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Nava Mau: Baby Reindeer takes a 'sledgehammer' to the patriarchy

Nava Mau: Baby Reindeer takes a 'sledgehammer' to the patriarchy

Nava Mau: Baby Reindeer takes a 'sledgehammer' to the patriarchy
Cole Ferguson

Baby Reindeer star Nava Mau is excited to bring a new type of transgender representation to Hollywood.

When Nava Mau first read the script for Baby Reindeer, she was blown away by how different it was from the typical TV show with a transgender character.

“It’s almost like you can forget to dream when you’re a trans actor, and you just keep getting these parts that come in that are: at worst, deeply offensive and rotten to their core; at best, boring,” she says. “So sometimes, it can feel like, what’s my purpose here then? And so, when I got the script for Baby Reindeer, it felt like I had found my purpose again, and it is just the biggest blessing, the biggest blessing.”

In the show, which has become a global smash hit for Netflix, Mau plays Teri, a therapist who meets and starts dating a man named Donny Dunn (based on and played by the show’s creator, Richard Gadd); the pair met on a trans dating website. As her relationship with Donny grows, Teri discovers he’s being stalked by a woman, Martha (Jessica Gunning).

Eventually, Teri ends up another victim in the stalker’s trail of chaos and obsession. While the focus of Baby Reindeer is the toxic, codependent, and violent relationship between Donny and Martha, Teri brings a very welcome, grounding energy and heart to the show. Oftentimes, she’s the only person giving Donny good advice.

“It’s funny. I thus far have typically approached characters from a very insular way,” Mau says. “I know there will come a day where I really need to be thinking about the overarching story and how each scene needs to fit together. But for playing Teri, I just got to focus on her heart, and her mind, and her body, so I wasn’t even thinking about how she would be perceived or how she would compare to other characters on the show.”

“I keep saying, ‘Teri’s on a different show,’” she continues. “I am just there for the love story, and so that was how I approached it. It was really just Teri’s story with Donny and that was a story of the heart. That was a story of Teri searching for love, belonging, and safety within intimacy, so it wasn’t about anything else really for me.”

Searching for love and safety is central to Baby Reindeer, which follows Donny as he comes to terms with his queerness following repeated sexual assault at the hands of a male mentor. As a part of his journey of self-discovery, Donny watches violent porn, hooks up with people of all genders, and eventually joins a trans dating website, all while trying to process the trauma of being assaulted and abused. While some have criticized the show, saying it conflates grooming or sexual abuse with sexuality, Mau rejects that interpretation.

“I think there’s a line in maybe episode 4, which is the episode where Donny recounts his experience of sexual abuse and grooming. There’s a line at the end of the episode where he expresses that it makes him so angry that his experience of trauma clouds any clarity, that it clouds any purity of what he’s actually feeling for Teri,” she points out. “But I don’t think Donny is ever suggesting that the feelings for Teri are not what they are, which is love, admiration, attraction, safety.”

“I think what the show is actually trying to communicate is that the violence of sexual abuse has ramifications beyond just the physical and emotional trauma,” she adds. “It requires a lot of unpacking and putting pieces back together, so I feel really clear about that.”

Mau comes from a background of working as a counselor to survivors of violence and wants to bring some of those principles into her work as a storyteller. “I undeniably felt the power of a survivor telling his own story, especially a man who is now openly bisexual. We’ve never seen that before,” she says. “I think that we live in a culture that has created a fortress of shame and silence around men with the promise of uplifting them into power. In reality, it has kept them far away from wellness and safety and true connection with other people and to themselves.”

“What we need is to break down those walls of shame and silence,” she concludes. “And I just very clearly saw and still see Baby Reindeer as a sledgehammer through the walls of shame and silence built to uphold the patriarchy.”

This article is part of the Out July/August issue, which hits newsstands on July 2. Support queer media and subscribe— or download the issue through Apple News, Zinio, Nook, or PressReader starting June 18.
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Mey Rude

Mey Rude is a journalist and cultural critic who has been covering queer news for a decade. The transgender, Latina lesbian lives in Los Angeles with her fiancée.

Mey Rude is a journalist and cultural critic who has been covering queer news for a decade. The transgender, Latina lesbian lives in Los Angeles with her fiancée.