I can’t enjoy Heartstopper without feeling sad about those of us it’s come too late for
A generation of LGBTQ people would live differently if we watched it as teenagers
I can’t get through Heartstopper. I’ve tried, but I can’t do it. I want to – even if literally only to cry over the Olivia Colman scenes. I know I should watch it all and I know it’s a seminal piece of queer telly that’s going to have so much impact on so many young LGBTQ people – some without them even realising so. And yet I can’t do more than the first episode. Why? Dare I say I think I might be past it. Watching Heartstopper just makes me sad – not because of the content, but because of all the people who missed out on such a show and who are still navigating their sexuality in ways they could have got to grips with years ago. Heartstopper leaves me happy for the young queers but sad for me and those older than I.
It’s an idealistic version of a less than ideal former reality
The Nick and Charlie relationship that forms Heartstopper is both relatable and completely intangible. It’s like a fairytale outcome of something we all imagined we’d come close to. When I was in college, literally 10 years ago now (a sobering thought), I had my own Nick and Charlie situation. I can imagine many of us did. I’d been out of the closet for a few years and was pretty comfortable with who I was. In hindsight, for my age and for the era – VERY comfortable with who I was. Not to toot my own horn til the end of time, but considering we were living in a time where I genuinely was afraid that if my family caught me watching RuPaul’s Drag Race they’d think I was trans I did alright for myself. I thought back then, naively, that we’d come so far as LGBTQ people but in the decade since we’ve eclipsed it. Even if it now feels like we’re going backwards with the culture wars stoked by the right wing press hungrily demonising trans people, we understand more now and back then in a college of 2000 teenagers I could count the lads who openly identified as gay on my fingers.
Being openly gay, I found myself in weird situations with lads who weren’t more often than you’d think. Snapchat had just launched, which opened many doors of lads being able to say things in disappearing form that they would be too afraid to without it. Like Charlie, I too fancied lads on the rugby team. One of them I found myself in a strange texting situation with that was really intense. He came as a plus one to a party of mine once and eventually things ended badly. We never even did anything romantically, but I wonder if it would have ended up being more exploratory if the context of the world was different. I did theatre and artsy stuff – being gay didn’t feel weird in my world. When you’re known for being the rugby lads and you are genuinely attracted to women but have all these other intrigued feelings going on, that must be so hard to tackle. When I watch Nick navigate his sexuality on Heartstopper – and I’m not saying it’s easy for him, it’s not easy for anyone – I can’t help but wonder what these lads I knew growing up would have turned out like if they had a show like this on Netflix to put their mind to rest about feelings they were having.
I am aware that these are personal anecdotes, but I’d bet a hefty amount of money that any gay man reading this has a similar situation. Think back to those “straight and curious” lads who explored or came close to doing so with you when you knew who you were and what you are. Think how much less toxic their navigations go those feelings would be for people who have shows like Heartstopper at their fingertips.
Obviously – this show is not the answer to everything. It doesn’t heal the world from toxic masculinity and mean everyone is fixed. I suspect the worst culprits of dealing with what we go through will never press play on Heartstopper, but I feel sad for them. I feel sad for those that Heartstopper has come out too late for – those like me in ways in which we don’t really watch high school shows as adults. Heartstopper is landmark telly – but I’m sad for those of us who never got the chance to make the most of it.
Both seasons of Heartstopper are available to watch on Netflix now. For all the latest Netflix news, drops and memes like The Holy Church of Netflix on Facebook.
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