I haven’t known how to express exactly how I felt about Heartstopper, Netflix’s new LGBT high-school romance. I’ll admit I haven’t even watched it yet. I’ve seen the trailer and a few clips and honest to god it was simultaneously heart-warming, life-affirming yet also opened a lot of old wounds. I am enormously happy this program has been commissioned, has been written, acted and directed with such care and also embraced by the public at large. It is a testament to how far we as a society have come in not just accepting but celebrating LGBT love and relationships.
I have always championed LGBT made media because representation is incredibly important, especially in the mainstream, and I champion this too. However, my gosh it reminded me how ostracized I felt by a homophoic adolescence. Teenage years should be formative in a healthy, explorative way - however mine, and the vast majority of LGBT youth of my generation, wasn’t. It couldn’t be. It was often literally about survival. Can you believe that? I only left high school in the 2000’s and yet the statement is true. It was about negotiating how one could be oneself and yet also not be beaten, threatened, taunted, shamed. There was absolutely no chance of exploring one's sexuality. There was no kisses behind bike sheds for ‘gay boys’. No innocent hand holding. No first kisses. No dates. No first forays into sex. Any held glances which may be interpreted as embodying any kind of attraction, as may have done in hetrosexual circles, would have been met with disgust and derision as opposed to healthy excitement and opportunity with ‘normal’ ‘straight’ people.
Funnily enough though, sex isn’t even the thing I feel is the most important part of this. It’s tenderness, it’s kindness, it’s compliments, it’s sentimentality, it’s meeting others who are like-minded, it’s being able to be oneself, it’s not being made to feel ashamed, it’s not being made to hate yourself. No child deserves to be made to feel like that for simply existing. Neither does any adult. Yet that’s what LGBT kids can be made to feel.
Heartstopper presents an experience of LGBT youth which, by heterosexual standards, is virtually mundane in its normalcy. It’s sweet, romantic, kind, open representation of young LGBT love is beautiful and I am so happy it is being made, shown and embraced. To know that this generation of LGBT kids can see positive representations of love and acceptance, to see themselves not just represented but celebrated. It also burns me a little to view a world I never knew, a youth which was essentially stolen from me by homophobia. Whilst a lot of people may point to the fact that equal marriage now exists in the UK as an example of how my life is less hindered nowadays, I can’t but help but point out that an adolescence of government sponsored trauma (Section 28) has lasting effects on self-worth, on an ability to build healthy relationships and shapes ones world view - one which we then spend many years trying to unlearn, to rid ourselves of and to live happy lives. The hurdles placed in our way by people who should’ve been looking out for us are hopefully being cleared now for future generations. I will celebrate with them.
When I get around to watching ‘Heartstopper' I will inevitably cry my eyes out for both good and bad reasons. However, I have already had a few discussions with friends who have expressed similar sentiments as I have and it's been nice to connect on a deeper level over our experiences, unfortunate though they may have been. So Heartstopper is managing to move and reach a much wider audience than maybe it intended and its positive effects are overflowing and multiplying. So let’s celebrate both that and ourselves.