‘Heartstopper’ Made Me Feel Incredibly Seen As A Bisexual, Even After All These Years
Trigger warning: use of the term “queer” in a reclaimed context
This article contains spoilers for season 1 of “Heartstopper”
“He’s straight, Charlie!”
“Masculine people can be gay…and bisexual people exist.”
This exchange between Charlie and his best friend Tao did more for me than I anticipated while binge-watching one of Netflix’s newest TV series, “Heartstopper.” I had heard that the series had cute young adult rom-com vibes (which I’m always a sucker for, tbh), so I decided to watch it in hopes of having a new TV show to add to my queue.
I hadn’t anticipated how much I would feel validated in my sexuality and how queer joy represented on television would genuinely make all the difference in how I viewed myself.
If you’re not familiar with the series, “Heartstopper” follows the story of Charlie (played by Joe Locke), a slightly nerdy, gay teenager attending an all-boys high school. At the start of the term, Charlie finds himself creating an unlikely friendship with Nick Nelson (played by Kit Conner), the popular star rugby player, after the two are seated by each other in one of their classes. Charlie starts to experience a slight crush right away and can’t help but become excited any time he can spend time with Nick. Yet, to his own surprise, Nick starts to potentially develop some feelings of his own, which have him questioning his sexuality and his life in general.
As Nick begins to unpack his sexuality, both alone and as he slowly reveals his thoughts to other people, the show handles the whole experience with care and genuine trust. While it doesn’t entirely steer away from struggles brought on by being a queer teen, it highlights queer joy so much more—and in that way, gives a glimpse into what a world can look like for those who are questioning their sexuality.
I was 17 when I first questioned if I was entirely straight. At the time, I had no friends that were openly LGBTQ+, and attending a small rural high school wasn’t quite the ideal setting to find any. I had a strong, and sadly realistic, fear of how my loved ones and friends might react if they knew I even remotely thought about women in that context. Additionally, my heavily religious background/involvement only exacerbated my anxiety surrounding it—when you’re certain that the God you worship and want to love you would be disgusted by your feelings, it isn’t easy to fully address what they are or what they could mean.
At that time, I wasn’t extremely familiar with the term “bisexual”—or attraction to two or more genders. When I did start to hear more, it was usually insinuated as the straight girl’s way to “get attention” or simply a pitstop on the way to a guy fully coming out as gay. The identity itself wasn’t often embraced as a real option, though it was treated with just as equal disgust by anyone I knew who was blatantly anti-LGBTQ+. So I did what I believed I was supposed to and threw myself into the only “appropriate” choice—dating and focusing on boys.
It took 10 years before I could finally no longer continue repressing how I felt. After finally realizing I had a crush on one of my female friends, I realized I couldn’t spend the rest of my life pretending the attraction to more than one gender didn’t exist.
Now, at almost 30 years old, I realize just how much of a relief it is to be surrounded by people who not only fully see you and love you but who are willing to support you along the way. Watching Nick Nelson try to puzzle out whether his feelings for Charlie are just those of a really great friend or something more, I remembered the ache and confusion of trying to push through what specific experiences I had could mean. If I wanted to spend time with a girl constantly, did that mean I liked them differently? If my face lit up whenever I got a text message, was this a crush? When I didn’t receive a reply or was left on read, my heart sank; why did this somehow hurt more from this person than it did from others? Even experiences not directly involving an IRL crush could call me into question—the scene where Nick experiences *bi panic* after watching Pirates of the Caribbean with Kiera Knightly and Orlando Bloom felt like watching my younger self in a time machine.
Yet what stands out as so beautiful is the support that Nick receives as he is working out his sexuality. Charlie is patient and kind, even though, in the past, he was exploited by a closet gay teen who treated him horribly by saying he was “figuring things out.” Charlie’s friends are, understandably, suspicious of Nick out of a strong sense of protection but quickly warm up to him once it’s clear Nick has genuine feelings for Charlie. Even a girl Nick once dated years ago steps in and offers a safe place for him to talk things out, and when she confides that she is a lesbian, she provides another queer friend to connect with.
Ultimately, the scene with Nick and his mother provides a tearful reaction, as Nick nervously tells his mother that Charlie isn’t just a friend. Yet like others in his life, Nick’s mother also accepts him with open arms and reassures him he is still loved exactly as he is. While many of us in the LGBTQ+ community know we wouldn’t receive a similar reaction in our own lives, it truly felt heartwarming to see the moment play out on screen—to see what it could look like.
When Nick finally confidently proclaims he’s bisexual to Charlie, it’s a much more significant moment than it seems. The show could have easily erased the bisexual aspect and tried to paint Nick as gay, but instead shows that being bisexual is a valid, wonderful identity to claim. Charlie doesn’t view him as less queer because of his attraction to girls, and no one gives him grief over whether he is “gay enough.” He simply is allowed to exist, exactly as he is.
For someone who has struggled her entire life with feeling safe enough to explore her sexuality, much less embrace and feel confident in it, it’s nice to have a show like this. This series did more than provide a sweet teenage romance (though it really did), but it reaffirmed something that we, as LGBTQ+ people, might technically know but need to hear every so often: You are valid and beautiful, exactly as you are. In a time where “Don’t Say Gay” bills and constant gut punches seem to be thrown by people intent on completely invalidating us and painting us out to be “unnatural” or “an abomination,” “Heartstopper” chooses to paint a picture of what it looks like when you are fully loved and supported, even in the smallest of ways.
And for someone like me, an adult bisexual woman who could have always used something like this in her life while she was growing up, I’m so wildly grateful that it exists now.
I hope that the show isn’t just painting a rosy picture, but is paving the way to be a real experience for all of the LGBTQ+ youth right now.
To show that queer joy is not just a pipe dream or an unrealistic hope but can actually be a reality when you have the right people by your side.