Sexualized Saturdays: Orphan Black, Genetics, and Sexuality

Let's… not talk about this.

Let’s… not talk about this.

The ‘born this way’ argument, which argues that sexuality is part of your genetic code, the same as brown eyes or the ability to curl your tongue, is currently the most popular defense of queer sexualities in the media. It’s most often used as a way to defend queer people to bigots, in the sense of “why would you hate these people for something that they did not have any choice in being?”

I am of two minds about this way of looking at things. On one hand, I do feel that sexuality, much like race or gender, is something you’re born with; I don’t know that I or any other queer person I know ever made a choice to be queer, or indeed, would choose to be queer in a world that is still actively discriminatory toward LGBTQ+ people. However, it’s sort of shitty that we have to resort to “please accept us because we can’t help ourselves” as a defense. If we had chosen to be queer, why would that make us more worthy of judgment?

Luce and I finished watching the first season of Orphan Black recently, and while the finale addressed many of the questions I had, there are several things I would still like to know about the clones. Out of all of these, the foremost is probably “are they gonna get into how Cosima is a lesbian and the rest of the clones aren’t?” Given that the Clone Club are all essentially genetically identical, I’m surprised no one’s even brought up the fact that of all of them, only Cosima has canonically displayed same-sex attraction.

OrphanBlack_S1_E05_27_photo_web-1024x576Spoilers for Orphan Black under the cut.

To be fair, the show’s finale did reveal that there were minor differences between each clone’s genetic makeup, but the only difference was essentially a barcode, marking each clone as a unique product. Cophine-cosima-and-delphine-35029300-1280-720So for all we the viewers know, all of the clones are, at a genetic level, the same person. And yet, Cosima is the only one who’s even hinted at being attracted to other women. This leaves me with a few different possibilities for what the show is going to or trying to do.

First, they might end up implying that all of the clones are bisexual. If this is the case, then they need to back up their argument by showing one or more of the other clones taking interest in a female partner. Otherwise, they’re making a claim that every single one of the many clones we’ve met is queer, but only one of them has acted upon that queerness, and that’s lazy representation.

They could also be trying to make a statement about the nature vs. nurture argument as it pertains to sexuality. This seems like a strange tack to take, but it could be intriguing if dealt with delicately. They’ve already essentially argued that nurture has a tremendous effect on character, given how different each of the clones are in personality and vocation. However, there are also some tendencies that seem to be shared among the clones despite their disparate environments, such as a tendency toward mental illness and an apparent aptitude for sharpshooting. I’d be interested to see how they argue which umbrella sexuality falls under.

OrphanBlackClonesThe last possibility is that they were so focused on making the clones all so different that they forgot the implications of making one of them queer. I have such a high opinion of the show that I’d like to hope that they haven’t dropped the ball in this case. Cosima herself is both a scientist and a very inquisitive person, and all of the clones are intelligent in their own way, so I’m surprised that none of them have thought about the link between genetics and sexuality yet. To me, at least, it’s kind of a glaring oversight that they haven’t mentioned or addressed it yet, so I hope that Season 2 elaborates on the clones’ sexuality in a more satisfying way.

10 thoughts on “Sexualized Saturdays: Orphan Black, Genetics, and Sexuality

  1. epigenetics would explain the differences in sexuality. but i don’t think the creators are going to delve into why there is a difference, i think its more food for thought than a substantial plot point. as for the clones reactions, i think they might be a tad busy to start questioning their sexualities, and i doubt they care much. they know how different they are from each other (also i have a suspicion that some probably explored their sexuality in their youth, hence are sure of themselves. it would be awesome to learn about alison in college)

  2. Quick google–for gay men, their identical twin has a 50-50 chance of being gay or not gay:

    http://www.nytimes.com/1991/12/17/science/gay-men-in-twin-study.html

    I’d assume the rate for women is similarly not 100% (not to mention sexual fluidity happens). The rates for men are nearly 5x higher if they share genes with a gay person, btw, so there’s a strong genetic basis but genes aren’t the only factor. So while only 1 clone being gay is a little odd, it’s not necessarily inconsistent with reality.

    I actually find it a little problematic that you don’t think it’s okay to portray bisexual characters who are only seen in relationships with one gender. To me that harks back to feeling like I had to “prove” my bisexuality, plus the idea that you have to be equally interested in men and women to be a “real” bisexual, or the idea that bisexuals NEED to be involved with both men and women and thus can’t be monogamous. Saying a character’s gay after the series ends and their sexuality is never actually shown is lazy representation. Having a cast with several bisexual-identifying characters who have different dating patterns, or people with similar attraction profiles but different identities and/or behavior, is potentially actually unusually good representation.

    • Hi, I’m a little confused by your comment but I’m going to try to address it. I think it’s dangerous to conflate fictional sexuality with real sexuality. If I were talking about a real person, I would never, ever imply that they were less bisexual for dating someone of a different gender, or any such prejudiced nonsense.

      However, in a fictional show, if a character never a) engages in a same-sex relationship or b) professes to experience same-sex attraction, and only dates heterosexually, then for representation purposes they are not queer.

      Consider the cases of River Song from Doctor Who vs. Sarah Lance from Arrow. River is apparently bisexual – showrunner Steven Moffat has said she is – but you would never know that from the show. It doesn’t do anything for representation. Sarah Lance, on the other hand, is currently sort-of-dating main character Oliver, but we have been shown that she was previously in a same-sex relationship. I don’t consider her any less queer for being in a straight-passing relationship currently, and in her case that -is- good bisexual representation.

      • ohhhhh. I was with you until you got to “straight-passing relationship.” That’s a heterosexist phrase often used by homosexuals (oh the irony) and if you don’t know that well now you do. “straight passing” is entirely dependent on how one is perceived by the “straight” community and how much they can “pass.” Two members of the opposite sex being in a relationship is not “straight passing.” It’s a biphobic, transphobic, and agenderphobic phrase that should be removed from the vernacular.

        Also, I’d add that you can’t untwist fictional sexuality from real sexuality in an argument about representation that real people want to see especially when it’s written by real people, acted by real people, and presented to real people. So the idea that a bisexual person should not feel offended if you define a bisexual character as “not queer” because they are only seen in a relationship with the same sex is a place of apparent privilege from never having lived through being harassed your whole life since coming out to “prove” your bisexuality.

        If fictional people and our feelings about them existed in a vacuum, we wouldn’t be having a conversation at all about queer representation and what it means for the queer population. You can’t have it both ways. Call out what you perceive as failings of showing real world sexuality but then cover biphobic and transphobic language in a blanket of “Oh I would never…” “In the real world…” because the nature of the conversation is about real world expectations of fictional people.

        And let me tell you: The real world expectation that I have to adhere to heterosexual people’s ideas of gender and sexuality to be a part of their community sucks and the the real world expectation that I have to adhere to homosexual people’s ideas of gender and sexuality to pass as part of their community sucks.

        It’s why more and more people are simply identifying as queer and genderqueer and leaving all that bullshit at the door. The sooner people drop all expectations of sexuality and gender the better.

      • you don’t see it, you hear of it

        “pics or they are not bisexual”

        the show was with the relationship between River and The Doctor. but we also needed to see her get close to another woman right?

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  5. with “born this way” you can’t see it in a test right? was that the point of genetic experment? is born this way for peronality traits as well? like some people are just born jerks? but domestication has shown us temperment is genetic, but (that is not a personality trait,)

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  7. Even though this was posted in 2014, I do want to point out that three of the clones have exhibited lgbtq tendencies or more. For example, Tony. He is trans. Then, there is Cosima, who is canonically a lesbian. And also Sarah, who even the producer and Tatiana Maslany have said is actually bisexual/pansexual. Later in the seasons, she is seen making out with a girl, so it’s not far fetched. I think it is so interesting that they included sexuality in the shows science but never actually went into detail about why the clones may be exhibiting these different sexualities.

    However, by the shows standards, while all the clones are completely identical, they also aren’t. This is where I start to find gray area. For example, Sarah and Helena are twins, and they can procreate, while the others are sterile. So, we have a lesbian, a transgender male, twins who can both procreate, etc. This makes me wonder if all these differences were created in the lab somehow or passed down genetically. Either the scientists are DYAD were testing to see how each clone would do in their enviorment given their different circumstances. How would a clone that is a lesbian alter the results of the study? How would a clone that cannot procreate alter the results of the study? But like I said, it also could have been genetic. The person that they originally got the cells from might have been into girls herself, or maybe it had something to do with the double cell line as a result of absorbing the other twin in the womb. I’d love to have a discussion with the scientists that they spoke with about this because I am incredibly interested to see where they were going with that.

    Anyways, great observations!!

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