Why Will's sexuality matters in the new season of 'Stranger Things'
The actor's belief that it's 'up to interpretation' is disappointing to some viewers.
Warning: This post contains spoilers for Season 4 of "Stranger Things."
Season 4 of the hit Netflix series “Stranger Things” premiered at the end of May and has already caused quite a stir. It’s been several years since the last season, and with Season 4 being broken up into two volumes, there’s quite a lot to be excited about.
Of course, there are a lot of things to talk about regarding the plot of the show, but one surprising topic is Will (played by Noah Schnapp) and his potential sexuality. In an interview with Variety, Schnapp and his co-star Millie Bobby Brown offered their thoughts on the subject, and while they’re entitled to their opinions, those opinions can actually be quite damaging.
The Variety article mentions (and many fans on social media will agree) that the show has kind of been dropping hints about Will’s sexuality for a long time, and the current season really makes that theory more obvious. I admit, I have not watched the show much, but as someone who identifies as queer, LGBTQIA+ representation on television is something that’s important to me. In Season 4 volume 1 of “Stranger Things,” Will’s budding queerness is bubbling just under the surface. For example, when he has to write about a hero he looks up to, he chooses Alan Turing, the gay mathematician forced to undergo chemical castration in the 1950s. (The show takes place in the 1980s, well before the movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch was released.)
Will also appears to have a crush on his friend Mike, as evidenced by some jealousy of Eleven and Mike’s relationship. When Mike confides in Will about his relationship with El, this is what he says in response.
“Sometimes, I think it’s just scary, to open up like that — to say how you really feel, especially to people you care about the most,” he starts. “Because what if — what if they don’t like the truth?”
Variety asked Schnapp what he believes to be true about Will’s sexuality and, to be quite honest, his reply is disappointing.
“I feel like they never really address it or blatantly say how Will is,” Schnapp begins. “I think that’s the beauty of it, that it’s just up to the audience’s interpretation, if it’s Will kind of just refusing to grow up and growing up slower than his friends, or if he is really gay.”
Brown added: “I think what’s really nice about Will’s character is that he’s just a human being going through his own personal demons and issues. So many kids out there don’t know, and that’s OK. That’s OK to not know. And that’s OK not to label things.”
Both Schnapp and Brown are failing to see why leaving Will’s sexuality ambiguous can actually be quite harmful. We’re living in a time where the powers that be are trying to remove the agency of the LGBTQIA+ community. “Don’t Say Gay” and anti-trans bills are popping up all over the country, and that would make it really easy for some people to hide behind the cape of sexual ambiguity for safety. But so many of us can’t or don’t want to hide. As long as we live in a world that will define us by our queerness to do us harm, there is very little space for being purposely vague. (Of course, this doesn’t apply to those who have to stay in the closet for safety reasons.)
“It’s such an amazing role for Noah to play,” Brown also said. “And to be that role model for kids out there who don’t know what they’re going through growing up.”
“It’s just nice to see that and have that shown on ‘Stranger Things’ for fans to connect to and be able to relate to,” Schnapp added. “Because so many of our viewers are young kids who are at that stage in their life.”
It is important to note: there is an openly lesbian character on the show, Robin (played by Maya Hawke.) By giving her a coming out arc in Season 3, it's clear the show understands the need for LBGQTIA+ representation. It also makes the ambiguity around Will's sexuality that much more frustrating.
It's true that kids today are more fluid in their queer identities. But it’s also true that having their queerness affirmed changes their lives. It feels like a cop-out to say that Will’s sexual ambiguity is being used purposely to give space to the kids who don’t quite have it figured out. Seeing a character who takes the journey through understanding their feelings to coming out could be really affirming to them. Everyone wants to feel seen, and having a character come out in such a manner would allow those kids (or even adults) the space to see themselves and know it will be OK.
On Twitter, fans are accusing the show’s writers of queerbaiting, and after this response, it’s not hard to see why they would land on that conclusion. For those who may not be familiar with the concept, Ricky Hill, Ph.D., a research assistant professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a faculty member of the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing, told Health it’s “'a marketing ploy' that nods at queerness but never actually delivers queerness.”
By even remotely hinting at Will being anything other than heterosexual (from what I can understand, people say his character has always given off gay vibes) you’re setting your audience up to make certain assumptions and assessments. And while we live in a time where there are record numbers of LGBTQIA+ characters on television, representation is still lacking. Queer viewers who are desperate for any nugget of queerness on a mainstream show like “Stranger Things” will most certainly attach to those potential hints about Will. That’s why Schnapp’s comment feels dismissive of queer existence.
There is still another volume to “Stranger Things” Season 4, which means there is still time for the writers to take out the ambiguity of Will’s sexuality. It’s 2022—while it’s nice to believe that labels don’t matter, for an abundance of reasons, they still do.