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charlie and nick\'s hands touching in heartstopper season 2
charlie and nick\'s hands touching in heartstopper season 2

Shaping the LGBTQ+ Experience: A Look Into Every Heartstopper Character

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at OSU chapter.

If you haven’t gotten around to checking out Alice Oseman’s hit young adult series Heartstopper on Netflix, in your local bookstore, or online, chances are you’ve at least heard about it in passing. While the target audience might be teenagers (and I’ve never been one for rom-coms or high school dramas either), take one look on your social media timeline and you’ll see audiences of all ages, genders and backgrounds raving about the show – and for good reason. 

Many fans wish that such a series had existed in their youth, myself included. Growing up with immigrant parents from a comparatively conservative country, I never had much exposure to LGBTQ+ media, even if many of my peers at school identified with the community. The term ‘gay’ was simply a taboo topic in my household – nothing inherently bad, but definitely not ‘normal’. 

When I first began exploring LGBTQ+ media on my own, I quickly discovered that it is rife with oversexualized portrayals of queer people whose stories often end in tragedy. Heartstopper, on the other hand, is a refreshing change of pace, presenting the complexity of a diverse range of experiences with a positive outlook. 

With the second season out and at least one more on the horizon, it’s time to appreciate its contribution to the LGBTQ+ community – and what better way to do so than to explore the characters one-by-one? 

Charlie Spring (Joe Locke)

As one of the protagonists, Charlie’s character arc embodies the teenage experience for many as he sheds his fears in place of newfound confidence in himself. 

Season 1 emphasizes the repercussions of being unintentionally outed, namely the subsequent bullying that both diluted his self-worth and reduced his entire identity to his sexuality – one of the many reasons for his patience with Nick’s coming out journey. 

Season 2 continues to drive this point home in the form of Charlie’s disordered eating habits and tendency to self-harm. On the flipside, his wide network of friends also instills in him a sense of courage – most prevalent through his relationship with peer Ben Hope, which starts as a one-sided “situationship” and ends in Charlie standing his ground by holding the other responsible for his past behavior. 

Nick Nelson (Kit Connor)

As the other protagonist, Nick’s journey is one many can relate to. Rather than having always been aware of his sexuality as was the case for Charlie, however, he experiences a bisexual awakening. 

His hesitancy to come out to even his close friends emphasizes the difficulties of coming out, especially in a society rife with stereotypes about sexual orientation. In Nick’s case, his peers rarely take his words at face value. Instead, they insist that he must either be straight on account of his status as a rugby player and his former crush on female classmate Tara Jones or gay and closeted. Bisexuality does not exist as a valid identity in their minds – a trend all too common in real life. 

Season 1 primarily emphasizes the positives of his experience as his mother warmly accepts him. Season 2, on the other hand, deviates from the general positive atmosphere of the show as his older brother returns home and mocks his relationship with Charlie. 

Elle Argent (Yasmin Finney)

Elle is the creative one of Charlie’s circle of friends, expressing herself through her artwork and fashion. 

Season 1 touches on the transphobia she experienced from peers and faculty alike at Truham School after her transition, culminating in her transfer to the neighboring all-girls school Higgs. Season 2 further develops her identity as she befriends fellow queer and trans applicants to her dream school, Lambert School of Art, at the “Here and Queer” arts exhibit. By the end, her arc comes full circle as she dedicates her piece to her roots: her closest friends. 

Tao Xue (William Gao)

As the self-proclaimed “token straight friend” of the group, Tao’s arc centers on typical coming-of-age struggles: insecurity and fear of change. 

In Season 1, he becomes increasingly anxious about losing his childhood friends when his crush Elle transfers to another school and his best friend Charlie conceals his blooming relationship with Nick (all the while ditching his “real” friends, in Tao’s eyes). Tao’s fears resurface in Season 2 when his first date with Elle ends in disaster as he alters his personality and appearance in an effort to appeal to her. Once he communicates his concerns, however, he becomes a better friend and partner. His growth is especially prominent in the way he encourages Elle to attend her dream school Lambert despite his reservations about long-distance relationships. 

It’s only a bonus that he is the strongest of allies to his LGBTQ+ friends, feeling so comfortable in his identity that he has no problem giving Charlie a platonic peck during the iconic Truth or Dare scene in the second season. 

Isaac Henderson (Tobie Donavon)

Isaac’s character arc in Season 2 more than makes up for his comparative lack of screentime in the previous season. As he dips his toes into the world of aromantic- and asexual-oriented literature, he begins to understand why he feels so out-of-place when his friends rave about their romantic relationships. A particularly powerful scene takes place at the Lambert “Here and Queer” art exhibit when he speaks with an ace-aro artist whose struggles he can resonate with. 

Tara Jones (Corinna Brown)

While Season 1 introduces her as Nick’s former crush, Tara later comes out as lesbian with her girlfriend Darcy Olsson on social media. Despite being a bubbly and popular student at Higgs, she is ill-prepared for the homophobia she inevitably faces as a result of being out. Season 1 ends on an empowering note as she kisses Darcy on the dance floor at peer Harry’s birthday party, content in her identity. 

Darcy Olsson (Kizzy Edgell)

As my personal favorite character, Darcy’s story is particularly memorable. While Season 1 portrays her as a proud lesbian, Season 2 unveils her difficult relationship with her unsupportive mother. Many of her deep-rooted struggles stem from issues at home, resulting in her reluctance to profess her love for Tara and embarrassment about communicating her needs. Still, the season once again ends on a positive note as she shows her vulnerable side to Tara with an “I love you.” 

Imogen Heaney (Rhea Norwood)

While she is unfortunately absent in the comics, Imogen is an essential addition to the main friend group. Rather than falling into the misogynistic “female antagonist” trope, she is overjoyed upon learning about Nick and Charlie’s relationship in Season 2 despite her former crush on Nick. Still, she struggles to find her place in the world as she flits between friend groups and enters a relationship with Ben Hope, a classmate who seems to view her more as a prop than a girlfriend. The season closes with her breaking ties with Ben and looking on at a new female friend, Sahar – a potential clue into her upcoming character arc in the next season. 

Ben Hope (Sebastian Croft)

Ben is a controversial character, both sympathetic for his identity struggles and unforgivable for his mistreatment of others. He has exhibited a fear of being outed since his first appearance in Season 1, alluding to homophobic parents and peers. While his experience is common, he unfairly takes out his frustration on the vulnerable; he first hides his relationship with Charlie while publicly pursuing a female student, then takes advantage of Imogen while still lamenting the loss of his control over Charlie. His final appearance in Season 2 ends on a tragic note as he rejects his identity after his final confrontation with Nick and Charlie, both individuals who have found themselves in a way Ben never can. 

Harry Greene (Cormac Hyde-Corrin)

Harry is openly homophobic to Charlie throughout Season 1, prompting his rugby teammate and former friend Nick to finally cut him out of his life. While his genuinity is up to the interpretation of the viewer, he changes his tune in the second season by defending the pair against homophobic comments and formally apologizing to them. Still, Nick and Charlie’s choice to deny forgiveness sends an important message: it is not their responsibility to teach him to be better. 

Sarah Nelson (Olivia Colman)

Let’s not forget the role of adults in the show! Sarah is the much-needed representative of a warm, supportive parent. Proud of her son Nick for coming out to and shutting down homophobic sentiment, it’s no wonder she’s a fan favorite. 

Stéphane Nelson (Thibault De Montalembert)

In contrast to Sarah, Stéphane is largely absent in his sons’ lives. He prioritizes work over family, wishing to hold onto them despite never putting in any genuine effort to connect with them. When he does come around, he fails to notice (or even seem to care about) familial affairs. This negligence culminates in an explosive family dinner wherein he seems to blame Sarah for their problems at home. In the end, he once again chooses to return to his true love: work. 

David Nelson (Jack Barton)

Debuting in Season 2 as Nick’s older brother, David has a less-than-ideal relationship with his family. Perhaps as a result of their father’s absence, the two have developed a sibling rivalry for approval. In contrast to Nick, however, David distances himself from Sarah in favor of Stéphane. 

Jane (Georgina Rich) & Julio Spring (Joseph Balderrama)

Also new characters this season, Jane and Julio are a realistic portrayal of well-meaning yet ignorant parents. While they are not wrong in their assumption that Charlie’s relationship with Nick has contributed to his declining grades, they resort to absolutes by banning the two from seeing each other. In typical teenage fashion, Charlie rebels, and naturally, they become upset with him. Like many parents, they struggle to communicate effectively with their children, resulting in a tense relationship. 

Tori Spring (Jenny Walser)

Tori makes few appearances in both seasons but steals the show in every scene. With her iconic cup always in hand, she is protective of her younger brother Charlie, perhaps because she is all too aware of his past experiences with bullying. 

Mr. Ajayi (Fisayo Akinade)

As an art teacher at Truham, Mr. Ajayi is a beacon of light to his LGBTQ+ students and faculty alike. Not only does he act as a support system for Charlie, but he also helps Mr. Farouk overcome his insecurities about missing out on the “teenage experience.” 

Mr. Farouk (Nima Taleghani)

Beyond his rough exterior, Mr. Farouk is all too human in his late self-discovery journey. As Heartstopper primarily features teenagers entering their first romantic relationships, his presence is a vital reminder that it’s never too late for new experiences. 

Sahar Zahid (Leila Khan) & James McEwan (Bradley Riches)

While these two new characters have yet to make any major discoveries for themselves, they have naturally woven themselves into the main friend group as catalysts for Isaac’s and Imogen’s respective character arcs. 

It’s perhaps more important than ever for youth to have early exposure to media that normalizes their experiences. That is not to say the show’s not equally important for older fans though. While binge-watching the show this past summer, I found myself resonating with an admittedly cheesy, high-school-themed story far more than I previously thought possible. 

My takeaway from all this? Representation matters, and Alice Oseman has more than earned her spot as one of the most influential LGBTQ+ writers of the generation. 

Michelle Wang is an Ohio State pre-law student majoring in Criminology and History. Beyond academics, her interests include creative writing, Wushu, Korean- and Mandopop and all things history (with a particular fondness for Tudor England). She hopes to share her love for writing in all its mediums!