Several TV series and movies display the harsh reality faced by LGBTQ+ individuals. These often include abuse, bullying, and discrimination, which plausibly terrify many closeted individuals from embracing their sexuality. The Netflix series Heartstopper finally portrays the joy and strong friendships that come with self-acceptance. Despite hinting at feelings of depression and loneliness caused by social norms, the series mainly discusses the unconditional love of those who will always support you.
Based on Alice Oseman’s webcomic series, Heartstopper tells the story of a group of teenagers who are either denying, discovering or accepting their LGBTQ+ identity. There are characters whose sexuality has not yet been discussed, such as Isaac Henderson; and straight characters, such as Tao Xu and Imogen Heaney. There is only one openly gay student at Truham Grammar School for Boys, Charlie Spring. He has a crush on Nick Nelson, a popular individual labeled as “the rugby king” and a “ginormous heterosexual”. Yet, Nick develops feelings for Charlie and later reveals that he is bisexual. Charlie’s friend group includes Tao, Isaac, and Elle Argent. Elle is a transgender female who used to go to Truham but then transferred to Higgs Girl School. There she meets Tara Jones and Darcy Olsson, the only lesbian couple at Higgs. All the characters have a pure and loving soul but still face a lot of hate for being “different”.
Disclaimer: the following sections include spoilers!!!
The main bully of the series is Harry Greene. He insults and makes snarky comments about Charlie being gay. Harry never physically assaults him but makes him uncomfortable. He also bullies Tao by making homophobic jokes such as “not having lunch with your boyfriend today?”. However, things get physical when Harry calls Charlie a “faggot” and Nick assaults him to defend the former. However, the disapproval of violence is shown by both Nick’s mom and Charlie’s attitude towards it. Mr. Ajayi, Charlie’s supportive teacher, also reminds the audience to always make friends and families aware of bullying behaviors. It is important to know that you are not alone and that your sexual orientation should not be a reason for people to treat you differently.
The Friendships and Families
There are many types of friendships portrayed in Heartstopper: supportive, protective, platonic, and fake. Elle, Tao, Isaac, and Charlie could be considered an example of a genuine and supportive friendship. Elle is a smart and mature member of the group. She makes sure everyone keeps their feet on the ground while encouraging her friends to follow their passions. Tao protects and defends everyone by using his smart and funny comebacks to bullying. Isaac is usually quiet and listens to everyone’s issues and offers unconditional support.
The parents of the characters are also portrayed as loving and accepting figures, supporting their kids regardless of their gender identity and sexual orientation. For example, Charlie’s father makes sure to be there for his son anytime he feels uncomfortable or unsafe, showing his support and affection. Similarly, Nick’s mother tries to make him feel as comfortable and loved as possible when her son finally opens up to her about his sexuality. She smiles at him, tears up, and tells him “I love you”. Her reaction made me sob for hours! The brilliant Olivia Colman hits the exact feelings of any LGBTQ+ child wishing they had gotten or hoping to get the same reaction from their parents after coming out.
There were no discussions about her gender identity or biological sex, which is important for future generations to understand. After all, if a loved television character is able to fit in, why shouldn’t anyone in real life?
It can be scary to come out and communicate to the world that you are not straight, especially given the heteronormative society we live in. LGBTQ+ individuals should have to exclusively state that they are not heterosexual. The default should be to love anyone and to identify with the gender you feel comfortable with. When Elle transferred to an all-girls school, she was accepted as a female by her peers. There were no discussions about her gender identity or biological sex, which is important for future generations to understand. After all, if a loved television character is able to fit in, why shouldn’t anyone in real life?
Yet, coming out is not all fun and games. Some people will look at you differently because of your queer identity, and others might even accuse you of lying to them. When Tara posts a picture with her girlfriend, she receives many hateful comments on her feed, like “such a shame that you are a lesbian”. At school, many of her peers avoid her to prevent the spread of the “lesbian disease”. She feels ashamed and struggles to accept herself. However, her friends and girlfriend remind her that she does not need to fit any norm nor have to question herself because of others’ opinions. An important message that goes beyond the storyline is reminded to the viewers: people should never pretend to be someone they are not just to make others happy. As long as you are happy with who you are, people who truly love you will be joyful as well.
A Warm Hug for the Future LGBTQ+ Generations
There is an increasing number of TV shows depicting same-sex relationships and LGBTQ+ characters (e.g. Euphoria, Elite…), but most of them focus on the unhealthy aspect of such dynamics. ‘Heartstopper’ offers a fresh and healthy perspective on how life should be after coming out for future generations.
Despite significant steps being made, claiming to be part of the LGBTQ+ community can still be difficult. Worries about whether one’s parents will be supportive or not and the society we live in can take a toll on the self-evaluation of one’s identity. There is an increasing number of TV shows depicting same-sex relationships and LGBTQ+ characters (e.g. Euphoria, Elite…), but most of them focus on the unhealthy aspect of such dynamics. ‘Heartstopper’ offers a fresh and healthy perspective on how life should be after coming out for future generations. It encourages LGBTQ+ individuals to be proud of who they are and sets a positive example of how friends and families should support one another. The coming generations are unbelievably lucky to have this heartwarming series and these wholesome characters to look up to. I wish I also had been exposed to such positive depictions of the LGBTQ+ community years ago… Even now, Heartstopper healed my heart and gave me a warm embrace. I bet it will fill your heart with love too.
Editor: Cecilia Begal