4 Things ‘Heartstopper’ Taught Me That I Wish I Knew Before Coming Out
By Evan Parente
Credit: Alice Oseman
In case you haven’t heard of it, Netflix released a show called ‘Heartstopper’ based on a webtoons series of the same name that tells the story of two high school teenagers, whose romance helps each other figure out who they are.
Since its release, I have rewatched and enjoyed it more times than I can count. I also backread all the webtoons and am now starting on ‘Solitaire’—which apparently came first. Though the show is only in its first season, I can tell it is going to be very successful. The author of the webtoons, Alice Oseman, couldn’t have done a better job at making such a relatable and meaningful story.
Watching the show has brought back so many memories of my past years and my continued journey to find myself. In particular, I look back with a thoughtful eye on my own coming out.
My Coming Out Story
Back in the summer of 2021, I decided I wanted to come out to my parents. Despite both my mom and my dad’s family being Catholic, they’ve always been progressive people both in the way they approach societal issues and the way they approach religious debates. I always knew that they’d be very supportive of whatever I believe and/or identify as—emphasis on the very. I was not excessively worried.
I guess I did fret about the details. I did not have the time or balls to round up everyone in my house and make a family announcement. I also would not have the guts to kiss someone of the gender I liked in public in the way that Heartstopper characters Tara and Darcy did in Episode 3.
I decided to do it by writing a letter to my parents, and one of my friends helped me with it. In the letter I stated how I was bisexual, and that I didn’t want to make this that big of a deal. Later my parents came into my room after receiving the letter to find me angry and regretful, not at them, but at myself. I guess I was mad that I felt forced to come out, like I needed to announce it to feel good about myself. I had assumed that they needed to know everything there was about my sexual orientation.
Both in the webtoons and in the TV show, Nick admitted that he was not quite sure where he stood on the spectrum when he first kissed Charlie. And that is okay. They told me this afterwards and that they never really cared so much about who I was attracted to, who I was sleeping with or who I was dating. They said it’s okay that I may still be figuring stuff out. In addition, they told me other things I wish I had known before I came out. Things that I don’t think I would have believed until Heartstopper came out a year later.
1. It’s okay to not be sure about what your sexual orientation is.
As was said by influencer Courtney Jai in the video he made for the TV show we are discussing, “being bisexual is constantly second guessing yourself. One day you have a crush on a guy, the next day you have a crush on a girl.” It can be overwhelmingly confusing.
I used to feel very pressured to put a label on my sexuality. I always knew I was not straight, but I also knew that I was not gay. I would be tossing and turning in my bed till 2 a.m wondering why I would always develop a crush on a boy, but still feel like I did like girls in some way.
I remember being angry about writing my coming out letter to my parents and they asked me if I was sure that I was bisexual. I said to them, “I think so, but I don’t really know.” I then told them that I felt like I had to find a label that suited me, even though I was not sure myself whether it suited me.
I don’t think it was until later that night when I was talking with one of my friends who told me how I don’t need to label myself. He told me how it's fine that I haven’t labeled myself . There certainly seems to be a lot of pressure nowadays to slap a sticker onto one’s sexuality.
Like Charlie said to both Nick & Ben (screw him), it’s okay to still be figuring things out in terms of your sexual orientation. Nobody should make you feel like you need to check a box.
Could you be sure that you know who you are? Yes. Could you also still not entirely know who you are? Also yes. You never know. Throughout life, especially when we are young, things change. You do different things, see new places and meet new people.
There are people like Charlie who’ve always known that they were gay or straight. Guys who like Charlie, knew that “it’s always been boys.” Girls like my mom who, like Charlie, knew that they liked boys from a very young age.
Then there are people like me and Nick. Guys like me who thought they were 100% homosexual till they started watching Teen Wolf and the Vampire Diaries. Guys like Nick who thought they were 100% heterosexual and liked tons of girls in the past until they met an adorably handsome introverted brown-haired boy. A boy who they end up finding just as attractive as their first crush.
From 7th until the summer before 9th grade, I thought I was gay because I seemed like I was only crushing on guys. Then when I started watching Teen Wolf I saw how attractive Lydia Martin was and realized that I was crushing on someone that wasn’t a guy.
Whether you thought you were a heterosexual and discovered you were a homosexual—or vice versa—there is no rush for you to inform the earth of your new sexual orientation.
Whether you choose to write it on the skyline or keep it to yourself, that should be something you do because it makes you happy, something you do because it allows you to learn more about yourself and various aspects of your sexual orientation that you may not know about yet.
If I had known this then, maybe then I wouldn’t have felt so forced to define myself to my parents.
2. You don’t have to tell everyone all at once.
CREDIT: ALICE OSEMAN
Similar to Love Simon, I’m glad that in both the ‘Heartstopper’ webtoons and tv show, they depicted the characters coming out to others at different times.
I feel like there are way too many LGBTQ movies that involve a coming out scene where the character comes out to everyone all at once. These scenes always made me feel like having an enormous audience was required if you ever wanted to come out, but it doesn’t.
Like Simon said in Love Simon during his justified outburst at that a**hole Martin, “I’m supposed to decide when and where and who knows and how I want to say it.”
Similarly Charlie was robbed of his opportunity to have control over his coming out. I was so happy to see Nick have his own moment.
The specifics of your coming out are entirely up to you, and you don’t have to do it all at once.
CREDIT: ALICE OSEMAN
Broadcasting who you are to the world is pretty terrifying.” I was fortunate enough to grow up in a very supportive, progressive environment which people always supported me in.
My parents gently commented that looking back on my coming out letter, they wish that I had waited to tell people in my class such as my friends and peers. They might have given me some advice and even helped me prepare for the process beforehand.
I know my mom would agree that Nick taking his coming out step by step was definitely a good idea. He chose to wait and slowly start coming out to others, and he is better able to experience and enjoy the process when coming out.
3. You don’t have to tell everyone all at once.
Who you are attracted to—or not attracted to—is nobody’s business but your own. You are not obligated to disclose it to anyone; your mom, your dad, the guy down the street—only you have to know.
CREDIT: ALICE OSEMAN
In many movies and series, sometimes coming out seems forced and contrived.
Even the more traditional kids at my school never made me feel oppressed for having a differing sexual orientation from me. But there are plenty of people who don’t grow up in the same environment as me. We all know well that there are groups and communities that are not very accepting of queer people and even hateful or violent towards them.
Do what you can to take care, be safe, and prepare yourself for the harsh realities of constant bullying and violence that may occur here and there. There is no law that requires you to risk harm, suicide and isolation. So why force yourself into this risk.
4. You Don't Need To Come Out To Find Happiness.
Honor and truth are principles that we all want to live by and aspire to. But much of the media makes it seem like making a coming out to the world is mandatory for fulfillment and happiness.
Should someone feel ashamed to want to stay in that closet for a while longer? Absolutely not!!!
I did indeed feel ashamed when I was in the closet. Not necessarily about my sexual orientation but about the way that all I felt like I had to tell my parents if I wanted to inspire others and to feel like a “true gay.”
Even when Nick wasn’t formally out to any of his friends or his mom, he was—and Charlie was—still just as happy then as he was when he was formally out.
CREDIT: ALICE OSEMAN
Just like I said before, you don’t have to tell the world, or anyone, to find love and friendship in the LGBTQ community. All you need to do is allow yourself to find something—or someone—that makes you happy.
You can tell that Nick and Charlie coming into each other’s lives made each other so much happier. Not because they had something they could flex on their single virgin classmates, but because they have each other.
I’ve seen this way too often in way many shows: One of the people in a queer relationship is way too displeased with someone’s not wanting to be out. I’m not talking about them simply being bummed about not being able to spam others feed with pictures of them being “coupley”, or not being able to be that couple making out at McDonalds. They are so displeased and even offended by their S/O not wanting to come out. It doesn’t matter whether it’s for safety or comfort. If you aren’t draped over them in the school hallways, they automatically assume one is ashamed of them— selfish, unkind and LAME!
In conclusion, these are some of the many reasons why I consider Heartstopper to be one of the best—if not THE BEST—LGBTQ portrayals that I have ever seen on television. I still have plenty of favorite books and movies, but I feel as if Heartstopper has validated my journey to learning how to accept and love myself and who I am.
Had I and many of my other queer peers had Heartstopper around when we were coming out, it might have been much easier, and way less scary.
If you or someone you know is struggling with their sexuality or coming out, I encourage you to tell them about this show. I’m sure it will help them as much—and maybe even more—than it has helped me. Thanks Heartstopper!