‘Heartstopper’ Is The Queer Joy We Need Right Now

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Credit: Variety

Heartstopper, based on Alice Oseman’s webcomic, is a queer coming-of-age Netflix romance series that has taken the internet by storm. A simple love story starring Joe Locke and Kit Connor has captivated audiences all over the world – probably because it’s one of the most transparent, vulnerable, and joyful depictions of queer love available to us.

Heartstopper normalises the queer experience for children and young people in ways that have never been as explicitly depicted before in mainstream media. And it does so with joy, celebrating queerness rather than magnifying it as strange or unusual. It de-stigmatises bisexuality, doesn’t bat an eye at trans identity, and celebrates queerness all while highlighting the universal struggle of having a massive school crush. Every pivotal teenage moment is explored, from meeting your crush, to the inevitable pining, to the support you receive from your friends when they believe your crush is being an idiot. Hollywood has explored these tropes numerous times, but always through a heteronormative lens.

There’s been a lot of pop culture attention recently on young queer characters, from Love Simon and Young Royals to Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. Coming out stories aren’t as rare as they once were, but what distinguishes Heartstopper is its unapologetic sentimentality; it takes pleasure in fostering Charlie and Nick’s friendship, then appears to envelop them in a protective bubble as they begin to feel something more. Instead of drawing the entirety of your focus onto the specific fact that this is a queer relationship, Heartstopper delves into the core of its main characters — bringing to light their emotions and feelings, so that no matter your sexuality, you feel attached to Nick, Charlie, and their relationship.

Credit: Netflix

Heartstopper is a show that queer millennials craved when they were growing up and figuring out their sexuality or gender identity, and thus proves bittersweet for some. “A show like this would have helped me come to terms with my sexuality sooner,” says Brandon, 31, from Canada, who also mentions that may of the queer stories millennials were exposed to ended in tragedy, à la Brokeback Mountain.

In Heartstopper, we meet Nick, a young rugby player who is struggling with his sexuality as a result of his feelings for Charlie, a classmate. In “Kiss,” the third episode, Corinna Brown’s Tara and Kizzy Edgell’s Darcy decide to stop hiding their relationship, kissing in the middle of a crowded room in full view of everyone. The camera focuses in on them, illuminating them with rainbow lights and brilliantly paired with CHVRCHES’ “Clearest Blue.” In many ways, that kiss is a game changer. It reassures Nick that he can be happy with someone of the same gender. It also demonstrates how far queer children and adults have come. We get to see high school students own their queerness unapologetically in public, which is unlike many of our experiences.

When you’re growing up queer, it can feel like the entire world is against you. Pressure is coming from all directions, whether it’s from your family, friends, or even your government. And it’s solely because you’re different from the majority. So, when something comes along to relieve that pressure, you grab it with both hands. This is why queer children and adults alike cling to Heartstopper. It’s the liberation we’ve been looking for for decades.

Joe Locke (Charlie) said in an interview for GQ “I think there are a lot of queer people who just accept what they get because they’ve told themselves they don’t deserve better.” He added “Heartstopper is so great at being like, ‘Queer people deserve real love. Queer people deserve a love that actually is fulfilling’. Heartstopper is a real celebration of queer love.”

Credit: Netflix

In recent years, the LGBTQ+ community has seen themselves reflected in shows such as Will & Grace, Queer As Folk, The L Word, and more. However, queer youth were excluded from the picture, this adulthood equals queerness viewpoint also feeds into the unrealistic, and sadly widespread, fear of queerness “sexualising” teenagers and children, while heterosexual characters of the same age engaging in typical human rites of passage leave viewers unconcerned.

Consider the show’s approach to trans representation. Elle (Yasmin Finney) is a part of our main friend group who transfers to an all-girls school when we meet her. All we need to know is that she used to attend an all-boys school; telling us all we need to know. In a groundbreaking way, it normalises the experience of transitioning, instead of focusing on a transphobic bully, the show follows Elle as she goes through all the usual teenage experiences, such as making friends at her new school and developing a crush on her other best friend. Heartstopper heals queer trauma where other shows glorify it.

It approaches queer identity in a way that is intended to evoke happiness, love, and acceptance while combating stigmas that attempt to “sexualise” normal adolescent experiences. Queer youth are given the opportunity to simply be themselves while receiving support and joy. And whether you cried because you never had the same experience or because it shows you what the next generation can achieve, it is collectively healing our trauma rather than glorifying it. Hopefully, it will continue to resonate in seasons two and three – a renewal it sorely deserves.

Credit: Netflix

Section 28 – the law that prohibited schools from ‘promoting homosexuality’ in England and Wales – would not have allowed shows like Heartstopper, Euphoria, and films like Love Simon and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie to exist 20 years ago. Students were unable to ask, and teachers were unable to tell. It was a dark time, and many young queer students suffered in silence at school.

In some ways, this adds to the beauty of the show. It fills a void in so many of our hearts as queer children. While some of us enjoy seeing these kids fall in love because it bridges the gap, for others, it serves as a reminder that the gap still exists. More importantly, media like Heartstopper could help ensure that the next generation of children never faces this gap. This is why a show like Heartstopper is so important; it embodies all of the best aspects of queer love and puts them on display for millions of people to see. And if there’s one thing we need right now, it’s an unapologetic, bold depiction of queer happiness.

Heartstopper is available to stream on Netflix.

Words by Simone Margett


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