“Feel good offers fresh insight”
“Putting the bisexual experience under the microscope’
Bisexuality on the screen has long been a spot for critique in queer cinema. From tropes of infidelity to a passing punchline, the bisexual character exists as a quirk among their monosexual peers: not quite ‘straight enough’ to fit in with wider society, but simultaneously not ‘gay enough’ to be considered queer.
The second and final season of Mae Martin’s Feel Good was released back in June; a short but bittersweet deep-dive into Martin’s own relationship with gender, with drugs, and with navigating addiction in its evolving manifestations. Where the show receives less credit, however, is in its stand-out portrayal of the specifically bisexual experience. We witness the limbo between communities, the unique coming out process, and the pressures and privileges of being straight-passing while queer.
Despite being an integral trait of the comedian’s own self-insert, Feel Good’s approach to bisexuality can perhaps best be observed within Charlotte Richie’s character, ‘George’: Mae’s closeted girlfriend who, prior to their relationship, had dated exclusively men.
George’s position in the show is a unique one, putting the bisexual experience under a microscope and placing it in relation to both the homo and hetero-sexual communities that surround it. To her heterosexual friends, George is gay: an outlier and a piece of gossip to be spread like the plague after an accidental coming out. But in the eyes of the queer community and those around it - Ritu Arya’s Lava, and Mae’s sceptical parents - she’s little more than a straight girl wasting their time.
In every discussion of her sexuality, George is boxed in by the expectations of those around her, pulled apart on account of her dating history and forced to confront her own preferences before she can simply be who she wishes to be. Would she continue to date girls after Mae, or are they a one-off? Does she fit the stereotypes of those around her, and does she really need a label to dictate who she dates?
In a climate where we’re beginning to see more diverse bisexual representation in TV - from Rosa Diaz to Darryl Whitefeather, Eleanor Shellstrop to Clarke Griffin - it becomes integral to acknowledge the role of outside expectations in shaping identity. Martin’s own bisexuality - with their more conventionally queer androgynous style - goes unquestioned throughout the show. But for George, long-haired and feminine in appearance, the ability to ‘pass’ as straight (and others’ refusal to see her as otherwise) is central to her experience of sexuality. We’re encouraged to notice the need for performance as she exists between groups, and the pressure to conform to others’ expectations of who she is or should be.
Feel Good, among its many merits, offers to TV a fresh insight on the bisexual experience and the trials and triumphs within. Mae Martin crafts a heartfelt examination of queerness which, between its comic moments and inner reflections, weaves the unrelenting reminder that we are all, ultimately, far more than how others perceive us.