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Goddess Laverne Cox on what Rocky Horror’s ‘Sweet Transvestite’ means in 2016


Well there’s less than a week to go before Fox airs their rendition (cover?) of the beloved cult classic/regular classic/October staple The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Of course trying to recreate the magic of a groundbreaking musical carries a lot of potential for disaster, but whatever, y’all had me at Laverne Cox playing Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the role popularized by ineffable Tim Curry (who I may or may not have thought was part South Asian when I was like six because he has large eyes and his last name is the regional dish).

Well, Cox’s take on “Sweet Transvestite” has been released, and it’s sultry, dripping wet of Eartha Kitt allure and just plain fun.

It’s sexier and more coquettish than Curry’s aggressively cheeky glam rock version, although I suppose we’ll have to see how it plays out on screen to really see. And if you’re conflicted about the outdated terminology used in “Sweet Transvestite,” seeing as it’s generally inappropriate to refer to someone as “transvestite” unless they self-identify that way, Cox has got you. She explained to Vanity Fair, that that very issue was on her mind as well when she took on the role, setting the record straight:

“Historically, the terms have changed [and] it doesn’t mean the same thing today that it meant in the ’70s,” she says. “It’s not appropriate to refer to trans people as a transvestite [today], but it is [used here as] the character in that specific moment in history.”

On that note, today some folks may think that “transsexual” and “transgender” are interchangeable, but that’s not the case. While transgender is an umbrella term that describes people whose gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth and can include “transsexual,” “transsexual” itself, an older medical term, can describe those who have undergone or wish to undergo medical procedures (surgery or hormonal medication) to match their gender identity. Cross-dresser is what is used to describe those who wear clothing associated with the opposite sex—again, not “transvestite.”

Anyway, Cox also described how playing the good doctor helped her, well, find her voice:

That meant showcasing her reinforced falsetto—“I like to think of it as a soprano”—and her baritone. “We were able to explore those lower tones in my voice, which I’ve been afraid of doing for years because I’m a woman and I have a low voice. Being trans, it took me a long time to really embrace that part of my voice, but with this character, it was absolutely perfect.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again airs on October 20 on Fox. While I hope our addiction to digging up the graves of cultural institutions doesn’t fail us again and that this modern retelling doesn’t simply looks like a field trip to Hot Topic, I’m mostly here for Cox, and I’m pretty sure Fox knows that.