GL: Otalia & Personal Introspection

Up until now, pretty much anything I’ve posted with regards to Guiding Light has been pretty superficial, and more light-hearted. The fact that the story is being portrayed by two beautiful, and very talented women (Crystal Chappell & Jessica Leccia) is a bonus.

Until now. I’ve started and stopped writing this post a few times now, because it’s something that’s become a whole lot more personal. Never before has a storyline on ANY television show or film had so much that I’ve identified with on such a personal level. I joined the Big Purple Dreams fan forum back the early part of February. It’s been such an amazing board with such a wide diversity of backgrounds yet overall focused on the same goal: to see the relationship of Olivia Spencer and Natalia Rivera come to fruition. It’s been a long time coming.

For those who have never watched a soap opera, or this one in particular, this storyline is groundbreaking on many levels.

  • The Writing & Production. More than a year ago now, in order to save the series with cost-reduction, CBS and Guiding Light went with a new production model, which saw them shooting more with handcams and more on-location shots, filming in Peapack, New Jersey. While it took some time to adapt and adjust to the new model, the filming is tighter and more intimate in its style and direction. The writing for the series is much more character-driven than plot driven, such as seen in much of the genre.
  • Length of time building up the relationship. Ladies and gents, this storyline has been in the works for more than a year now. The actresses were brought the idea by Ellen Wheeler (Executive Producer) and Jill Lorie Hurst (Head Writer) back in January 2008. That the powers that be saw the chemistry between the two actresses and have capitalized on it, is both brilliant and something many people had hoped for but never thought would have happened. Since that time, the story built on a very grudging acknowledgement of an acquaintanceship, to a friendship, and now to something more.
  • A story told without labels. Unlike many stories in the past on various shows, including All My Children’s Bianca, Guiding Light has developed this storyline without the labels of ‘gay, lesbian, bisexual.’ It’s been a gradual love story built between two people, who both happen to be women. And unlike AMC’s heavy media promotion of their lesbian storylines for Bianca, whether it be with Lena, Maggie or Reece, GL has until recently avoided that promotion and labelling because it takes away from the telling of the story. I’ve watched AMC in the past over the years and have seen the treatment of Bianca, which overall hasn’t been very positive. GL’s treatment of Olivia and Natalia has been overwhelmingly positive, and while angst-worthy at times, has been brilliantly written and performed. This is a story of two women, for whom their past has been relationships with men – for Olivia, several men; for Natalia, basically one man for whom she loved most of her life – and now they’ve found themselves to be attracted to each other, and not sure how to proceed. Fear of the unknown, and uncertainty in the defining of themselves. To briefly go off-topic, I’m reminded of the scene in the NBC television series, ER, wherein Kerry Weaver asks Abby Lockhart who she’ll be once she has her hip replacement surgery. She’d lived her whole life up until then as someone who’s lived with a physical disability [congenital hip displasia], that it’s been a part of her identity. Without that being part of her upcoming daily life, she questions who she’ll be, what it will mean for her. Now, to return to Guiding Light, both Natalia and Olivia are facing identity defining moments. Does this mean they’re just attracted to each other, or women in general, and how do their pasts reconcile with their present circumstances, and how will it affect their family.
  • Honesty & Integrity. This is a big one for me. And part of why I’ve become such invested in both the storyline and the series as a whole. The story of Olivia and Natalia is rich with nuance and believability because there are a lot of people, like myself, who identify with aspects of the characters and the overall story. We’ve been there (or are presently there) at various stages of this story. In many ways, it’s been overwhelming at times.

    Now, I’ve been an out lesbian for about 12-13 years. Quite a few folks in my family (incl. extended family), friends, and majority of my co-workers know this about me. I don’t hide it, but I don’t broadcast it either. I’ve had a couple girlfriends in the past, but in general have been single for quite a while.

    I didn’t figure out (or at least identify to myself) that I was gay until I was 23. Though I knew things were different as I hit puberty and had no interest in the boys at school, but rather had developed crushes on some of the girls. Crushes that I had no idea what to do with. I had no frame of reference. I grew up going through a Catholic school system, which did not exactly lend itself to being particularly diverse, even if at at the time I would have been open to that. Even in my first few years at university, when I started to get some more exposure to other than ‘norm’ (acquaintances at the university newspaper were gay guys). I started to question things about myself. Things started to ‘click’ as it were. I spent the next few years going through this process. And at the same time, questioning the religious aspect of things. As I did, I realised that I’m more of a spiritual person, not so much religious. Questioning dogma of the Church, and how that related to me, and who I loved (though at the time I wasn’t involved with anyone). I find peace in the natural environment, particularly around water and fire. An odd counterbalance, but both with a pull on my heart and on balancing my inner self.

    In the character of Natalia, who has been shown to be quite religious and finding a lot of solace in her belief in God, to now finding herself attracted to Olivia, I can relate to. And I don’t think she’s as naive as she sometimes seems. I think she’s much more aware of what’s going on around her, but she’s not completely sure how to deal with those developments. In one scene, she’s looking through her Bible trying to find answers to questions about how she’s feeling, and when Josh comes back into the room, she says she just keeps coming up with more questions. Why does she feel the way she does (about Olivia).

    With Olivia, I think her moment of realisation of ‘something more’ came immediately following her daughter’s ‘My Two Mommies’ school presentation. Not so much in the initial discussion post, but once she kissed Natalia to prove a point (of what the other parents thought of them), and Natalia’s response – ‘Why did you kiss me like that?’. I think if Natalia had left it with ‘Why did you kiss me?’ it might have resulted in a different toned response from Olivia, but the ‘like that’, reeled Olivia. Part of it was to prove a point (that the other parents presumed Olivia and Natalia to already BE a couple), but there was definitely something of a passionate spark to that brief kiss that ‘woke’ something for Olivia. She started to examine their friendship in a new light. She’s also known that in the time that they’ve been together as friends, moved in the farmhouse to help each other out, and raise Emma (Olivia’s eight year old daughter), that they balance each other. Olivia encourages Natalia to be more outgoing, focus on her strengths and build on them, particularly in the business part of their partnership, while Natalia often serves as an emotional balance for Olivia. She can calm Olivia down when she’s upset, and bring her back to a level of rational thinking (especially if her daughter is even potentially threatened). Olivia has been seen to have realised her feelings for Natalia much sooner than we’ve seen in the reverse, and we’ve seen the heartache of her assumed unrequited love. With painfully angsty moments. This I understand ALL too well. Butterflies and everything.

    I’ve had my moments when I’ve fallen in love with close friends. And I’ve known it’s been one-sided. I’ve been there. More than once. Sometimes I still am, so those feelings that are being shown by Olivia are so real they’re painful at times to watch. Because I know those feelings. I have those feelings. Sometimes another’s physical presence is downright overwhelming but you need it all the same. You need the hugs, you need the comfort, even if you can’t verbalise what it is you’re feeling, and you don’t know what or how much the other person feels. It’s tangible. And scary as hell. Terrifying at times. Afraid of overstepping boundaries. Stepping out into an abyss. Afraid of rejection. Afraid of screwing up friendships, with someone who means the world to you. To see those emotions and that story being played out on television with the integrity, honesty and courage that has been displayed thus far, means so much to me. I can’t say enough positive things about the actresses portraying this storyline and the powers that be for developing it. That they’ve supported it and embraced it is very meaningful. If by the time you’ve finished this post, and feel compelled to watch the series, and want to find some video background on their storyline, the BPD board has a link to the background on YouTube. There is also the Otaliafan Channel at YouTube.

    There’s a wonderful banner created by one of the members of the Big Purple Dreams fan forum, ces1982, that beautifully captures the feelings and the emotions shared by the characters, myself, and many others on that board. To explore those feelings on the forum has been a godsend at times, even if for the most time it’s just reading through other people’s [real life] stories. Cathartic and supportive at the same time.

    I debated posting this here in my LiveJournal, simply because it’s more ‘public’ than the BPD forum – though I suspect that with more than 1600 members on the board, there’s more people that might read my posts there than here, ‘public’ is a relative term. The point of the matter in posting it to LJ as opposed to the board is that it is more exposed to the general public. And whether I decide to ultimately keep the post as ‘friends only’ or leave it public, is something I’ll figure out as I go.

    And now I’m imbibing the last of a bottle of mead (it’s taken me a while to drink it [i.e. over months, not hours]). The bottle’s held out this long because I can no longer get it here. I have to wait to see if I can find some more when I go home to Newfoundland in May.

    To love in all its forms, terrifying and wonderful.

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  • About jlynnstapleton

    I'm a Licensed Practical Nurse, photographer and writer. My focus in photography has been primarily landscapes, particularly water based images, both in colour and black and white. I love to travel when I can and sometimes find some unique treasures to photograph. I also enjoy writing these blogs and doing interviews when I can. I'm the oldest of three siblings. I grew up in St. John's, Newfoundland [Canada]. I came out as a lesbian when I was twenty-one, and fortunately I've had a supportive family, and friends.
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