I’m straight. I think. In honesty Netflix teen romcom Heartstopper, created from Alice Oseman’s graphic novel, has made me question this. But. Annoyingly. I really do like men (and watching gay men kissing, I don’t know it’s complicated).
As a teacher and ally (congratulations) I am grateful for a story the LGBTQ+ community is hailing empowering and important. But as a straight grown-up, it’s empowering and important to me, too. Heartstopper lovers, I hope reading this makes you say, “God, yes” like Charlie wanting a slushie. Heartstopper virgins, sorry not sorry that reference and the italicised quotes mean nothing to you. Here are six reasons to date (triple date?) Heartstopper:
1. Vicarious falling in love
I think the real reason I watched Heartstopper four times through in two weeks was because my heart, woken up with nowhere to go, cosied up to something that made it feel. In the romantic way, not just the friend way. Don’t get me wrong, there are benefits to having a love life as dead as Imogen’s dog (Heartstopper virgins: the dog is literally dead). Part of me has enjoyed the calm waters, the mental stillness and clarity of having a love life that’s more pond than Pacific. Even if other parts of my anatomy are scoffing at the water analogy because this was most definitely a drought situation. Anyway, there are other programmes for that, dear reader; like Bridgerton season one or fifteen seconds of Bridgerton season two.
But Heartstopper is all about the… heart. We’re there for those moments of connection based on nothing more complicated or premeditated than two people realising they are each other’s favourite person. We’re reminded, visually through Alice Oseman’s enchanting graphics, that connection is real and visceral and undeniable. That sparks do fly.
The goosebump-inducing detail, from the brushing of pinky fingers to the world-changing ‘x’ at the end of a text, transport us to being in that moment. The stomach-flipping promise of “Shall we go somewhere quieter?” Watching two people kiss literally gave me (metaphorical) butterflies; because the build-up was so real I felt like it was me being kissed.
2. It awakens our teenage hearts and re-connects us with connection
As a teacher constantly surrounded by teenagers, I’m proper envious and nostalgic for that time when you like someone because you like them. I had a conversation with a friend recently who asked why I didn’t like a guy I’d been on a date with the night before. Pre-Heartstopper I would have provided an itemised list of reasons, as if I needed them. My response, “I just didn’t like him” was met with a confused repeating of the question,“But what was it about him?” I stood my ground, “I just. Didn’t. Like him.”
Being around teenagers in my job reminds me it’s not our hobbies or profession or anything else we acquire as adults that connects us; it’s our souls. That’s the pure beauty of teenage love, it’s based on who you are when you’re not entirely sure who that is. When you haven’t created layer upon layer of meaning piled on top of who you are in your soul. Teenage love is soul love. Those of us who are single and swiping through soulless dating profiles on a Sunday night when our coupled friends are snuggling up to David Attenborough have been conditioned to think that a tick-box set of criteria is what to look for. Because it’s the only thing an algorithm can look for. It’s my friend demanding a list of reasons I didn’t fancy that guy. As if fancying has anything to do with reason. It’s people saying when it doesn’t work out, “At least you know what you don’t want.” Partly, yes (STOP PRESS: no gaslighters, please). But mostly, no. I want giddy, teenage love that’s pure and stripped of bullshit. I want soul. I want a meet cute not a meat queue.
I’ve realised that where I’m at now, about to buy a flat on my own, means that suddenly my man requirement list no longer includes ‘mortgage partner’. Which isn’t very goosebump-inducing, is it? I’ve binned the entire list (and the apps) because I figured ‘must cycle’ was pretty bullshit, too. If I’m single in a few years I’ll have kids on my own. If I’m fifty before I find a kind of love that makes me feel fifteen so be it. I’m no longer corrupting love with convenience. I’m not looking for security or stability or sperm. I’m not actually looking for anything. I just wanna live my life until I find someone to giggle with me and say, Why are we like this?!
3. It vicariously smashes our insecurities
This show takes a heart-shaped sledgehammer to the lies our brains tell us. “You probably don’t want to” is followed by “I’d like to.” Vulnerability is met with reciprocal vulnerability. Insecurities are bear-hugged. “I’m not getting my hopes up, but I just think maybe, there’s a chance” turns out to be wildly unambitious. Fear is slapped down by love. The characters are fourteen to sixteen years old, played by a shit-hot cast who convey with heartbreaking nuance how, from such a young age, our insecurities are created not from within but from the flaws in other people and so…
4. It reminds us that people are shit because of their own shit
Like one suggestion of being boyfriends met with revulsion and another, asked nervously as a result, met with “Err YES!” Bully Ben Hope’s disgusted “Boyfriends?” transported me back to being laughed at when I told an ex I loved him. Maybe one day someone will heal that scar with the energy of Nick’s “YES!” but at least this show gave me an example of a different response to the same statement. And a reminder that people are shit because of their own shit. Charlie’s slap down to all bullies, “You don’t get to make me feel like crap anymore just because you hate yourself” made my heart stop. Because in fifteen words it wrapped up my last break-up.
Heartstopper makes you realise how easy it is to be straight. It makes you realise how little representation there is of LGBTQ+ life, and love. It made me consider the pasts of my gay friends and wonder if their parents were as supportive of them coming out as Olivia Coleman; hoping they were but fearing they weren’t. It woke me up to the fact that their school experience was probably hellish, and still is for so many LGBTQ+ teenagers who shouldn’t have to be used to people saying stuff. It made me hope upon hope that a gay boy at school, whose family have not ‘allowed’ him to be gay, will find Heartstopper, and find hope.
Hope that next time is better than last time. Hope that we should get our hopes up. Hope that maybe, there’s a chance (I am clutching the flimsiest of paper straws here but we’re in the hope section, after all). Hope that if we’re unashamedly ourselves, someone will say everything is awful without you.
Like Isaac, I wanna believe in ROMANCE. Thank you Heartstopper for showing us that isn’t foolish, and making us believe in the moment we can say I never thought this would happen to me. And then it does.