“And I’m scared. I’m still scared. I’m scared that I’m not myself in here, and I’m scared that I am.” – Piper
I’m not going to lie, I didn’t realise I was gay until recently. I liked gay people, I got on with gay people, I was one of these ‘I love my gays!’ people, I just never thought I would turn out to be gay myself. Having read too many ‘coming out’ stories to count and doing an embarrassing amount of ‘Am I a Lesbian?’ quizzes online, I realised that there was no sure fire way of knowing until you tried and just well… accepted it within yourself. I also realised that my story wasn’t as similar to others as I would have thought. Other women/men either knew they weren’t heterosexual from a young age and their life and relationships occurred accordingly, or they presumed they were heterosexual until they met somebody of the same sex who they connected with on an intimate level and voila – they realised.
I did not have either of these experiences. I had my own journey (as does everyone to be fair). When I got together with my girlfriend, my friends and family would say “it’s nice that you’ve met someone, and she happens to be a girl and that’s okay!” (or something to that affect). It’s like, yes she’s a girl, that’s the POINT. I’ve been DATING GIRLS, I’ve been SLEEPING with GIRLS, I split up with my boyfriend and made the active decision to PURSUE relationships with WOMEN. I can’t figure the precise moment where I realized ‘I liked girls’ as it was a slow process. However my turn around was very quick (I do run at 100mph generally though) and I decided that rather than eating my feelings and crying into my pillow weeping ‘oh my god I’m a lesbian’, I got my ass on Tinder and put my settings to ‘women’. Woo!
However, prior to this revelation that began last January, the Spring/Summer before had brought me one of the most difficult periods of my life thus far. I won’t mince words – I found myself pregnant at the age of 20 (fuck). It brought with it complications, I terminated the pregnancy and spent the summer at home; gyming, attending counselling, staring at the walls and possibly one of the most beneficial things I have done with my life up till now… I started watching Orange Is The New Black on Netflix.
I was a mess when I started watching it, I had been slowly unraveling for months, freaking out at the prospect of having a child and settling down with a man and oh my god my life was going to be over. Then post-termination I unravelled further because oh my god I never thought I would do this – who am I?! What do I want out of my life?! What have I become?! Blah blah blah.
This was because I grew up with a dream. A pink frilly princess dream. I grew up thinking I would marry a man, wear a pretty white dress and have a picket fence. This would include 2.4 kids, a perfect career (god knows what) and everyone would be so proud of me! They would say – “wow, look at her, she’s really got it together, I’m so jealous” (how embarrassing). Now I’m not criticizing that lifestyle, it is what some people want. But for me, personally? It wasn’t what I wanted. I had created some sort of heterosexual utopia to hide what would be my reality and tried to be the ‘perfect woman’. But eventually (specifically May 2013) I began to crumble under the weight of my own pretension and expectations and I shattered.
Enter Piper Chapman
I will write as though those reading are familiar with OITNB as I imagine if you weren’t the title wouldn’t have interested you in the slightest. So yes, Piper walked onto my screen and into my life and she reminded me of myself. I don’t flatter myself with this as let’s face it – the woman’s a dickhead. She’s selfish, confused, ignorant and arrogant at times, she abandoned her girlfriend when her mother died, she nearly beat someone to death and she uses others as an emotional chew toy. Yet… I LOVED her (and not just because she looks like Katy Perry).
I saw a woman who was confused, who was in denial about who she really was and suddenly found herself emerged within a world where she could not escape that. I felt similar. I felt as though my world had been turned upside down and I was forced to confront perhaps who I really was and who I had been running from. Similarly to Piper, I had been masquerading as the perfect white middle class woman. I wanted a degree, I wanted to impress people and I saw myself as future Piper, with a wonderful best friend, running a little soap company and engaged to a sweet, creative man.
But after seeing the stark comparison between that life and Piper’s new life, I realised something was happening within me and things were going to change. I didn’t understand why in the first episode I was looking at essentially, what I deemed to be my perfect life and I felt uncomfortable and bored with it… there was nothing wrong with it. But it wasn’t for me.
I first believed my dislike towards Piper’s life with Larry and my adoration of Piper’s life with Alex was due to the obvious – Alex was an exciting adventure, the girl-on-girl relationship was hot and Larry looked boring and was un-relatable as a character in comparison. But there was something else going on in my mind, something felt very familiar about Piper’s apparent denial of who she really is and her convenient and comfortable relationship with Larry. That is what I had been doing, I had been settling for comfort and convenience. That is not to say I did not have good relationships with some wonderful men, because I did. Men who are now my best friends, men who deserve better than I could give them because no matter how hard I tried, the most I could ever reach with them was a best friend I might one day settle down with.
Enter Alex Vause
“Is this a bad time to say hi?”
Yes the relationship between Piper and Alex is unrealistic and glamorized in many ways. They’re both really hot, the stakes are always high, it’s dangerous, they travelled, blah blah blah.
These are reasons to love them as characters and as a couple (which I do, I REALLY do. Don’t we all?!) but they are not the reasons I felt connected to them. I definitely do not feel connected to the international drug trade and prison relationship… I don’t relate to this. It was that their relationship woke something within me. It was the first time I had seen a legitimate lesbian relationship which displayed ups and downs and what it was like to BE with a woman (not just sexually). That made sense to me… the way they were with each other, the way they looked at each other, it was beautiful. Even in comparison to the heterosexual relationship between Daya and Bennett that was shown to be passionate, exciting and full of love… my heart was still with Piper and Alex. I’m not gonna pretend I didn’t enjoy the sex scenes (who wouldn’t?!) but that wasn’t what made me think. It was the way they looked at each other, it was the moment when Piper didn’t leave Alex in the washing machine and it was the heartbreak on Alex’s face when Piper chose Larry, it just made complete sense to me.
Now I’m not saying I saw this and was INSTANTLY gay, as several months passed between me first watching OITNB and dating girls, but what I can say with complete certainty is both Piper’s denial of herself and her attempts to escape who she perhaps really is and the romantic relationship between Piper and Alex ignited something within me that I had unknowingly been pushing to the back of my mind.
It often takes something huge (a pregnancy, a prison sentence etc.) to force you to confront who you really are. I’ve really began to believe that when you think things might be falling apart, they are actually falling into place. This is not just about being gay, it was about me confronting who I really was and what I truly wanted out of my life and I am not certain but I get significantly closer to feeling like I know myself better every day. I’m not saying if you watch OITNB it will help you discover your sexuality, I’m not comparing my life to a prison relationship and I don’t think I’ve had some giant revelation that helps me know everything there is about myself. What I am saying though, is that it took me something huge to make me realize I was running from who I was.
I thought my life would play out a certain way and I was on track at a great university with a bright future ahead, I’ve fucked that off. My dreams and beliefs and ideals aren’t the same as they were and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. The beautiful suburban home with a husband who’s a Doctor, two kids, a Cath Kidston kitchen and Book Club on Fridays has been swapped for a quirky city loft apartment, a girlfriend who loves me, a few cats and quite honestly I don’t care what my kitchen looks like, I prefer eating out (no pun intended).
This does not mean I could not have the former with a woman or the latter with a man as lifestyle and sexual orientation aren’t mutually exclusive and that’s not what this particular article is about. But it means that I’m more accepting of who I am. I got my gay card and gave me access to a whole new world and whole new way of thinking.
Piper and Alex helped me realise that relationships are not one dimensional and you can’t run from who you are forever, embracing it is terrifying but a much better route.
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