Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) is one of the most compelling characters in Stranger Things. Aside from Eleven, he’s the strongest link the group has to the Upside Down. He was seemingly Vecna’s first victim, he’s the group’s emotional core and he always has terrible hair. The Duffer Brothers literally couldn’t have created a better character.
But Will is compelling for another reason — his queerness and the way it’s handled on the show.
It’s been implied that Will is queer since season one, in my opinion. His mum Joyce Byers says it: she tells Hopper when Will is missing that Will’s dad used to call him “queer”. She describes him as “not like most” and “sensitive”. As a gay myself — heard those ones before!
It’s implied Joyce fears Will has been attacked or kidnapped because of the perception he’s queer.
But season four volume one made Will’s sexuality the most explicit it’s been, mostly thanks to Noah Schnapp’s incredible ability to visibly yearn through the screen.
Both Noah Schnapp and his co-star Millie Bobby Brown spoke about Will’s sexuality being ambiguous when season four volume one was released.
“I feel like they never really address it or blatantly say how Will is. I think that’s the beauty of it, that it’s just up to the audience’s interpretation,” Schnapp told Variety.
“If it’s Will kind of just refusing to grow up and growing up slower than his friends, or if he is really gay.”
But in season four volume two, we got what I and many other viewers understood to be Will’s coming out scene.
Will and Mike (Finn Wolfhard) are sat in the back of the van, discussing Mike’s relationship with Eleven (Brown).
Will tells Mike he’s the “heart” of the group, and finally shows him that fucking painting. It depicts them, Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) fighting a dragon.
While Will tells Mike that Eleven commissioned him to create the painting, I don’t buy it. Dragons and pining for your best friend are both pretty gay activities.
Will emphasises how much Eleven relies on Mike, but it’s clear that he’s also talking about his own feelings.
“These past few months, she’s been so lost without you. It’s just she’s so different from other people,” he says.
“And when you’re — when you’re different sometimes you feel like a mistake.
“But you make her feel like she’s not a mistake at all. Like she’s better for being different.”
Will says all this while quite literally crying before turning away to sob while staring out the window. So yeah, as a gay viewer, I understood this was a coming out scene.
In fact, I found it more moving than a number of other coming out scenes I’ve seen on TV. Of course, there is a beauty and power in being explicit. To see characters name their sexuality or gender, to use the language of being LGBTQIA+ is so, so important.
But in the same vein it’s also pretty fucking hard for many teenagers to articulate the fact that they’re LGBTQIA+.
And when you remember the context of this being peak Ronald Reagan-era America, when homophobia was rampant and the AIDS crisis was allowed to kill thousands of people, it makes sense Will wouldn’t just say: “I’m gay”.
That might not even be the way Will understands his sexuality.
@camidizzleswizzle im convinced some people didnt watch the same episodes i did #strangerthings #st4 #byler #willbyers #mikewheeler ♬ original sound – </3
Regardless of that context too, there’s another reason Will’s coming out scene had such raw emotion. Because to Mike — the person he loves — it wasn’t a coming out at all. And part of being an LGBTQ+ person is learning that people often can’t or won’t understand you.
Will is, in a way, confessing his love to Mike. But for Mike, the conversation is about his relationship with Eleven. Will is speaking in a code that Mike doesn’t even realise exists.
It reflects all the little ways we try and express our sexualities and feelings when we don’t have the vocabulary to, and the profound loneliness which comes with knowing you’re not being understood.
@miranda_cosgrove_stan maybe not “resolution” but in terms of development/confirmation the duffer bros delivered #gay #strangerthings #lgbt #netflix ♬ original sound – mvvvc (Taylor’s Version)
You know who does understand that code though? Jonathan fucking Byers, Will’s older brother.
Look, I know a lot of people are Team Steve in the Nancy/Steve/Jonathan triangle. And fair, Jonathan taking pictures of Nancy getting dressed in season one was absolute fucking creep behaviour.
But where Jonathan shines as a character, and where Charlie Heaton particularly shines as an actor, is the absolute well of love he has for Will.
While Mike doesn’t register Will’s clear emotion at their conversation, Jonathan does.
Later in episode nine, while they’re at the pizza restaurant, Jonathan immediately clocks Will’s response to Mike and Eleven’s playful love for one another.
He apologises to Will for being distant.
“The truth is, I miss talking to you. I like, really miss it. And I think right now, we need to talk more than ever,” Jonathan says.
“I don’t want you to forget that I’m here and that I’ll always be here — no matter what. Because you’re my brother and I love you.
“There’s nothing in this world, absolutely nothing, that will ever change that.”
The two then shared a tearful embrace while I openly sobbed.
Will doesn’t need someone to ask him if he’s gay. Will needs someone to tell him they love him implicitly, regardless of every possible factor. That’s whether he’s queer, whether he’s been kidnapped by Vecna, whether there’s still a piece of the Upside Down haunting him.
Being LGBTQIA+ isn’t about saying those words to someone else. But Jonathan is actively creating a safe space for Will if he reaches a point where he wants to articulate his sexuality further.
Regardless of how his sexuality is explored I hope we get much more of Will’s character in Stranger Things season five, particularly because of his lingering connection to the Upside Down. And you know what, if he gets a nice, supportive Dungeons and Dragons loving boyfriend? Good fkn on him.