Part of the reason why we watch TV or press play on a specific movie is to see ourselves represented on screen. We all want to have that one character who makes us feel seen and, in the case of many LGTBQ+ individuals, like we are worthy of love. Sadly, representation in the media is not always good, and we are left wanting more.
I started questioning my sexuality at the age of thirteen, and when this happened I could not find any characters to relate to. There were not enough lesbians on screen, and the ones I could watch were always cheaters, or died shortly after their introduction. Not to mention, they were always played by straight women. None of them were relatable. None of them made me feel seen.
Twelve years after I started questioning my sexuality, Ratched (2020) came out and has given me what I have been looking for. The love story between Mildred (Sarah Paulson) and Gwendolyn (Cynthia Nixon) makes me feel seen and like I mattered, like I too could have a happy ending as the women and men on screen do. But what makes these characters resonate with me the most is the fact they are played by two queer women. Sarah Paulson and Cynthia Nixon make everything feel so real: every whisper, every touch, every kiss. They cared about making their story believable and took care of every detail.
Mildred Ratched herself is a captivating character, and Paulson’s performance–to no one’s surprise–is outstanding. However, it is Gwendolyn Briggs who mesmerized me and makes my lesbian self feel seen. Nixon’s portrayal is done with such respect and understanding that it makes our community proud to claim the role as one of our own.
One quick glance at social media will tell you these two characters have impacted the LGBTQ+ community. Although Ratched’s “you said I didn’t understand, but I do” resonates with all of us, it is Briggs’s “and you waltzed into my heart, and I cannot get you out” that tugs at our hearts. How amazing it is to see a lesbian so sure of her feelings and so unafraid to talk about them. Gwendolyn Briggs is the most relatable character, living a ‘normal’ life in a world of so much chaos and violence. She is our safe haven–as well as Mildred’s–in a horrific universe. We get to see Mildred and Ratched’s more joyful side in the hands of a lesbian.
Miss Briggs is unapologetically herself. She knows the boundaries of her time. She understands the risks of being openly a lesbian – something we notice in her expression as Dr. Hanover performs a lobotomy to ‘cure’ lesbianism. But even then, she is not afraid to go after the woman she wants: she invites Mildred out minutes after meeting her and ends up leaving her husband (a fake marriage to hide their true selves) to have a chance at the life she deserves. Because, as Cynthia Nixon said, Gwendolyn is not struggling with her sexuality.
So, here we have a homosexual woman, unafraid to be herself and knowing exactly what she wants in life. The magical thing about Gwendolyn is she does not fall into the typical lesbian stereotype. Every butch or more masculine lesbian, and those sure of their sexuality, are always portrayed as manly, violent, and imposing women. It is as if every lesbian relationship needs to have one of them play the male role.
Gwendolyn Briggs is none of those things. She can pull off a skirt, red lipstick, nice hairdo, flannel shirt, and high-waisted pants without looking manly, without becoming a stereotypical butch lesbian. Although she is the one to approach Mildred first, she never imposes her sexuality and gives the other woman the space she needs to experience her own self-acceptance journey. We finally have a lesbian who is sweet, soft, and caring, but completely okay with loving women…characteristics that we do not often see blend together on screen.
Having a queer woman behind this character helped bring out the more realistic side of her, and Nixon knew that. She understood the importance of her and Paulson playing these women, and spoke up when things did not seem genuine. This goes to show how necessary it is to have queer actors play these roles and advocate for accurate representation. The love, respect, and care Cynthia Nixon put into playing Gwendolyn Briggs can be felt through the screen, and it is what made this character waltz into every lesbian’s heart. I, for one, will always be thankful to her for gifting me a comfort character who makes me feel worthy and understood.
To some the show will not be perfect, to others it might be the best, and it all lies in what you take away from it. For many lesbians like myself, Ratched gave us the chance to see a love story that does not end in cheating or death. The opportunity to see two women love and accept themselves individually and as a couple. And it gave us Gwendolyn Briggs, a proud, loving, caring and unafraid lesbian. The kind of representation we needed all along.
To all the Mildred Ratched’s out there, struggling to accept themselves, take your time to love who you are. To all the Gwendolyn Briggs’s, proud of themselves, keep leading the way to a more accepting world.
To Cynthia Nixon and her Gwendolyn Briggs, thank you. Thank you for making me feel worthy, accepted, loved, and seen on screen for the first time in 25 years. Thank you for everything you gave Gwendolyn. Thank you for this gift.