"It just seems more blended."
Mae Martin, star and co-writer of Netflix series Feel Good, says that in their experience, Toronto is ahead of the curve when it comes to openness around sexuality.
With a second season out on June 4, Feel Good explores sexuality, gender identity, and trauma through character-driven comedy.
It follows a love story between Martin's character, also called Mae, and their girlfriend George (Charlotte Ritchie), which unfolds as Mae sorts through a complicated past of addiction and sexual abuse.
Martin grew up in Toronto and pays tribute to their roots in Feel Good, where some episodes are set (though sneakily not filmed) in their Canadian hometown.
"It's definitely been my personal experience that Toronto is far ahead of a lot of other cities in terms of sexuality," Martin told Narcity, adding that their friends in Canada are "less into" labelling their sexual identity.
"The queer nights are very mixed, and it just seems more blended and less like, here's the gay districts where you can go and hang out."
Blending fiction and reality
Martin told Narcity the show is based on their own lived experience, with funny situations that make challenging topics more palatable.
"My co-writer Joe Hampson and I never set out to make an issue-based show, that's just sort of a happy byproduct," Martin said. "Those issues of gender identity and sexual abuse are just things that I think about a lot and that we wanted to explore in a more nuanced way.
"The issues that the character grapples with are 100% autobiographical."
However, Martin says the characters and situations are a blended version of reality and fiction.
"If you want to make a difficult scene funny, you've got to put it in an escape room or on a ghost train," they said. "Most things happen in living rooms, and that's boring to watch."
Sexuality and identity in Feel Good
Season two focuses heavily on character Mae's post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the sexual abuse they experienced in their teens, as well as their developing relationship with gender.
At this point in the show, George has also come to terms with her sexual identity and is primed to help Mae through their gender crisis and through dealing with their past trauma.
"George comes into the second season full of guilt about her prior behaviour, and with this excitement of no longer being repressed and being exposed to this whole new world of sexuality and identity," Martin told Narcity.
At the beginning of season one, George is still in the closet and hides her relationship with Mae from her friends and family. However, she more openly explores her sexuality in season two, and even starts an activism club at the school she teaches at.
"She maybe goes too far that way and loses a bit of herself, but I like that dynamic power shift in season two with George helping Mae while developing her own sense of autonomy," Martin said.
'Chill and integrated' Canada
In episode six of season two, George even helps Mae find the words to express their gender identity by telling them to Google the term non-binary. In the same episode, she reflects on her own identity while walking through the streets of Toronto.
She comments on the number of gay couples in Toronto, to which Mae casually responds, "It's just very chill and integrated in Canada. Probably everyone on this street is bisexual and polyamorous."
In a small voice, George says, "I think maybe I would be too if I grew up here."