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Heartstopper understands the bisexual panic of watching Pirates of the Caribbean

Historians will say they were roommates

Heartstopper characters Darcy and Tara slow dancing together. Image: Netflix
Nicole Clark (she/her) is a culture editor at Polygon, and a critic covering internet culture, video games, books, and TV, with work in the NY Times, Vice, and Catapult.

Heartstopper tells a tender, rabbit-hearted story of secondary school classmates Charlie Spring (Joe Locke) and Nick Nelson (Kit Connor) falling for each other. Based on Alice Oseman’s YA graphic novels, the eight-episode Netflix series is a coming-of-age queer romance that retains its optimism, even when tackling serious subject matter.

There’s Charlie, the anxious, gangly, curly-haired drummer with an iPhone background that fittingly reads “gay panic.” He is the only openly gay student at their all-boys secondary school. Nick is the classic golden retriever love interest; he’s the star of the rugby team whose kindness makes him an outlier in his group of friends, and who always assumed he was straight.

It’s just that hanging out with Charlie, his new best friend, makes him begin to wonder if that assumption is wrong.

A number of yearning gazes, a smattering of delightful tropes — Charlie joins the rugby team for reasons that are entirely predictable — an “Am I gay?” internet quiz (he gets exactly 62%), and a smooch or two later, Nick has an epiphany during a fateful viewing of Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s told succinctly in four shots: a close of up Keira Knightley, then Orlando Bloom, a vaguely aggrieved reaction shot, and then a shot of Nick smoothly Googling “bisexual.”

It’s a particular rite of passage, for those who grew up watching television and movies feeling vaguely sexually confused. Sometimes these viewings spurred that leap of faith from “I want to be them” to “Oh, I want to be with them.” This particular moment from Heartstopper has gone viral in the form of a tweet. (Pirates of the Caribbean is a very good choice, in this writer’s humble opinion.)

But this scene — and the show’s wholesome relationship, more largely — has inspired numerous fans to share their own favorite queer ships from other shows and movies, with the caption “Actually, this was my Heartstopper.” It’s a fun way to remember on-screen relationships that moved viewers — and it also doubles as a neat dive into queer movie and television history.

Many of these celebrate queer films, television shows, and anime — like 2014 Brazilian independent film The Way He Looks.

There’s the South Korean thriller The Handmaiden (an adaptation of the excellent novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters).

And the early aughts Channel 4 TV drama Sugar Rush.

And Yuri on Ice!

There’s also a handful of music video references, like Hayley Kiyoko’s “Girls Like Girls.”

And Loona’s “Heart Attack”

Heartstopper is another entry in this coming-of-age LGBTQ canon — with not only Charlie and Nick, but also Tara and Darcy (a lesbian couple and part of the show’s core friend group) to swoon over. More specifically, it’s an entry in the bisexual panic canon, and I, for one, can’t wait to see more. In the meantime, I’ll settle for memes, fan cams, and edits putting the show’s frames side by side with the comic.

And if you’ve fallen for Netflix’s Heartstopper, Alice Oseman’s webcomic, which the series is based on, is a must read.

Heartstopper season 1 is now streaming on Netflix.

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