Coming out, forced and by free-will: two ends of a shaky spectrum

Erin Burchill ‘25, Feature Editor

When season four of the hit Netflix original show Stranger Things was released, speculation around one of the main characters Will Byers’ sexuality was on many viewers’ minds. Noah Schnapp, who plays Will, essentially confirmed that Byers was gay in an interview from July 2022—even the creators of the show, the Duffer Brothers, commented on it, saying that it would be made clear in the second part of season four. Without ever receiving a concrete answer, fans have decided for themselves that Byers is in fact gay. However, as Schnapp stated in a recent TikTok, he and his character are not so different.

The 18-year-old actor shared something with his followers earlier this month, though according to him, “it never was that serious.” Schnapp came out as gay, shocking and exciting many fans and other celebrities. Dylan Mulvaney, Seventeen Magazine, and the official TikTok account were among the plethora of commenters sending the actor love and pride. He also wrote in the video that, when he told his family and friends, “all they said was ‘we know.’” This in itself can be slightly harmful, as it invalidates the courage and strength that it can take to share that kind of information. On the other hand, this response is 

While Byers’ sexual orientation was a hot topic, Schnapp’s was rarely called into question, if at all. Since Will’s sexuality was never officially confirmed, there was no basis to accuse Schnapp of queerbaiting, so no one did. Queerbaiting is the practice of hinting at but not actually depicting queer identities or relationships in order to garner a larger audience. “Queerbaiter” is also used to describe an actor or celebrity who plays a queer character or acts queer in media purely for fame. With cancel culture still running rampant, many people on the internet search for cancelable traits in celebrities, and unfortunately, a different young queer actor was a victim of attempted cancelation.

Kit Connor starred as Nick Nelson in Heartstopper, a Netflix show based on a webcomic by the same name. After Nelson came out as bisexual in the show, fans were quick to wonder if the actor was as well. Connor was badgered with interrogations from fans of the show all over social media. In late October 2022, a few months after the first season of the show aired, Connor tweeted, “back for a minute. i’m bi. congrats for forcing an 18 year old to out himself. i think some of you missed the point of the show. Bye.”

Despite them both coming out through the internet, the difference between these two situations is quite significant. While Connor was continuously and aggressively pestered until fans received the answer they wanted, Schnapp was spared of any accusations and was able to come out on his own terms. The admission of being queer can be extremely difficult, especially for someone so young. Not only that, but these teenagers’ lives are centered around the media and their level of fame, and whatever they say is subject to judgment from millions of strangers on the internet. Putting pressure on anyone to confess something personal is unacceptable, no matter their status or popularity. Being a celebrity does not mean everyone else has a right to their personal life.

Schnapp’s coming out journey was in his control; he took his time and shared his identity with the world when he was ready. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Connor. His chance to tell his own story was taken away from him because people on the internet would not let him speak his truth on his own timeline. No matter a person’s status, privacy is privacy, respect is respect. Coming out is, for many people, an extremely intimidating and difficult process, and it takes a lot of courage to share that part of yourself with the people around you. That journey can be as private or as public as a person wants, but their personal decision needs to be respected. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s