Welcome to the fourth installment of our Pride Month series! Each day in the month of June, we will be highlighting a different member of the LGBTQ+ community who we think is a great example of representation and dynamic characterization. We will focus on fictional characters, celebrities, and activists alike — the positive voices within the LGBTQ+ community and in mainstream media.
A note: this article contains some spoilers for the series Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, so if you are looking to avoid those, watch the show (available on Hulu and Freeform) and then head back here!
Today’s spotlight highlights two characters who are groundbreaking in many ways on a show where challenging the definition of “normal” is the norm itself. Everything’s Gonna Be Okay follows Nicholas (who’s a gay man and played by series creator Josh Thomas) as he raises his two half sisters in California after their father dies. Matilda (played by the wonderful Kayla Cromer) is one of those two sisters and is also on the autism spectrum. When we first meet her, she is a quirky, fun girl dying to prove wrong anyone who doubts her. She also has sexual agency, which is rare for a disabled character on television and also makes for some difficult and necessary conversations around consent when she decides to lose her virginity. Matilda’s confidence in herself and her desires is refreshing, especially as she navigates her first real heartbreak when her crush, Luke, gently rejects her. (She fumes: “Some people feel like they have to be nice to me because I’m different, but actually they don’t like me. Is that what you’re doing?”)
But Matilda isn’t the only character developing feelings for someone close to her. Matilda’s two best friends Jeremy and Drea (both of whom are also on the autism spectrum) are often by her side for her adventures, but soon it becomes clear Matilda is looking for something more. She proposes the trio have a threesome together, wanting to explore her newfound sexuality before they all go their separate ways for college. Both friends are enthusiastic at first, but it’s Drea (Lillian Carrier, who is also one of the show’s autism consultants) and Matilda who ultimately end up together. After an afternoon where both get to express their sexual desires (a truly outstanding depiction of not only consent but also actively checking in throughout), Drea and Matilda’s relationship moves from friends to something more.
In the lovely episode “Monarch Butterflies,” we get to watch as Matilda and Drea’s relationship blossoms. Thomas stated in an interview with The Advocate that both are pansexual, but they aren’t concerned with labels and just let their love develop. Matilda wants their love to be like a movie, imitating gestures she’s seen onscreen like having Drea wipe stray batter off her face or staring at her through a fish tank in an homage to Romeo + Juliet. Drea, on the other hand, just wants to be with Matilda, who she loves. Drea tries to conform to what Matilda wants, trying on dresses that make her sensory issues worse because Matilda likes them on her and playing along with her rom-com aspirations. But the sweetest moment comes when Drea finally gets the courage to tell Matilda how she feels. Fidgeting, she tells Matilda she loves her. Matilda says she loves Drea too, and Drea is so overwhelmed with happiness that she calls over her service dog to help calm her down.
But this bliss doesn’t last long. When Drea asks Matilda to go to the prom with her via a massive promposal involving their class, Matilda turns her down. She wants to be seen as “normal” in the eyes of her classmates, and worries that bringing Drea will make them both stand out. This deeply hurts Drea. Her crushed expression is heartbreaking as she tells Matilda they aren’t girlfriends anymore before she leaves. Matilda is also heartbroken, not realizing how much she needed Drea until she left. The next day, Drea comes over to see the monarch butterflies that Nicholas is hatching. Matilda apologizes for what she said the day before. Drea is nothing like the person she once thought of as her ideal match. But according to Matilda, Drea “likes all the things about me that I like about myself.” She asks for another chance to win Drea back, and with butterflies surrounding them, they kiss and make up. They even go to prom together, with Drea wearing the dress that makes her comfortable.
“You like all the things about me that I like about myself.”
Everyone deserves to have their love story told, and this #AutismAwarenessMonth we’re happy to tell this one. #EverythingsGonnaBeOkay pic.twitter.com/KNWIEtNkYF
— Everything’s Gonna Be Okay (@EverythingsOkTV) April 15, 2020
Matilda and Drea’s relationship is not only a lovely story for two lovable characters. It is also quietly revolutionary. Thomas has said he was inspired to write their relationship as he researched Matilda’s character, finding that many who identified as being on the autism spectrum also identified as members of the LGBTQ+ community. Thomas wanted to explore this onscreen, since he had been unable to find any other onscreen portrayals of those who fell on the so-called “dual spectrum” of autism and LGBTQ+ identification. No one around Matilda or Drea questions their relationship, with the only real conflict coming when Nicholas feels Matilda is spending too much time with Drea and not focusing enough on preparing for college (an argument in just about any teenage relationship). Matilda is one of the only series regular characters on television who is on the autism spectrum, and the only one who is played by an actress who also identifies as being on the spectrum. Likewise, Drea is played by an actress on the autism spectrum, and the authenticity in casting makes a huge difference.
In the world Thomas has created on Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, Matilda and Drea’s love for each other is given the space it needs to grow into a full-fledged relationship. And both Kayla Cromer and Lillian Carrier give their characters bright, sparkling personalities, making Matilda and Drea two of the most interesting characters in the series. Both Matilda and Drea deserve to be highlighted for their representation of two communities that are often marginalized in television, making us laugh and cry along with them as they discover who they are.
Everything’s Gonna Be Okay was recently renewed for season two (fingers crossed for lots more Matilda/Drea)! To catch up, you can check out season one on Hulu and Freeform. Be sure to check back here every day this month for more of our Pride spotlights!