How Does “Orange Is the New Black” Acknowledge Bisexuality?


Although it has been lauded as one of the most LGBTQ-friendly shows ever on television or the Internet, Orange Is the New Black is notorious for failing to acknowledge bisexuality as an option for its main character, Piper (Taylor Schilling). So many characters are eager to thrust labels like “straight” or “gay” on Piper, and for a while she even identifies herself as an “ex-lesbian.” However, she clearly experiences sexual attraction for both men and women, which is the definition of bisexual. So why won’t anyone on the show acknowledge that?

At the beginning of Season 1, Piper is engaged to Larry (Jason Biggs), and very insistent that her relationship with Alex (Laura Prepon) was just a lesbian phase. When she tells her parents that she helped her girlfriend smuggle drug money across an international border and will have to go to prison, her mother (Deborah Rush) seems most concerned with the “girlfriend” aspect of it, giving her a horrified stare and asking, “You were a lesbian?” Piper replies, “At the time.” Her brother (Michael Chernus) asks if she’s still a lesbian (despite the fact that Larry is sitting right there), and she says she’s not. None of them even consider the possibility that she could be bisexual. Obviously this is played for laughs, and Piper’s family is often portrayed as clueless and uptight, but the fact that no one even mentions it here is somewhat unsettling.

Piper’s family learns about her history with Alex.

Flash forward to Season 3, and no one has so much as whispered the word “bisexual” even once. Even when Piper was cheating on Larry with Alex, none of them ever acknowledged the implication that Piper could be attracted to both of them, and not just one or the other. In Season 3, Episode 4, Piper’s family comes to visit her in prison for her birthday, and she tells them she has a girlfriend. Once again, Piper’s mom immediately jumps to label her, asking, “So does that mean you’re officially…” Piper interrupts her with, “It means that I officially have a girlfriend,” which clearly frustrates her mother. Rather than explaining bisexuality to her family, Piper quickly drives them away.

Piper’s parents react to the news that she has a girlfriend in prison.

The only other mention in Season 3 that Piper is anything but gay comes in Season 3, Episode 8, when Piper suggests Alex seduce a male guard for a favor. Alex asks Piper to do it instead, saying, “You’re lower on the Kinsey Scale than I am.” The Kinsey Scale, created by twentieth-century sexologist Alfred Kinsey, is a numerical system of determining a person’s sexual orientation. The scale ranges from zero (exclusively heterosexual) to six (exclusively homosexual). When Alex says Piper is lower on the Kinsey Scale than she is, what she means is that Piper is more heterosexual than Alex. Piper could fall anywhere below a six on the Kinsey scale (most likely somewhere around a three or four), but the show won’t say for sure.