocky Horror, it certainly could’ve kept Magenta and Columbia’s playful, enthusiastic sex.
The gal pals version of “Touch Me” chills me a little, but it won’t thrill or fulfill anyone.
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