If you’re LGBTQ+, in your 20s or early 30s, and on TikTok, you’ve probably seen something about this Netflix show called Heartstopper. The eight-episode series follows Nick and Charlie, two high school aged students who — somehow, some way — find true love with each other.
I won’t give away the plot here (suffice it to say there are queer characters galore, and many plot twists!). But I will share the two overwhelming emotions I felt while watching Heartstopper: complete joy because of the love story before me, and a crushing, overwhelming sense of queer loneliness.
First, the joy: this story is needed. It is a beautiful depiction of queer love, yes. But it is also a story of friends who find support with each other. It depicts all the confusion a person can go through when questioning sexuality and gender identity, while showing the jubilation that comes when discovering a chosen family.
It is a love story whose scope extends beyond the two central characters to show that finding your people — those that will love and accept you no matter what — is a triumph.
Heartstopper grants strength to today’s queer youth who continue to fight many of the struggles of those who came before them. It grants hope that you, too, are worthy of love no matter what society might say.
Watching Heartstopper feels like a warm hug. It is pure queer joy. But it also serves as a reminder of what so many of us in the LGBTQ+ community never got to experience. I was once like Charlie: a young, awkward gay boy pining for the good-looking, popular jock. But unlike Charlie, pining is all I ever had. I never found my Nick. In fact, as I write this with so few days left before I turn 30, I have yet to find my Nick. And that hurts.
I recall finishing the show and, as per my nightly routine, getting on TikTok to drown out the sadness in my head. I hoped for stupid dances and lame jokes to divert my attention. Instead, I found people like me. I watched video after video of millennial LGBTQ+ adults expressing both their joy and grief after finishing Heartstopper. They, like me, mourned for the young queer love they never had. They, like me, felt alone.
I feel no anger or regret over my choices. And immense progress has occurred in the 12 years since I graduated high school. Back then, we didn’t have mainstream (emphasis on mainstream) television shows like Heartstopper to tell us we were worthy of love. Many of us, especially in an area like the Quad Cities, found ourselves alone.
I’m sure queer love stories happened for many. But for many of us, they did not. Many of us watched with envy as our straight peers went to dances with the people they liked, or walked hand-in-hand down the school hallway without fear. We wept at the loneliness that seemed to accompany our queerness, like paint to a wall.
To be young and queer today carries its fair share of challenges. No doubt, that same loneliness and envy I felt 12 years ago persists today. The world we see in Heartstopper isn’t a perfect, queer-friendly world. In fact, the struggles of each character are made quite clear to the viewer.
But Nick and Charlie’s story is so magical, beautiful, and yet positively ordinary. I don’t think its mainstream appeal could have existed 12 years ago, and I’m thankful how much things have changed.
In fact, weeks after finishing the show and reading the entire graphic novel, I no longer feel envy and loneliness. Instead, I am back to the joy I felt when Nick and Charlie first said hello to each other, at knowing that queer love is finally celebrated with the excitement and adoration it so rightfully deserves.
(cover photo courtesy of Marco Donati, Flickr)