Is Stella the new Shane? The World’s New Obsession with “OITNB” star Ruby Rose

Australia’s hottest new export has officially become an internet sensation. Since Season 3 of Orange is the New Black hit Netflix last Thursday, model/DJ/actress Ruby Rose is unavoidable on the internet. BuzzFeed alone has posted four articles dedicated to Ruby in just two days. Vogue has an entire piece dedicated to her Instagram photos with dogs. And you can’t log-in to any social media without seeing her photo next to a woman crush Wednesday hashtag. Even models Gigi Hadid and Karrueche Tran confessed her newfound feelings.

But it’s not like we didn’t know this was coming. Ruby has been a personality in Australia for several years, and out since she was a teenager. AfterEllen has been writing about her career for the last seven years, and while a lot has changed for Ruby (who was discovered originally as a teen model and is now 29), she is now a part of mainstream pop culture like she wasn’t before. She’s now got the kind of fame being on a hit TV show will provide you with, and it doesn’t hurt that she is especially aesthetically attractive.

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It might feel like a long time ago that The L Word was on air, but from 2004-2009, there was a similar reaction to Kate Moennig‘s character, Shane. Androgynous and thin with a penchant for low-slung pants, shaggy hair above the shoulders and a masculine heir, Shane was the one confusing straight women who were tuning in to the Showtime lesbian drama. And on the show, Shane was the kind of lesbian who wooed women into bicuriosity, including married women with husbands and a set of three sisters and their mother.

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On Orange is the New Black, Stella isn’t turning anyone. Instead, she’s focused on flirting with bisexual Piper. And in prison, she can’t help but wear the same brown jumpsuit given every inmate, so outside of seeing her in the tattooed flesh after a shower in a later episode, the appeal comes from something that is not just her pleasing face or Australian accent; it’s something more that she seems to share with other gender-bending women who have, in the past, been referred to as someone a not-gay woman might just go for. (See: Jackie Warner.)

“I am genuinely floored by the reaction from the public towards Stella and my role in OITNB,” Ruby told me. “It is a real spin out and not at all what I anticipated. I’m in awe of what that means on a larger scale. Why Stella? Why now? The media, hand-in-hand with some truly inspiring individuals is carving a new path of what gender means and more to the point what beauty is.”

Ruby identifies as gender fluid, and attributes to lack of rigidity to why so many women seem to have grabbed ahold of her despite Orange‘s many other queer characters, including Alex Vause, Poussey and Big Boo.

“Stella is gender-neutral which I’m not sure we have seen much of on TV,” Ruby said. “With myself and others like Miley [Cyrus], Tyler Ford publicly identifying as gender neutral or gender fluid the door has opened on this issue and people are excited by it.”

Celebrity Sightings In New York City - June 12, 2015

And while she’s flattered by the attention, Ruby said she is more excited about the idea that the gender binary is being challenged, and through that ultimately, so is sexual identity.

“The only reason I care about that is because it is giving people a new type of person to relate to that they may not have had before,” Ruby said. “We all look for parts of ourselves in other people so we don’t feel alone. So having gay, trans, asexual, gender fluid role models and characters on TV and film is very important.” 

Gender fluidity and sexual fluidity are different things but related when it comes to the idea of what and who we are, and what and who we are attracted to. Yet there’s also something to be said about how Stella is more of a fascination for straight women then Lea DeLaria‘s Big Boo, who is (on-screen and off) a butch lesbian. Is Stella’s straddling of the line perhaps less scary for “straight” women? Or is it simply that Ruby (who is, after-all, a model and face of Maybelline) is also a taut, gorgeous woman who can femme it up like the best of them while also pulling off a backwards cap with dropcrotch pants and a pair of sneakers?

Queer women are not immune to the mainstream ideals of beauty, which is something we’ve also seen as of late with Caitlyn Jenner‘s transition and Vanity Fair cover. Judging a woman based on her looks is an unfortunate part of the patriarchal system we’ve been born into, but one we don’t have to perpetuate. At the same time, attraction is not always based in that kind of misogyny, and if someone finds herself attracted to a woman for the first time, and that woman is Kate Moennig or Ruby Rose, it signifies a kind of sea change when they are not afraid to talk about it publicly or even admit it to themselves. Being out about even the smallest of sexual curiosities could mean we’re making strides toward less judgment of who we find appealing.

"Orangecon" Fan Event

“The support and fandom of Laverne as an actor, a role model and a beautiful woman who is advocating for human rights is exactly how it should be,” Ruby said. “The huge reception and applause to Caitlyn to celebrate her freedom and to live the rest of her life as her true self—these are all giant steps that were long over due. As for all the attention I’m personally getting, well, it’s kind of—I don’t know what my life is right now. What is happening?! Just wow.”

The term “girl crush” or suggestion that a straight woman would “go gay” for a specific person can be frustrating for queer women who continue to prove themselves within a society that often tells us we haven’t met the right man yet. But the truth is that women, especially, are not stuck in their sexual orientation and it’s quite possibly a television character with the right amount of charm and swagger can stir up some new feelings for them. As real women, though, some of us (read: a lot of us) have been that “girl crush” before, and it doesn’t always end well. Sometimes being an exception to a rule can feel dehumanizing or ultimately create a situation that has us wondering why we weren’t enough to be a full-on crush or, better yet, someone’s girlfriend. 

There’s also the idea that some lesbians have about androgynous women. As someone who dates butch women, I’ve been asked several times why, “if I’m a lesbian, I don’t date someone who looks like a girl?” The assumption that by dating someone who presents more masculine than feminine I’m anyhow less gay or am secretly looking to date men is ignoring something we hold to be true about sexuality: We are attracted to the person as an individual, not as a pair of genitals or one individual characteristic they happen to hold. It’s about so much more than whether they have short or long hair, or prefer dresses to pants or pink to blue. We may be drawn to a certain “type” of person, but even then, that one relationship shouldn’t identify us unless we want it to. We are so much more multi-faceted than who we want to have sex with, and if a woman who dates men is suddenly feeling warmth in her loins after seeing Ruby’s face on Netflix, maybe it will mean something different for her identity. And maybe it won’t.

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We’re all looking to be taken seriously; respected for our identities and our relationships and hoping those who continue to deny us that will eventually catch up. So maybe it feels a little bit like a joke when a queer woman we know is chosen as a representation of something other than an out and proud human we are happy to have speaking about being a part of the community, while also on a hit show. Perhaps we can start to see the good in the visibility that the “Ruby Rose” phenomenon has created, and continued conversation that will happen around gender and sexuality, thanks in part to Orange is the New Black and its LGBT-inclusive storytelling and casting.

Ruby’s just happy there’s room for another androgynous queer female character for viewers to fall for. 

“I’m not the new Shane. There will never be a new Shane. It’s SHANE!” Ruby said. “But there doesn’t need to be a new Shane. There is room for a Stella and Shane.”