Cutesy Gay Teen Romance Heartstopper Subverts Absolutely Nothing, and That’s Great

Are two teenage boys in a sweet, innocent romance the solution to the current culture wars?

No, it’s not. However, the young adult offerings of Netflix are a huge success. HeartstopperThis is something that means something to the greater scheme of things. It reminds us all that we are not collective identities, or part of a team, but individual beings looking for ways of connecting with one another and making our lives better.

HeartstopperThe eight-episode adaption of the 2016 series of web comics created by Alice Oseman is now available. This series follows the story of Charlie and Nick, two British high school seniors who eventually find love. Charlie was out of the closet for one year. Nick was heterosexual until Charlie befriended him.

The following is an old story about young romance. However, it features two teenage boys rather than the heterosexual couple. It has the same earnestness, the same teen emotionality, the butterflies-in-the-stomach moments (occasionally illustrated with actual carToon butterflies flittering about on screen), and the same carefully curated messiness—chaotic but not too chaotic. Both boys are a mix of opposite personalities which makes them attractive. The boys have a lot of friend drama which can be a conflict source. Their lives are theirs alone, and adults play a minor part in the story as sounding board. Except for the teenagers’ social media use, it feels almost like a distant time. Their friends and they all go bowling. A date involves going out for milkshakes. It is not sex. Sex is something nobody talks about. There’s nothing more racially gratifying than handholding and kissing.

You can basically say that you have seen all of the young adult romance stories. Heartstopper. The show was released on Netflix in April and has been a huge success with both critics and viewers. With nearly 24,000,000 hours of viewing, it was fifth in global Netflix rankings within the first week. It is now ranked number 10 in 56 countries among Netflix’s most-watched shows. The show has managed to avoid being screwed over by Rotten Tomatoes trolls.

Part of the appeal is certainly in the performances, which are stellar and remarkably natural from a realistically young cast—these are not 20-somethings pretending to be teens. Joe Locke, Kit Connor, and their lead roles have a natural, easygoing chemistry. Even the most jaded of viewers could root for them to bond. Their friends—who include a lesbian couple who attend the nearby girls school, a trans girl who just started transitioning in the last year, and Charlie’s overprotective straight friend who worries about being abandoned—make for a deliberately diverse cast that does not feel overly manufactured.

This is partly due to the fact that the show does not preach but lets the characters breathe. Yes, bullies exist. There are times of homophobia. Even within a society that supports LGBT inclusion in the majority, there is still homophobia. There are still pockets of assholish behavior. HeartstopperNick is able to confront a bully and grow. This is a great moment in Nick’s life. It is a step towards self-realization. It tells the story.

However HeartstopperIt isn’t didactic. It doesn’t come with a lesson. It’s not there to piss off anyone or lecture anybody. You won’t see the word “queer representation” mentioned in much of the coverage. HeartstoppeIt is a great word, and I love it. While “Queer” used to be a term activists sought, it has now become an odd collectivist word that doesn’t serve any kind of identity. Many people, even heterosexuals, want to be called “queer”. Wikipedia even has a Wikipedia entry.

Charlie isn’t “queer.” Charlie calls himself gay. Nick eventually realizes that he is bisexual. Their female friends come out on Instagram as lesbians. The women choose their own identities and don’t share a common label to help others know who they are. This is what I mean. HeartstopperIt is very similar to the other young adult books and shows, in that it focuses on its protagonists finding their identity. They were used to be called “coming of age stories”. Today, they are as true today.

It is so crucial for teens to figure out who they are, so it makes sense that legislation would be passed to ban LGBT discussion in schools. These are the kids of HeartstopperThey were not forced to identify as transgender or gay. They are who they are and tell adults about their sexuality. It’s how things usually work in the real world.

Florida approved H.B. 1557 was the alleged “Don’t Say Gay” law. Its supporters claimed it only meant that children under three years old would be exposed to inappropriate sexual discussion. If the content isn’t age-appropriate, or developmentalally inappropriate for students, then the bill will censor LGBT discussion and content in every grade level. This is one of its many flaws.

However, if we believe the bill’s supporters, then there is nothing wrong with discussing HeartstopperFlorida’s public high schools provide the best educational environment. There is no suggestion of sexual activity and there is no explicit or implicit sexual content in the program. This is only for those who feel that any public school representations of LGBT identity are inappropriate.

Success is key to your success Heartstopper is how it demonstrates that it’s fundamentally wrong to approach LGBT culture collectively—that it’s either all about sex or that it’s all about “representation.” Fundamentally, it is always about the individuals and their pursuit of happiness.