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This Character from ‘Feel Good' is Messy, Traumatized, and the Representation I Needed

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It’s not every day that you come across shows with queer main characters that are thought-provoking and not just used as a token or plot device, which made it particularly refreshing to find a relatable character in the TV show “Feel Good.” The character of Mae, who also happens to be the character the show is centered around, is forced to face her past trauma, issues with connection and vulnerability, and explore her gender identity. As someone who has dealt with all of those things, I found myself emotional while watching the show — Mae is an absolute mess, but I could completely understand why she did the things she did, and I felt like it was an important representation to have.

I particularly appreciated the way the show explored trauma as an ongoing obstacle. Often, when trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is depicted in TV shows or movies, it’s as a one-time experience and then the person gets over it and gets help. That’s definitely not the way trauma works. Mae clumsily tries to get help, and the people around her try to help as well (albeit, in the wrong way sometimes) but it doesn’t magically fix it. You see her having panic attacks, hiding under the bed, and using drugs and alcohol as a messy coping mechanism again and again, despite her knowing the consequences of this. The way that Mae’s trauma prevents her from being able to learn from her mistakes and stop making them is so relatable because it really isn’t that simple. With trauma, sometimes you make the wrong choices, even when you know it’s the wrong choice and even when you don’t want to, sometimes you still do it. Mae also oscillates between biting off more than she can chew, thinking she is ready for difficult things, and doing absolutely nothing and feeling numb. There was such powerful representation in seeing a character not be in touch with what she wanted and needed.

Mae’s character also represented how difficult relationships (romantic or otherwise) can be when you deal with trauma. More often than not, Mae isn’t a great partner — and she knows it, too, which is why she ends up being so insecure in her relationships. To her own demise, she’s constantly focused on what her partner wants and often messes things up. I find myself in this position constantly as well — I’m so afraid of the people around me leaving me or not liking me because of my trauma that I end up becoming obsessive about their needs.

While watching the show, I found myself thinking “Mae, noooooo!” every time Mae did something messy — not because it was painful to watch, but because I could literally see myself doing the exact same thing. Connection, vulnerability, interdependence — all these relational requirements can feel so impossible when you’ve dealt with trauma, and Mae’s character stumbles and struggles with all of these in a painfully relatable yet beautiful way. I often wondered why I found it so hard to connect with others and build strong, meaningful, consistent relationships. Watching “Feel Good” made me feel way less alone in this experience, and seeing Mae’s clumsy attempts to navigate closeness was so relatable. Mae and I both feel a lot of shame around who we are (traumatized, messy, confused) and it makes it terrifying to open up and be our authentic selves because we’re worried if we show who we really are, no one will want us anyway — so, it’s better to put on a mask and pretend to be what we think others want from us.

There’s a line at the beginning of the second season that really stuck with me: “Why do some people need so much help just to exist, and then other people don’t need any help at all?” I remember crying so hard and pausing for a moment when I heard that because it’s something I think to myself all the time. I wonder why I have so much difficulty with just existing because it seems like it would be so simple, and others seem to breeze through life with such ease. Everything can feel like a battle or a struggle sometimes, and it’s hard to not feel completely isolated when you’re experiencing that.

Throughout the show, there are hints and whispers about the ambiguity surrounding Mae’s gender. She hasn’t quite figured it out yet — or if she has, she isn’t ready to admit it just yet, but at one point she says “I don’t feel very positive about my gender at the moment.” As someone who is gender nonconforming, I knew exactly what she meant by that. Gender is so complex, and when you grow up your whole life socialized one way that doesn’t feel totally right, it’s hard to feel positive about your gender. On the flip side, when you start to explore different gender identities, it can be really difficult, confusing, and isolating. I often found myself hating gender in general, and not feeling positive about it no matter what. I appreciated that while the show didn’t make her gender a focal point, it acknowledged the complexity and confusion she has around it because it’s so common for so many of us and there isn’t enough mainstream discussion about it.

I’ve never felt so represented by a single character before, and while it was heartbreaking to watch (I cried a ton throughout the second season), I am so grateful that a show like “Feel Good” exists. I connected with Mae’s character and experiences so much, not just because of the trauma parts, or the LGBTQIA+ focus, but because she is so human. She is messy, and flawed, and makes questionable choices, but she’s also funny, and beautiful, and tender. It also gave me hope that I am lovable and worthy because if a character like her can be loved and cared for, maybe I can be, too. We don’t have to be perfect to be deserving of love and care — we don’t have to be flawless to find connection and companionship. We just have to be human.

Image via YouTube

Originally published: November 8, 2021
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