Why Big Boo’s Character is One Huge Lesbophobic Mess
So I promised a text post about this, and just fyi it contains a few spoilers specifically about Big Boo’s character. I’m only done with episode 6, so any spoilers will be from before episode 7.
First, I think I should establish that her character is a collection of all of the worst lebophobic tropes about lesbians broadly and butches in particular. She objectifies other women at every move, making repeated inappropriate sexual comments at other women who have given no indication to her that they are okay with that. She is cruel/mean/rude/nasty and often covers it with charm, as she did when she interrupted Dogget’s mourning of her own aborted fetuses to tel her, “They would have just grown up to be white trash like you!” She turns on the people close to her (including Red) for no reason, like any proper “bitch” character. Big Boo is a woman with no love and sisterhood for other women, but a mean, nasty person who seems to enjoy hurting people for next to no reason.
This is enough in and of itself to tip us off that her character is less a genuine human being with thoughts and feelings of her own, and more a hodgepodge of lesbophobic and misogynist tropes into a butch character. But her basckstory as we get it in 3.04 drives this home, by leaving the viewer with one message and one message only: Big Boo is a terrible person solely because of her butchness and by extension her lesbianism. These backstories have formal functions within the show, as they do within all pieces of media. The function of the flashback on OITNB is to tell as the why of a character- this is why Nicki did heroin, this is why this character seems angry but really isn’t. Boo’s flashbacks begin with a single scene many butches (myself included) can relate to- a young Boo being forced to make herself more feminine to appease others, by parents who seem more or less fully aware of her gender nonconformity. Like Nicki’s flashback to an early Mother’s Day, this first flashblack serves the function of telling us, “This is the seed from which this character grew.” The essence of Nicki’s wrongdoing (I would not say that drug abuse is a moral failure but I’m talking in terms of tropes here) is external- her problems often can be traced back to her mother. Big Boo’s is internal, and tied inextricably to her butchness.
This is bad enough, again. But the next flashbacks we get of Big Boo all include her own (valid) struggles with her butchness and living in the world as a visible lesbian. In one especially cringeworthy scene we see Boo attack a homophobe on her way home with a young femme who then tells Boo that the homophobe only bothered her because she is the “poster child for all things butch.” Firstly, the scene positions femmes as helpless, foolish women who don’t know anything about homophobia, poor fools being dragged along by terrifying and mean butches. Secondly, again this lesbian character is presented as a trope and not a real character. In what world does a woman obviously attracted to Boo’s butchness (this woman is literally about to have sex with her!!!) turn on her when she’s yelled at by a homophobe rather than comfort her? Not a world I’ve ever lived in, and certainly not one that any of the femme friends I have live in. The problem in the scene, as presented through the eyes of another lesbian so as to remove the actual writers of culpability even as they write a clunky, unreasonable scene, isn’t the homophobe. It isn’t the femme woman who is apparently ashamed of Boo, even as she’s headed back to her apartment. It’s Boo, and her very reasonable rage at a homophobe is positioned by the show as a terrible disgusting butch lashing out again. Again, when Boo is facing the prospect of her mother dying, the problem presented in the flashback isn’t her mother’s impending death, isn’t her mother’s massive homophobia, it is Boo! It is just the fact that Boo is butch!
There is absolutely no explanation given for the reason Boo is so manipulative and cruel, especially to other women, except….well she’s butch! She’s a bad person because that’s just what being a big tough bulldyke did to her! And the implication for women like me who have to live in a world where there are none of us on the screen or in popular books, is that inevitably people who watch these representations of butches generalize this onto the rest of us. I don’t think Boo is a bad character actually- I don’t think she’s a character at all, and is instead a big mess of tropes tossed together. throughmotion I promised to tag you in this so here it is!