There isn’t much I can say about the pairing of Guiding Light‘s Natalia and Olivia – also known as “Otalia” – that would do it justice.
GL has scored one of its biggest hits in years with a story that is both revolutionary in its components (two women falling in love) and yet as traditional as mom, apple pie and Irna Phillips, with love and family at the forefront of the story.
As a gay man, I blogged a great deal about As The World Turns and their Luke and Noah story. For this story, I definitely wanted to hear someone talk about the story from another perspective – specifically, to hear from someone who’s lived some (or all) of this story.
So I reached out to Destini, a writer, entrepreneur and activist who’s been the catalyst behind the popular online Otalia community Big Purple Dreams.
Destini and I had a lot in common (the fact that we’ve written for LGBT magazines, our shared GL fandom) and had a great conversation. Unfortunately, the audio gods played an awful trick on me and made Destini’s audio portion of our interview inaudible. (And no, I don’t love to hear the sound of my own voice.) Luckily, Destini was kind enough to revisit this topic with me.
NOTE: This is a lengthy interview, so take your time and enjoy!
1000WORLDS: When did you start watching GL? What were some of the earlier stories that you remember – and that you liked? I have actually been a life-long fan of GL, or as close to it as some can get. I started watching in grand soap opera tradition at the knee of my mother and grandmother. When I was old enough to be in school all day my mother dutifully regaled me with recaps after and then finally taped them for me.
I loved Roger/Holly. Maureen/Ed, Lujack, the love story of Beth and Phillip, India and Reva in that fountain is still as vivid to me as if it had happened yesterday. of course I have been an Olivia fan for a very long time as well. She is such a tragic character in my eyes and one I identify with on many levels due to my less than stellar history of broken love affairs. Thankfully all that is over.
1000WORLDS: At what point after Natalia’s introduction did you begin to see the Otalia story start to come together? I noticed their chemistry almost as soon as they appeared on screen together but I had no reason to believe any show would capitalize on such a thing. For me the story really entered my mind when Olivia’s heart began to fail. Both characters seemed to really be focused on each other all the time. Natalia even talked about Olivia on her honeymoon with Gus!
From there it was just noticing little touches; the way Olivia looked at her in many scenes, the care they showed, Natalia’s deep commitment to keeping her alive. They drew me in and kept me there. Being a long time soap fan I also noticed the lack of any men in their orbit and the significance of the holidays and moments they shared. While I was afraid the plot would be dropped I never once believed that they were not developing feelings for each other. October of 2008 I became convinced that was where it was headed and have not wavered since.
1000WORLDS: Give me an overview of all of the things you’re doing with the site (Big Purple Dreams) to create a community around Otalia. While I may have been the catalyst, this site is very much a collaborative effort. Many people followed Mel and I off the cliff when this forum was created.
It’s funny, we never expected it to grow this large in our wildest dreams. the channel (on YouTube) was a selfish thing as I just wanted to watch their scenes repeatedly and though a few others might like that as well.
From there Mel and I began discussing GL on the forum of another show. After a bit of time we realized we should have our own forum but never expected more than a hundred people if that. We were excited when Big Purple Dreams‘ membership hit 200! Now at 1400+ registered members, and growing by the minute, we’ve added a weekly Guiding Light podcast (focusing on the show as a whole as well as the Otalia story) and a new venture, Otalia.net, that will put their relationship in chronological order for those just tuning into the storyline.
Our community is really membership driven. We have a very active letter writing campaign. We have a live play-by-play every day that grows in participation as the show airs across the country, lively discussions about spoilers/speculation and threads for people to discuss their personal stories and how this reflects those as well as touches people. It’s become a giant living room! As the story moved forward we will let the members dictate the need for new features and sections.
1000WORLDS: You mentioned to me that Natalia and Olivia’s slow-building relationship mirrors your story. There are many small parts of the story that mirror my own personal journey to my current state of peace about who I am as a person, in both Olivia and Natalia’s journey. Religion played a big part in my upbringing and I struggled with that for years. Like Olivia, I also attempted suicide when it seemed like I would never find the love I was looking for, would never be enough for someone.
But the current storyline mirrors my partner and I in so many ways it’s scary some times and is achingly hard to watch at others.We were both older when we met and there is a bit of an age difference.My past was a bit jaded and wild, like Olivia’s, although I’d had relationships with both men and women as I struggled with my own identity. My partner was married to a man when we became friends. We met online and developed a friendship. She helped my through some difficult times. As our friendship deepened so did out commitment to each other. Her husband was and is a good man, our own personal Frank you might say, but in the end it was not fair to him to continue as we were.
Honesty can be a hard thing but it cleanses the soul. It was a long journey, and not an easy one, but it also gives me insight into what both of these characters feel which in turn helps me explain it to others who are struggling to understand. My partner and I now live free of labels and have been together for almost 14 years. Our anniversary is actually coming up!
1000WORLDS: Tell me your thoughts about GL’s approach to Otalia – specifically, not labeling the story. GL not labeling the story has been one of the most, if not the most, refreshing and significant parts of this storyline. It gave the audience a chance to invest in the pairing before passing judgement. Powerful.
It also takes away the box that some people like to put things in that make them uncomfortable. It’s easy to “otherize” something that we are unfamiliar with if we box it up and slap a label on it. The gay community itself is also guilty of this. We ourselves, in a need to find commonality, tend to do the same things. We also do it in a need to reclaim hurtful language.
But what of the people from both sides who simply support the story or who are taking those tentative steps in trying to understand LGBT people? Labels can hamper that effort. Labels can also sensationalize something that should not be sensationalized. I myself fit neatly into the lesbian, femme catagory but I have traits assigned as butch and have been with men in the past. What in the world does that make me? Even more odd than I already am? Or could it mean that the term itself is, in fact, limiting?
By telling the story without labels Guiding Light has made it about people, about love, about commonality. Not only is it refreshing but it’s far more ground-breaking than anything I have ever seen before. Talk about shattering stereotypes and challenging people to think outside the box!
1000WORLDS: As someone who’s been involved in the LGBT community, can you talk a bit about how distrustful we may be about media representations – and what the Otalia story’s done right so far?
LGBT fans, especially, have been disappointed before (especially by some of the things that have happened in the ATWT Nuke story, as well as Bianca’s post-coming out stories on AMC.) We are jaded for a reason.
Media representations have been spotty to say the least. Especially on television. We, especially lesbians, usually end up dead, go back to men or serial killers. We are largely left unsatisfied in the outcome of any story, especially when it is over-hyped and sensationalized as they usually are.
The OC, House, ER, Grey’s Anatomy, Bones…all have had lesbian stories that ended in grief. Nuke has become more about being gay then just being. And don’t get me started on Bianca at AMC. The message sent by an annulment request the day after a ground-breaking wedding?
With Otalia GL is in unchartered waters. Uncharted not only for the characters but for LGBT people on television. To my knowledge no same-sex couple has ever been treated with such casual normalness. With Otalia we have been voyeurs to their every interaction with nothing telegraphed, over-sensationalized or treated like a bad “after school special”. Never before has the audience been allowed to see every minute detail in a growing same-sex attraction.
Nothing has happened off screen, nothing has had to be explained in interviews or press. It just is.It’s been a slow, romantic, lush build; the kind I’d come to believe even soaps, once known for such things, had forgotten how to do with any couple regardless of orientation. In doing so GL has already changed hearts and minds. I can’t tell you how much it means to a legion of fans, both gay and straight.
1000WORLDS: What’s your take on the intense response to the story? I think the intense response to the story unfolds on two levels. Soap fans in general who are thrilled at finally seeing a return to the slow-build romance and character driven story-telling; and LGBT fans who are tentatively starting to believe that a show is finally telling our story with dignity, care and truth.
When you combine those two factors you get an explosion of interest and we are seeing that on a massive level right now. I believe this pairing and fandom are on the edge of becoming something never before seen. You can feel the excitement building online and in real life. Our site’s demographics are very interesting. You can’t really say we cater to any one demographic. We have gay, straight and unlabeled people.
We cross all age groups, all gender barriers, all religious and non-religious boundries and have members from all over the world. It’s very exciting and really moving now that people have begun sharing their personal stories. We’re a highly diverse group that are learning from each other and about each other. It’s not just on other boards that minds and hearts are being changed but on our own as well.
1000WORLDS: Creatively, what’s been the best part of the story for you? The most frustrating? The best part for me, as I’ve said before, is telling the story without labels and allowing Olivia and Natalia to be just two people falling slowly in love. The glimpses into their every day lives and the show giving their actors the freedom to interpret the growing feelings has been a joy to watch.Sometimes I pinch myself to make sure I am awake. Crystal and Jessica have taken words on a page and breathed life into them; made this story painfully and joyously real for the audience!
The most frustrating thing to me is also the part the die-hard soap fan inside loves the most! The angst and the slow build. I want them together already! I’ve lost half my hair as well as my voice, from yelling at the screen for them to admit their feelings and kiss already! Other than that, at this point, I have no complaints. Though I do think it is time Frank is phased out of their storyline. This has never been a real triangle for me and I am ready to see them start processing all this together.
1000WORLDS:Do you think the unique ground this story is covering is drawing new fans to the show? To soaps? Oh, I know it’s drawing new fans to GL and soaps in general! Just read our board or the many comments on the mainstream soap sites, After Ellen.com, etc.
Many people are saying they are either coming back to GL after a long absence or tuning into a soap for the first time ever. It’s really amazing, what’s happening.
At Big Purple Dreams (and on the podcast), we try to stress the whole show and we do play-by-play for all days, not just when the Otalia story is on. In this way we have watched people become invested in GL’s other storylines.
As the show improves so does word of mouth. People are not tuning out when Otalia are not on our screens, quite the contrary. I think Otalia will be good for the genre as a whole and not simply GL. Perhaps soaps will finally realize that what we want are well-written stories again, not insta-couples and silly contrivances.
1000WORLDS: What will Otalia fans DO during Jessica’s maternity leave? Do you have any plans to keep the momentum going at Big Purple Dreams during that time? We plan to speculate our brains out about how she will return and what will happen when she does! We love to speculate though we are all often wrong.
There are many ways to keep the momentum going but a lot of what we will decide, as a group, to do will depend on how long Jessica takes off, how much they pre-shoot if at all, how the writers choose to have her leave the canvas and what Olivia’s arc looks like while she’s gone.
I don’t think it will be hard to do as the fans’ passion for Otalia will no doubt remain strong. The podcasts will continue, the blog posts and such will also be there. Not to mention that our members have also become invested in GL as a whole. There is also the fan fiction, which has a life of its own and a way of keeping people involved and engaged. But that’s a can of worms I won’t open here. It’s there if people choose to seek it out.
1000WORLDS: What are your hopes, as a fan, for this story? My ultimate hopes for the story rest in the hands of the writers, as well as Ellen Wheeler, Crystal and Jessica. I trust them at this point, even with my jaded viewers brain, to not abandon this storyline or to treat it with any less dignity and integrity than they have thus far.
What I would like to see it Otalia become GL’s answer to Lauren and Michael on Y&R. The stable couple who are constantly challenged by outside forces and always involved in other people’s lives while maintaining their commitment to each other. Crystal and Jessica have such chemistry and such comic timing that I feel they would be a fun, sexy couple to watch and there are certainly more than enough storylines there to be mined.
They could get married, have a child together, deal with a growing Emma (who is just like her mother) and all with many angst-ridden hurdles along the way; Olivia also has issues and a rich backstory that can be tilled for conflict with Natalia.
Natalia’s backstory is almost a blank slate…lots of ideas there. don’t get me started! GL has the unique opportunity to create something never before seen – a fully fleshed out and realized same-sex super couple. But, if that doesn’t happen I am OK with that too as long as they get some measure of happiness and spend some time as a couple. It’s been a wonderful journey and I’m in it for the long haul, no matter where it leads.
If you’d like more information, check out the Big Purple Dreams forum or tune into the Big Purple Dreams podcast channel. You can also check out the Otalia channel on YouTube, and the Otalia.net site, which offers synopses of past and current episodes.
AND A POSTSCRIPT: I asked Destini where the title “Big Purple Dreams” came from. She shared this with me: “Big Purple Dreams comes from the New Years Eve episode where Emma talks about staying up to see the new year in with Nat and Liv. She says you need to see it come so you can decide what kind of dreams to have. Emma says she wants to dream purple dreams. Olivia then responds that they will all dream purple dreams and make them big.”