Stranger Things has been struck with backlash from LGBTQ+ fans, who’ve accused the show of “queerbaiting” with Will Byers after a recent interview.
Viewers have begun to accuse the show of queerbaiting, due to Will’s character being queer-coded, but never having his sexuality explicitly stated outright.
Is Will Byers presented as gay in Stranger Things Season 4?
Will has arguably been hinted to be gay since Season 1, when Joyce Byers mentioned that homophobic slurs had often been thrown at her son.
In Season 3, it was subtextually suggested that he had hidden feelings for his best friend, Mike Wheeler. But Will’s sexuality has only recently become a major talking point amongst fans, due to his scenes in Season 4.
In Season 4, Will feels extremely left out when Mike comes to visit him and Eleven, and accuses Mike of no longer caring about him. He also recoils from a girl when she attempts to flirt with him at school.
In the same scene, it is shown that he is doing a presentation on his hero Alan Turing, a WWII mathematician and computer scientist who was later persecuted for being gay.
In Episode 4 of the season, when offering Mike advice, Will states something that can easily be seen as an allegory of the struggles of coming out: “Sometimes, I think it’s just scary, to open up like that, to say how you really feel, especially to people you care about the most. Because what if… what if they don’t like the truth?”
While none of this explicitly proves that he’s gay, it’s easy to understand why fans have drawn that conclusion. Even fellow Stranger Things actors, David Harbour (Hopper) and Finn Wolfhard (Mike) have seemed in favor of this interpretation, stating in a video together with Netflix: “Will wants to be in the basement with Mike playing D&D for the rest of his life.”
However, not every Stranger Things actor feels that way, and this is what has led to the brunt of the backlash.
Noah Schnapps’ interpretation of Will Byers in Stranger Things
Noah Schnapp, who plays Will, stated in an interview with Variety that he appreciates that the character’s sexuality is left up to interpretation.
He argued: “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.”
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Millie Bobby Brown, who plays Eleven, was also present for the interview and added: “Can I just say, it’s 2022 and we don’t have to label things.
“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.”
Is Will Byers’ representation harmful or helpful?
Obviously, there are many young gay people today, especially in the 1980s, who may have struggled with and hidden their sexuality. The show is realistic in that regard. But acting like that is a beautiful thing, rather than an issue that needs to be addressed, has the potential to leave a bad taste in the mouth of the show’s LGBTQ+ audience.
Furthermore, when comparing Will to the rest of the teenage characters, who have all had openly romantic subplots, it seems like the show is hiding and isolating him in particular. This makes it appear like the series’ lack of explicitness is coming more from a place of conservative fear rather than a modern dismissal of labels.
Stranger Things hit with backlash on social media
In the wake of Florida’s recent “Don’t Say Gay” bill, it’s easy to see why this turn of events has rubbed people the wrong way. Following this interview, many viewers have expressed frustration with Will’s presentation, and have taken to Twitter to accuse the show of queerbaiting.
I need cishets to understand that hinting at but never confirming (or eventually contradicting) a character's queerness is not beautiful. Leaving it up to the audience's interpretation is manipulative, crass, and cynical exploitation for queer credibility while doing nothing. https://t.co/RvOAdEoXR3
— Maddie, Jean Grey's Lesbian Clone (She/Her) (@lisaquestions) May 31, 2022
Some fans are wondering, however, if Will’s sexuality will be revealed later on in the show, and Schnapp is currently acting ambiguous to avoid spoilers.
Star Trek: Discovery writer Tyler Dinucci stated: “I think the problem with the Will Byers stuff is they’re gonna reveal he’s gay at some point but it’s going to be a plot point so it makes the ability to answer questions about it at the moment weird.”
Dinucci also praised the writing surrounding the sapphic character of Robin Buckley and her coming out story, though fans have pointed out that the word “lesbian” has yet to be explicitly stated.
This series of events is also coming at a time when Brown has had to face a series of memes which have falsely attributed racist and homophobic quotes to her.
LGBTQ+ representation, and how to do it correctly, has always been a difficult subject. Fans can only hope that Stranger Things will take Will in a direction that is the best for him, and for whomever he may be representing.