herters

It has a lot to do with female agency and who owns your body. I’m Canadian and I live in the States now, and it’s fascinating to see social and political conversations about who can get married, who owns your body, reproductive rights. We’re raising those questions in really provocative ways. [The show] is not about giving you the answers. I don’t think anybody has them. It’s about who has the right to ask those questions and who regulates how they get answered. So it’s about agency on all these different kinds of levels.
— 

Cosima Herter, Orphan Black science consultant and actual genius, on patenting themes on the show and in real life (x)

Already a given, but this woman is BRILLIANT!

Just a few examples of why the Orphan Black cast and crew are so important when it comes to sexuality:

“We like to be reductive in life, sometimes. I don’t know why? It’s a social construct, social trend, whatever you want to call it? But we reduce people down to things like sexuality, their diseases like cancer, or MS, or their race, or their sex, or their gender, or whether or not…they like Game of Thrones? But that is not who people are. People are complex, as we say in the show, people are diverse and there are much more interesting things to you than your sexuality” - Jordan Gavaris.  

“I did a lot of research and it’s a subject that’s really important to me…it just means a lot to me that we could tell that story. And you know, I’m not a trans actor so is there a political sort of situation there and it’s not the most ideal, but what our show does is it explores identity…the best thing for me was when we heard the response to Tony - which was very polarized. But the best thing about it is it opens up a debate, and it opens up a discussion, and it makes the subject relevant and important and present in people’s thoughts, regardless of how they felt about Tony, whether they felt represented, whether they didn’t understand—whatever it is, these stories need to be told and we need to talk about trans stories and we need to have them represented to the point where it’s just, it’s just a given and it’s not exceptional anymore and trans actors get to step up and play these parts as well in the same way cisgender people have been doing it for a while” - Tatiana Maslany. 

Delphine, a conflicted straight girl, gives our thesis on sexuality in episode eight, when she says ”… as a scientist I know that sexuality is a spectrum, but social biases codify sexual attraction, contrary to the biological facts.“ So, yes, the biological facts: People are definitely “born this way.” That’s the nature side, whether it’s genetic, or epigenetic, or whether womb chemistry plays a part. Okay, then how about the nurture side of things?…She [Cosima] learned to approach sexuality without shame, with curiosity. I think Cosima’s been “bisexual” (if you had to codify it), but maybe she’s ready to self-identify as gay. She would defend her freedom to choose, no matter where nature placed her in the spectrum. And Delphine too makes a choice to follow her heart for an individual, even though she’s always been “straight…So, sexuality is a spectrum of many factors, and even though we’re a show about clones, we celebrate individuality and the crazy contingencies of nature” - Graeme Manson. 

“What I like about this duo is not the fact that they’re two ladies in love with each other - that’s not the problem and that’s so cool” - Evelyne Brochu. 

“John and Graeme had mentioned to me early on that Cosima was bisexual, and I could feel it in the writing even when it wasn’t explicit. I feel like she identifies as bisexual, and very much understands her sexuality as a spectrum from a scientific viewpoint. I think Cosima just loves people. I think she feels love for a lot of different kinds of people” - Tatiana Maslany.

“As far as the same sex relationship goes, I don’t feel pressure from the fans…I feel a tremendous amount of support and I think that the awesome thing about the show, is that we speak to that community in a way that’s not like ‘this is what a gay relationship is like’. This is what any relationship is like and I think it makes it very normal and very, you know, ‘unspeacial’ in a way because I think sometimes we can - we try to get it right, we try to represent all of queer culture in one relationship or in one character…I think Jordan’s discussed that before - this sort of need to represent all of queer culture in one character but that’s not what we expect of straight characters, you know? We don’t expect them to be everything to everybody. We allow them to have their complexities, so why not the same of a gay relationship or a lesbian relationship? So, it’s super dear to my heart and makes me really proud of the show that we’ve spoke to that community and in a way that’s complex and in a way that allows for faults and allows for…you know, Cosima’s not necessarily the smartest person on the planet. She’s intellectually incredibly smart but emotionally and sort of socially, she…has the wool pulled over her eyes…but to give her that kind of complexity is really important. Yeah, it’s really important to me” - Tatiana Maslany. 

“She’s not making a huge parade out of it she’s just, like being ‘yeah, this is what it is” - Evelyne Brochu. 

“I think the two of them are…absolutely in love with each other. They stimulate each other emotionally, physically, mentally, intellectually, everything. And yet the only thing that separates them is the fact they’re on two different sides of the equation. And that grey area is where they exist and I think that’s what’s so exciting about their relationship and sort of relatable” - Tatiana Maslany. 

“I’m really proud to play a gay character whose main problem is not that she’s gay - which it shouldn’t be for anyone. So, I’m really proud of that” - Evelyne Brochu. 

“You cannot collectively as a society, decide that you are only going to represent one part of a minority. It’s like saying you’ve represented black people on television because you air an episode of The Cosby’s - that is not true. Just like you cannot put an episode of Modern Family on and say that you’ve represented the LGBT community. That’s unfair. That’s exclusionary. And it’s irresponsible” - Jordan Gavaris. 

“Human sexuality, for example, is as much a biological characteristic as it is a political institution. It is a lighting rod for controversy, and the subject of an increasing number of contentious, yet politically efficacious, scientific studies. Civil liberties, human rights, access to health care, basic respect and human dignity, and freedom from prejudicial violence are at stake. But, insofar as sexuality has a genetic component (like all biological characteristics) it is not so simply explained by genetics alone. Moreover, it is not regulated by any one single gene. Despite how studies on the genetics of sexuality are represented in the popular press that either decry or redeem the genetic basis of sexual orientation, none of the research to date that espouses to have found the “gay-gene” (or, more recently the “male-loving gene”) are actually supported by a claim that one gene, and one gene alone, determines sexual orientation. Sexuality is complex, both as a biological component and a political identity. Our genes do not define who we are, and while certain genes may indeed be present, they may or may not be expressed depending on a whole spectrum of environmental and biological circumstances. The reductionism of either ‘nature’ or ‘nurture’ is far from adequate to explain sexuality. The “Brief on Sexual Orientation and Genetic Determinism” published by the Council for Responsible Genetics offers a sensitive and cogent discussion of this issue: “The social urgency to answer questions regarding sexual orientation has pushed a greater interest in the “science” of it. Yet a narrow focus on the variability of sexual expression threatens to cloud the issue altogether. Without giving proper attention to the mutability of human sexual expression, questions regarding its origins and character cannot be answered.” [1] Neither genetics, nor sociological and psychological studies, alone can answer the questions we ask about the origins of human sexuality. By no means am I attempting to position myself as an authority on this subject. I sincerely do not know how much of a role my genetics, my familial, social, physical environment, or my choices play in the configuration of my sexuality. But it’s important not endow either genetic or social science with an epistemic reach into the truths about ourselves that they simply do not have (and that most geneticists would not grant themselves). All manner of factors affect the expression of genetically coded traits like height, hair color, and disease, just as much as they affect the expression of sexuality. Genes are no more the final arbiter of my sexual and romantic relationships than my moon and Venus in Aquarius” - Cosima Herter - The 'Real’ Cosima.

“Because I play this character in such a modern proposal, many young lesbians write to thank me…it gives them the courage to tell their parents, to assert themselves at school. If Delphine can inspire these young girls to have courage in their own lives [and] to be themselves, good! It brings me a great degree of pride to participate in something which is good for the world” - Evelyne Brochu 

“The cool thing about our relationship is that the issue is not that we’re gay. It’s that we’re sitting on opposite sides of the science fence. I’m a scientist and so is she. But she’s also the experiment. She’s sick. That’s what we’re concerned with and that’s a super angle. I’m proud to be apart of a show that has these cool, modern, forward-thinking values” - Evelyne Brochu 

“Yes, you can be born like that…[but] all of these things come together to shape your sexuality, and it’s vastly complicated, and why not allow it to be slightly mysterious?” - Graeme Manson

“It’s not about questioning your sexuality or not questioning your sexuality — it’s about finding your person.” - John Fawcett

"Here we are, creating fiction and I’m working and doing what I’m passionate about and I’m very blessed but I’m aware also that it’s not reality; that it’s created. But I think, when it does have an impact on somebody’s reality, then that makes it extra special. I’ve had a couple of letters from young lesbians that told me that seeing these characters that are gay but have, you know, many other issues to deal with, and being a lesbian is not one of them and finding that so refreshing and so helpful in their lives, that it gave them, perhaps, courage to come out at school or to their parents; knowing how in different contexts, different situations and places it can be a hard thing and it’s so hard to be yourself at any age and it’s even harder at a young age. So, when you have somebody in high school and sort of pouring their hearts out onto these letters an you get them at home and that comes out of you participating in a show, it’s just so…[chokes up], I’m sorry…it really moves me…It’s huge, it’s huge and I’m so proud to be apart of that. So proud.” - Evelyne Brochu

In the same way that identical twins (which are essentially clones, albeit ones split from the same fertilized egg which develop together in the womb) are not actually identical, neither would genetically engineered clones be exact replicas of each other—physically or psychologically. That human clones could be designed to share the same genes (with or without any other kind of engineered interference in hopes towards producing particular traits) does not, in any way, determine that they would become the “same” person. Cloning in and of itself does not produce interchangeable identities. If I were to meet a genetically cloned copy of myself, she’d be no more a perfect Xerox copy of me than the fictional Cosima Niehaus is.
—  Orphan Black series science consultant Cosima Herter, A Brief History of Cloning (x)

Although she’s an atheist, Herter is especially critical of the science-religion duality that’s emerged in Western culture. “That they are somehow two different magisterial domains that can’t cross each other is just so fundamentally untrue.” Many early scientific practices emerged from religion, and even now “many, many scientists also have deep-seated beliefs, right? Some things they are driven to look for and to contemplate and investigate come out of these kinds of questions, like ‘what does it mean to be you?” She understands the issues, “especially as somebody who is not religious, who is very much an atheist. At the end of the day I will put my faith in science more than I will put my faith in god, but I will also recognize that it doesn’t have all the answers.”

Religion has, as its critics say, wrought intolerance and violence, but “we are equally and often as oppressed and exploited and done violence to by science. We forget that anything that we give explicit and uncontrollable authority to has a power to be oppressive and violent and is often used for these purposes. Science is not neutral and we endow it with authority by calling something that is science neutral because then you give it a power to be whatever anybody wants it to be. You’ve invested it with its own supernatural status.”

I agreed. “The thing that fascinates me as a complete layperson about science,” I said, “is that the moment a scientific concept turns out to be untrue, it is no longer science. So science has a built-in way of sidestepping accountability for mistakes made in its name.”

She noted the tension between science as “a set of methodologies that we practice” and science as an epistemological framework…

One of my favorite parts of the conversation(s) I had with Cosima Herter, orphanblack​’s super-smart science advisor. 

The Unexpected really has a way of screwing with your sense of direction. Like, for example, that time I was shocked to encounter a strange man, in the middle of the tundra, carrying a shovel and pail, who was prospecting for diamonds; he just seemed to appear out of nowhere. After that chance meeting I left my job, and spent the following 6 years in diamond exploration camps all over the arctic. And then there was that time I came home to find my house burning down, and Graeme was kind enough to put me up in his home for several months. It was then, on his front porch late one night that the first Clone Conversation happened between us. Quite literally, out of the ashes of a totally unpredictable event was born a most gloriously unexpected collaborative opportunity for me, with some of the most remarkable and brave people I know.
There be monsters here, indeed.
—  Cosima Herter, Science Consultant. The Hive Recap: By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried [ X ]
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Meet Cosima Herter, Orphan Black science consultant and the real inspiration for clone Cosima!

“Real Cosima helps us with the science and the larger picture of where the science fits into society…” - Graeme Manson (x)

For an extended Q&A with Cosima Herter, click HERE.

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Choosing to have Cosima undergo what might be a near-death experience, and subsequent recovery, was one way of adding complexity to a character who is ostensibly the most hard-boiled empiricist of all the Leda clones. Like all of the Clones, Cosima goes through her own personal transformations as she is continually confronted with the strange and dangerous history of her genesis, and ultimately with the inevitability of her death. Insofar as she is not reducible to her sexuality, neither is she reducible to the one-dimensionality of only being a robotically objective scientist. 

So having Cosima take a pause and step back from her belief that hard science is the only method of revealing the mysteries of life and existence more generally allows us to take seriously the question of whether there is more to our existence than mere biochemical configurations. 

- Unexplained Phenomena, from Orphan Black science consultant Cosima Herter (x)

Look, that kind of dichotomy, that essentialism, that it’s either nature or it’s nurture, it’s inadequate to explain, right? So we have this idea that if it’s in your genes, it’s determined. This is the way that you are. First of all, we only have a limited understanding…Well, nurture matters! Your environment does matter. But your environment is more than your social environment. You know, there’s the environment, uh, your physical environment, your environment as you’re developing in utero, there’s all kinds of things. Environment is everything that is not your genetics, right? And nothing is written in stone. So simply because something is in your DNA, doesn’t necessarily determine that it will be expressed, right? So there’s lots of different factors. And i think it’s really important that people understand that. You reduce it to either one or the other, either your genes, or either your environment, but it’s a complex interaction between those things.
—  Cosima Herter, Orphan Black science consultant (x)
When I look at Cosima Niehaus I see a number of different things: I see this amazing female character, with all her quirkiness, curiosity, tenderness of heart, fortitude, and driven commitment to ferreting out the “truth” of whatever issue is put in front of her. And those are characteristics that I admire, so of course I’d like to think that I embody them too, but in my life they’re certainly not motivated by a do-or-die kind of necessity as they are in the Orphan Black universe.
—  Cosima Herter (aka The Real Cosima) answers Tumblr #CloneClub questions (x)