Lana Winters of “American Horror Story” and The Issues of the 60s’ Homosexuality, Abortion, and Adoption

By Zofia Wijaszka

This article contains spoilers to “American Horror Story: Asylum.”

In pop culture, especially in film and television discourse, we meet characters that mean a lot to us. They have an immense power to shape and shift our minds and, often, change our views. We look up to them and cheer them on in their struggles presented in a film or a series. 

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Sarah Paulson in “American Horror Story: Asylum” |source: FX Networks

That character for me is Lana Winters portrayed by outstanding Sarah Paulson. The character is many things – a famous journalist, a lesbian, and a fearless woman introduced in the second season of “American Horror Story: Asylum.” The spectators have a chance to meet her when Lana is a thirty-something reporter who dreams of interviewing Bloody Face – an infamous murderer who kills people and tears their skin off. After finding out that he’s being transferred to Briarcliff Manor, a gloomy asylum for clinically insane, she immediately follows. That is the worst decision that Lana could make. After appearing in Briarcliff in 1964, she doesn’t escape this dysfunctional place for a long time. 

The well-crafted character created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk is incredibly complex, multidimensional, and meticulously layered. The creators of “American Horror Story” are well-known from their amazing skills of creating complex characters that often respond to contemporary society. Lana is one of them. In my latest interview with Sarah Paulson for AwardsWatch, the actress once again confirmed that her three most treasured roles are Marcia Clark from “American Crime Story,” Mildred Ratched from the upcoming “Ratched,” and Lana Winters. 

The well-crafted character created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk is incredibly complex, multidimensional, and  meticulously layered. The creators of “American Horror Story” are well-known from their amazing skills of creating complex characters that often respond to contemporary society.

The role of the journalist that Paulson portrays creates a threat to the Briarcliff, much mismanaged by Sister Jude Martin (Jessica Lange). Lana is locked away with the murderers, rapists, and truly clinically mad in fear of exposing an insane asylum and their “unholy” practices. What makes it even worse for the woman is the fact that she’s a lesbian and lives with her long-time partner, Wendy Peyser (Clea DuVall.) When Sister Jude finds discover the truth about her sexuality, Lana is subjected to numerous “medical procedures” that disagree with ethics.

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Sarah Paulson in “American Horror Story: Asylum” |source: FX Networks

The topic of Lana’s homosexuality is a big part of “Asylum” and a highly up-to-date subject. As the season progresses, the viewers must experience Lana’s “treatment” of homosexually by aversion therapy. It’s intended to rid the patient of a bad habit by identifying them with an unpleasant experience. The drip attached to Lana causes her to throw up when a naked woman is shown on the screen.

Doctor Oliver Threadson (Zachary Quinto) goes even further and displays pictures of Wendy, who additionally goes missing. That horrendous method of “curing of homosexuality” was used in the past by many. The next one presented by Lana’s character, the worst of all, is conversion therapy. Strapped in a white hospital stretcher, Sister Jude plugs the machine and shocks Lana time after another, applying higher strength each time.

The scene is hard and incredibly emotional to watch. To think that gay people were treated the way Paulson’s character depicts is unimaginable. Sadly, that cruel, barbaric method is still used in some of the countries. The actress manifested her highest acting skills when it comes to that particular scene. She admitted that aftershocks we all saw on screen were her real, raw emotions in experiencing something so many homosexual people had to endure in the past.

If you think this is enough to kill a person’s spirit, prepare for more. Not only is Lana put under many other treatments that are supposed to “cure her.” She is also raped and brutalized by Threadson, whom the woman trusted with her life. She has to fight tooth and nail to get out of Briarcliff Manor and regain some of her healthy, normal life. When she first realizes that she’s pregnant from rape, the female character tries “the coat hanger method.” For all of you that don’t know – this is one of the most dangerous, incredibly risky ways for abortion.

In this case, Ryan Murphy reaches to the history and social discourse where self-induced abortions are a huge health risk for many women. Lana now has to struggle with an unwanted pregnancy and Threadson – who turns out to be a true Bloody Face killer. 

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Lana Winters escaping Threadson with the evidence on tape. Source: FX Networks

When she first realizes that she’s pregnant from rape, the female character tries “the coat hanger method.” This is one of the most dangerous, incredibly risky ways for abortion. In this case, Ryan Murphy reaches to the history and social discourse where self-induced abortions are a huge health risk for many women.

As you can see, the character portrayed by Paulson touches many issues that are still very relevant now – conversion therapies, homophobia, abortion, adoption, and abuse that occurred in asylums. Even contemporarily, now and then, we hear the story of patients’ mistreatment in hospitals, hospices, or nursing homes. 

When Lana ultimately escapes the hell of Briarcliff Manor and Threadson, she decides not to stop the pregnancy and, instead, give a child a chance. After the journalist gives him up for adoption, Lana concentrates on transferring her brutal experiences on paper. We then take a journey to the future and meet her as a seventy-something accomplished, courageous journalist in a happy relationship with a woman. In the most intense season finale, Lana faces her past ones again, but this time, she’s prepared.

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Sarah Paulson in “American Horror Story: Asylum” |source: FX Networks

This complex, multidimensional, difficult, and incredibly ambitious gay woman, who knows her way with words, raised many questions that are not always easy. Some accused her of being an opportunist, and others said that the success went to her head. But the most challenging questions were – if she wasn’t going to raise a child herself, why didn’t she do the abortion and save him the hardship of being in the system? Or why didn’t Lana raise him? Why did she pick a career over motherhood? Why was she so cold? 

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Lana’s meeting with her biological son was one of the most touching scenes. Although he didn’t know it, he felt it. Or so he says it in the finale. Source: FX Networks

Similar questions as above are something regular for almost every woman. We are judged whether we pick a career or motherhood, or both, and somehow we always end up being “a cold bitch” after all. I believe that Lana symbolizes many fundamental issues and showcases the complexity of a human being and the struggle of being a homosexual person in the 60s. For the viewers, Lana’s character went through everything horrible at once and displayed all society’s atrocities from that time.

Paulson’s role is one of the most popular gay icons in pop culture and is especially close to my heart not only because of that but also because she’s a proud journalist. Watching “Asylum” wasn’t an easy task, especially when you reflect on homosexuality in the 60s and described barbaric methods used “to cure it.” But it’s definitely worth to view “Asylum”, particularly during Pride Month.

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