When I first read this assignment, I was wondering how I would be able to write a post about gender representation in Orange is the New Black, a show about a women’s prison where the vast majority of characters are women. And then I re-watched Season 1 Episode 3, which by itself deals with gender enough for me to write multiple posts about it (only doing this one though).
Within the nearly all female cast of characters in the show, both inside and outside of prison, there is a great amount of diversity, not just demographically but also in terms of personality and background. No two female characters in the show so far, who have been fleshed out to any extent, share the same blueprint. The same can’t be said of the few significant male characters, who are either perverted or apathetic prison guards (with the notable exception of Bennett), or boring like Larry (at least I think that’s his name, I don’t know. He’s boring).
The title of this episode is “Lesbian Request Denied,” which lets you know pretty clearly that it is going to deal with sexual orientation. LGBT representation and issues are heavily shown throughout the first three episodes, with Piper having been in a relationship with Alex before the events of the show, the presence of many lesbian inmates, a handful of lesbian sex scenes, and homophobic attitudes coming from multiple characters. In this specific episode, Piper is pursued/stalked by “Crazy Eyes” Suzanne, and Piper turns her down, but not before Crazy Eyes turns in a request for them to be moved in together, which the apparently homophobic Officer Healy strikes down with the line, “lesbian request denied.”
But as is the case with many episodes of Orange is the New Black, the focus of this episode isn’t Piper, but the show’s transgender character, Sophia, and her struggles. The arc follows Sophia’s dose of estrogen being reduced and then canceled altogether, leading to her asking her wife to smuggle some in, a request which causes tension between them. As in the first episode, flashbacks help to establish the story of Sophia’s transition and the reason she is in prison. Sophia’s son, Michael, does not cope well with his father making the transition, and reports her to the police committing credit card fraud, which she did to pay for the surgery. Her wife remains supportive through the transition, but not without some resistance to the idea of her getting sexual reassignment surgery. When Sophia asks her to smuggle in estrogen, she bristles at the idea and tells Sophia to “man up.” She also mentions that her decision to support Sophia has led to her becoming distant from her family, which shows their transphobic attitudes, something Sophia will deal with throughout the show.