Why Heartstopper Has Set a New Bar for Queer Media
Spoilers Ahead: This article contains spoilers for viewers that have not watched the show.
Heartstopper began streaming on Netflix on April 22nd and in just a few days it had viewers gushing over the incredible positive representation.
In less than a week, Heartstopper left audiences yearning for a second rewatching of this tender, heartwarming, and much need LGBTQ+ storyline. This coming-of-age Netflix series is based on the popular WEBTOON comics by the same name written and illustrated by Alice Oseman.
Heartstopper tells the story of Charlie Spring, an openly gay Year 10 student, and Nick Nelson, a popular Year 11 rugby player, and the genuine friendship that blooms into more between the two.
While there have been other successful LGBTQ+ titles ranging from movies and shows such as Love, Simon to Glee, they all have one thing in common—they all involve a narrative that focuses on someone being outed before they are ready. Although Heartstopper briefly touches on Charlie Spring’s similar coming out, the series instead highlights the importance of creating a safe space for characters, such as Nick Nelson, as he explores his own sexuality.
Heartstopper is an eye-opening experience for viewers who regularly watch LGBTQ+ portrayals on-screen. One set of events that immediately stands out in the initial few episodes are those that shortly follow Nick and Charlie’s first kiss. This moment, being Nick’s first same-sex kiss happens at a birthday party where any student from Truham Grammar School for Boys (“Truham”) and Harvey Greene Grammar School for Girls (“Higgs”) could walk in at any time. After hearing one of his friends call after him, and aware of this same possibility, Nick dashes out of the room, leaving viewers thinking that it will all be downhill from there.
In a true heart-stopping fashion, Nick runs over to Charlie’s house the following day hoping to get some answers. While Charlie is quick to take the blame, Nick melted everyone’s heart when he pulled Charlie closer and kissed him, reaffirming his feelings. Throughout the series, Nick explores what it means to be attracted to someone of the same sex, often questioning what it means in an attempt to figure out where he may fall on the spectrum. In another beautifully depicted scene, while watching Pirates of the Caribbean with his mom and mentally swooning over both Kiera Knightley and Orlando Bloom, Nick slowly begins to understand that it’s possible to be attracted to more than one gender identity. Nick’s entire journey is a validating portrayal and experience for the bisexual community who are often depicted as having to “pick a side.”
Although the series mainly focuses on Nick and Charlie’s story, it’s not the only LGBTQ+ storyline being explored. Throughout the series, we meet Tara Jones and her girlfriend, Darcy Olsson, the self-appointed “school lesbians” who quickly befriend new student Ellie Argent into their friend group. While not a lot about Ellie’s past is brought up, we do discover that she transferred from Truham to the all-girls school. One thing Heartstopper does well to focus on is who Ellie is now and not who she was.
In their storyline, Tara and Darcy decide to make their relationship public which does receive some initial backlash and Heartstopper takes this as an opportunity to shine light on the invalidation of lesbians. After Tara posts a picture with her girlfriend on social media, it brings forth comments on such as “You don’t look like a lesbian” or “You’re too pretty to be a lesbian lmao” which is a slight nod to lesbian fetishization. Yet even through the difficulties, they are able to openly communicate with each other and express their concerns without shying away from labelling themselves as “lesbians” and being proud of it, which is often treated poorly by society.
Heartstopper has created a platform for multiple LGBTQ+ identities to feel seen, from Nick taking “The Ultimate Gay Quiz” to Charlie asking his art teacher how to stop liking a straight person. This show has made one thing clear, queer representation too often focuses on the negative possible outcomes of exploring one's sexuality and coming out. If anything, it has left the internet wanting more of this wholesome content. In fact, less than a month after its release Netflix announced that Heartstopper has been renewed for Season 2 and Season 3!