Laverne Cox on ‘Sweet Transvestite’: ‘You don’t change the words to an iconic song’

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Laverne Cox is starring in the TV remake of The Rocky Horror picture show, which airs this Thursday, October 20th at 8pm on Fox. It’s pre-recorded and is not being broadcast live like so many other recent remakes of musical classics. The Fox version is a two hour homage to the original, not a direct remake. I think that should help with some of the inevitable comparisons. I’m going to watch it and I have high hopes for Cox as Frank-N-Furter, but I’m actually more excited to go to the movie on Friday with my friends. I’m not a RHPS virgin but I’ve only been a couple of times before and it should be fun. (I’m dressing as Riff Raff because he’s easy. I have long blonde hair already, the makeup is simple and I got a guy’s tuxedo jacket from Goodwill.) So I’m in the Rocky Horror spirit and it sounds like Laverne is too. She told reporters recently that her only apprehension about the show was singing the line “transvestite” in the song “Sweet Transvestite” because it’s an antiquated term and is a pejorative now. She didn’t want to change that line since it’s an iconic song with a word that makes sense in historical context.

“That was the only apprehension I really had about doing the film was the term transvestite,” Cox told reporters at the Variety’s Power of Women Luncheon. “I’ve been telling people, ‘Please do not go up to a transgender person in 2016 and call them a transvestite, that is an antiquated term.’ But in 1975 when Rocky Horror Picture Show came out transvestite meant a very different thing.” She added, “We don’t use that term anymore, but in the historical context of Rocky Horror it’s appropriate you don’t change the words to an iconic song.”

“A lot of people have issues with a trans woman playing a character who identifies as a transvestite, but I doubt that any of the white cisgender men who played Dr. Frank-N-Furter over the past 40 years, all of them probably do not identify as a transvestite either,” she says. “But they’re actors who are playing a part. And hopefully people will be able to distinguish between Laverne Cox and the characters I play.”

[Adam] Lambert [who plays Eddie, Meatloaf's character] calls reworking the gender of Rocky Horror’s central character “a really interesting twist. The movie is such a cult classic that you run this tightrope between paying respect to the original and also coming up with something new. And casting Laverne was a brilliant choice in creating a new context for the character, and one that feels socially responsible.”

[From NY Mag and USA Today]

I guess if she doesn’t have a problem with the song I don’t, but I don’t understand how they can presumably change other parts of the play/film but not the song with the antiquated word. It’s an iconic song definitely, but it’s not like it’s The Time Warp. Plus “transsexual” would sort-of fit in there, it would just sound redundant if you used “transsexual” twice. “I’m just a sweet transsexual from Transsexual, Transylvania.” You couldn’t really use “transgender” on its own there, could you?

Also, Tim Curry has a role in this! He’s going to play the Narrator/Criminologist. Curry, 70, suffered a stroke in 2013 and is in a wheelchair, similar to the character of Dr. Scott, whom he wanted to play first. He said “I actually offered myself as Dr. Scott, because I was already in a wheelchair,” he said in August. “They thought the narrator was a better fit, and I enjoyed it a lot.” Ben Vereen is playing Dr. Scott. This also features Victoria Justice as Janet, Christina Milian as Magenta and Staz Nair as Rocky Horror.

Here’s Laverne singing Sweet Transvestite:

And here’s Laverne with her wax figure at Madame Tussauds in San Francisco.
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photos credit: WENN and FameFlynet

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17 Responses to “Laverne Cox on ‘Sweet Transvestite’: ‘You don’t change the words to an iconic song’”

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  1. Lindy79 says:

    Its good but…. Tim Curry is life.

    Are they correct when they refer to transvestite as an old term for transgender. Are rhey getting it mixed with transsexual (also in the song) any comments online seem to think theyre focused on the wrong word in the song
    Its transexual that has been replaced by transgender. Transvestite is not someone who identifies as a different gender?

    • Celebitchy says:

      Transvestite is an old term for a cross dresser. For this remake they changed the character to a transgender woman so they could change the lyric to reflect that I think.

      • I think that song is as iconic as Time Warp
        to the RHPS fans, because in many many ways Tim Curry IS the RHPS as that character.
        Changing the words to any of the popular songs would automatically do it a disservice, I think.

        Admittedly Sweet Tansvestite is my jam, and the way he hangs on the “tite” is very much a part of the intonation of the song.

        Have fun! I went for my 21st. It was a blast.

    • Londerland says:

      Yeah, this is the first I ever heard about transvestite being an offensive term in itself – certainly it can be used offensively, usually shortened to “tranny” (sorry) when so employed. But Eddie Izzard, surely the highest-profile transvestite there is, still uses it as a self-descriptor.

      I think the problem is that people did, and do, tend to lump *all* possible variations of transgender identification dismissively under the same few limited terms. A lot of people even who think they’re pretty aware still see transgender as being basically “pre-op = transvestite, post-op = transsexual” whereas now gender is much more fluid, and dependent on individual identification, not the shape or vintage of the genitalia.

      I thought Transsexual was the antiquated term, actually, because it emphasises biological sex rather than gender, and implies that the person is changing from one to the other, *just like that*. It implies a binary that is no longer really recognised in terms of gender.

      • Susan says:

        Agreed. transvestite is only pejorative if it’s used incorrectly to refer to someone or shortened and used that way. Transvestite is the literal correct word to use for someone who wears clothes typically made for the opposite sex. If you remove that word from the lexicon, all you are left with is cross dresser, which IMO has a more negative connotation.

    • Angel says:

      Yes, I always thought transvestite was a someone who cross dresses but does not want to change their gender, completely different thing.

    • TrixC says:

      I initially was confused by that too, but then I thought that perhaps what she means is that before there was general awareness of what it meant to be transgender, a lot of trans women were mistakenly labelled as transvestites. So the term is specifically offensive to the transgender community, having worked so hard not to have their gender identity conflated with people who like cross dressing.

  2. Amelia says:

    Is anyone getting a David Bowie vibe from her Sweet Transvestite version?
    Rock on, Laverne! 🤘

  3. Sixer says:

    I think she’s a fabulous casting, I really do. I hope we get to see it this side of the Pond.

    On the song: I’ve always understood that particular lyric as a reflection of Richard O’Brien’s debate with himself about his gender identity and whether he identifies as man, woman, cross-dresser, all of the above, or none of the above. He must be knocking seventy now and I don’t think he’s settled on a fixed position yet (nor should he feel obliged to). If you read it that way, it’s not that he’s conflating transvestism with transexuality: he’s talking about a spectrum. It’s just that we say cross-dresser these days rather than transvestite – but that would ruin the lyric!

    ETA: posted as Lindy was.

    • Imqrious2 says:

      Sixer, if you use Chrome browser with the Hola extension you can get a US IP address. Then you can log onto the Fox website and see it (usually networks post a day or so after broadcast). I use this method to get UK shows; I get it on m laptop and then use an HDMI cable to hook the laptop up to my flatscreen and I’m good to go!

  4. Lucy says:

    Laverne is fabulous, for sure. Poor Tim Curry, though. It’s nice to know he feels well enough to take a part in this, even if it’s a small one.

  5. Blueberry says:

    Sorry but I can’t with all the ‘yes queen’ stuff. Remember when Laverne campaigned for a convicted child muderer and rapist to be released from prison?

  6. Tig says:

    That made my heart hurt to see Tim Curry. I second the opinion that it’s great that he felt well enough to participate in the production.
    Know Laverne will do a great job, but Tim Curry looked better in a corset, garters and stockings than just about anyone ever! Hope they manage to have a poster or something of him in that corset as a background prop of some sort.

  7. Evil Queen says:

    You don’t change a cult movie that has its roots in rebellion and sexual freedom in order to be politically correct. That would be one big eye roll.

  8. squeezeo'lime says:

    Um.. The term transvestite has f*ckall to do with gender or sex.. Its not replaceable with either transexual or transgender. Transvestite is someone who DRESSES as the opposite gender. You can be a transexual transvestite or a transgender transvestite or a gay/bi transvestite or a cis gendered transvestite.
    The only word that can replace transvestite is “cross-dresser”.

  9. jwoolman says:

    I had my doubts initially, but this remake really sounds interesting now.