Welcome to the latest installment of our 2022 Pride Month Series! Each weekday in the month of June, we will be highlighting a different member of the LGBTQIA+ community who we think is a great example of representation and dynamic characterization. We will focus on fictional characters, celebrities, and activists alike — the positive voices within the LGBTQIA+ community and in mainstream media. Today’s spotlight is on Netflix’s Heartstopper.
Pulled directly from Alice Oseman’s hit webcomic/graphic novels of the same title, Heartstopper is a feel good, queer, teen romance that follows a group of teens as they discover who they are and what love is. With all the ups and downs that you’d expect from a coming-of-age story, but none of the dark/dramatic tones that have plagued queer teen shows in the past, Heartstopper is undoubtedly one of the biggest LGBTQ+ releases this year. With characters representing nearly every aspect of the queer spectrum, Heartstopper offers a lot to talk about in it’s first season. So we’re going to keep things simple in this article and focus on the series’ main couples/characters: Nick and Charlie, Tara and Darcy, and Elle.
Nick and Charlie
From the first moment they step onscreen as Nick and Charlie, Kit Connor and Joe Locke bring the boys to life as though they’d sprung directly out of Oseman’s drawings. So, while we did devote an article to Nick and Charlie last year, we couldn’t just skip over the way the show brought their story to life onscreen.
Nick grows so much in this first season. From realizing that his so-called friends are actually homophobic bullies, to making new friends, to discovering that he’s bisexual, to coming out the the important people in his life, Nick changed a lot in just eight episodes. Some of the show’s most heartwarming moments come out of this change. For example, Charlie’s constant reassurance that Nick does not need to come out until he is ready is so wonderful to see, and is key to allowing Nick to become comfortable enough to come out. Not to mention the tense yet wonderful conversations between Nick and Tao as they navigate how their individual relationships with Charlie impact each other.
Charlie, on the other hand, is more constant in the show thus far. His sexuality is clear for moment one, and, while it is made clear that he has been bullied for it in the past, he seems to be fairly comfortable in who he is. Charlie is exactly the kind of friend every young queer needs: supportive yet not pushy. He gives Nick the breathing room he needs when it comes to deciding when to come out, and despite hating to be someone’s secret again Charlie never pushes.
The beauty of Charlie and Nick’s story is that it is a very typical teen romance: slightly nerdy person goes through rough breakup, meets the hot popular person by accident, has huge crush on hot popular person but they’re just friends, hot popular person realizes that maybe they should be more than friends, a sprinkling of drama, a kiss, some more drama, and slightly nerdy person and hot popular person end up together. It is every teen movie. However, it is also so much more. Nick and Charlie’s relationship is a solid one built on support and caring, and for every queer viewer it is a reminder that just because a relationship may not be what the world sees as normal doesn’t mean that it isn’t good or beautiful.
Tara and Darcy
Tara and Darcy are absolutely iconic. From the first moment Corinna Brown and Kizzy Edgell first grace our screens they draw your eye. Even in French class when they are artfully dodging Elle’s questions about who they’re dating, the two can’t hide how much they care about each other. An established couple from the outset, Tara and Darcy’s storyline doesn’t involve any will they/won’t they drama. Their story is literally that of a healthy couple dealing with their issues. In this case the main issue is how coming out as a couple changes the way they’re treated by their peers.
Tara truly struggles with the way people change how they perceive her after she and Darcy make their relationship public. However, Darcy doesn’t let her go through it alone. She is there for Tara every step of the way, reminding Tara, and viewers, that it’s okay to need support and that the people who truly care about you are happy to provide it. Darcy has already been through this when she came out, and she is happier now, she just wants Tara to get there too. Their whole relationship is a beautiful example of what can happen when teens are allowed to be their authentic selves — one that inspires Nick to go after what he really wants with Charlie.
One of the best, yet most subtle storylines in the first season is Elle’s. Viewers first meet Elle as the missing member of Charlie’s quartet of friends for whom Tao continues to buy apple juice at lunch. However as soon as the perspective shifts to Elle sitting at her desk texting, the reason for her absence suddenly becomes clear: she’s moved to a different school – one that better fits her gender.
This transition is probably the most explicit statement the show makes about Elle being trans, and it is exactly the reason that her storyline so special. The show’s primary characters never act as though Elle is or has ever been anyone other than who she is now — which is unheard of in media! She is never deadnamed, she is never referred to by the wrong pronouns, and aside from a few reminiscences her time before transitioning is simply not mentioned. This is in direct opposition to most media featuring trans people where their transition is usually central to the story, and it is SO refreshing.
Not only is her story not transition centered, but she is treated as a normal teen who does normal teen things. She learns to make new friends, she goes to school, she discovers she has a crush on her best friend. Okay, maybe that last one isn’t completely normal, but still. She is a relatable character, and not just for trans teens but for everyone. She is not defined by the fact that she is trans, and her story is so much better for it. Plus, the way her friends, new and old, treat her is the perfect example to teens, and everyone, of how they should act around the trans people in their life.
Before we wrap this section, we need to take a moment to give some much deserved praise to Yasmin Finney. Elle is one of the best representations of a trans teen in media today, and as a trans women herself Yasmin plays the role to perfection. From the first moment she appears onscreen, Yasmin brings Elle to life in a way that is relatable, personal, and impossible to forget. Elle was amazing in the webcomic/graphic novels, but Yasmin has made her truly unforgettable.
With such wonderful characters and stories kicking off Heartstopper in its first season, it’s no wonder that Netflix has already renewed the show for two more seasons. Fans can look forward to more great queer stories from these wonderful characters, plus Oseman has promised even more representation coming in season two! She has hinted at the fact that Isaac is asexual/aromantic, and we can look forward to that and so much more in the coming seasons.
Be sure to check back here for all the Heartstopper updates as it moves into season two, and stop by all month for more Pride month sporlights.