Alex Blaze

Glee changes Rocky Horror lyrics: Is "transsexual" a bad word?

Filed By Alex Blaze | October 19, 2010 6:00 PM | comments

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The soundtrack for the Rocky Horror Show episode of Glee is out, and they 400rocky.jpgchanged a few of the lyrics to clean them up for prime time. Fortunately for them, they didn't attempt the dirtiest songs in the play and most of the sexuality comes from the scripted scenes, not the songs themselves, although they did do a clean version of "Toucha Toucha Touch Me" and made odd changes to "Sweet Transvestite." "Sweet Transvestite" is sung by Mercedes, de-transing and de-gaying it, and the lyrical tweaks make the de-queering more evident.

I should point out that the source I had for the song titles that listed "Dang it, Janet" and "Sweet Trans" was incorrect. It billed itself as a Glee fan site and said that "the track listing has just been officially announced." Sorry about that; the song titles are all the same.

Anyway, in related news, the creator of Glee has been tapped to direct a remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I understand and I love cover songs, but I just don't get what Hollywood has with remaking films that are completely understandable to contemporary audiences. It's not like Susan Sarandon's career is over, much less her language becoming so outdated Americans can't comprehend what she's saying or doing.

You'd also think they wouldn't want a teeny-bopper and not-too-comfortable-with-the-T-folk director who doesn't seem to really understand the original or its success to redo it... what am I saying? Everyone will be more conventionally beautiful, Frank N. Furter will be played by a woman, and they'll all sing with the aide of the autotune. Maybe they'll get Britney Spears to play Columbia!

Lyrics were changed in "Toucha Toucha Touch Me." "Heavy petting" became "heavy sweating," "seat-wetting" became something I really can't understand (bed-fretting?), "And if anything grows" became "And if anything shows," and "I need a helping hand" became "I want a friendly man." So, like Rocky's wardrobe, they cleaned it up because The Rocky Horror Show as written isn't PG. Also, Jayma Mays's (who plays Emma Pillsbury) voice is annoying. Has she sung before on the show? This is probably why.

The stranger changes are in "Sweet Transvestite." Glee changed the melody along with the lyrics, and Mercedes shouts it at the top of her lungs. It's 2010 and the "She just belted that out! She can belt! Did you hear her belt? I can't believe that someone can belt!" fad isn't over, so we'll have to wait a few more years to hear mainstream female vocalists perform with any melodic subtlety. The song is supposed to be sarcastic, condescending, and sensual, but who wants that when you can shout like a five-year-old? (Listening to this performance makes me miss Aaliyah so much.)

Now, I don't really get why Glee changed "I'm just a sweet transvestite, from Transsexual, Transylvania" to "I'm just a sweet transvestite, from Sensational, Transylvania." It just seems weird, because if they wanted to take out the word "transsexual" I don't know why they wouldn't take out "transvestite" as well. Maybe that'll be explained in the episode, or maybe someone smarter than me can explain in the comments.

Plus she sings "I'm not much of a girl" instead of "I'm not much of a man," reinforcing the fact that she's playing the role as a woman girl playing a woman girl, not a man playing a cross-dressing alien/mad scientist/Oscar Wilde-esque intellectual, unless she wears men's clothing, which could be fun to see. But Rocky is played by a man ("I've been making a man with blond hair and a tan" is still there) and I doubt they're going to do the scene where Frank N. Furter sleeps with Janet or the other where it's mentioned that he slept with Columbia, so they made Frank N. Furter heterosexual.

Actually, it makes sense that Mercedes sings "girl" instead of "woman" - the whole soundtrack is the children's version of Rocky Horror. But when the original is about maturity, about a certain kind of sexual honesty and free transgression coming into contact with the families and communities of origin the queer audience would have been all too familiar with, it seems inappropriate.

In one episode of Top Chef last season Amanda made sherry-braised chicken in the middle school cafeteria competition, defending her choice arguing that she likes sherry and chicken so she thought she'd make that for the kids. Gail (a judge) responded that she likes vodka too, but....

To be fair, Glee does an excellent job with "Damn it Janet." Considering how the song is making fun of the po-dunk folks who came from Denton High, the real villains of the play/movie, I guess it makes sense that Glee would understand that song.


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Great. In future, when I don't get jobs, health care or personal safety and someone says, "you're SENSATIONAL" I'll know EXACTLY what they mean. :-

LOL. Maybe they were just trying to start a trend.

Oh, no. I'm going to netflix it now, to watch for the nth time, before its very existence gets Gleeed out.

My only guess as to why they took out "transsexual" is that they are trying to be sensitive to the note about the term in the GLAAD media guide:

"An older term which originated in the medical and psychological communities. While some transsexual people still prefer to use the term to describe themselves, many transgender people prefer the term transgender to transsexual. Unlike transgender, transsexual is not an umbrella term, as many transgender people do not identify as transsexual. It is best to ask which term an individual prefers."

I'm not condoning Glee's actions or GLAAD's definition here; I realize this is all a matter of much sensitivity. I'm just saying that the GLAAD definition could have been part of Glee's thinking behind the change, for better or worse.

I suppose. Does GLAAD say anything about the term transvestite?

GLAAD says:

Transvestite - Derogatory see Cross-Dressing

I was going to offer up a similar possible explanation...that maybe they were making a conscious decision not to conflate transvestism with transsexualism. After all, there's no end to the bickering in our community from transsexuals who don't want to be lumped in with the other trans identities. I'm not one of them but you know, it happens.

But that's probably ascribing too much community awareness to Ryan Murphy (what kind of research did he did for Pretty/Handsome anyway?). Admittedly, I'm a Glee apologist, but that's becoming harder and harder to reconcile with each new episode...

That was what I assumed too, Dana.

They changed a bunch of stuff for no apparent reason. I just watched Time Warp and Brad appears to be singing some of Riff Raff's lines.

If it was stuff like that, that's what they usually do to show that they aren't beholden to the original. I've seen Mozart out here played with a big screen that showed what I'd just interpret as a screensaver, or another play that was famous where everyone played it with a stutter, etc.

Time Warp is weird because Brad is supposed to be stunned then. Hm.

well, they also had two magentas on stage, too. I think it's at least partly because they need to give everyone a singing bit, and Brad doesn't actually get much.

I'm annoyed about the changes too, mostly getting rid of the word "transsexual." The other rewrites are eyeroll inducing (I think she does say bed-fretting--I was sure it was "bed wetting" at first and was puzzled). But keeping in mind this is the show that couldn't say "Freak bitch" in Bad Romance, I think they've gotten a lot through. But I'm going to reserve judgment until the show actually airs.

If anything this'll serve as a Rocky Horror gateway drug for a lot of new people. A bunch of my friends who'd never seen it are going to midnight showings solely because of Glee.

Well, you take a timeless classic and you rip it apart just to make a buck. WTF?

Transsexual is sensational. Based on my limited experience.

Yeah, as a transperson I'm rather annoyed. if you're not going to say transsexual then don't say transvestite. I've been called a transvestite before and frankly that's far more hurtful than being called a transsexual

Jayma has sung before: I Could Have Danced All Night. Her voice did pretty well there. I have not listened to her take for the upcoming episode, but I don't see what's annoying about her voice.

Mercedes belting it out simply keeps with her vocal style. It's still their take on the musical, with their personal biases. They've revisited the show because most of the audience from Glee would not have bothered to look up, much less watch the original. It's a good thing-- if anything, it will send a nice spurt of attention toward the original, as people are always curious about the original similar to how suddenly everyone stumbled upon Wicked once they did Defying Gravity.

Yes, they'll castrate the original in their re-make, as do most mainstream movies and TV networks. They recycle elements into their same old formula, and you can;t blame them for resorting to what works and makes them big bucks. Strange how some people would be surprised at the prioritization of making a buck over maintaining the sanctity of "queerdom". It's done all the time, considering Mighty Money> All.

I cannot say I have been a fan of the movie or Glee for that matter. Even so I would not think the term Transsexual is all that offensive. After all it is a "medical/psychological" term no different than any other term like Heterosexual. As someone who describes myself as a Transsexual, I am not sure how or why some find the term offensive. Indeed at times I find the generalization of being lumped in with anything remotely seen as cross-gender behavior more unsettling, particularly when those falling under that blanket term of Transgendered unwilling to stand up and be counted as such.

why does hollywood recycle films that are understandable to contemporary audiences?

hey...if it sold last time, and we can resell it again, why take a chance on dropping $30-100 million on producing an original film that might not sell in a predictable way?

i would assume that this pressure is particularly intense on producers of fox shows, as it presumably is at the other "major" networks, and i'd guess that the "glee" folks really get the pressure from fox corporate to format shows in a way that keeps advertisers happy, so why not remake "rocky horror", which is a sure-fire crowd pleaser in this format?

Glee is on 8 Eastern and Pacific, 7 Central and Mountain. That is considered the "Family Time." The most controversial programs are at 10/9. Also, Glee is on Fox. This answers why the lyrics have been cleaned up and the show was de-trans and de-gayed.

My question is that if the producers knew they would have to "sanitize" Rocky Horror Picture Show to such level, then why in the hell they even make the attempt? "Let's see what we can do to fuck up a classic." What next? How about changing the "Sound of Music," where the Nazis are just misunderstood high school bullies who wear black? They can do "The Music Man," where the evils of pool is changed to the evils of Resident Evil. This is so screwed up.

On Mondays, in the same time slot, is the show "House" which has had numerous "tranny" references, someone described as a "transvestite hooker," shows about incest and Intersex (rather luridly done) and numerous references to hookers and drug usage by the show's main character. No, I don't think GLEE and House have the same audience but they're both at the family hour. Moreover, GLEE was able to use the word "shemale" as an easy joke and I never heard any apology about that one.

Good points. I'm willing to bet that the producers of Glee are transphobic. That's why they kept in "transvestite," because it's a derogatory word toward trans people and "transsexual is a way for them to show acceptance. They don't want to accept. I didn't hear about the "shemale" usage.

So, who in the trans community have the balls to call them on this? GLAAD remains mute. Ask me if I'm surprised.

Well it is FOX and therefore I believe owned by the same Rupert Murdock that owns Fox News. We all know if they were to be any further to the right politically speaking, they would be wearing arm bands with swastikas on them.

i'm not surprised it was changed, with its derogatory connotations it makes sense that glee would change it.

I want to know how they even get around to doing this. Do the kids go see a RHPS shadowcast? And does the episode advocate audience participation?

I don't watch Glee, but the "Cheesus" episode got my attention because of its vilification of atheism. Luckily the gay kid didn't change his belief, but the episode made it clear his belief isn't respected. As the only defense he gets is from the villainous character Sue.

It turns out John Stamos was supposed to play Frank-n-Furter and the network said no. There a truly horrible demo of him singing "Sweet Transvestite" on a Glee fan page. Maybe it's a blessing he didn't end up doing it because it sucks.

http://gleeksonline.com/2010/10/“sweet-transvestite”-demo-from-the-rocky-horror-glee-show-leaked/

ShipofFools | October 22, 2010 3:36 PM

There are two versions of the Glee soundtrack No 3 (showstoppers). One which contains Kurt's "gay" songs, "House is not a home" and "Rose's turn", and another without these songs (and without 4 others). "House is not a home" sounds like Kurt and Finn sing a love song to each other when you don't have the film where you see that Finn sings in a different room and to his father. I assume that's the reason why they had two versions.
The version with Kurt's songs is called the Deluxe edition...

Can't wait to see it when it comes out on Netflix. We are behind a season, but this is the only show we watch on TV, outside of Comedy Central. Has anyone seen Modern Family yet? If so, what do you think of the gay characters?

Tessa Davidson- Malta | October 26, 2010 10:39 PM

My thoughts exactly. I became a fan of the show after my daughters turned me on to it, but after tonights episode, I can find better things to do with my time. This was not a tribute, this was a joke.

This episode annoyed me greatly. Being a fan of both Rocky and Glee, I was more than excited to see this. But I was so dissapointed with the changes they made! If you want to do a Rocky themed episode, then you should stay true--put a warning before the episode "This episode is rated PG-13 (?) for ..." and just let it be. I mean, hell, in the episode they're charged by being to outlandish by doing the play but they still made all the toned down changes. Not to mention in "Toucha Toucha" they don't let the kids sing it, but the teachers... while two of the girls watch with near-orgasmic responses. Really, I was most offended by that seeing as it still suggests these teens know about sex even though they decided to tone down so many of the sexual themes in the show (nixing out the male Dr. Frank, dressing up Rocky, etc.) and changing the lyrics annoyed me crazily.

There's no need for this sort of overblown response to a simple word like tranny.

What many people still refuse to recognize is that NO WORD is inherently bigoted. Words only have the meanings we ascribe to them.

By refusing to allow a word like tranny to have bad connotations, you take away the power from the bigots.

It's the same thing that gay men, bisexuals, lesbians, and trans people have done with the word queer. Or what gay men have done with the words faerie and faggot.

Tranny is not a slur.

I am friends with Trans women who call themselves Trannies. I’m not lying or making any of this up. This is how they self identify.

I know it’s a can of worms when you tell PC Trans people like Marie Delta that yes there are lots of Trans people who do self identify as a Tranny, chick with a dick, or a shemale and there is nothing that the PC Trans people can do about it.

Tranny is a term that is used by many Transgendered women to describe themselves and they self identify as a tranny. There's nothing wrong with using the word or telling other people that they can't just because they are cisgender or their natural born gender.

Tranny is not a slur and many if not most trans people call themselves "Tranny". This tiny group of PC trans police are ignoring the reality and experience and choices of the very people they claim to be speaking for.
If they're so concerned, they should try to get trans people to feel offended by the word. Because they largely do not. Stop policing Trannies!

ots of trans women like yourself call and self identify themselves a tranny and some even say they are a she male.

You're now going to paint them with the brush stroke that they are "wrong" for choosing to self identify as a tranny or shemale or that they simply must have internalized Transphobia.

All the info about the ultra PC group GLAAD and ultra PC trans women that censor the word tranny just shows how out of touch with reality, the use of language, and how in complete denial these political groups and people are with how language changes and words take on new meanings.

You're ignoring the fact that yes there are trans women who do call themselves a tranny or shemale and they have no problem with either of these terms just because you and a minority of Trans people do and want to censor them and claim ownership of the words tranny and shemale and make them into slurs.

If you want to play the victim and continue to grant power to the bigots who would use tranny as a slur, be my guest.

But I'm better than that. And I'll say tranny with pride.

You keep people marginalized by having them surrender certain words that have been historically used to describe them--declaring those words "non-PC"--so that other groups may perpetually use the words as clubs over the heads of the marginalized.

You empower the oppressor through this surrender.

Every time a GLBT person cries out in horror when another GLBT person uses the word queer, or tranny s/he empowers the enemy.