I’ve loved Will Byers from the very start of Stranger Things because he’s a survivor. Yes, he’s a shy, awkward, and dorky kid. But he survived the Upside Down when countless others died by its hands (or tentacles). He skillfully hid from The Demogorgon, warned his mother when things were dangerous, and survived when the Upside Down gained a foothold in this world through him.
Entering into season 3 of Stranger Things, and watching Mike going off on Will by saying, “It’s not my fault you don’t like girls!” flipped a switch for me. Will was gay and dealing with that and the fact that his relationships with his closest friends were changing in ways that he would never experience. And as a queer person myself, this cemented a bond between us that was born out of understanding.
Entering season 4 of Stranger Things, I hoped for confirmation from the show that Will was gay. To my disappointment, there was nothing besides Will being the third wheel to Eleven and Mike and some secret painting that he’s been working on for someone he “likes.” But even then, I held onto hope because surely the last two episodes of season 4 would contain something? Nope.
In an interview with Variety, Noah Schnapp basically said it would never happen and that it was “beautiful” nonetheless. “I feel like they never really address it or blatantly say how Will is,” he says. “I think that’s the beauty of it, that it’s just up to the audience’s interpretation, if it’s Will kind of just refusing to grow up and growing up slower than his friends, or if he is really gay.”
There is no beauty in being vague about a character’s sexuality when creators, writers, and everyone in between have been fighting tooth and nail to get proper representation on our screens for decades. And for a show as grand as Stranger Things, the ripple effect of having another confirmed LGBTQ character can be grand, proving that we are here, we are queer, and we are valid parts of all media.
Millie Bobby Brown, who plays Eleven, took it a step further by saying that labels aren’t needed in 2022. “Can I just say, it’s 2022 and we don’t have to label things,” she said. “I think what’s really nice about Will’s character is that he’s just a human being going through his own personal demons and issues. So many kids out there don’t know, and that’s OK. That’s OK to not know. And that’s OK not to label things.”
Sorry, not sorry but labels (for many) are powerful tools of acceptance when used right. Labels are saying, “This is who I am and I’m not afraid to be that label.” They make us feel like we belong, help define our experiences, and cement that we aren’t going away. And until we don’t have to fight to be seen in a world that consistently denies our existence, labels are needed to validate our experiences.
I want to give Schnapp and Brown the benefit of the doubt. They are young, probably think the 80’s were 5 billion years ago, and are fortunate enough to be born into a different world where there is more LGBTQ+ representation than ever before. But just because there is more, doesn’t mean that we and our experiences have become normalized yet. We’re still fighting every single day.
So, no, it isn’t beautiful that Will’s sexuality is vague and yes, we do need queer labels in 2022. We need clarity and respect for Will’s journey and what it means to those of us like myself who have connected with him and are just waiting for him to speak his truth. And hopefully, those in power at Stranger Things HQ see the benefit of letting Will be gay in one of the biggest shows in the world.
Stranger Things season 4 volume 1 is available on Netflix.