Major spoilers for "Orange is the New Black" Season 4 lie ahead.
Queer women are sadly used to seeing our icons killed off on television.
Just this year, Autostraddle created a list of every openly queer woman killed on a television show, finally shining a light on the harmful and pervasive Bury Your Gays trope that's been killing us for decades. So when I heard that Poussey got killed off at the end of Season 4 of "Orange Is The New Black," I wasn’t shocked. After all, what was the likelihood that a queer woman of color was going to last four whole seasons to begin with?
Still, my heart was broken by this particular death, because I fell for Poussey the moment I saw her. Poussey became my everything not just because of her stunning laugh, her chill vibes, and her kind heart, but because as a queer woman of color, she is what I’ve always wanted — but never expected to find — on a mainstream television show. Representation.
Through her, I saw representation of romantic relationships that mirrored my own for the very first time on television.
From Poussey and Soso’s coupling, I finally got what I’d been craving since I first came out as bisexual: not just a couple made up of queer women, but proof that a lesbian could fully love and accept a queer girl ... something that could have radically shifted my own queer sexual debut with a lesbian.
Throughout Season 4, Soso never identifies as a lesbian or as bisexual, saying instead that she loves “people, not genders.” But she dates Poussey, a lesbian.
Despite this difference, their relationship is never negatively impacted by their sexualities. Poussey never suggests that Soso is less-than as a result of her fluidity and discomfort with labels. Poussey never invalidates Soso’s queerness because of her experience or lack thereof. She treats her, at all times, as an equal in all things queer.
To see this on a hit television show is major, because many sexually fluid women who date lesbians have experienced backlash from their partners. One example that remains seared into the queer consciousness is What Lesbians Think About Bisexuals, a video illustrating the simple and unfortunate fact that biphobia is alive and well in queer female spaces. One study in the Journal of Bisexuality found that gay people and lesbians were basically as biphobic as straight people. This isolation from the LGBTQ community, a space that is supposed to include people who are bi, pan, and simply queer, has real impact not just on romantic relationships between lesbians and other queer women, but on our sense of self.
My first relationship with a woman was with a lesbian who was convinced that I’d end up going back to guys once we broke up. This overarching narrative shaped our entire relationship, impacting my understanding of myself and my own sexuality. If she said I was just pretending, she was probably right. After all, what did I know about what it meant to actually be queer?
I love Poussey because she never leaves Soso asking that question.
Poussey accepting Soso's sexuality is important considering the erasure of women who are queer but not lesbian is all too real, leading to serious mental health concerns.
In comparison to lesbians, research has shown that bisexual women are 26 percent more likely to be depressed, 64 percent more likely to report disordered eating, and 20 percent more likely to have suffered from anxiety. Also, it’s been found that bi women have the least amount of social support of any sexuality group, which I would guess extends to pan and queer women as well. (Research on pan and queer women is extremely limited — which is, in itself, quite telling.)
As a result of the backlash and general negativity faced by pan and queer women, watching Poussey be good to Soso felt so important.
I listened to Poussey’s sweet, loving words over and over again, wondering on repeat what my sex life would have been like if I’d entered into the world of queerness alongside a woman who believed in and supported my identity, instead of seeing me as just another sexually fluid girl who couldn’t decide.
Early in their relationship, Soso expressed worry that she wasn’t doing queer sex the right way. She was never getting Poussey off; instead letting her do all of the work. Soso said, horribly embarrassed, “Does it bother you?” But Poussey just smiled that Poussey smile and said, “Nah, girl, I’m good.”
Later, when Soso tried to initiate sex with Poussey, Poussey paused to make sure Soso was actually comfortable with what she was about to do. Noticing the uncertainty on Soso’s face and in her body language, Poussey gently said, “We’ll ease into it okay? You don’t have to do anything you don’t wanna do.”
I wish I’d known early on that that was a possibility — that I could be a queer girl nervous about diving into a new world without losing my Queer Card.
I wish I’d known that I didn’t have to follow imaginary guidelines
set forth by the gatekeepers of female queerness, that I was no more or less
queer if I had a lot of sex with other women or zero sex with women, ever.
Queer women are queer because we are. Not because people who take the role of gatekeeper say we’re queer. Not because of our romantic or sexual history. Not because we’re dating or sleeping with or married to someone. Our queerness is a part of us.
We all deserve someone like Poussey — someone who gets it, someone who validates and never questions our identities, to help us enter into the world of queer dating, queer sex, and queer love.