Netflix Heartstopper: first time I’ve been represented on screen

Netflix’s coming-of-age romance Heartstopper is winning hearts worldwide, but for me, it was the first time I felt seen on screen.

The first way I would describe the feeling surrounding Netflix’s new romantic coming-of-age drama Heartstopping is – in a good way – gay panic. It’s a show that’s so normal in its representations, and that’s what makes it revolutionary.

It’s not just for queer people, though. Alongside all of the queer dialogue, drama, friendships, and romance, comes a wholly relatable story for anyone who’s ever been a teen.

The series follows Charlie, a grade 10 schoolboy who gets assigned to sit next to a grade 11 rugby player named Nick. In what has to be one of the most realistic romances I’ve ever seen portrayed in media, Charlie and Nick trade smiles, casual greetings and looks as they both begin to crush on each other.

Going into this series, I had felt that as a queer person I would relate most with the main character, Charlie. What I discovered was that Nick hit a lot closer to home.

When we meet Nick, he has yet to learn about his sexuality. At first, he doesn’t realize that he is experiencing romantic feelings for Charlie, despite a strong connection. To Nick, it’s almost a “bromance”.

As a queer person growing up within the church and religious private school system, this was my story.

I struggled with understanding myself and my sexuality. I knew from an early age that I was gay, yet the environment I was in couldn’t facilitate this growth or understanding. In fact, I was specifically told not to follow these thoughts or feelings.

So while I knew that I was gay, I had no idea how that would affect my relationships, or my interactions with the world.

This would manifest in me seeking out extremely close male friendships. I liked the comfort and the warmth they brought me, yet there was always a part of me that wanted something more. Just like Nick, it was through Google searches and personality quizzes that I went on my journey of self discovery.

What’s so wholesome about Heartstopping is that once Nick realizes he’s gay, the show allows him to act on his feelings for Charlie without trauma.

It’s the cutest queer romance that I’ve ever seen on screen, and yet it’s only the beginning of Nick’s journey — as it was with mine.

Not only was Heartstopping the first time I saw a character emulate my own experience of discovering queerness, it was also the first time I’ve seen a bisexual character be allowed to discover themselves without judgment — after watching Pirates of the Caribbeanno less.

Realistic bisexual representation on television is few and far between. Some of the most recent series released even treat bisexuality as a joke or a choice. Heartstopping changes the dialogue.

I always knew I was gay, however, one of the most confusing parts was that I still experienced levels of attraction towards women.

Funnily enough — while in Heartstopping Nick realized he was bisexual after being attracted to both Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley in POTC — it was the series Once Upon A Time that made me realize I still had a level of attraction towards women.

This show portrays the reality of high school crushes well, and while it is one that will make Queer people rejoice, it’s a story for everyone.

To finally see myself, my journey, and my queerness portrayed on screen made me understand myself in deeper ways. Before seeing this show, I would have said that I was gay. Now I know I’m bisexual.

That is the magic of representation and seeing that you are not alone, it can change your life.

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