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((Warning: Included in this post are mild spoilers for Season Two of Orange Is The New Black. You have been warned!))

Okay, I’ll admit it: I never thought I was going to like Orange Is The New Black. I heard about it when it first went up on Netflix and thought to myself, “What do I care about the story of some entitled blond chick who goes to prison?” But I was won over by my better angels (aka all of my friends on Facebook and Twitter) and ended up marathon-watching Season One last year. And while I still had very little interest in the adventures of the ‘entitled blond chick’ (aka Piper the Eternal Narcissist), I was absolutely captivated by the rest of the show and it’s amazing characters.

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More than anything, I was excited to see a show that was all about diversity in it’s cast and that tackled serious issues about women in prison with such a razor-sharp wit. I think I found my happiness with Orange is the New Black, however, in its body positivity. Because for once we have a show in which the cast isn’t what you’d call the Hollywood standard. It is body diverse and for that reason, absolutely gorgeous. The show gives the audience the stories of a plethora of types of women, from the very young to the elderly, from the absolutely beautiful to the not traditionally so. And instead of relegating those who aren’t your typical television beauty to the background, each of these women are given a place of distinction, their characters carefully crafted to be unique, interesting, heart-breaking and hilarious.

Three characters have appealed to me since the beginning of the series and represent that body positivity in spades. Kate Mulgrew, a particular favorite of mine since she played Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager, plays Red, the Russian cook who rules the prison kitchen with an iron fist and fabulous red hair. Mulgrew’s storyline on the show includes Red’s constant battle with getting older, including her serious back pain issues, her vanity over her hair going grey, and comments about her figure. Though she’s certainly no spring chicken, Mulgrew brings an incredible passion and power to Red that helps fire the show through the second season.

images-6You don’t have to go much further than Danielle Brooks to talk about a body positive character on OITNB. Brooks plays Taystee, an inmate intent on preparing herself for a good job and a better life once she gets out of prison. Though Taystee is often on the receiving end of jokes about her weight on the show, she is proud about her body and gives back as good as she gets. One of my favorite scenes involves her telling a hilarious story about being naked and covered in food on top of a bulldozer. That kind of representation of a sex-positive larger woman on television is more of what I like to see: women joking around, not making jokes out of their weight to get a laugh. There’s plenty of serious conversation for Taystee too, like when she prepares for a job fair in Season Two and gets the receiving end of comments about being larger. The show doesn’t pull any punches about the reality of being a larger woman, and Brooks plays to that content and to the fantastic character she portrays so well.

ebcca8a707630914a29673d9ab2907c7I think for body positive stories, however, I can’t look any further than Dascha Polanco’s portrayal of Daya. While most fans go crazy for the love story of Piper and Alex on the show, I spend most of the episodes rooting for Daya and her totally forbidden love affair with Matt McGorry’s guard character John Bennett. Sure, theirs is the love that is totally a felony, but Daya is so earnest and Bennett is a super sweet character. It’s such a problematic situation and fraught with so many issues (can a woman give consent when she is in a position of no power? the law says she can’t!) but the storyline is evocative, heart-breaking, and so well done. A friend had told me about the relationship storyline before I started watching (rassum frassum spoilers) and so when I turned on the show, I honestly expected to see Daya played by some traditionally Hollywood body-typed actress. Those are the actresses which, typically, got great love story lines like these. Yet here was Dascha Polanco, a full figured woman, playing Daya and being called beautiful. And there’s no mistake, she absolutely is. Polanco plays Daya with an innocent, sweet radiance that lights up the screen, and makes her one of the prime reasons to watch Orange is the New Black.

It’s for the sake of actresses like Polanco, and Brooks, and Mulgrew that I watch the show. It is for Laverne Cox and her absolutely fantastic portrayal of Sophia, a trans woman in prison, who is breaking new ground for trans representation both on and off screen (check her out on the cover of Time magazine if you haven’t seen). Basically, I watch the show for them:

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And one hundred percent not for her:

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Yes, dear. Yes you are.

This leads me into the part about the show that I do not like, and that is the seeming inability of the show to utilize the word bisexual. For those uninitiated into the Piper Chapman drama-fest, Piper goes to prison and leaves behind her wet blanket of a fiancé Larry. In prison, she meets up once more with her ex-girlfriend Alex, with whom she used to traffic drugs and who Larry knew nothing about. No surprise, Piper ends up hooking up once more with her ex-girlfriend, played by the phenomenal Laura Prepon, and so begins the ‘will they-won’t they’ of the Piper/Larry/Alex fiasco.

A great deal of discussion goes into Piper’s sexuality on the show, which the writers seem to want to portray as complex and nuanced, as all sexuality truly is. However, in most of the show’s exploration of Piper’s sexual identity, they confine the discussion to the terms ‘straight’ or ‘lesbian’ or ‘gay’. Piper herself explains that she likes both men and women (see the above photo) but stops short of using bisexual as a term. In fact, there’s almost zero acknowledgement by many characters that bisexual is an actual choice and that one does not have to choose one way or the other.

One of the most brilliant exchanges in the show about Piper’s sexuality comes when she gets back together with Alex. Larry bemoans the situation to Cal, Piper’s weird but extremely cool and often wise brother.

Larry: So is she gay now?

Cal: I’m going to go ahead and guess that one of the issues here is your need to say that a person is exactly anything.

And with that statement, I think we get more of the showrunner’s feelings on the subject than anything else. The show battles the notion that people are able to be confined to labels, that relationships are more complicated than just one word, and that identity is not built upon a single classification. And in so many ways I applaud that idea, because the world is nuanced and not made up of check boxes on a form. Yet there is a serious issue in my eyes in the way they sweep Piper’s bisexuality under the rug. Her drunken statement above, or her often confused back and forth over whether or not she is gay, is the embodiment of the struggle that many bisexual people go through in this world. The struggle to stand up and not wince when people ask, “So you’re a lesbian?” (as her parents and friends did) or to deal with women who will say that she is a “straight girl” who is just confused (like Alex does at the end of Season One), these are constant issues that bisexual folks face. They are labeled as confused straight people or people who cannot get off the fence and ‘make a decision’ about their sexuality. They are identified as one or the other, straight and confused or a gay and in denial, all the time. These are labels bisexual folks have to deal with all the time. Piper is stuck with them on the show constantly. So if she must deal with those labels, and the writers have no problem dropping them constantly, then what’s the problem with the label of bisexual?

This mixed message of embracing the complexities of human sexuality while seeming almost ashamed of a term that accurately represents Piper’s situation seems curiously uncomfortable in a show that is so good at pushing boundaries. The often awkward conversations on the show between Piper and Larry about the Kinsey scale and being “turned gay” in prison are nothing next to the inability of the show to embrace an identity that is part of the LGBTQ spectrum, a title that is swept under the rug all the time and derided by many. If the show wants to be positive towards bisexuality, it would help if it didn’t seem to want to make the term disappear.

One must at least celebrate that Orange is the New Black is exploring this issue in the first place. For years, bisexual characters were relegated to innuendo or vague hand-waved relationship statuses on shows. I remember growing up realizing that Susan Ivanova on Babylon 5 was bisexual but being so disappointed at how behind-the-hand and indirect the show was about her attraction to the show’s resident telepath Talia Winters. I wanted to see more relationships with women explored by Jadzia Dax on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and crowed when I started seeing more representation on the shows I loved. Now we have Delphine Cormier and her newly discovered attraction to Cosima on Orphan Black, the fantastic Captain Jack Harkness on Torchwood, Doctor Remy Hadley on House, Oberyn Martell on Game of Thrones and Bo the succubus on Lost GirlOrange is the New Black is joining a long line of shows who are now including bisexual characters. It would however be nice to see, for all its exploration, a level of comfort with bisexuality as an identity label than what we’ve seen so far.

Maybe the idea of Orange is the New Black is to tell us to throw off labels, to ignore classifications, and to embrace the nuanced nature of each person we meet. Yet when bisexuality and the term has been much maligned, white washed, hidden and ignored in the media for years, I’d get behind the show a little more solidly if it didn’t seem so concerned with labeling Piper anything but. Because right now, for all its positive and progressive representation, I will say I’m feeling a serious lack of actual representation here.

(Though I’ll be very honest: I don’t even think if they fixed this that I’d ever like Piper. That would take a miracle.)

Postscript: Included below is a gallery of some of those characters I mentioned above that have explored bisexuality as part of their character portrayal on their shows. This is in no way a complete list of bisexual characters on television, just a few of my favorites. A lot of them, you might notice are from scifi/fantasy shows. That’s because that’s a lot of what I watch. Feel free to comment on some of your favorite representations as well, I’m always interested in hearing about others.

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There’s not a day that goes by that my blog doesn’t get a ping for my article on being fat and cosplaying. I am so grateful that people have responded to that article, as it is probably one of the essays I’m the most proud of on this blog. The issue of body shaming in the geek community is very near and dear to my heart, and something I want to see spoken about more. So to that effect, I wanted to update where I’m at in my cosplay odyssey.

The answer, unfortunately, is nowhere. My cosplay adventure got stalled out pretty quickly because of two serious issues: time and finances! First, my graduate school life took over pretty much everything except my freelance writing during the past year, and along with health issues kept me from doing anything else as a hobby. Still, I was busy preparing by picking up little costume pieces that I’d find along the way. I managed to collect a few costume pieces for outfits I wanted to do, and then promptly lost income. Those pieces are sitting and waiting for me to complete them, but they’re just bits along the way. What costumes? Well, let’s take a look at the things I was interested in doing.

Ellie from Borderlands 2 

Ellie

Would you believe the hardest part of this costume has been finding the dang overalls? I have a friend I am going to commission to make the giant wrench (and make it boffer safe too so it can be used in LARP combat too!), and I found a great toolbelt I wanted. But the thing that stopped me cold was finding overalls that would work. Apparently, overalls for someone my body type is very difficult. And finding them in New York is even harder. I really want this to be my first major cosplay, but it’s taking a little bit of time. In the meantime, I actually have more pieces for…

Generic Agent of SHIELD

Melinda_May_Agents_of_SHIELDI’m styling my costume off of Agent May’s and some of Skye’s outfits from Season 1, but I’m not trying to be either of those characters (one because Agent May is too awesome and second cuz I loathe Skye’s outfits). I’ve got this amazing black jacket that reminded me of this black and blue leather one from Agent May, plus a pair of black, well-fitting slacks. I even got an old bluetooth headset that I’m mocking up to look a little like a SHIELD earpiece. I’ve got the authentic replica badge. I’ve got the SHIELD patches and collar pins. I’ve got a pair of kickass boots to go with it. And now, the last piece: I want to make a Night-Night Gun.

Or at least find someone who can help me make one. I know crafty people! I’m still wondering however what’s the intelligence of trying to go out and cosplay with something that looks like, well, a pistol. In today’s day and age, in New York especially, that’ll get me some serious trouble. I’m debating. Point is, add some aviator shades and this might be my serious cosplay debut. I want to have it by NYCC of this year.

Peggy Carter

images-5Speaking of the original Agent of SHIELD herself, when I heard that Peggy Carter was getting her own TV show, I got the idea in my head that she’d make a great cosplay. So sue me, I’m a stickler for that military uniform thing. I love the WW2 hair and how singularly badass she is. I’m sure that I’ll pull a great deal of BS for being heavy and trying to cosplay the rather svelte Carter, but it’s something I’m considering. The uniform would be the hardest part, because I have not seen a single one in a larger size. It’d have to be custom made, and that would be pretty difficult considering my novice skills as a seamstress. (Bless my departed grandmother for teaching me to use a sewing machine!) Still, it’s something I think could be a lot of fun to put together and I could pull off the Carter attitude well.

Those are the only three I have active pieces for just yet. However. HOWEVER. Here are a couple of costumes I desperately want to make in the order of importance to me.

Grey Warden and Female Qunari: Dragon Age Origins and Inquisition

tumblr_m9obncMv7r1qfn92co1_500Oh. OH Qunari. Why are you my favorite fantasy race ever? Could it be because you brought an inexplicable sense of gravity, presence and depth to a dude in a cage in the first Dragon Age game, and never stopped impressing after that? From the moment you meet Sten in Dragon Age: Origins, I felt as though the qunari were one of the best fleshed out, well-built fantasy civilizations and races ever. They are utterly foreign to the Fereldens and ‘monstrous’, yet when you start to learn more about their culture you start to understand that they aren’t just two-dimensional creatures. There is an entire civilization going on that the humans have no idea how to understand, and unlike elves they aren’t easily understood by tropes from other fantasy literature. It’s that mystery that brings me to want to cosplay a qunari. That’s why when it was announced that qunari would be playable in Dragon Age: Inquisition, I kinda went out and pre-ordered the premiere edition (with the pretty ‘dragonscale box’ and everything). Because this, right here, is one of my fandoms.

It should be no surprise then that I want to make me some Dragon Age cosplay. My first inclination was going to be to do a Grey Warden from Origins, but I have yet to graduate to making armor for cosplay. That is some ‘I have no idea how to do that yet’ next level stuff. So instead (because this is going to be so much easier) I’m going to try a female qunari.

This is the character I’m basing it off of from one of the Dragon Age comics that I adored. Now, I’m not entirely okay with the whole ‘bandages over my breasts as a shirt’ thing so that’s going to get adjusted. But I’m not trying to be THAT qunari exactly, just a female qunari of my own. That said, its’ going to be an ambitious project. The horns alone, getting a good wig, figuring out a good way to keep them both from being a problem. Then the makeup. Oh the makeup. And the various pieces. This is going to be a complicated cosplay, but if done correctly would be very worth it.

This cosplay, should I get it down, would I believe prepare me for the bigger challenge of taking on armor characters. I really want to try out making a Grey Warden. But my real dream? Is this:

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Brienne of Tarth. Probably one of my favorite characters of all time in books or television. Now this costume not only has a million little details, it would require some serious custom armor pieces. I’d need to consult with some folks I know who are more familiar with armor before I took this on, but… it’s a hell of a cosplay. This is sort of my white whale, my dream should I ever be able to figure it out and get the cash and time. Those are the main stopping points keeping me from cosplaying right now.

Well no. One more thing. I’d also have to figure out: where the hell do I PUT all of this…?

For now, we’re sticking to Ellie and the SHIELD agent, and we’ll go from there.

So that’s my cosplay update. As soon as the cash flow gets better, we’re going to tackle these head on. One way or the other, I’m going to have something to cosplay when I get to NYCC this year. Because, to paraphrase a movie I like: Cosplaying and Body Proud.