Orange is the New Rainbow: Representing Sexual Fluidity
The Netflix original, Orange is the New Black is based off of Piper Kerman’s memoir of the year she spent in a women’s low security federal correctional facility. Piper lands herself in prison because ten years ago, as a recent graduate from college she had a lesbian lover who worked for a drug cartel and convinced her to smuggle drug money internationally. Ten years later, piper gets sentenced to 15 months in prison. She is also engaged to Larry, a male, but things get messy when she lands in prison with her former girlfriend Alex.
While in prison Larry struggles with Pipers sexual identification. Larry believes that sexuality is binary, that a person is either heterosexual or homosexual, but studies that have arisen in the 20th century have introduced the idea of sexual fluidity which argues that ones sexuality lands somewhere along a spectrum. According to research done by Diane Richardson, she argues that “sexuality is not determinate and unidirectional, but complex, dynamic, contingent, fluid, and unstable,” (Richardson, 464). She argues against the binary view of sexuality and offers another point of view, that sexuality is fluid and constant. Candace Walsh argues in her article in the Huffington Post “Sexual Fluidity and Orange is the New Black,” that “it is easier to believe that people are either Gay, Straight, or Bi-Sexual,” (We will talk later about characters that are!) but sexual fluidity offers another view of sexuality. One does not have to fall into a certain category but has the freedom to flow along the spectrum.
In Piper’s case, in her lifetime she has fallen in love with both a woman and a man and the reason its so confusing to Larry is because he wants to know if she is straight or a lesbian. When she doesn’t have answers for him he gets frustrated. But because gender is fluid Piper shouldn’t have to choose between being straight or gay. In episode 5 “The Chickening,” Piper has a visit from her sister and Larry. Larry ends up realizing that Pipers ex-girlfriend Alex is in prison with her and she tells him the reason she didn’t disclose this to him was because she didn’t want him to worry. When he asks why he would be worried her sister says, “that she’d turn gay again.” Piper responds by saying “you don’t just turn gay you fall somewhere on a spectrum.” (“The Chickening,” 36:00). Piper challenges the misconception that sexuality is binary by directly telling her sister that she is wrong to think “she [might] turns gay again.” In a blog by Robin Hitchcock, she discussed Orange is the New Black’s portrayal of bisexuality. She states that when Piper eventually falls for Alex again while in prison “it doesn’t make her fall out of love with Larry, defying the common portrayal of bisexuality having some kind of a toggle switch,” (Hitchcock, 2013).
Piper, however, is not the only character on the show that represents gender fluidity. There are an array of characters that represent all ends of the gender spectrum. One of the characters, Nicky Nichols is a lesbian who is also having sex with a ‘straight’ girl engaged to a women. The ‘straight’ girls name is Lorna Morello and she goes through the same struggles as Piper. She wants to get married to her fiancé when she gets out, but at the same time she doesn’t want to stop having sex with Nicky. She eventually does end her relationship with Nicky as her release date comes closer. But does this mean that she is straight? Is she gay? Because sexuality is fluid, and not binary, Lorna falls somewhere along the spectrum and doesn’t need to identify as one or the other.
There are characters that do fall onto the straight or gay categories. Nicky, for example, clearly falls into the ‘gay’ category. So does Alex, Piper’s, ex-girlfriend. Characters like Dayanara Diaz clearly fall into the ‘straight’ category. Dayanara has an affair with one of the rookie prison guards and ends up sleeping with him and gets pregnant with his child.
Then there is Sophia, the black transsexual character. Sophia’s character is played by Laverne Cox, a real life transsexual. Orange is the New Black’s inclusion of a transgender character played by a real transsexual woman is so revolutionary because there are very few representations of transgender individuals in the media. In a Huffington Post article by Julie Zeilinger Cox states that “we don’t see enough multidimensional portrayals of trans women and women in jail who are of different races, ages, [and] body types,” (Zeilinger, 2013). Including a transsexual woman in the show’s cast expands its diversity and reach.
By including women on all ends of the spectrum, Orange is the New Black offers more viewers characters that they can identify with. By representing characters that have such a broad range of sexual identities, it challenges the audience’s idea that sexuality is absolute. It offers a new way of thinking, that sexuality is fluid and can move along a spectrum. Hitchcock’s article references a flashback Piper has where she states “I Like hot girls. I like hot boys. What can I say? I’m shallow,” (Hitchcock, 2013). Maybe it’s just as simple as that. Someone can like hot girls and hot boys. We shouldn’t put someone in a ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ category because a person is free to be attracted to whomever they find attractive whether that’s just boys, just girls, or both! Orange is the new Black does a revolutionary job of representing the idea of gender fluidity.
Hitchcock, Robin. (August 8, 2013). “Bisexuality in ‘Orange is the New Black.” Bitch
Flicks. Retrieved from http://www.btchflcks.com/2013/08/bisexuality-in-orange-is-the-new-black.html#.UzhmABZvfzI
Kohan, Jenji (Writer), & McCarthy, Andrew (Director). (July 11, 2013). “The Chickening.”
[Episode 5]. In Lionsgate Television (producer), Orange is the New Black. New York: Netflix.
Richardson, D. (2007). Patterned Fluidities: (Re)Imagining the Relationship between
Gender and Sexuality. Sociology, 41(3), 457-474.
Walkley, A.J. (August 23, 2013). “Bi-erasure in Orange is the New Black.” The
Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/aj-walkley/orange-is-the-new-black-bisexuality_b_3799037.html
Walsh, Candace. (August 5, 2013). “Sexual Fluidity in Orange is the New Black.” The
Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/candace-walsh/sexual-fluidity-and-orang_b_3701933.html
Zeilinger, Julie. (August 14, 2013). “Laverne Cox, ‘Orange is the New Black’ Star, on the
Necessity of Diverse Female Characters.” The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/14/laverne-cox-orange-is-the-new-black_n_3750544.html