Does ‘Gypsy’ Fall Prey to the Bisexual Libertine Trope?

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Gypsy, the new Netflix thriller starring Naomi Watts’ wool overcoat collection, is of great interest to lesbian viewers. The story follows Jean Holloway, a psychotherapist who helps patients dealing with obsessive thought patterns and unhealthy boundary issues. These are common problems we all face and probably most of us should be in therapy for, and Jean is not exempt. When she begins getting involved in her clients’ personal lives, she takes obsession, impulsivity and utter boundarylessness to new levels.

Perhaps the scariest aspect of all of this is that she’s not “crazy” in the way society always discredits and pathologizes women. She has anxiety and control issues, but she is not delusional, narcissistic, codependent or helpless. As Jean, she is a great wife and mother, awesome at her job, and has meaningful friendships with other women. You would never suspect Jean of living a double life as a Sapphic, free-spirit, unattached, bohemian-daylighting-as-corporate type.

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Naomi Watts and her structured wool coat find themselves in an underground cafe, The Rabbit Hole, where she goes to run into Sidney, the ex of one of her current therapy patients. She presents herself as Diane, a writer, erm, a journalist, well, a writer of personal profiles, err, an op-ed writer. No, you wouldn’t have read her work anywhere. If anything, Jean is more like a novelist writing her alter ego: she does background research on the characters she comes into contact with, she gives Diane a back story and spends a fair amount of time staring at herself in the mirror, coming into Diane through a new wardrobe, a new perfume, blown-out hair, over the course of many scenes. As Diane, she is one of those inscrutable mystery women, delivering disarming one-liners that only make you hungry for more.

As Diane, she is one of those inscrutable mystery women, delivering disarming one-liners that only make you hungry for more.

As a therapist, Jean listens to people talk about the big triggers in their lives. The daughters or exes who bring out the worst in them. We put so much trust in therapists to be confidential, to be present and listen as we process, to maintain hard boundaries with us and not let us indulge in attachment or transference. For trust, confidentiality and professional decorum, Jean is the worst therapist ever.

Jean encounters a sad-sack who got dumped by his manic pixie dream girl, the free spirit who woke him up from his boring life and talked him into getting a couples tattoo. He has given her all the details she needed to track down Sidney where she works at the Rabbit Hole. Sidney of the soft, sexy shoulders and rock band, Vagabond Hotel (omfg the Brooklyn alt-country realness of this). She immediately adopts Sidney’s perfume, becomes a drinker of bourbon at Sidney’s suggestion. He’s also given Jean all she needs to form biases about Sidney. Before they’ve ever had a conversation, Jean thinks sees signs of the best and worst of what the ex boyfriend said about her.

What she sees is freedom, mischief, danger with a British accent. Sidenote: it is not explained why Sidney has a British accent and Naomi Watts does not, but I assume there can only be one British accent in an American show.

Cohen Rosa.CR2

Cohen Rosa.CR2

Jean seems to struggle with wanting to become Sidney as much as she wants Sidney (how baby dyke!). Naomi Watts is serving us lesbian ingenue. There are hints that she may have been at least a little gay in the past. We are told that she was not always a soccer mom, that she was once noncommittal and a little wild before getting pregnant and deciding to settle down with Billy Crudup. It’s interesting that giving herself permission to be wild again, to be free, means pursuing a woman (again? for the first time?). There is a cultural narrative that associates bisexuality with being a libertine (and certainly not a soccer mom). This early in the show, it’s not clear if the writers are falling into that cliche.

There is a cultural narrative that associates bisexuality with being a libertine (and certainly not a soccer mom). This early in the show, it’s not clear if the writers are falling into that cliche.

The fuzziness comes from this feeling that Jean wants to become Sidney as much as she wants to bang her. She seems to be experiencing a new level of eroticism, shamelessly staring at Sidney like she’s been a vegetarian for years and is presented with filet mignon. Is the eroticism directed at Sidney, or is it masturbatory — does the erotic charge come from the vision of herself as someone else? She longs for her past, when she was unattached, the gypsy.

I spent the first half of the “The Rabbit Hole” slightly bored by the pacing and definitely not sure I’d finish the series. But as Jean lies to her husband and friend to pursue merely the opportunity to stare at Sidney from a crowd, then to share a drink and flirtation with Sidney, my interest was piqued. There’s a moment when Sidney, within sniffing distance of Jean’s neck, says, “there’s something about you that reminds me of me” (it’s just Chance by Chanel and all the backstory gleaned from weeks of listening to the sadsack ex boyfriend).

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That’s when my interest shifted to full on SUCKED IN. Jean is DANGEROUS and I am THRILLED. Her patients don’t exactly make for reliable narrators, so whatever information she gets from them is suspect. That’s probably why she’s going after the “other side of the story” in the first place. Does she think she’s read between the lines in these sessions and arrived at a more accurate picture?

By the end of the first episode, she already sees Sidney as the wish, the lightning strike from Stevie Nicks’ theme song. Jean’s double life threatens to destroy her therapy practice, her marriage, and probably her clients’ lives, and I am buckled up and ready for this ride. I’m also eager/horrified to spend ten episodes confronting the effectiveness of therapy, the trust we place in therapists, the ways we perceive and process trauma with a stranger in order to arrive at healthy boundaries and personal growth.

Pursuing Sidney under false pretenses and bringing someone else’s confidential backstory to the relationship slides Jean from the lesbian ingenue stereotype into lesbian predator territory. I’m curious to see if this trope will play out, but Sidney is a victim of Jean’s manipulation. Jean may think Sidney is tough, exploitive, manipulative, based on what her client told her in therapy, but in their dynamic, Sidney is the one being manipulated.

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The lesbian predator trope is dangerous. Female stalkers are uncommon; the single white female phenomenon is way less likely in real life than men who stalk. And in pop culture, women who deceive are Haute Tension and Unfaithful, while men are You’ve Got Mail, Roxanne and Pillow Talk: men’s hijinx result in adorable romance. And yet every lesbian knows those negative stereotypes: the woman who attempts to seduce a straight girl through false pretenses (although in this case Sidney is clearly bi), the lesbian merging that dissolves identity and boundaries, the boundarylessness that leads to gaslighting and psychological abuse.

The lesbian predator trope is dangerous. Female stalkers are uncommon; the single white female phenomenon is way less likely in real life than men who stalk. And in pop culture, women who deceive are Haute Tension and Unfaithful, while men are You’ve Got MailRoxanne and Pillow Talk: men’s hijinx result in adorable romance.

These stereotypes of manipulation lead mainstream society to say lesbians (especially butch or masculine lesbians) are “as bad as men.” If the lesbian predator trope is developed further in the series, I am sincerely hoping they subvert the trope and disrupt that cultural narrative. I am so here for a show that presents women as flawed, dangerous, twisted, since we have plenty of shows about men being exactly that. But I do not want to see anything that reinforces the idea that homosexuality is divergent, unhealthy, attended by sexual mind games or disidentification. Hopefully show creator and writer Lisa Rubin has a lesbian sensitivity reader on staff. For more of the slow burning, kind of evil, sexy show, I’d volunteer.

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