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The Sunflower

OPINION: How ‘Heartstopper’ gets teen queerness right and how other media may get it wrong

From ‘Yellowjackets’ to ‘Euphoria,’ ‘Heartstopper’ succeeds where others fail
Photo courtesy of Netflix

I’ll be honest: I cringe at “Heartstopper.” The lines, delivery, some of the plot – it can be a bit hard to watch.

When I started reading Alice Oseman’s webcomic, however, many years ago, I found “Heartstopper” sweet, easy to read, and, yes, still cringe worthy. Netflix’s television adaptation is no exception.

Honestly, it would be weird and unsettling if “Heartstopper” wasn’t at least a little bit cringy. With the general nature of the webcomic, the Netflix original series is a pretty accurate recreation.

For every webcomic panel of Charlie and Nick saying, “Why are we like this?” in reference to something stupid and obvious, there’s a scene with Kit Conner and Joe Locke crying out the line in mock exasperation.

Every time webcomic Charlie calls himself weak and fragile, TV show Charlie does too, and a gay kid out there feels more comfortable with themself.

In today’s day and age (or any), media like “Heartstopper” is insanely helpful. Shows and movies centered around straight people, like “The Kissing Booth” and “Never Have I Ever,” are relatively lighthearted. In this way, “Heartstopper” offers an escape from the often-harsh reality of being queer in high school. Especially with how dark a lot of media focused on queerness can be, “Heartstopper” is incredibly important.

Let’s look at some recent media with gay representation, specifically involving or marketed towards teenagers, and break down why these media can be potentially harmful.

Spoilers incoming:

Call Me By Your Name

A story in picturesque Italy: A 17-year-old boy, Elio, and a 24-year-old man, Oliver, have an intense summer fling. Both the novel by André Aciman and the film by Luca Guadagnino are beautifully done, which I think contributes to the view of “Call Me By Your Name” being viewed as a romance. If you watched this movie and thought of it as a romance versus a coming of age, you need to try again.

Especially in the book, Elio has a clearly obsessive view of Oliver and feels uncomfortable and shameful after certain events that take place. Elio explicitly expresses regret several times throughout the novel. I think reading or watching this can be super harmful for gay teenagers who go in with a view of it as a love story.

To add insult to injury, the ending of “Call Me By Your Name” is absolutely heart wrenching.


In one of many storylines in “Euphoria,” main character Rue falls in love with Jules, and a lot of season two subsequently centers around their relationship. Do I even need to list any reasons why Jules and Rue are horrible for each other? The entirety of season two is them finding new ways to hurt each other, ranging from cheating (from a possibly-bisexual character, no less, perpetuating a harmful stereotype) to Rue being verbally abusive while experiencing drug withdrawal.

While all the show’s couples are objectively toxic and the characters just awful – so much so that having the only gay couple be the exception to this would be worse – “Euphoria” would definitely be a hard watch for anyone who decided to watch for lesbian and trans representation.

“Euphoria” is arguably one of the most popular television series of our generation, so, while I love that a lot of minority groups are represented, “Euphoria” is absolutely not meant to be “good” representation for queer people.


Admittedly, I haven’t finished “Yellowjackets” (not for a lack of trying) but even just a couple episodes in, I’m able to see why this show is far from a pick-me-up. Murder and everything up to it are explored in this show, basically from the minute the pilot starts.

Yeah, there are a couple queer relationships, but this is not an LGBTQ+ show. Well, it is, in the way that it involves LGBTQ+ people.

The plot of “Yellowjackets” can be closest described as “The Lord of the Flies” meets Gary Paulsen’s “Hatchet,” but better because it’s all girls.

With hour-long episodes and disturbing themes, “Yellowjackets” is not the show to watch before bed, or if you want to feel good about yourself and the world.

Coming back to ‘Heartstopper’

This is not to say that these are bad movies or shows. At their root, all of these stories are not meant to be sweet love stories that warm your heart, so I’m not going to criticize the media as a whole on this wrong assumption. All of these function well for their intended purpose, and so does “Heartstopper.”

“Heartstopper” is not meant to be a groundbreaking and tragic gay love story. It’s simply meant to be the live action remake of a sweet and simple webcomic about two boys who fall in love. That’s all it was originally, and that’s all it is now.

“Heartstopper” is not the end-all be-all of queer media, and it can definitely leave older viewers wanting more.

Recommendations for queer media minus the pain

If you want queer media that’s deep and adult without being depressing or scary, watch “God’s Own Country.” If you want something with the same sweet and goofy themes as “Heartstopper” while having a bit more depth, check out “But I’m a Cheerleader.” If you want a queer romcom but centered around adults, check out “The Watermelon Woman” and “Bros.”

But at the end of the day, “Heartstopper” is a great story for young queer kids, and I’m willing to bet that anyone could find something to smile at in the story, even if it’s just how cringy it is.

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About the Contributor
Sascha Harvey
Sascha Harvey, Opinion Editor
Sascha Harvey is the opinon editor for The Sunflower. A junior majoring in graphic design, this is Harvey's third year on staff and second year as a section editor. He is originally from Arkansas but has no accent to speak of (unless you listen really hard). The graphic design major enjoys covering feature stories and local news. Harvey uses he/him pronouns.

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