A critically acclaimed Netflix Original Series, Orange Is The New Black breaks down the walls of the prison and reveals a fascinating cultural dynamic. The series was produced by Tilted Productions in association with Lionsgate Television. It is based on a memoir by Piper Kerman, “Orange Is The New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison”. The memoir is Piper’s personal account of her experiences in prison, and her story very closely matches that of Piper in the TV series.
OITNB has received 12 Primetime Emmy Award Nominations. It started out as a 2-series hit, and has now been cleared for third. It all began with Piper Chapman, the main character, being convicted of drug trafficking. She is sentenced to a year in a women’s prison, and this is where we begin to see an entirely different world of competition, status quo, and pseudo-economy. Intertwined in all of these prison-specific events, is an outright takeover of lesbianism. Many of the inmates are lesbians to begin with, but some simply start joining the fun when they realize there are no males to have sexual relations with. Lesbianism is not the only part of queer culture at Litchfield, however. Sophia Burset is a transgender woman serving her sentence at the jail. She encounters additional struggles as she lives day-to-day, while remembering the events that landed her there in the first place. In the episode “Lesbian Request Denied”, we learn a lot about Sophia and where she comes from.
Throughout the episode, we get flashbacks of Sophia’s life before entering prison. She was a father and a husband going through a difficult transition while trying to maintain her relationships. After getting married, Sophia began going through emotional turmoil as she was fully realizing her true identity. In order to undergo transition, she used stolen credit cards to pay for her surgery and hormones. All the while, her wife and child had no idea that she was stealing money. In fact, Sophia is supported and embraced by her wife, Crystal, during the transition. Crystal even promises to teach her everything she knows about being a woman. This is all to keep the family together.
“Better my kid have two moms than a dead dad, right?”
Things take a turn for the worst when the cops show up at the door to arrest Sophia. Crystal is completely surprised and taken aback from what is going on. She had shown a large amount of support and love for Sophia to keep her family together, and now it is being torn apart. Sophia’s relationship with her son is already in shambles because he is embarrassed by the transition. But now, he must watch his father (now second mom) get taken away by the cops. This affects him so much that he refuses to ever visit Sophia in jail.
Sophia’s life is a complicated one. She lived a long time and established a life as a man, and eventually decided to make a full transition. This put strain on her relationship with her son, and even put some doubt in Crystal’s mind.
“I’m fine with the rest of it: the hair, the makeup, I’ll teach you all of it. You’ll be a pro. Just please keep your penis.”
The drive to be a woman pushed her so far as to use stolen credit cards, and eventually end up in jail. This sends a message about how strong the feelings of transgender people really are. Sophia felt trapped in her own body, and she made it her first priority to do something about it. Even with the proper support from someone she loved, she still felt the need to do illegal things to become what she felt she needed to be. While this certainly isn’t the best course of action to take in this situation, it was a reality for Sophia because she believed she had no other way to go.
The actions of Sophia can be paralleled to those of Ignacio in Bad Education. Ignacio was born a boy, and later went through a transition to live life as a woman. Throughout the movie, she is seen steeling and blackmailing for money. Father Monolo sexually victimized Ignacio when she was a child. In return, Ignacio blackmailed him later in life for money for sex reassignment surgery. Like Sophia’s decision to use stolen credit cards, this is a highly dangerous and illegal thing to do, and ultimately led to a tragic consequence- Ignacio’s death.
While in prison, Sophia receives criticism, unwanted sexual advances, and even complications with obtaining her hormone medication. At one point, she is completely taken off of her medication. This frightens her greatly because she didn’t want all of her losses in life to be for nothing. She did the things she did to be a woman and she doesn’t want it taken from her. She pulls some strings and eventually receives her hormones. Regardless of her struggles, in most of her interactions with other inmates, Sophia is very confident with herself and how she lives her life. She establishes herself as the prison hairdresser, and is generally well-liked and appreciated. Even though she’s in prison, Sophia seems happier that she can finally be herself.
If Orange Is The New Black sounds interesting to you, you can check it out exclusively on Netflix.