'Heartstopper' Star Kit Conner and Fandoms' Obsession with Sexuality

by Shawn Laib

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday November 9, 2022

"Heartstopper" star Kit Connor, left, with Joe Locke, right.
"Heartstopper" star Kit Connor, left, with Joe Locke, right.  (Source:Netflix/Rob Youngson)

One of the reasons Netflix's megahit "Heartstopper" is captivating to audiences all over the world is because it feels like a safe space instead of a typical TV show. Whether you are younger and still not out, newly out, or have been out for years, seeing the story of Nick Nelson (Kit Conner) and Charlie Spring (Joe Locke) unfold is like receiving a big bear hug of security.

You would hope that the people who brought the story to the small screen would be afforded the same blanket of protection from homophobia as their characters, but many fans weren't able to make this a reality. With Locke being openly gay before starring on the show, the actor who received the majority of the pressure and harassment was Kit Connor, the bright-eyed, pretty-haired superstar playing Nick. (Though Locke, too, faced harassment). Connor was one of the only performers in "Heartstopper" who chose to keep his real-life sexuality private from the world, a choice that should have been respected.

When Connor was seen holding hands with a female co-star offset of a new project he was working on, some people began to claim he wasn't worthy of being on "Heartstopper" anymore. The word "queerbaiting" started to be thrown around at the speed of a Randy Johnson fastball, intimidating the 18-year-old star until he came out as bisexual on Twitter on Halloween night.

As someone who needed to wait until his mid-20s to accept himself for being gay, I can't imagine how heartbreaking it must have been for Connor to have to share such a vital part of his identity to the world before even leaving his teenage years. Though he did receive support from his "Heartstopper" costars and fans, nobody is entitled to know someone else's sexuality, and it's certainly not queerbaiting to play an LGBTQ+ character on-screen while keeping your own sexual life private from the public eye. The situation opened up an ugly can of worms in which large swathes of TV and movie fandoms may feel they can successfully pressure and bully a celebrity until they reveal sensitive and private things about themselves against their will.

To resolve the issue and prevent it from happening to others like Connor, we first have to analyze why fandoms are obsessed with stars' sexuality. In the 70s and 80s, outing someone was usually a way to shame and draw negative attention to a celebrity. In today's climate, it appears the opposite is happening. As more stars come out, fans feel there should be an inundation of LGBTQ+ revelations, and everyone who gets near a queer project should be part of the community in real life. The discussion around whether straight actors should play gay characters or not has already become overwrought, but decoding the motivations of the greater pop culture fandom surrounding these discussions is still a necessary exercise.

I want to be honest in admitting that I feel a tinge of satisfaction every time I hear an actor from a predominantly LGBTQ+ show come out. I suppose when figuring out why I feel this way, it's easy to come to the conclusion that it makes the work we enjoy feel more valid, like queer actors' performances are given credence by the real-life experiences of a queer individual. It's no wonder Connor and Locke are able to give wholly authentic portrayals of non-straight teenagers because that's exactly what they are outside of the Hollywood machine. They can add a nuance that a straight actor might not be able to pull off. Queer actors are able to make their performances into extensions of reality. In this way, it starts to make sense why young queer people have interest in celebrties' sexuality, especially as it interacts with the medium of LGBTQ+ filmmaking.

We can't sacrifice an actor's feelings at the altar of the queer movement, though. No matter how much we want these stories behind the screen to jump out at us in real-time, to transform our existences and modify the planet into a utopia where everything turns out fine like at the end of the show, it's not worth destroying the psyche of the people making the product. It's counterproductive to the purpose of queer storytelling, and it discourages young people from experimenting with these types of projects out of fear they'll end up like Connor. The narrative on the screen is not the same as the one off it. It may be a tough pill to swallow, but it's incredibly necessary.