Heartstopper is a close-to-perfect TV series. Beautifully presented and thoughtfully cast, it chronicles a simple love story of two teenage boys who must each overcome difficulties of identity in order to be together. What sets Heartstopper truly apart from other shows of this ilk is how it deals with its LGBTQ+ subject matter. The level of purpose and care it employs raises it above most stereotypical tropes, while the airy positivity, full of warming affirmations, act as a balm to the harsher realities that crop up in the course of the story. It’s essentially a metaphorical hug from start to finish — so why then did I feel completely broken as the ending credits began to roll?
After sitting with my emotions for a while, I slowly realised why I felt so hurt — I needed Charlie and Nick when I was a teenager, struggling with my own sexuality and having no guiding light to show me that everything was going to be okay. The simmering melancholy was like a strange, retrospective yearning for something that could now never come to fruition. And it seems to be an almost universal reaction from series’ adult audience. Nothing like Heartstopper existed for closeted teens in the early 00s, and selfishly, I was angry about this.
Watching Heartstopper made me mourn aspects of my own adolescence to some degree. I wanted to have grown up in the fictional universe that Charlie and Nick did, one that was more accepting of a same-sex teen romance. One that normalised conversations about trans kids and had openly gay teachers with pride flags pinned to their sweaters. Their world isn’t without its struggles of course, but it made me wonder what life could have been like if kindness had been more in fashion and there was at least opportunity to live a little more authentically.
Happy-ever-afters just didn’t exist for LGBTQ+ people in movies or TV shows back when I was questioning myself. Our generation had so few aspirational figures to look up to, to fill us with a sense of pride and resolve. We weren’t main characters — we teetered on the outskirts of societal acceptance. We were cautionary tales and comic relief. Sassy BFFs with witty one-liners and no character progression. Being queer was rarely presented as a viable path to happiness.
Juxtapose this to countless scenes from Heartstopper that joyously embrace authentic queer love in all its glory — from Tara and Darcy euphorically dancing and kissing under the strobe lights at a party, to the little electric touches when Nick and Charlie hook fingers, or the stolen glances from Tao and Elle. They’re beautiful and celebratory and normal. Positive forms of representation have a powerful way of making people feel connected. They can expand the status-quo and educate others to think beyond accepted norms — and this is where Heartstopper quietly triumphs.
Although the show swirled up a cacophony of emotion for me, I am tremendously happy to see media content like this being created and embraced, because the world can be a very lonely place when you can’t see yourself in it. The good Heartstopper will do for millions of struggling LGBTQ+ youth, who just want a sign that they’re not wrong or bad, can’t be understated. While the show depicts the bullies and the trepidation and confusion of coming out, it also embraces the journey of identity. It shows the allies and supportive parents. The importance of resources and the healing that can happen when difference is embraced.
But to say Heartstopper obliterated me is an understatement. It forced me re-live my own repressed adolescence as it reached into the deep recesses of my brain, bringing those feelings and unresolved emotions into the light, daring me to confront them again. And I’m glad it did. There’s a catharsis in watching this beautiful, empathetic show as an adult. It’s hopeful and restorative, celebrating the progress made and signalling what’s still left to be done.
While some will argue that Heartstopper isn’t doing anything pioneeringly new in terms of it being a coming out story, the accessibility of this piece and soothing ease with which it presents its thesis is still a rare find in the small library of LGBTQ+ focused television. The characters Alice Oseman has created, so unassuming as they are, will become heroes for a whole new generation. And I am beyond thankful that Nick and Charlie’s gently radical story has entered mainstream consciousness.
Heartstopper is currently streaming on Netflix.