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Orphan Black introduced a transgender clone [SPOILERS]

Orphan Black Tony clone clubI don’t typically like to blog twice in one day, but I gotta talk about this and I don’t want to send off a thousand tweets.

So, this past weekend’s episode of Orphan Black, which is possibly my favorite show right now, introduced a transgender character. If you’re not familiar with Orphan Black, the show revolves around a bunch of clones, all played by Tatiana Maslany. It’s actually quite amazing that she’s able to pull off so many deeply unique characters. Anyway, the newest clone that’s been added to the show is Tony, a transgender man.

To be honest, this kind of came out of nowhere. I don’t think anyone could have predicted there’d be a transgender clone. The moment he appeared on screen, I just kind of thought to myself “oh…no. Don’t do this! No! No! No!” The introduction of a trans character in a show or movie rarely turns out well for us, but I have to admit, they did a reasonably good job so far. I didn’t pick up on anything glaringly problematic, but this is very dangerous territory for the show to be in. The whole thing could go really bad, really quickly. Still, I was impressed that Tony seemed to be a fully fleshed out  person and got the pronouns right, despite, you know, the whole clone thing. (Side note: referring to a trans person as “fully fleshed out feels kind of weird.) He shared a lot of personality with Sarah, the main clone, but was distinctly Tony…whatever that means. They even took a moment to make it clear that he’s his own character when he uttered the words “there’s only one Tony.” And, while the other characters were a little shocked, their shock is rather reasonable considering that he’s a damn clone and all the others clones are women.

My biggest question around Tony, though, is why. Why add a transgender clone, especially when this clone doesn’t seem to add anything to the plot of the show. At the end of the episode, we saw Tony take off as if he was a one-and-done character, but his exit was a bit to quick and clean for Orphan Black. Nothing is ever that simple and no one gets out that easily on this show, so I’m hopeful we’ll be seeing more of him soon.

Typically, the writers of the show are extremely careful when introducing new clones and it’s obvious this isn’t something they take lightly. I’ve even read a few interviews with writers and producers for the show all making the point that they think each clone through and understand how careful they need to be with adding them. So why add Tony? Why a transgender clone? Is it simply for shock value? Any viewer of the show would agree they don’t need to go out of their way to add more shock, they’ve got enough built in. The previous episode alone left my jaw on the floor. So, I’m still a little perplexed as to why a transgender clone. My only guess is that Tony being transgender is meant to expand our idea of just how different all the clones are from each other. Even though they all share the same DNA, they’re extremely unique. This may just be another step in showing how little control the members of Project Leda actually had in the final product (the product being the clones).

Anyway, I hope we see more of Tony. Despite how dangerous of a place this is for them to be, I think it could be really interesting and him being a recurring character would help ease the fears that this was for shock value.

One last thing I want to hit on is that I think they found an extremely rare exception to the idea that trans characters should only be played by trans actors. In this case, Tony has to be played by Tatiana. There’s no other way this works. She plays all the clones and they obviously have to look reasonably like each other. Even after transitioning, there has to be a reasonable amount of likeness. However, I would love to hear a trans man weigh in on this.

5 Comments

  1. As requested, here’s a weigh in from a trans man about a cis woman playing a trans man. Copy and pasted from my excessive tumblr updates about Tony:

    “‘Just another variation in my sister’s skin’: People can feel how they feel about a cis person playing a trans person, but I want to say unequivocally I personally am so, so glad they didn’t get anyone other than Tatiana to play Tony. Can you imagine if they’d used someone else (even a trans actor that looks similar to her?) It would break my heart. It would set me apart as a freak, as different from everyone else, even in this fictional world. None of the cis clones were played by other actors, even though certainly they could have found similar looking women instead of having Tatiana play them all. But they didn’t. And if they made an exception just for Tony it would feel like trans people are just not a part of the collective humanity this show represents.Tony is just as valid a variation, just as likely an outcome as any of the cis clones. He is just as human and just as much a part of this collective humanity as any of the cis clones. Just another variation, and just as much a valid and valued part of clone club as any of the cis clones. I can’t tell you guys how important that is to me. ”

    Hope that’s helpful!

  2. interesting read! I have to say, though, it’s not like I was expecting a trans clone, but, since season 1, I was really really hoping and thinking that there might be one! Tatiana & Jordan had previously hinted at the possibility, if ever so subtly. And it simply just seemed like an amazing idea to me. Tricky and difficult to pull it off, yeah, but amazing. And important.
    The more superficial reasons for that was 1. for a show that does its LGBT characters so well and that makes a point to be officially and seriously invested in queer culture and representation, leaving the T out just seemed wrong (and all-to-symptomatic of intracommunity issues inside the LGBT community, right?), and 2. Tatiana would be amazing.
    But the third and more important reason is: fuck, it MAKES SO MUCH SENSE to have a character who is trans in a show that deals with identity, nature x nurture, epigenetics and ownership over one’s body versus corporate ownership of living organisms. It adds to the theme. It makes things more complex and interesting. That’s the thing the really strikes a chord with me on the matter of having a trans clone in Orphan Black: it’s beautiful not only because I think it’s politically important to have trans characters, but because it serves the story. And let’s be honest, in this day and age, that’s how you do storytelling and minorities representation: serving the story and the character – and not because political correctness says you have to have a queer character on your show (and then you just quickly come up with a stereotypical e/o cishetenormative token queer character). OB writers are just waaaaaaaaaay beyond that, and that’s one of the thing I love the most about this show.

    But that’s the theory, right? With regards to Tony and how they actually did it, my opinion is that they stayed true to good storytelling basics. Tony comes with important information (message for Beth about Paul). Tony brings out new sides of Felix. Tony sparkles debate about how do we actually perceive identity – yeah, he looks like Sarah, but he’s a whole different person, a whole different man, so why do Felix (and we, the viewers) has difficulties handling his obvious feeling of attraction?
    These are just some of the contributions Tony’s character makes to the main story – I’ve read many others -, but what’s important is he was introduced for the same good reasons any other character is introduced in a show – because his qualities and experiences serve the story.
    I really, really don’t think they did it for shock value. But, anyway, that’s how I saw it!

    Ps: Your blog is super cool! I’m so thankful to OB for indirectly giving me the opportunity to get to know smart people online. 🙂

  3. I love and agree with the comment above, I also feel like that by creating so many diverse characters from clones, the writers are insuring us as viewers understand that although they are physical clones, they all have a unique identity and “soul” or whatever you’d call it… Which is constantly being said isn’t true by othe people throughout the show.
    It helps build our connection with the characters 🙂

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