I am not one to re-watch shows, but I have binged the new Netflix show Heartstopper three times now and will rewatch it again. I cried (mostly happy tears), I laughed, and I felt seen. If you haven’t watched it, I highly recommend you do that now. The show is based on the graphic novels by Alice Oseman. The show takes place at a British all-boys school and the protagonists of the show are Charlie, an openly gay boy and Nick, a seemingly straight rugby player who become friends and quickly grow closer. The show is unique in its representation of queer stories and especially queer coming-of-age stories. Heartstopper perfectly represents struggles faced by young queer people and validates their feelings in a beautiful way. The immense success of the show and the high ratings show that people, especially queer people, have been craving a show like this. Even though it is set in a school and deals with teenage stories, it is a show for everyone. It also changes the way LGBTQ+ characters are represented on screen.
Most often, queer stories on TV and in movies are either hyper sexualized or have a sad story arc. Queer characters are either a side kick with not a lot of depth, or they have so many inner demons and a tragic life story (if they are shown at all). While some shows and movies in the past have tried to change the narrative, none of them have come close. Heartstopper on the other hand is a coming-of-age story that deals with feelings and teenage struggles in a heartfelt, loving, and extremely accurate way. If you don’t want spoilers, here is your warning.
Coming to terms with your sexuality
In one scene, Nick is very confused about his feelings for Charlie. While alone in his room, he picks up his laptop and types in 3 little words that every queer person I know has asked Google at least once while they were trying to figure themselves out. “Am I gay?” He then goes on to take an online quiz about being gay and goes down a spiral of reading about scary articles that deal with homophobic laws and attacks. I nearly cried when I saw that scene as it is such an accurate representation of what young queer kids go through. I don’t even remember how often I did that quiz as a young adult, as if that quiz could help me understand my feelings fully. The internal struggles Nick goes through, from being confused and trying to understand what his sexuality is, to worrying about his mates knowing, to realizing his true feelings for Charlie to wanting to tell people are so well executed in the show and feel so real. One scene shows Nick asking a friend if she ever feels like she is doing something because others are doing it and hiding her true self out of fear. For a while, Nick also feels like he has to label himself and figure himself out as either gay or straight until Charlie assures him that he doesn’t need to figure it out right now and that gay and straight aren’t the only options out there.
There is a scene between Nick and his mother which (spoiler) is one of the most beautiful coming-out scenes I have seen on TV. Full of love and acceptance. While I know that sadly, many people struggle with coming out and face backlash or cannot come out safely, it is nice to see that there are other possible outcomes and that there are many people who will love and support you. While coming out isn’t easy, it doesn’t have to be something bad. Seeing unconditional parental love in that scene might help some people to speak their truth.
The characters of Darcy and Tara give us some much needed lesbian visibility as well and the show shows them coming out at a party and being totally head over heals for each other. Two girls who everyone thinks are just best gal-pals and even after they have publicly come out some people still believe Tara has a crush on Nick. Others at the all-girl school turn away from them. While Darcy is very open about her sexuality, Tara struggles with how people view them differently after coming out. There are people insulting them in person, but you also have the online hate and ugly comments that many lesbian or bisexual women have heard before (e.g. you are a lesbian—what a waste, you are too pretty to be gay, etc.). Yet, these two stcik together and show everyone how strong they are as a team.
Bisexual and Trans Representation
We finally have bisexual representation on screen without having it be a sexualized fantasy or someone who later comes out as gay and seemingly has “gone through a phase,” which happens a lot with bi-erasure. The show puts bisexuality at the center, which rarely happens. Nick is the new bi-icon we all deserve. In one scene he watches Pirates of the Caribbean with his mother because they always watched it when he was younger. As the mom says: he was in love with Keira Knightley as a kid. During that scene Nick realized that it wasn’t just Keira that he found attractive, but that Orlando Bloom was also not bad to look at. If that isn’t accurate bisexual representation I don’t know what is. Watching a movie as a teenager and having all your friends drool over the male protagonist, while you are sitting there thinking about which of the characters you like more, makes a lot of sense.
You also have Elle, one of Charlie’s best friends. She is trans and has transferred to the neighboring all-girls school. Finally, there is a trans character on TV that shows the normal teenage life of a girl who is starting at a new school, trying to find new friends, developing a crush on one of her best friends Tao (who is the straight ally to Charlie that everyone should have) and just going through regular teenage stuff and trying to find her happiness instead of basing her entire character arc on the fact that she is trans or making her story into some tragic storyline.
The show we deserved growing up
Heartstopper is finally a queer story that is about being true to yourself and about feelings instead of about sex or solely the struggles that can come with being queer. While the show does tackle serious issues such as homophobia, transphobia, bullying as well as mental health issues, it does so in a way that makes these issues not the main focus of the teeangers’ lives. It tackles them in a way that still makes you feel good about watching the show. If you are into cinematic effects and subtle hints, the show also does a great job with inputting small, but impactful details on screen. Whether that is subtle rainbow lighting when Nick and Charlie meet, bisexual lighting when Nick is at a birthday party looking for Charlie, or the small designs taken from the original novels.
As most queer people have been saying: It’s a show we would have wanted growing up. This show perfectly represents queer struggles and validates their feelings in a beautiful way. It’s a fantastic show for young teenagers to see themselves represented and know it’s ok to not have it all figured out. Having a lighthearted show like this that shows different facets of being part of the LGBTQ+ community as something many people deal with and as something normal can help open doors for many young kids that are questioning themselves and can help with communicating their feelings. There have already been stories of people using scenes from the show to come out to their parents and to explain to them what they have been going through.
The success of Heartstopper shows how much representation matters and hopefully more seasons and other stories will follow as it has become clear that people want to see happy and authentic queer stories that normalize being “different” and not just tragic dramas. I also highly recommend reading the graphic novels. Volume 5 is currently being written and the continuous story of Nick, Charlie and their friends is one of the cutest stories I have read in a while. Moreover, the TV show has an awesome soundtrack filled with LGBTQ+ artists and it’s definitely worth checking that out.
Heartstopper is one of the highest rated shows with a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This is why representation and diversity matters. Whether that is on TV or anywhere else. We are all special and deserve our stories to be told and our voices to be heard.
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Photo: Heartstoppertv, Alice Oseman