Warning: Atypical season 3 spoilers ahead.
In a moving scene from the new season of Atypical, Sam (Keir Gilchrist) recounts to his sister, Casey (Brigette Lundy-Paine), the story of a (real-life!) gay penguin couple, Sphen and Magic. He does so in order to communicate to her that he has no stigma toward LGBTQ people -- or toward the relationship that Casey is embarking on with her new love interest, Izzie (Fivel Stewart).
"They courted each other and built a nest. When a negligent heterosexual pair left their egg exposed to the elements, the aquarium staff gave it to Sphen and Magic," Sam, who is autistic, explained to Casey. "They have a baby now. Its name is Sphengic. I think they could have done better with the name."
Later, Casey opens her backpack to find a drawing of Sphen and Magic -- yet another gesture of acceptance to a sister coming to terms with her sexuality.
"That was such a special scene," Lundy-Paine reflected to The Advocate in a recent interview. "Most scenes between them, I just find so beautiful and ethereal, like really pure love."
The character of Casey is also a show of love from Atypical, a Netflix series that centers on a teen with autism and the family and friends who support him. As Lundy-Paine has continued their coming-out journey -- they came out as queer to The Advocate last year and nonbinary in a recent Instagram post -- so too has Casey grappled with matters of the heart and LGBTQ identity.
Through the course of three seasons, Casey, a track star in high school, has embarked on her first relationship -- with a boy, Evan (Graham Rogers) -- while also coming to terms with her attraction to a female classmate, Izzie. The queer connection between Casey's life and Brigette's was no accident.
"They didn't start this show with this storyline planned," said Lundy-Paine, who uses they/them pronouns; Casey, who as a teen is at a different stage in coming out, will be referred to as she/her in this article. "I think I really have Atypical to thank for really teaching me about who I am."
Lundy-Paine acknowledged how the program's writers and its creator, Robia Rashid, showed themselves as allies to them from the very beginning. The actor also thanked by name Mojdeh Daftary, Atypical's costume designer, who has helped give expression to Casey's queerness (and the bright eccentricity of another character, Paige, played by Jenna Boyd) through gender-bending clothes found in Los Angeles thrift stores. Their friend and costar, gay actor Nik Dodani (Zahid), has also been a source of support.
"They've been extremely supportive with me, and I think the response from the queer community online has been a huge influence on this show," Lundy-Paine said. "I think we have them to thank for being so vocal and for really pushing us to take the journey we have this season."
Casey's journey is no crystal stair. When she showed Sam's drawing of the penguin to Izzie, her love interest recoiled in anger and fear of potentially being outed. From that moment, societal stigma threatened to tear their relationship apart. It was a difficult moment for Lundy-Paine to experience as an out actor.
"That scene broke my heart every time we shot it," Lundy-Paine said. "The opportunity for pride in one's queerness, I felt how fragile that is. And even for someone you trust that is along with you on your queer journey, the shame is really hard to erase. It made me feel for all the moments of delicate pride that are robbed by the shame monster."
Lundy-Paine has dealt with the shame monster in their own life as they grapple with being an out public figure. "I'm in a relationship right now that is hard to define publicly, and I think that's definitely been on my mind," said Lundy-Paine, who in addition to being an actor is also an influencer with over 1 million Instagram followers. "I think any queer relationship, it's hard, right? Because there almost is an aspect to being queer and being online and a public figure that you have to brand yourself. It's really hard to just let yourself be queer and peaceful in any space."
"Instagram doesn't leave a lot of room for nuance," they added.
However, social media outlets like Instagram can also be an important tool against the shame monster. Lundy-Paine's coming-out post in November is one powerful example.
"I'm non-binary, always felt a lil bit boy, lil bit girl, lil bit neither. Using they/them as of late n it feels right," Lundy-Paine wrote in the caption; the photo was of their new cat, Julius.
Although Lundy-Paine said in the post that the declaration was "scary af ... I feel I owe it to myself and to all of us who struggle w gender." They then told nonbinary folks that they are "beautiful" and "whole" and asked them to "celebrate yourself in the comments." Thousands replied with posts of love, as well as thanks to Lundy-Paine for raising visibility for nonbinary people like them.
The post was liberating for Lundy-Paine. "I feel good. I feel free. It's been a long time that I've been wrestling with that," they said. They did not wrestle with the issue alone. Lundy-Paine credited the support of nonbinary friends like Santa Clarita Diet's Liv Hewson, who "allowed me to see myself as real." Nonbinary young people who have reached out to Lundy-Paine online also played a large role in their decision to come out.
"Coming out online was something that I only did because I get messages from kids all the time who are nonbinary and who are struggling with gender and who I believe deserve fully to be recognized as whole," Lundy-Paine said. "In turn, they can help me feel whole. Trust me, the kids that reach out to me only confirm who I know I am. And the larger that community can become, I think is just beautiful."
"One day, we'll split up the gender categories in the Oscars. That's my big goal," Lundy-Paine, who as an actor also appears in the Oscars contender Bombshell, added with a laugh.
Lundy-Paine has also found a supportive community through #CazzieNation, which is comprised of (the many) fans of Casey and Izzie's relationship. ("Cazzie" is a portmanteau of Casey and Izzie.) Over 1,000 posts on Instagram are dedicated to these characters and their journey of finding love together.
"It makes me so happy. I love it. #CazzieNation forever," said Lundy-Paine, giving love to one of their "closest friends," Stewart, who portrays Izzie. "It's really special to be a part of this movement. ... It feels like a party. I'm so glad that we all get to celebrate in this together."
Atypical has been in no rush in exploring the relationship between these characters. Casey and Izzie did not hold hands until the end of season 2. Their first kiss does not occur until well into the third season. For Lundy-Paine, who is a member of #CazzieNation, the wait has been hard. "I'm always so impatient when I'm shooting [Atypical]. I'm like, 'No, it's episode 2 and they haven't kissed already!'" Lundy-Paine said.
"Every time I got a script, I was like flipping through it desperately trying to see how we would figure it out. Was she going to tell [her boyfriend] Evan? Was she going to break up with Evan? Every episode that she stays with Evan and pushes Izzie away broke my heart. But also, I couldn't see any way around it."
The inevitable breakup scene between Casey and Evan was "heartbreaking" to film, said Lundy-Paine, precisely because Casey had to break another heart to be with the person she has fallen for. "In the structure of teenage relationships, she couldn't have both," they said. Casey also had to come out in the process.
"Shame was really what drove that scene," said Lundy-Paine, both from the act of infidelity and also "coming to terms with one's queerness" in front of "her first love, who represents so much about 'normal' and conformity."
However, for Casey, the act of ending a relationship also helped heal another one -- with her mother, Elsa (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Elsa's infidelity in the first season with a bartender, Nick (Raul Castillo), drove a wedge between her and her family. Casey's own kiss outside of a relationship "really helps her empathize with her mom," confirmed Lundy-Paine, as did "having to deal with desire in a very adult way."
Casey also realized how lucky she was to have a supportive mother after realizing Izzie did not have one. Additionally, Elsa was the first family member, even before Sam, to signal acceptance of Casey's queerness; she told her a story of a past relationship with a woman last season. Society tends to unjustly judge women more harshly for infidelity, Lundy-Paine pointed out, even when, as in Elsa's case, the husband has been emotionally absent in a family that includes a member with special needs.
"I don't really believe in monogamy as the concept that we make it out to be in the family structure. The expectation of it is really toxic," said Lundy-Paine. Of Elsa, they added, "I completely understand her, needing something else. She's a human being."
In addition to fighting stigma related to women and LGBTQ identity, Lundy-Paine continues to be proud to be a part of a show that has changed the conversation about autism in the media. "So much of the time in media before Atypical, autism has been portrayed as something that's a burden and something that really ruined a family. And that's not what it is at all. That stigma has to be erased," said Lundy-Paine.
The actor said it was a blessing to be a part of the show because it has introduced them to "an incredibly creative and loving community -- some of the most empathetic people I've met in my life." In addition to working alongside autistic actors on Atypical, Lundy-Paine also credited visiting programs like the Miracle Project, a theater company for children and young adults with autism, for opening their eyes to the beauty of the community.
And Atypical's passionate fan base attests to its own power to broadcast love and visibility for marginalized people through an international platform.
"I'm just so grateful that we're able to put the show out there, and that the audience is so receptive," Lundy-Paine concluded. "Even people that aren't part of the autism community and aren't part of the queer community love this show because they see that it is pure and full of heart. I really want to send love to everyone that watches it."
Season 3 of Atypical is now streaming on Netflix. Watch the trailer below.