No two people have the same coming out journey. Some are forced from the proverbial closet before they’re ready, whether it be someone overhearing a conversation not meant for their ears, getting caught with someone of the same sex, or someone finding your secret profile where your pronouns are set as “they/them.” Some come to terms with it slowly, like wandering up a winding staircase where the door at the top has a huge sign with confetti and the word “Queer” written across it. Some come to it easily, like jumping into water. Others may jump into molasses. Some hold it like a promise, while others hold it like a secret.
My point is, nobody’s coming out story is going to be the same — just ask any queer person you come across (maybe don’t, unless you know them well). My coming out story is both simple and common. I was fourteen and in art class. My teacher asked to use my as a reference for a drawing she was doing, and when she leaned in real close, my heart did that embarrassing pitter-patter thing, and I knew. It was a sudden realization, but it really shouldn’t have been — I simply put on glasses and things were a lot clearer.
I am one of the lucky ones, in that sense. I grew up surrounded by queer friends, my aunt was gay, I grew up in a generally accepting environment. While I was nervous to come out to my mom, I had no fear of her reaction. I did not have to wander in the dark, desperately grasping for my identity. I went through many labels over the years, but it was never a fight for a title, grasping at straws until something fit, afraid of what I might land on. It was easy, like stepping stones to find who I am.
I was lucky. Many are not.
This is a long-winded way of me to say that I watched Heartstopper recently. As a 23-year-old lesbian woman, it was a little jarring to watch high school boys figure out their sexuality, a journey I had been on many years ago. However, at the end of the short season, I found myself staring at the black screen, my own reflection staring back at me, and my heart was so full of so many emotions that I had never known I needed.
According to the LGBTQ+ charity, Stonewall, the average age of people coming out has fallen drastically in the last four decades. A lot of people — generally, the people who think seeing two women holding hands in public is going to make their children gay — believe that this is a epidemic caused by seeing queer media, as if queerness is a disease transmitted through our eyes. As you can imagine, I have different thoughts.
I did not see someone who looked like me in media (aside from things like Glee, which, I mean, come on) until I was about eighteen. I found my first book about two girls falling in love. Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour. I cannot tell you how many times I read that book, amazed at the idea of seeing someone who looked like me, finally. It was like someone had taken me by the shoulders and said, “You are not wrong. Other people like you exist.”
Yes, I had an easy time coming out. And yes, I still felt like something was wrong with me.
People talk about how important representation is, but you don’t realize it until it’s staring you in the face, until you’re met with something that doesn’t fall into the “white, cis, straight” category. Until you see yourself staring back at you from the pages of a book.
Now, seeing something like Heartstopper on screen, breaking records and being so loved, is like hugging my fourteen year old self who was just discovering herself.
This show — and the comic — about sixteen year olds figuring out their sexuality and finding a community is so incredibly important. This show, targeted at young teenagers, is going to have astronomical affects. Teenagers who would have struggled to find an identity they had never before heard of, or those who will figure it out and see themselves as wrong because the world only shows them one cookie-cutter image of a person — they will no longer have to wonder if they’re weird or have to grasp at straws hoping to pull one that fits them. These kids will see a show — will see Nick realizing he’s bisexual, will see Charlie being openly gay, or Elle being trans and loving herself — and will know that they will be okay.
Heartstopper is the show that I needed when I was a teenager. Hell, if I had watched it when I was twelve, I may have figured things out sooner.
Yes, kids are coming out at a younger age, but don’t think of that as a bad thing. Know that they are seeing themselves represented on screen and thinking, “Oh, I’m not broken.” And love them for it all the more.