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Let’s Talk About Heartstopper’s Perfect Rugby Lad, Nick Nelson

"Do you ever feel like you're only doing things because everyone else is?"

Heartstopper Nick Nelson

Spoilers for Heartstopper season one

Charlie’s feelings toward himself in the first season of Heartstopper is something I related to after getting together with my girlfriend (and eventual wife) and realizing how much of a strain it put on some of the relationships we had with folks we were close to. Charlie brushes off the hate he receives because he’s used to it, and he goes on to tell the people he cares about to NOT stick up for him because he doesn’t want them to deal with the bullying he continues to face.

In my baby gay years, I had the same kind of perspective. “I remember having moments where I’d blame myself for the distance she put between herself and her family, who were perfectly fine with my existence as long as I called myself their daughter’s roommate. At one point I told her she could go to holiday gatherings alone and I could stay home so that they wouldn’t be forced to dance around our relationship. Even if I knew I did nothing wrong, I offered that option because they were her family, and my relationship with her created tension between them.”

Eventually, I’d come to realize that it wasn’t my fault that people had a problem with us being together. I’d also realize that it was okay that I’d grown enough to defend myself better than I had done in the past. It’s the same lesson Charlie is allowed to learn in the series and I’m grateful that he got to realize that at a young age – it took me a hell of a lot longer than high school.

While I did relate to Charlie and his “me being with you causes issues” mentality, I also related to his crush, Nick Nelson, as he explored his sexuality. Like Nick, I had a good cry session about it, but also found myself wondering if “gay” (or rather “lesbian”) was how I identified and had my world changed when I discovered “bisexual.” Nick’s journey into accepting his bisexuality practically mirrors my own, not just because he watched whatever videos he could find and asked questions, but because of the way he looked at his friend group and wondered, “Do I actually like being around you, or am I here because I think I have to be?”

“Do you ever feel like you’re only doing things because everyone else is?”

It’s easy to tell that Charlie’s crush on Nick isn’t one-sided as the two continue to exchange the cutest round of “hi” greetings in the history of ever. As Nick tries to piece together his feelings, he has a moment where he takes to Google to try and figure out if he’s gay. I will say, Nick took it better than I did, as he still maintained a relationship with Charlie during his “full-on gay panic.”

I stopped talking to the girl I liked despite us being friends, just… ignored her for a whole week, Somehow, we still got married years later.

Nick’s reaction is painfully relatable, not just because we know how the queer community is treated, but because in the context of the story we know that he’s witnessed the homophobia firsthand. Charlie was bullied pretty harshly before the start of the story and continues to deal with it thanks to Harry Greene and the rest of the guys on the rugby team. Harry, however, tries to make it sound like innocent banter, like it’s perfectly fine to drape an arm around the gay kid and ask “what’s it like being gay?”

You can tell that Nick isn’t okay with it, but these are also his friends, so there’s this unspoken fear of wondering how they’ll act toward him if they find out he has feelings for Charlie. It takes time to work through something like that, especially when you’re expected to act a certain way to fit in with the group you’ve been a part of for a while. This is demonstrated by Imogen’s crush and how Harry and the others expect Nick to say yes.

The expectation is for the boy to get with the girl. This is an assumption a lot of queer kids deal with and one that I remember facing in high school as people wondered when I would get a boyfriend. I wasn’t terribly interested, but it was treated as an absolute requirement. When it didn’t happen right away, folks started speculating as to why I wasn’t dating. I was (and still am) fat, so the first conclusion was “you’d be cuter if you lost weight” and, therefore, I’d be datable. At some point, a family member “playfully” wondered if I was gay, which led to an illuminating negative response from loved ones that ended up making me panic when, years later, it turned out I was.

The pressure to be in a heterosexual relationship is absurd and it’s pressed upon you at a young age, so Nick accepts the date. He’s not comfortable discussing any chance of being queer because he’s around people who have made nasty remarks, not just to Charlie, but to Elle, too (we learn as we watch through the season). It’s impossible to feel like you can confide in your “friend” group when they’ve shown their entire ass toward the community you’re realizing you’re a part of.

“Your real personality has been like… buried inside you for a really long time.”

As the series goes on, Nick is able to come to terms with his sexuality. He’s also able to come to terms with the fact that his friend group kinda sucks – Harry especially. There are so many moments in his story that I relate to, from his being able to confide in Tara and Darcy because they’re openly lesbian and supportive, to him embracing being bisexual and having his mom fully accept him.

Nick’s story shows why it’s so important for kids to be allowed the time to get to know themselves. Nick literally goes from crying about being “62% homosexual” to proudly screaming about his feelings on a beach. That’s because he’s able to be around a more comforting group of people who make him feel like it’s okay that he 1) comes out, and 2) isn’t sure how he identifies yet. I felt the same way when I discovered the fanfiction group I was in in 2001, which was full of writers who were writing queer stories and were queer themselves. I wasn’t sure if I could come out publically, but in that space, I felt like I could say it there.

This, eventually, led to me being more comfortable letting other people know. Like Nick, I told my mother after I’d grown more sure of myself through the queer friendships I’d made. That’s not because my mother had shown signs of being unsupportive (she wasn’t one of the family members part of the “lol what if she’s gay” series of questions). If anything, like Nick’s mom, she was nothing but kind to me. But it’s still hard to reveal something like that to someone so close to you, especially if others around you have made disparaging remarks.

When Nick’s mom said how she hoped she hadn’t prevented him from wanting to tell her, I felt that. My mom said the same thing. But it wasn’t her, it was everything else around me until I found better environments that reassured me. That reassurance not only made it possible for me to tell her, but it made it possible for me to come across information on bisexuality and go, “Wait, actually, THAT’S me.”

Every time I stop to think about Heartstopper, I get happier about it being a thing that exists.

(Image: Netflix)

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Briana (she/her - bisexual) is trying her best to cosplay as a responsible adult. Her writing tends to focus on the importance of representation, whether it’s through her multiple book series or the pieces she writes. After de-transforming from her magical girl state, she indulges in an ever-growing pile of manga, marathons too much anime, and dedicates an embarrassing amount of time to her Animal Crossing pumpkin patch (it's Halloween forever, deal with it Nook)