Heartstopper (2022) normalizes "transgenderism" in children
Updated: Sep 9, 2022
by Alline Cormier
Alline Cormier is a Canadian film analyst and retired court interpreter who turns the text analysis skills she acquired in university studying translation and literature to film. This year her articles on women in film and TV have appeared in Women Making Films (India), Feminist Current, 4W, Gender Dissent, and The 11th Hour. She is the film analyst who puts women and girls first.
This article contains spoilers.
Heartstopper is the joyful, touching story of Charlie Spring (Joe Locke) and Nick Nelson’s (Kit Connor) blossoming romance as Nick discovers he is bisexual. Gay teenage boys looking for a gay teen romance could hardly do better than this popular new Netflix series from See-Saw Films, which premiered on April 22. The eight-episode series is a work of art; however, it is also propaganda for gender identity ideology (“transgenderism”). It normalises “transgenderism” in children, propagandising the idea that children can change sex and that they will be able to pass as the opposite sex if they wish. It also presents “transgenderism” on the same oppressed plane as homosexuality, where it does not belong.
Heartstopper, set in England and revolving around grade 10 and 11 boys (14-16 years), is framed as a wholesome series. The two lead males are portrayed as intelligent, mature, kind, thoughtful, understanding, vulnerable, and generous. Charlie is unfailingly sweet and describes his dream guy as: “Just someone I can have a laugh with. And… who’s nice. And kind. And likes being with me.” When he sees Nick for the first time, animated leaves swirl around him, signaling the lovely feeling Nick inspires. They play in the snow with Nick’s dog, Charlie shows Nick how to play drums, they ride a carousel… they hug, they cry. When they kiss, animated flowers swirl around them. It’s the kind of healthy relationship most parent viewers probably wish their teenagers had—and a far cry from TV/film’s usual sexualised teen relationships.
Heartstopper frame capture (Nick and Charlie)
From the outset, Nick and Charlie’s romance is presented as a long shot due to various barriers, namely their different personalities, sexual orientations, and friend groups. Nick is popular, athletic (the “rugby king”) and widely believed to be heterosexual, including by himself—until he starts having feelings for Charlie. Charlie is a musical, nerdy, gay outcast. Nick’s heterosexual friends are depicted as moronic, uninteresting, superficial, homophobic bores. Charlie’s may be outcasts, but viewers recognise them as the actual cool ones (smart, interesting, deep, open-minded, gay-friendly). These depictions convey the message that “queer” culture is (morally) superior to straight culture. At any rate, Charlie and Nick’s strong mutual attraction allows them to overcome these barriers.
Gay teenage boys could hardly ask for a better gay character than Charlie and a more positive, supportive story about the difficulties of being homosexual. Charlie, a wonderful person with low self-esteem who feels he doesn’t have the right to exist, gets much support from Nick, his friends Tao (William Gao), Elle (“trans” identified male Yasmin Finney), and Isaac (Tobie Donovan), as well as from teachers, like the gay visual arts teacher, Mr. Ajayi (Fisayo Akinade). When Nick decides he wants to come out (as bisexual) and proclaims his love for Charlie at a beach, their happiness is infectious. You can see why gay teenage boys—especially those in the closet or being bullied by homophobes—would love Heartstopper. Going forward, this is likely the series that will be recommended to gay and gay-questioning teenage boys.
The other target audience is the rapidly growing number of children identifying as “trans” (marked by nonconformity to regressive sex stereotypes), thanks to the series’ Elle character (a boy who masquerades as a girl), LGBT imagery, and an apparent aim to normalise “transgenderism.” Rainbows appear throughout the series. The poster adorning Charlie’s bus stop shelter in episode one reads: Be kind (a gender identity ideology mantra). The series has a politically motivated colour scheme (visible in accents, backgrounds, lighting, etc.): pink/blue to promote gender identity ideology. For example, pink/blue pairings can be seen in the following: Tara’s ensemble (pink coat with blue backpack and scarf), a poster in Charlie’s bedroom, the lockers behind Charlie and Nick (when Nick asks Charlie to join the rugby team), blue binders atop pink cupboards (behind Tara and Darcy, played by Corinna Brown and Kizzy Edgell, respectively). There is also the pink/blue lighting at the bowling alley, movie theatre and throughout the building Harry (Cormac Hyde-Corrin) rents for his birthday party (especially noticeable on the dance floor)—all locations Nick and Charlie appear in together. In episode three, at the crucial moment during Harry’s birthday party when Nick tries to decide if he will act on his romantic feelings for Charlie and he sees lesbians Tara and Darcy kiss on the dance floor, the screen goes rainbow coloured. When Nick begins to question his heterosexuality he visits LGBT-lover.co.uk. In episode six he googles “best lgbt movies.” This imagery will be familiar to children who identify as “trans.” Heartstopper also promotes the TQ+ brand to children who do not (yet) identify with “transgenderism.”
In Heartstopper, a legitimate problem that merits media attention, homophobia, is presented more than once alongside the notion of “transphobia.” People who are oppressed based on their sexual orientation (homosexuals) are compared to people who are oppressed based on their feelings about their identity (trans-identified). For instance, in episode seven after Tao and Elle discuss Harry’s homophobia they discuss his treatment of Elle before he transferred from the boys’ school to the girls’ school and Elle says of Harry, “Surprise. He’s transphobic as well.” The trouble with presenting homosexuality/homophobia on a level with “transgenderism”/”transphobia” is that they are very dissimilar. Homosexuality is not a medical condition. It does not require medical treatment (e.g. hormone therapies, surgeries). Homosexuals wish to lead their lives just as they are (same sex attracted), and their claims have required nothing from heterosexuals (or others). People who “identify as trans,” on the other hand, are said to be born in the wrong body and require change to be their authentic selves (i.e. medical treatments such as wrong-sex hormones and cross-sex surgeries). These required treatments would indicate that “transgenderism” is a medical condition. Those who identify as “transgender"— men who call themselves “trans” are often heterosexual—demand of others that they go along with the charade (affirm their current identity), reorganise reality, and change their language (by disregarding reality and proper grammar) to accommodate them. “Transgenderism” has a huge impact on the lives of women and girls especially, as it requires them to give up many things, including their single-sex spaces, lesbian spaces, safety in women’s prisons, opportunities for advancement, sex-based language, etc.
Moreover, “transphobia” is raised in the series, but significantly, “transgenderism” is not. Whereas Heartstopper’s focus on homosexuality is significant, it draws little attention to the fact that Elle is a boy who wants to be recognised as a girl (“transgenderism”). It repeatedly highlights Charlie’s homosexuality but downplays the fact that Elle identifies as “transgender,” instead presenting him as a girl—no debate, nothing to see here. One of the rare times “transgenderism” is underscored occurs five minutes into the first episode when Charlie refers to one of his teachers as a “massive transphobe” after Tao criticises this teacher for refusing to refer to Elle by his new name (his birth name is not mentioned). The message conveyed is clear: “transphobes” are bigots. Focus is deflected away from “transgenderism” and the unreasonable demands made by those who identify as “trans,” onto those who do not adhere to gender identity ideology (i.e. those who prioritise objective biological reality over subjective inner feelings). The absence of a spotlight on “transgenderism” throughout the series, despite the Elle/Tao budding romance subplot, appears motivated by a conscious aim to normalise “transgenderism” in teenagers.
This normalisation is discussed in interviews 18-year-old British actor Yasmin Finney gave to Teen Vogue and Elle magazine, wherein he is quoted saying of the series: “It’s so beautiful to see a trans story on television that's normalised, rather than see a narrative focussed on gender dysphoria, bullying, or the dark parts that comes with being a trans person.” Indeed, the dark parts—and growing opposition to gender identity ideology—are concealed from viewers as though they did not exist. None of the series’ characters ask Elle why he believes he was born in the wrong body—they just go along with it. None of them discuss how using the nonsensical language of gender identity ideology promotes the idea that children can be born in the wrong body. None of the female characters take issue with a male demanding they allow him to colonise their single-sex spaces. The issue of boundaries is not raised in Heartstopper; the female characters are portrayed as being more than happy to pretend Elle is something he is not. Given Elle’s attraction to Tao, one wonders if he doesn’t have internalised homophobia and is attempting to ‘trans the gay away’—one more thing Heartstopper does not explore. Impressionable young viewers get a distorted depiction of reality here—one that works in favour of gender identity ideology.
This is Finney’s debut screen role. He became famous making TikTok videos and Instagram posts about being “trans.” When he saw the casting call for a “trans woman” of colour he applied and got the role. Since being cast as Elle, his popularity has soared, and now he is set to play the role of Rose in Doctor Who—formerly directed by Welshman Euros Lyn, Heartstopper’s director. How many women can boast a similar rocketing rise to fame as this boy? His “trans” identity appears to be his golden ticket—something that won’t be lost on other fame-seeking children.
Yasmin Finney (both images)
As in other TV series that feature males posing as females, the illusion is created through various devices, beginning with language. Finney, as Elle, is consistently referred to as she and her and his character’s name is French for she/her. Elle’s costumes, too, mark him as female (e.g. skirts, dresses, nylons). Finney performs femininity throughout the series. For instance, when Elle hugs Charlie at his rugby game Elle bends his leg, raising his foot behind him (typical female behaviour in film/TV but not in real life). Also, the actors are at times deliberately positioned to lead viewers to see Finney as female. For instance, when Tao and Elle are in bed together looking at a laptop on film night, Tao sits up whereas Elle lies down, making him appear shorter than Tao (boys tend to be taller than girls). Thus, he must look up at Tao, and Tao must look down at Elle. Everything works together to sell the illusion: boys can pass for girls.
Heartstopper frame capture (Elle) Heartstopper frame capture (Charlie, Nick, Elle, Isaac, Tao)
It is noteworthy that neither Tao nor Elle are portrayed as gay. Tao is described as Charlie’s token straight friend. It seems the show’s creator would have viewers believe Tao and Elle are both heterosexual, based on the ludicrous premise that Elle really is a girl (despite his male biology). Apparently, for Heartstopper’s creator, 28-year-old British author-illustrator Alice Oseman, a wig, makeup, and feminine clothing are all it takes to make a girl. Clearly, Oseman does not shy away from gay characters, so this framing must stem from an adherence to gender identity ideology—her promotion of “transgenderism” in the series certainly seems to indicate as much.
Heartstopper frame capture (Elle and Tao)
In 2020 Oseman told Avery Kaplan of The Beat, “It was very important to me that transgender characters were a part of [Heartstopper], and I hope there is room to introduce more trans characters – most likely in the fifth volume! And Elle will most definitely be appearing in Heartstopper again!” According to Oseman, Heartstopper began as a webcomic in 2016 on Tumblr and Tapas, where it acquired a huge online fanbase with over 52 million views. She crowd-funded a print edition of the story, then in 2019 Hachette Children’s Group published it in two volumes (graphic novels). The young woman states on her Twitter page that her pronouns are “she/they.” In March The Guardian reported that Oseman “identifies as aromantic asexual (a person who experiences little or no romantic or sexual attraction to others).” Oseman plainly subscribes to gender identity ideology, and the extent to which she incorporated her belief system into Heartstopper makes you wonder if she is a brand ambassador for “transgenderism.”
Twitter screen grab (May 23, 2022)
Elle magazine’s Katie O’Malley reported: “To help promote LGBTQ+ positivity on set, LGBT rights charity Stonewall was brought on board by Netflix to help advise its cast and crew, providing talks about the history of the LGBTQ+ struggle and educating individuals on pronouns.” Finney added, “I already knew Heartstopper would be queer positive and celebrate chosen family, but I was so grateful of Stonewall’s involvement.”
And yet, a growing number of UK organisations—and gays, lesbians, and bisexuals—have distanced themselves from Stonewall, withdrawing from its diversity scheme, including the BBC, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and Ofcom. Stonewall is currently being sued by lesbian British barrister, Allison Bailey, for attempting to have her fired from her chambers in retaliation for helping to create LGB Alliance.
Bringing Stonewall on board the series and normalising transgenderism in youth through the Elle character should give viewers pause given the mounting evidence of harm done to children in the name of gender identity ideology. For example, alarming numbers of physically healthy girls, including in Canada, are having double mastectomies because they believe they are boys. Countries like Sweden, Finland, and France have recently taken measures to curtail the medical transitioning of children in part due to increasing evidence that most children who are not affirmed in their desire to present as the opposite sex eventually desist. In England, following the interim findings of the independent Cass Review, the British Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, is “thought to be planning an overhaul of the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS),” reports the BBC. Mr. Javid “told MPs services in this area were too affirmative and narrow, and ‘bordering on ideological’.”
For this film analyst, no discussion is complete without consideration of female viewers. Heartstopper’s female viewers are not served nearly as well as its male viewers. The female characters’ lack of lines/screen time and portrayals that are inferior to the males’ are principally to blame. In the series’ 234 minutes the female characters get roughly 11.5 minutes of speaking time (roughly 5% of the series’ running time). The first “female” with lines is a boy: Elle. Actual females get under 30 seconds of speaking time in the first episode. In the first sequences that show girls speaking to girls their speech is inaudible—and the focus is on Elle, who looks at them wistfully, clearly wanting to be accepted by them. The female characters don’t fare much better in subsequent episodes. As for their portrayals, other than Heartstopper's two lesbians, Tara and Darcy (another subplot)—and the two lesbophobic girls who give them grief—all the female characters exist in relation to Charlie and Nick and don’t have an existence independent of them. This is the case for Tori (Charlie’s sister, played by Jenny Walser), Nick’s mum (Olivia Colman), Charlie’s mum—Imogen (Rhea Norwood), etc. It isn’t until the sixth episode that Tara and Darcy have their first conversation without a male present. They get the most screen time and appear to owe their existence to Elle’s need for acceptance at their girls’ school and Nick’s coming out. Similarly, Tao’s mum (Momo Yeung) owes her existence to affirming Elle as a girl. Often when the PE teacher, Coach Singh (Chetna Pandya), speaks, we don’t even see her—the camera focuses on boys playing rugby. Also, regressive sex stereotypes are reinforced, and inexplicably, Tori often appears sucking on a straw. One wonders why a female writer would relegate her female characters to the margins and background like this. Given the female characters’ lack of screen time and inferior portrayals, it does not appear that female viewers were a priority.
Heartstopper frame capture (Darcy and Tara) Heartstopper frame capture (Tori)
Maleness is also foregrounded in language. When two of Tara and Darcy’s bandmates make lesbophobic comments (e.g. “Lesbians are disgusting”) Darcy says she has “anti-homophobic” cheese to throw at them. Why not say anti-lesbophobic? Why is the word lesbophobia never uttered? Tara and Darcy also refer to themselves as gay more than once, instead of consistently calling themselves lesbians. Surely, in a proud LGBT series there is no reason to shy away from the L? Foregrounding maleness in language is consistent with gender identity ideology, which prioritizes the desires of males over the needs of females.
Near the end of May Netflix released Ricky Gervais’ comedy special, SuperNature, which incudes jokes demonstrating that opposition to gender identity ideology has gone mainstream, mere days after American comedian and TV host Bill Maher addressed the issue of experimenting on children through transgenderism. Neftlix appears to want to have its cake and eat it too. Given the growing number of people speaking up about the permanent damage being done to children in the name of gender identity ideology, Netflix’ decision to promote a series that propagandises gender identity ideology and normalises “transgenderism” in children may appear half-baked before long.