Orphan Black: The undisputed champion of sexual identity

I was so late to the game on this one, y’all. SO. LATE.

Only this past month did I marathon Seasons 1 and 2 of Orphan Black, and discover the ridiculous powerhouse that is Tatiana Don’t-Need-an-Emmy-to-be-a-BOSS Maslany. There is so much going on here that when I first thought of writing about it, I couldn’t come up with anything concrete other than fangirl glee.

Great characters (FELIX! Donnie! But mostly Felix!), great production (clone dance party whaaaaaat), great storytelling (Siobhan’s crazy birdwatching extravaganza), great effects (did I mention the clone dance party?!), and general badassery (Sarah’s Clash shirts!) abound. As you can see, there’s still lots of fangirl glee happening here. But I’m settling in and do, in fact, have a thing to talk about. Despite the revelations that came in the second season in reference to the clones reproductive abilities (or because of them? more on that later) every single character on this show is in control of their own body. Every single character has sexual agency, and an identity that includes but is not even remotely limited to that sexuality. It’s incredibly refreshing, and one of these days we won’t need to celebrate its victories because the rest of TV will catch on to the frankly groundbreaking handling of sexuality that Orphan Black boasts, but today is not that day.

(And for the second time in a row here, I’m chatting away with not a care in the world for spoilers. You’ve been warned.)

Something very specific keeps happening in Orphan Black: the LGBTQ cast of characters don’t have “coming out” moments in the narrative of the story. Their sexuality isn’t lauded as their most important character trait, and none of them are even remotely stereotypical. Cosima’s lesbianism is never used as a plot device or a lazy identifier, and she’s steadfast in declaring that it’s not the only thing that makes her an individual in the Clone Club. Her relationship with Delphine is sweet and honest and just as complicated as their closest straight counterparts, Sarah and Paul. And can we talk about Tony?!? Tony, the brilliant transgender clone who happily hits on Felix and takes T on screen. His pronoun of choice is honored with basically no questions and he isn’t put in a position where he needs to defend a damn thing about his identity. Felix shoots Art down when he mixes up Tony’s pronouns, but zero people get villainized. Art goes with it, Felix doesn’t shame him, and no one needs to say anything else about it. This, seriously, is modern TV at its best.

While we’re on the subject of Felix – this man won my heart when he asked Alison’s kids if they wanted to crossdress. Really, I just love him, and as rough as it has been to watch him and Sarah have their disagreements in the second season, it’s more than worth it to see Jordan Gavaris tackle fantastic scene after fantastic scene. His acting is top notch, his character complicated and thoughtful and fun, and I cannot get enough.

Back to those reproductive questions, though. In the second season, we learned the clones aren’t able to become pregnant. Which, makes scientific sense and explains the fascination with Kira, but is also clearly heartbreaking. (Side note: even more props to the writers for never, ever suggesting that Alison’s kids are less than because they were adopted.) Rachel is fixated on her own childhood and successfully kidnaps Kira, which somehow doesn’t read as the oh-so-tiresome example of a nasty female character stealing away someone else’s baby, even though it kind of is. Helena is a trope too – she’s essentially Frankenstein, but she’s not trapped in it. She’s a victim, a monster, a sexual being, killer, a child, and we love her even when we’re terrified by her capabilities.

So how are neither of these tropes problematic? Because every single person on Orphan Black is a complete character. They all grow and change and fight and cry and are in charge of their own damn bodies. This is a show about women whose bodies were not intended to be their own, and who refuse to let that be a reality. Three cheers, Orphan Black. Bring on the next season!

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2 thoughts on “Orphan Black: The undisputed champion of sexual identity

  1. I found an interview with Tatiana on AfterEllen (http://www.afterellen.com/tatiana-maslany-gives-us-the-scoop-on-the-orphan-black-clones-and-cosimas-bisexuality/05/2013/) that mentions Cosima is more bisexual than a lesbian. “She just loves people.” We’ve only seen her in a same sex relationship.

    But you’re right it’s awesome to have a show where the writers and characters don’t feel compelled to straight up state their identity for the audience. Very refreshing.

    1. This is a great interview, thanks for the link! I can definitely see Cosima as more bisexual, but I do love even moreso that the creators have given her that identity without explicitly bringing it up in to correct folks like me. 😉

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