When Love, Victor returns next month for its third and final season, it will finally get to what co-showrunner Brian Tanen calls "the fun part" about the journey of a gay teenager. "The fun part being teenagehood, of course—that of first crushes, first kisses, first flings—the kind of swoon-worthy milestones that straight characters have enjoyed without the baggage of having to define their sexuality," says Shirley Li. "Reframing the queer coming-of-age experience as, simply, coming-of-age may seem like a subtle shift, but it helps illuminate how the emphasis on coming out has perhaps limited queer storytelling." As Li notes of Netflix's Heartstopper, based on Alice Oseman’s graphic novels, "mainstream coming-of-age stories about LGBTQ teenagers don’t normally look like Charlie's. These works tend to treat coming out as the core emotional conflict, portraying the experience as an internal crisis rife with secret keeping and anxiety. But Netflix’s popular adaptation of Heartstopper shifts the focus, prioritizing the depiction of celebration over that of repression—and it’s not the only recent, widely accessible project to do so." Li notes that past coming-out stories have been told with straight audiences in mind. Crucially on Heartstopper, Li adds, "the story of Nick and Charlie is sweet but not saccharine—the pair stumble on the way to becoming a couple, because adolescence is a minefield of heady emotions and dating mishaps—and Nick’s coming out is characterized less by fear than by curiosity. In a sly bit of meta commentary, he searches on the internet for films he could watch about the LGBTQ experience as he begins to feel attracted to Charlie. The list he lands on recommends Brokeback Mountain and Moonlight, but rather than watching either, Nick indulges in an old favorite, Pirates of the Caribbean."
Heartstopper is pure high school romantic fantasy, a story in which the L, G, B, and T are not only represented but joyfully so: "Unlike the queer stories of yore in which LGBTQ+ characters were marginalized—either never named as such, leaving hungry audiences to squint in search of queer subtext, or openly identified as queer, only to meet a grisly and untimely demise (everywhere from The Children’s Hour to Buffy the Vampire Slayer)—Heartstopper sets queerness at the center," says Tamar Westphal. "Across social media and a wide range of reviews, Heartstopper has been hailed for its unbridled joy, an unusual tone among queer narratives for any age, let alone youthful coming out stories. However, more unique than that is its overwhelming focus on tender romance with minimal sexual content. The series wraps us in safety and reassurance that can be hard to find for queer folks, especially in our early forays into coming out. These characters are neither alone nor just out for themselves—neither their own sexual gratification nor zero-sum ascension in the high school pecking order. They crave community and, amazingly, they find it. The path from 'I’ve only ever met one openly gay person before' to planning a triple date is swift."
Heartstopper is a reflection of the true queer experience: coming out never ends: "Charlie Spring has been out of the closet for a year by the time we meet him," says Emily Kavanagh. "He’s gay and everyone knows it. His coming out narrative focuses on him grappling with being bullied for his sexuality and coming to grips with a new crush. Charlie’s narrative highlights how coming out is not the end of his hardships and the strength it takes to be true to yourself in the face of cruelty. It reflects the experience being out and how that changes others' perception of a person."
Joe Locke and Kit Connor did their chemistry read via Zoom months before meeting in person: Locke says "we hit it off straight on," while Connor adds: "When we were actually able to meet each other and have a little chat and get to know each other, I think they could tell quite quickly that we were going to have very good on-screen chemistry." As for the reaction their getting, Connor says: "To have a show where you see queer people being happy and being together and united as a group, I think there’s something really beautiful about that. I think that shows like Euphoria that are very queer are still very much sort of adult in many ways because they are very dark and gritty. I think it’s really important to have a show that is just portraying queer love and queer beauty."
Locke on how Heartstopper has impacted how he falls in love in his own life: "Overall, I've learned to appreciate the people in my life a lot more through playing Charlie," he says. "Charlie is just the most loving person, and I fear that in the relationships in my life, I've not always been that. I always try and take that on now and become more like Charlie. He's just nice and I want the people in my life to think that about me too. I don't know how Alice writes about love and relationships so well, but she has this amazing ability to encapsulate the queer teen experience. It also helps that we're all still teenagers, so we're acting these feelings that feel really real and recent for all of us. She writes about growing up and falling in love for the first time like no one else, which is especially impressive considering she's not a teenager anymore. I think it's hard to remember the intensity of those emotions once you grow up."