I’m Selina, Awards Circuit’s queer Girl Friday for everything LGBTQIA+ on film and TV!
After almost two years of waiting, Netflix finally released “Stranger Things 3,” taking fans back to Hawkins in time for Fourth of July fireworks. Much like in seasons past, the Duffer Brothers managed to sneak in some emotional moments between ‘80s references and creepy flesh monsters, with newcomer Robin (Maya Hawke) finally putting some rainbow representation into the angsty series. Here’s what I think the Duffer Brothers got right in terms of LGBTQIA+ representation, and what they might be hinting at with fellow monster-slayer Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) this season.
Warning: Spoilers ahead. For a bigger breakdown of “Stranger Things 3,” check out the full review.
Robin Rules Scoops…And Steve Harrington
I don’t have time for a full breakdown of “Stranger Things 3,” but I will say it lived up to expectations. The third installment of the Netflix series is as action-packed as “Stranger Things” 1 and 2, but put in the emotional work to develop their newcomers into fully realized people. Scoops Ahoy drone Robin, played by Maya Hawke, was a particular standout this season, managing to hold her own sarcastic spotlight against the meme-worthy quips of Erica Sinclair (Priah Ferguson) and the bromance of Steve and Dustin (Joe Keery and Gaten Matarazzo). And in Robin, we finally find the first gay soul in the small Indiana town.
Robin comes out to Steve in a gracefully written scene during Episode 7, after Steve confesses his own attraction to her. Opening up to Steve, Robin reveals that her high school obsession with him was really a secret longing for fellow classmate Tammy Thompson, who had harbored a crush for Steve “The Hair” Harrington. Keery’s Steve openly accepts her (a change from his previous homophobic comments) and simply teases her about her taste in women, turning the scene into one of the more boring moments of the episode. And that’s what made it brilliant. Robin is smart and wry, another recruit to the band of monster-slayers who walks the line between gory crime-fighting and teenage drama with ease. Her sexuality is probably the least interesting thing about her, and 20 years ago, that simply wouldn’t be the case.
The Duffer Brothers have created a character who’s gay, but not The Gay. Her romantic interests will probably get some screen-time in “Stranger Things 4,” but no more or less than the other kids’ ventures into dating. We didn’t have to suffer through stupid lesbian sex jokes, or a homophobic storyline just to remind you said character is gay, or a Bury Your Gays death that’s A) homophobic, B) brutal, and C) punishes gay characters for their mere existence in the TV world. These might be obvious pitfalls to avoid, but from 2015 to 2017, over 62 lesbian and bisexual characters were killed off of their TV shows. We need more Robins in the TV world, and I’m excited to see a smart, funny lesbian character folded into the Netflix juggernaut that is “Stranger Things.”
The Growing Pains Of Will Byers
Then there’s Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), who’s already been through a hell of a ride the past two years. But it seems that a parasitic darkness tentacle monster pales in comparison to the trials of adolescence, especially when it comes to romance. In “Stranger Things 3,” Will is the upteenth wheel surrounded by couples. Susie and Lucas, Eleven and Mike, Jonathan and Nancy, and even Dustin and his new love interest Suzie spend their days making moon eyes (or radio calls) to one another, while Will just wants to play Dungeons and Dragons. But is Will a late bloomer, or is he LGBTQIA+?
Mike (Finn Wolfhard) gives the audience a huge hint in Episode 3, when Will storms out of a failed D&D session. Amidst an argument in the pouring rain, Will accuses Mike of ruining the friend group to “swap spit with some stupid girl,” to which Mike replies, “It’s not my fault you don’t like girls!” Will, for his part, is absolutely shaken. Some viewers are interpreting the scene as confirmation of Will’s queerness, and while I see where they’re coming from, there are several ways to interpret the exchange.
Will could be gay (perhaps even crushing on Mike, explaining why he’s so angry about his relationship with Eleven), or Will could be asexual, and simply not interested in anyone. It’s also possible that Will just hasn’t had time to think about girls, what with the journey into the Upside Down, then the parasitic monster, and now the Russian mall invasion. While everyone else got to finish out their childhood, Will had gory fish to fry, and now everyone’s left him in the dust. And there’s also a chance of queerbaiting, which still isn’t out of the question in 2019.
I do, however, believe that a lot of queer kids will identify strongly with Will Byers, a young boy who would rather play D&D in a full wizard’s outfit than “swap spit” with a girl. Dating when you’re unsure just who you’re attracted to can be a loaded proposition, and a lot of young queer kids feel out of place or left behind, just like Will Byers. So, while this scene was too ambiguous to be a coming out, it’ll still help young LGBTQIA+ viewers feel a little less alone.
Why We Need More Queer Characters in Fantastical Worlds
The crowning achievement of “Stranger Things” has always been its embrace of weirdos. A group of nerds who played D&D in the basement meet an outcast runaway and their knowledge, their unusual strengths, their “weirdness” help them save the world. Lots of young viewers, but especially LGBTQIA+ youth, identify with bloody, fantastical shows like “Stranger Things” because they feel seen and heard by stories that embrace the weird. We need more Robins and Wills in the TV world, because the Venn diagram of queer kids and young fantasy fans is a circle. Everyone deserves to feel seen, and “Stranger Things 3” is taking yet another step towards that reality.
“Stranger Things 3” is out on Netflix now. Watch the official trailer below.