My husband and I recently finished the final episode of Netflix’s charming LGBTQ story “Heartstopper,” based on the graphic novel of the same name. Huddled on the sofa and with tears in our eyes, we saw the two main characters, Nick Nelson and Charlie Spring, shamelessly declare their romantic feelings for each other. I wiped away tears of joy as the credits rolled, then went to bed, oblivious to the impending storm that was brewing.
It was still dark outside when I woke up early the next morning, and I was sobbing uncontrollably for no apparent reason. The rest of the day was a confusing roller coaster of emotions, with feelings of overwhelming loneliness and depression. I felt physical pain in my chest. In the afternoon, I started to connect the dots: this seemingly cute and funny TV show unlocked something buried deep within me. I was an emotional wreck for three straight days.
It eloquently captures the complex layers of what it means to be LGBTQ in today’s society unlike any other TV show or movie.
But why? It’s a pretty happy story with a pretty happy ending, but it’s more than just a love story – it eloquently captures the complex layers of what it means to be LGBTQ in today’s society, unlike to any other TV show or movie. The joys of first love are juxtaposed with the confusion of an unwanted sexual awakening, the fear of being rejected by family and tormented by peers, the uncertainty of who can be trusted, and that unshakeable sense that one cannot be loved. Even so, the series paints an optimistic outcome for its characters compared to what most LGBTQ people experience. In “Heartstopper”, the characters have accepting parents, openly gay teachers, and friends in similar situations. In reality, LGBTQ teens often deal with their self-actualization in isolation, without those same support systems.
LGBTQ people around the world had similar emotional reactions to “Heartstopper.“The show has led to a cathartic release of repressed anxiety and reveals the emotional damage caused by a number of traumas associated with being LGBTQ. My personal experience has been shaped by “don’t ask, don’t tell” – the 1990s statutory ban that prevented gays and lesbians from openly serving in the US military.
I joined the Navy in 2003, when I was 17, only a year older than the “Heartstopper” characters. It would be another two years before I could even say the words “I’m gay” out loud, even though it was something I had known all my life. Although I almost left the Navy at the time, I remained in the service as I was forced to stay in the closet until the discriminatory policy ended in 2011.
I survived those years in the closet living two lives, pretending to be someone else and burying my true self. The damage of these suppressed feelings is now apparent to me. “Heartstopper” had many issues that I faced under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” rooted in the pain of keeping a romance secret and the constant fear of being exposed with the price of eviction suspended. above my head.
We need more shows like “Heartstopper” that help spark positive dialogue, build more accepting communities, and give LGBTQ kids a relatable experience to say it’s all gonna be alright and it’s getting better.
I met my first love in sophomore year at the US Naval Academy. We shared a desk in the front row of chemistry class, and it was love at first sight – like the scene straight out of “Heartstopper” when Charlie sees Nick in class for the first time. My “Nick” and I remained friends for an entire year. We volunteered together for Habitat for Humanity on the weekends and texted about our favorite indie bands on weeknights. In the days leading up to the start of freshman year, when I nearly left the Navy because I was gay, we finally met on a long, late-night walk around campus. I confided in him about my feelings, sharing how lonely I felt and my plan to quit.
We found our way to the furthest corner of campus, past the rugby pitches and away from the crowded dormitories, stopping to sit side by side on a picnic table under a gazebo overlooking the River Severn. I vividly remember a cloudless August night and the reflection of streetlights shimmering in the waves. I turned to my year-old crush and told him that I had never kissed another boy before. We memorably shared our first kiss on that beautiful starry night. It was a magical moment that deserved its own TV show.
I then decided that if I could have a secret boyfriend, maybe the Navy would work after all. Our relationship was ultimately doomed, heavy with the pressure of getting caught together. We were forced to act like platonic friends in the hallways where we lived while sneaking around for a minute of privacy. We separated before the start of the school year.
Shortly after the breakup, I found — despite all the warning signs — a new crush. Unfortunately, this person looked less like the white knight Nick Nelson than the antagonist Ben Hope in “Heartstopper”, who aggressively forces Charlie to kiss him in the first episode. On a late night date in the Naval Academy dorm, despite my repeated vocalizations to stop, my newfound crush continued with sexual advances beyond my comfort level. It took me years to recognize it was a sexual assault and years more to share this experience with someone else. Because of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ rules, I didn’t have the ability to talk to an authority figure at the time. Fortunately, this part of the story also has a happy ending. Like Charlie, I had my moment of redemption with the opportunity to confront my abuser afterwards.
Ending ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was the military’s first step in the right direction, but military leaders at all levels must redouble their efforts to support their LGBTQ service members to ensure their safety and their health care. This is especially true for transgender service members, who are now allowed to serve openly under the Biden administration, and to ensure that sexual assault assistance is promoted for LGBTQ service members due to increased vulnerability to attack. in the community.
We’ve come a long way in advancing LGBTQ rights in the two decades since I was the age of the “Heartstopper” characters, but we must remain vigilant to maintain that progress and avoid any backsliding. back. A Supreme Court set to overturn Roe v. Wade can also deny nationally legalized same-sex marriage. Discriminatory policies like Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, dubbed by critics the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which prohibits discussing LGBTQ issues in kindergarten through third grade, have emboldened conservatives to call for other discriminatory practices. A group of Republican senators want to call LGBTQ TV content inappropriate for young viewers.
It is an unnecessary act that communicates to LGBTQ children that they do not deserve equal representation and, like the “Dont Say Gay” law, contributes to views in society that lead to physical and emotional abuse. Rather than restricting that content, we need more shows like “Heartstopper,” which help drive positive dialogue, build more tolerant communities, and give LGBTQ kids a relatable experience to say it’s gonna be okay and it will get better.
Watch events unfold for the show’s young characters hits close to home, and my visceral emotional response is proof of the toll those pent up feelings have taken on me over the years. Throughout the emotional roller coaster ride, I was supported with the help of my husband, family and many friends. Love for my husband got me through the pain. I’m so lucky to have my happy ending. My husband and I have been together for 10 years, married for four years, with the intention of expanding our family through adoption. I have the life I always wanted – a life that so many young gay men hope to have one day. In our own lives, we must continue to live loud and clear, to speak out about our shared trauma, and to educate our allies to bring awareness and acceptance.