Coming to Self Acceptance

Heartstopper is a British television show on Netflix that centers around two British boys and their love story as well as the experiences of growing up Queer. Nick and Charlie, along with their friends, represent many different aspects of growing up in general along with growing up as LGBTQ+. The show specifically emphasizes self-love and acceptance along with taking the time to discover yourself. One of our main characters, Nick comes to acceptance of his sexuality throughout the show as we see his and Charlie’s relationship progress. Part of why Nick’s story is so impactful is the space that he’s fortunately been given to discover himself. Charlie, despite finding it difficult to hide their relationship at school, respects Nick and allows him to take his time, and does not pressure him. Nick’s mom allows him to comfortably come out to her by not rushing him or jumping assumptions. She treats him with love and support and accepts him like he is. Nick’s story is one of many storylines in the show that revolve around self-acceptance during the stages of growing up. Overall, this show places much emphasis on the importance of self-acceptance along with finding confidence in expressing yourself.

In this way, Heartstopper is similar to all the works we have read in class. They all grapple with self-acceptance regarding sexuality and creating space for themselves. It should be noted that while it holds similar themes, Heartstopper does contain more hopeful content than the other media we have read in class, but regardless it does still cover the theme of self love and acceptance like the readings of this class. For example, Saedee Jones covers his journey of coming to acceptance of his gender expression and his identity as a Gay Black man despite biases and discrimination. The specific issues each author grapples with both differ and intersect due to different intersectional identities and histories, but general themes stay the same. The authors and the show aim to reclaim their stories and experiences and to show their journeys to self-love to help others like them not to feel alone. They also give voice to many experiences and bring representation into the media space. By doing so, they validate the experiences of the unheard and motivate others like them to accept their identity and feel comfortable speaking on them in media spaces.

Self Acceptance and Power

Through the experiences of Belize and Roy Cohn, Tony Kushner shows the importance of self-acceptance with the use of power. Belize and Roy show two very different impacts with their power and actions. Roy as a white, closeted, wealthy lawyer harms marginalized people all while being one himself. His internalized homophobia results in him being especially hateful and dehumanizing towards Queer people even when they help him. When Belize advises Roy to use his connections to avoid being scammed by the medicine trials, Cohn still treats him in a demeaning manner despite Belize helping him with medical treatment. He still calls Belize a “ butterfingers sp**k f*ggot nurse” (Kushner 155) and ironically points out that Belize has “little reason to help” him (Kushner 155). Roy uses the slur as his internalized homophobia separates himself from its dehumanizing impact. Furthermore, it prevents him from empathizing with the experiences and feelings of queer people despite being one himself. This leads to him only looking out for his best interests like in the case of him hoarding medication that would have helped many others. Additionally, with his bias towards marginalized people, Roy is unlikely to help them in legal cases for their rights. This only results in a more oppressive and hateful world.

Unlike Roy, Belize faces more severe oppression due to his intersectional identity as a middle-class gay black man. Despite the severe levels of oppression making it difficult for him to have power in his life, he still chooses to use what little power he does have to help others. As a nurse during the AIDs Crisis, Belize aims to help all people affected but especially Queer people. As seen through his interaction with Roy, Belize’s kind actions come from a place of empathy and self-acceptance. When Roy insults Belize’s intentions for helping him, he simply responds with “ Consider it solidarity from one f*ggot to another.” (Kushner 155) Instead of feeling offended by Roy’s use of the slur, Belize reclaims it by turning it into a fact of reality. For him, his sexuality is not a shameful part of his identity and despite Roy being terrible and ungrateful towards him, Belize still helps him with treatment.
Through this scene, Kushner supports his theme of the state of self-acceptance and it’s impact on the uses of power. He shows us that self-acceptance leads to empathetic actions that change the world for the better while the opposite results in harmful results.

Familial Influences and Sense of Self

Saeed Jones’s poem “ Boy Found Inside a Wolf’ starts with a description of Jones fighting his way out of his father’s body (or the “wolf” in this poem). Through this, Jones references the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Jones, like Riding Hood, is an inexperienced young individual who is still finding themselves in a complex world because of this, they depend on the authority figures in their life to help them understand the world and their role in it. Unfortunately, not all adults have their well-being in mind which can lead them to difficult places in life. In Riding Hood’s case, she is misled and later consumed by the wolf. Jones opens his poem by using this as a metaphor for his life. Starting with his repetition of “ red” and “black”, he creates a vivid image of the gruesome and uncomfortable conditions of the body that he is fighting his way out of. (Jones 13) Jones also emphasizes the feeling of suffocation he experiences in his “father’s body” as a way of metaphorically representing the nature of his father’s expectations, restrictive and overbearing on Jones’s gender expression and sexuality. Jones being trapped in his “father’s body” also represents his father’s attempts to make Jones like him, to the point where he feels trapped in his father’s sense of self. 

Similar to Jones, Eve Sedgwick also discusses the relationship between queer kids and authority figures or parents. She writes about how unaccepting and hateful parents can be towards their queer kids, to the point of either isolating themselves from Queer adults or rejecting them from the family. Jones and Sedgewick’s discussion of the influence of familial relationships on queer kids and their sense of self highlights this common theme in LGBTQ+ literature and experiences. More specifically, Jones’s poem highlights how despite parents’ attempts to change their children, these attempts are futile as a true sense of self can not be stopped. He shows this resistance through his fist breaking through the wolf’s body, showing how despite numerous challenges queer people face, they will always continue to resist and create change. (Jones 13)

Gender Expression and Nature

In “Boy in a Whalebone Corset”, Saeed Jones describes the traumatic experience of his father catching him wearing feminine clothing and physically abusing him for it. Beyond the metaphors, Jones’s poem is about his father’s response to his expression of self and the measures that his father is willing to take to suppress Jones’s true self. Jones’s use of the line “negligee, lace, fishnet, whore.” best represents the poem as it shows his father’s perception of him. The first three words are revealing, scandalous clothing or material that is associated with sexuality, and the use of “whore” for the ending of the line shows that Jones’s father views his gender expression in a negative and demeaning light. The line “ His son’s a whore..” (Jones 12) emphasizes this shaming attitude. Aside from this theme, themes of fire versus nature, and waltzing are also present. The destructive and consuming relationship of fire and nature is used to represent the familial relationship. Like fire, his father’s attitude toward femininity and queerness is destructive and seeks to consume nature or metaphorically, Jones’s sense of self. His father’s association with fire comes from the literal description of him holding matches and a jug of gasoline as he prepares to burn Jones’s feminine clothes. (Jones 12) As for the theme of waltzing, it is connected through the mention of Nina Simone’s record playing and the rhythm of the poem is similar to one of a waltz. Jones’s waltzing to her music in dresses furthers his themes of exploration of gender expression (femininity versus masculinity) as he is going against gender expectations. Gender expectations, along with sexuality and abuse are some of the common themes of Jones’s writing. The exploration of these themes paints a picture of the joy and pain that can come with the queer experience.