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Are Shows Like ‘Heartstopper’ an Accurate Representation of Queer Life?

Unless you have been living under a rock, you probably will have heard of the recent Netflix series ‘Heartstopper’. The show, adapted from a long-loved webcomic by Alice Oseman, focuses on a queer coming-of-age story.

Background


The story, set in a British grammar school starts with Charlie Spring, a high-strung, openly out boy, and documents his budding friendship with the seemingly straight rugby captain, Nick Nelson. The story showcases their blossoming romance in turn.


For many, the story offered a niche that had not been satisfied before, a sweet, coming-of-age story with happiness.


The queer death trope


Much of the queer media we have been exposed to in recent years is tinged with sadness. The trope of queer characters dying is one that many will be familiar with. We are introduced to queer characters and become attached to them, only to have them killed off or doomed to a sad ending. Queer characters are viewed as more expendable than heterosexual ones, with their purpose to plots played down.


This is why Heartstopper has been a breath of fresh air to many. The series establishes two queer characters immediately, and they both have a positive storyline and ending.


The threat towards queer people even in more liberal countries such as the UK has been noticeable for many years. For many queer people growing up in Britain, living under the shadow of legislation such as Section 28 made the threat towards queer people very probable. For many, having a teen-oriented show featuring mainly queer people offers a respite from the ever-growing negativity targeted towards the LGBT community in the press.


Realism


Many have raised the issue of the realism of Heartstopper, however, and the fact that we may be feeding queer youth a false reality.


Whilst the main character, Charlie, faces bullying and other issues in his friendship group, the story ends on a happy, positive ending, with him starting a relationship with the other character Nick. People have slated Heartstopper however for glazing over issues that young queer people face and making the story overwhelmingly positive and unrealistic.


Many believe that setting up young queer people to believe that they will meet the love of their life by chance in a classroom is unhealthy and sets unhealthy expectations for adolescence.


However, Heartstopper has a good balance of realism throughout. Whilst Charlie and Nick end up in a healthy and positive relationship, the characters face issues such as bullying, stereotyping and poor mental health throughout.


Bullying and intersectionality


Charlie experiences homophobic bullying from some of his peers, which reflects the harsh reality that many young people face in schools and other settings. The show portrays the negative impact of bullying on the mental health and well-being of queer individuals, highlighting the need for greater awareness and education about diversity and inclusion.


Heartstopper also explores the intersectionality of queer life, particularly the experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals from different cultural and racial backgrounds.


The show features characters from diverse backgrounds, each with their own unique experiences and perspectives. This diversity helps to showcase the richness and complexity of the LGBTQ+ community, and the importance of intersectionality in understanding and addressing the unique challenges that LGBTQ+ individuals face.


Trans inclusion


We are introduced to the character 'Elle', a trans girl who moves from the boy's school to the girl's school, and her difficulties around her identity and friendships. Elle is a person of colour, and her experiences and struggles around her identity are demonstrated. Yasmin Finney, the actress who plays Elle, has spoken of her difficulties as a young, trans actress, including a transphobic encounter she had whilst in a restaurant. This demonstrates the need for further inclusivity and representation of the queer community on television.


20 years ago, a show like Heartstopper would have been unimaginable. Shows with a queer storyline targeted towards teenagers are few and far between, and young queer people need to have the sort of representation Heartstopper offers. Whilst many have called the relationships in the show unrealistic, the show still showcases many of the struggles young queer people face today and is an important tool in the future of education and inclusion for queer people.


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