Lea Delaria: Butch Dykes Are Pariahs

Everyone’s favourite butch behind bars on how to deal with homophobia and the secret to “pulling chicks”.




Who doesn’t love Big Boo? We caught up with actress and comedian Lea Delaria to chat about Orange Is New Black and pick up some flirting advice.


DIVA: What do you think makes Orange Is The New Black so popular with queer women?


Lea DeLaria: Because it’s got Laura and Taylor making out all the time.


Good point. But do you think that the show’s helped to change public perceptions of LGBT people?


Of course it has and most especially for trans people and butch dykes. I would say of all the letters in the alphabet that we feel we have to use, which I think is ridiculous, those two are probably the ones that are seeing it most. I’m very grateful that Jenji [Kohan, OITNB’s genius creator] has put a human face through Sophia and Big Boo on trans people and butch dykes.


So why do you think there aren’t more trans and butch characters in TV and film?


They have been there before but they’ve always just been portrayed negatively. Trans women were often played by cis gender men in a wig, which is ridiculous. Butch dykes, even within our own community, are pariahs. Jenji is a champion of the downtrodden. She wanted a trans woman to play a trans woman, period. What I don’t think people realise is that there was no Big Boo in Orange Is The New Black. I remember at the time thinking, “Really? The show’s taking place in a women’s prison and there’s no part for me?” It wasn’t until Jenji saw me that she decided that there needed to be a butch dyke and she wrote the part for me.


Big Boo’s backstory episode, Finger in the Dyke, was awesome.


I love it. I thought it was incredibly well written and touching. Lauren Morelli is one of my favourite writers on the show. She’s fucking hilarious. Finger in the Dyke has some of the best and funniest lines the show’s ever had.


“I refuse to be invisible” and “You were so hot until you were a cunt” spring to mind. How much do you relate to Boo’s experience?


Butch lesbians have a shared life experience and it was all in that episode. I completely and utterly related to it from beginning to end, except that my parents and I weren’t estranged from each other. We loved each other and were very, very close until the day they passed. But of course it couldn’t be that way in Orange. They had to show the norm. And the norm is, in many places, in many countries, that parents tell their kids that God doesn’t love them and they turn them out of the house. It’s horrifying but it’s true. To all the young dykes out there that this has happened to, that are reading this in DIVA, you have to remember that no-one, absolutely no-one, has the right to tell you that God doesn’t love you. They’re not God and they don’t fucking know. Use your strength and remember when people say that to you, you tell them to go fuck themselves. You have my permission.


Thank you, I will. Like Boo, I’ve experienced homophobic harassment in the street. How do you recommend queer women deal with that kind of abuse?


The language of gay people is sarcasm. It’s irony. It’s humour. So when someone comes at me and says stupid things, the first thing I always remember is I’m probably 8000 times smarter than that idiot Neanderthal. Within 30 seconds, not using anything violent, I make that individual look about as stupid as an individual can look because I’m smarter and I’m funnier and I’m faster than 90% of the people out there and almost every queer is. But you have to be careful. Don’t put yourself into any more harm’s way. You have to be an individual who won’t let evil have the last word. You have to look evil in the face and tell it that it’s evil.


I love the flashback scene where Boo goes on the pull in the gay bar. How does your personal seduction technique compare to Boo’s?


I’m very direct and old school and I am very good at pulling chicks. I was long before Orange Is The New Black. I’m sure I will be lo-o-o-o-ong after Orange Is The New Black. There’s nothing like humour. Chicks never see the little fat guy coming. The next thing they know they’re in bed with me and they’re still trying to figure out how the fuck that happened.


Wow. As Lord of the Lesbians, do you have any tips on how to flirt with women?


You actually have to do it. You can’t just sit in the bar all night and look at each other and go, “Gee, I wish somebody would ask me to dance.” Get your ass up and walk over and ask the cute girl to dance. That’s the most important thing. You actually have to talk to them.


I’ll spread the word. You’ve just been in Israel as an ambassador for Tel Aviv Pride. How was that experience?


It was amazing. It was like 200,000 people in Tel Aviv, which I think is a manageable Pride. It hasn’t reached the point where it’s all big floats dedicated to selling Babycham. It’s still a couple of floats, people protesting and dancing in the street. It reminds me very much of what Pride used to be in the late 80s and early 90s. It was the perfect combination of protest and party. And Gay Pride in Tel Aviv is on Friday so you don’t have to go to work the next day. I feel very strongly we should all institute making Gay Pride on Friday and Saturday rather than Sunday.


While you were there you were asked about Israel’s record with queer Palestinians. Did you learn anything during your stay?


I didn’t because I was attacked by leftist extremists. Nobody took the opportunity to have an actual conversation with me. Knee-jerk radicalism is just as bad as knee-jerk Conservatism. If I am pissing off both the ultra Conservative right and the ultra radical politically correct left, then I’m probably doing something right.


On a happier note, congratulations on your engagement to Chelsea [Fairless]. In a previous interview with DIVA you said you’d never get married. What changed?


Me and my Beyonce [I’m pretty sure she means Chelsea], neither one of us believe in marriage. But the reality is if anything should happen we’d be broke because of how the American medical system works. So in many ways our marriage is a protest against American medical and insurance companies. My relationship is not based on the heterosexual idea of a marriage. As our great friend Dan Savage says, I would call us monogamish.


And finally, in three words, describe Season 4.


Dangerous, excruciating and dark. All of us on the show are waiting with bated breath to see how people are going to respond. This season is asking a lot more from the fans than it has in the past.


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