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"Yeah, Maybe A Lighter Butch": Outlaw Gender and Female Masculinity in Orange Is The New Black

by Ethan Tussey

by Sasha T. Goldberg for IN MEDIA RES

In the interview titled, "Big Boo Wasn't Originally Supposed To Be A Part Of 'Orange Is The New Black,'" interviewer Alex Berg looks at Lea Delaria and says, "You don't just play any Lesbian, you play a very Butch Lesbian." Of course it's not just that Delaria plays a very Butch Lesbian; she is a very Butch Lesbian, and notes--first with anger ("Fuck it, fuck America, fuck it") and then with triumphant joy--that OITNB needed to, and did, create a role for her. Berg quips, "And Big Boo was born!" but Big Boo wasn't just born. As character, prototype, or even stereotype, Big Boos are not new--and that creating a Butch character was an afterthought, particularly in a prison setting, serves to highlight the ongoing marginilization and erasure of female masculinities, and particularly of the "Very Butch" variety of womanhood.

The interview, by centering Delaria as a Butch subject, reveals insights about gender, masculinities, and women seldom seen in mainstream media: "The reality is I am old enough," the Fifty-Five year old Delaria asserts, wherein aging masculinity on a female body is regarded as not old enough, not mature enough, and not an end-point, whereas aging femininity on on a female body is regarded as too old, too mature, and the end-point at which only roles as mothers or grandmothers may be performed. Interestingly, in solidarity with First Wives Clubs everywhere, Big Boo, when replaced by a younger, slimmer, long-haired, and less-Butch model, responds to "Oh face it, Butchie, you lose, I win" with a first-wife warning of her own: She tells the new playmate that her ex only "likes new shiny things." Moments later, Delaria also uses the word "shiny" to describe what young (heterosexual) men want when watching "lesbians"/lesbians.

While it is clear that Big Boo and Delaria both come out ahead as winners with OITNB, the outlaw nature of Butch--Boo, imprisoned onscreen, and Delaria, fighting to be seen as a valid subject offscreen--is called into question. What is allowed to be represented, celebrated, and viewed as 'real' in America still rests upon restriction, rather than expansion; the gaze upon the "Very Butch" Big Boo and Delaria serve as a crucial, refreshingly shocking, and much needed exception. Subjects hailed as exceptional, however, often serve to reinforce the notion of outsider, solitary existences--and perhaps not just coincedence, then, that disputing this myth begins from within prison walls. 

Outlaw Gender and Female Masculinity in Orange Is The New Black

"Orange is the New Black" co-star Lea DeLaria stops by to talk about her breakout performance as prison inmate "Big Boo."

from 'Big Boo' Talks "Orange Is The New Black' | HPL (2013)
Creator: Huffington Post
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey