Updated: Jun 10
Revealing one’s sexuality has proven itself to be one of the most difficult things any person could do. The vulnerability and intense anxiety surrounding the subject can not only be daunting, but life changing. Coming out can be a gradual process or one that is very sudden. The first step usually involves coming out to yourself, often with a realization that feelings you’ve had for some time make sense if you can define them as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer. We all deserve the right to live our lives genuinely, completely, and honestly. For LGBTQ people, coming out is often a significant part of reclaiming this right and living in our identity publicly. The experience of coming out and living openly covers the full spectrum of human emotion — from debilitating fear to untethered elation.
Stranger Things’ character, Will Byer, struggles with his sexuality when the show first began back in 2016. There were small inferences throughout the last three seasons that Will was not heterosexual. Noah Schnapp, the actor who plays Will Byer in the hit series, said in a 2018 interview with Variety, that Will’s sexuality was “up to the audience’s interpretation.” Recently, Schnapp has confirmed Byer’s character as openly gay to the audience. “Now that he’s gotten older, they made it a very real, obvious thing. Now it’s 100 percent clear that he is gay, and he does love Mike,” Schnapp explained. “But before, it was a slow arc. I think it is done so beautifully, because it’s so easy to make a character just like all of a sudden be gay.” I’m sure we can think of several characters after reading that line - *cough* do better Disney *cough*. This “slow arc” that Schnapp mentions is a minor yet increasingly absent aspect to all LGBTQIA+ TV or movie characters. Byer’s journey through coming out and self-discovery is something everyone should educate themselves on.
Throughout season 4 of the show, Will is portrayed to have a very challenging time with discovering and acknowledging his sexuality. Humans are complex and exquisite beings. There is a myriad of information that we don’t know about ourselves, and we are worth the exploration. We are meant to lead a joyous life if we are mindful of our motives, hopes, dreams, and expectations. How can we expect happiness if we don’t know what we want? That’s where the self-discovery aspect comes in. Although Will’s internal turmoil cannot be thoroughly analyzed by the audience, one can assume he is fighting his insecurities and lack of self-confidence.
As we know, American history has created a stigma around coming out, leaving LGBTQ+ members with a sense of worry and dread – understandably so! Overall, this phrase teaches shame and it’s time to represent pride for a change. I think an inspiring outlook one could replace this stigmatized phrase with would be, “coming in.” A simple change of adverb turns negativity into hope. Instead of worrying about coming out and all of the vital aspects that come with it, think of this emotional experience as a sort of rebirth; you’re reentering the world with a new and genuine identity that you’re ready to share! The best way to understand yourself is to start asking questions and being honest with the answers. You can’t be honest with your loved ones until you’re honest with yourself first. However, this is easier said than done, and it’s not easy to experience this journey alone, as Will demonstrated in this recent season.
Trusting Your Allies
Toward the end of Stranger Things’ season 4, Will and his older brother, Jonathan, have a heartfelt conversation. In this scene, Jonathan reminds Will that he is a permanent figure in Will’s life and that he will always be there to support him. Jonathan acknowledges how he has been an absent-minded brother to Will for the last several months and he wants to be a better brother. The audience can infer what Jonathan is referring to, since Will’s sexuality is never explicitly mentioned in the show. Both brother’s eyes flood with tears as Jonathan vulnerably apologizes to his little brother. Will accepts his apology and the two embrace one another. Will sighs with immense relief that he has an ally to gain support from, no matter what.
Trust takes a long time to build and only seconds to break. As we know, not every LBGTQ+ member has the same level of support from their loved ones. Due to various religious reasons, personal reasons, or just pure bigotry, embracing one’s sexuality can oftentimes be dangerous and not even an option. It is important to recognize the people you have in your life that are there to support you through any challenging time. If you know of anyone who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+, let them know that they have your support. You never know what someone else is going through. Even if they claim to have a support system, be there for them anyway.
Be the Jonathan they need.
The Road to Acceptance
As mentioned earlier, for people to accept you, you must first accept yourself. It is also important to remember that identifying with a different sexuality than heterosexual doesn’t need to be the entirety of your personality. The film industry tends to represent LGBTQ+ people as very one-sided – that of the stereotypical gay person with little outside interests other than romance and gossip. Just because that’s what the entertainment industry portrays does not mean that’s what you must subscribe to!
Will engages in many different hobbies that make him up to be the individual that he is. He often spends time with his friends, hence the main plot of the series, reading X-Men comics, and playing Dungeons & Dragons. Will doesn’t let his sexuality override his personality by any means, but he incorporates both into his life, even when it’s really difficult. For example, the scene where Will shows his Dungeons & Dragons painting to Mike in the car. Mike is feeling insecure about where he stands with Eleven and Will shows him the painting where Mike is painted as the leader of the knights, fighting off a huge three-headed dragon. Will tells Mike that Eleven is avoiding him because of her fear of losing him. Will states that Eleven needs Mike and without him she is completely lost. However, it is abundantly clear to both Jonathan, who is driving, and the audience that Will is projecting his feelings onto Eleven for the sake of preserving his and Mike’s friendship. The scene ends with Will silencing his cries in the moving car, literally on his road to acceptance. Although he’s not quite there yet, he is on his way.
Accepting and revealing your sexuality is the boldest step in accepting your sexual orientation, but once you begin to live freely, it does not mean that you must change what defines you as a person. Don’t try to change yourself or wishing that you were like the other people in your life to cater to the comfort levels of others.
You can’t please everyone, and those who care about you will still love you for who you are.
A self-described geek, Maria Laquerre-Diego is a CEO and Owner who is committed to increasing access to mental health services and breaking down the stigma surrounding therapy services. As a therapist turned CEO, Maria has developed a unique perspective when it comes to mental health and the barriers surrounding mental health treatment. Influenced by her time at New Mexico State University in the Family and Consumer Science department, and University of New Hampshire’s Marriage and Family Therapy department, Maria has turned her dedication to giving back and supporting future generations of therapists. In addition to supporting mental health providers, Maria takes an active role in addressing the continued stigma of mental health services through the use of pop culture – everything from movies and television shows to superheroes and Disney characters. Maria has spoken about mental health at several local events, has served as an officer on professional boards and has provided training to clinicians all over the country while maintaining her and her family’s roots as Aggies! Outside of the office, Maria can be found spending time with her family and loved ones, exploring the world through travel, and creating cosplays for herself, her husband and their two little ones. Maria is always happy to talk about Star Wars, Marvel and mental health and can be contacted through her practice website www.anewhopetc.org