I am wearing my underwear in the middle of downtown Montreal, with my friend Dawn, who used to be my friend Phil. No, this is not a dream.
I met Phil at 14. He was my first guy friend, and, before he moved away in the summer of 10th grade, my closest friend. We were both heartbroken to be apart, but these were the pre-Internet days, when you still had to sell a kidney to make a phone call to the next province. Eventually, we lost touch.
Fifteen years later, to my surprise, I got an email from Phil. It turns out we live in the same city. To my greater surprise, after your usual back-in-touch exchange -- What are you up to? Are you married? Can you still recite Monty Python skits by heart? -- Phil told me he likes to dress up as a woman.
In high school, Phil wore ripped jeans and plaid shirts, and knee-high Doc Martens. He was one of the first people I knew who could grow facial hair. I couldn't wrap my head what it must be like to feel different on the inside than you look on the outside, but I accepted and applauded his choice, and, especially, admired his -- her -- courage.
One evening sometime later, Dawn and I were out at a Korean restaurant, when she announced to me that she wanted to go to the live Rocky Horror Picture Show. Maybe it was the saki, but I piped up, "So do I!" And regretted it almost immediately.
I always do this -- something sounds fabulous in theory, but after I sign on, I have no idea what I was thinking. I have become more sour than Liz Lemon in my old age. My idea of a good night is a hot bath, a good book and maybe, if I'm feeling really crazy, a gin and sugar-free tonic. As the day approached, the thought of dressing up in a garter belt and having people throw bits of toast at me while shouting lyrics to a 1970s film became less and less appealing. But I'd given my word, and I knew how much Dawn was looking forward to it.
And now, after a four-hour trek through downtown to find coloured fishnet stockings, a garter, and plastic water pistols -- and a dress-up fest in my office which now looks like it's been bombed by the Moulin Rouge chorus line -- in an outfit that reveals more skin than I do at the doctor's office, we are on our way to the Late Night Double Feature Picture Show.
We arrive at the theatre, and, to my chagrin, it's almost empty. The people who are there are not in Rocky-style costume, but, for some reason, unanimously disguised as Batman. I sit awkwardly in my seat, looking around, turning bright pink every time I smooth down my top and remember that I am not wearing pants. Dawn's friend Gabrielle gallops in, dressed as a down-to-her-undies Janet, and cheerfully distributes toast, toilet paper and newspaper to the rest of us.
I begin to get very nervous.
But, slowly, the seats started to fill. There are Brads and Janets and Magentas, and people I cannot place. The lights go down, and there are some costume contests and some zombies dancing "Gangnam style." And finally, the show begins.
Within minutes, I'm completely hooked.
The corsets, the fishnets, the high heels... I get it all. I understand why people come here year after year, to lip synch to the same songs. There is something so liberating, so joyous, so weirdly childlike about being in a theatre full of people celebrating... well, I'm hesitant to put a label on it, but to me, it feels like they're celebrating being exactly who they are. Gay, straight, woman, man: none of it matters, and all of it is incredible. It's pure, 100 per cent, crazy fun -- something I don't have nearly often enough.
I become less and less self-conscious as the night wears on, and at one point I actually find myself walking up the aisle, feeling completely comfortable -- OK, awesome -- in my get-up. I look over at Dawn, who's doubled over, slapping her thigh with laughter at a scene from the movie. She has a long, terrifying road ahead of her. She wants to transition completely, after spending most of the last 35 years as a man. This will mean huge upheaval for her family, her career, her marriage. It's one of the bravest things a person can do.
And I realize, being in this outfit, in a room full of people shouting and throwing things, that I feel more like myself than I do in my day-to-day life. That's where the real costumes come in, although I've been wearing them for so long, I've forgotten that they're costumes at all. The "get people to take you seriously" look. The "don't call attention to yourself" outfit. The "don't look like you care" ensemble.
Suddenly I'm seized by the urge to wear my Rocky get-up everywhere I go. I could have an entire wardrobe of fishnets! I could become the girl with the Boss tattoo! As the credits roll, I am struck with gratitude for my old friend Dawn, and my new friend Frank-N-Furter. They've reminded me to be more Natalie, even if it means being taken less seriously, or calling more attention to myself.
It's not easy having a good time... but it's worth it.