Will Byers (played bowl cutted-ly by Noah Schnapp) has been through a lot in Stranger Things. The aforementioned bowl cut. Being taken into the Upside Down in season one of the show. Having to deal with Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), the moodiest teen on earth. But one of the most compelling elements of Will’s character is undeniably his sexuality — and now Schnapp and Millie Bobby Brown have weighed in.
As a gay viewer, I’ve always been naturally drawn to Will. Quiet, nerdy, bad hair and lacking self-assurance? Your honour, that’s just 14-year-old me! The show has made consistent hints to his sexuality, most obviously in season four. The first episode of season one features Will in his new Californian school, having just made a poster about Alan Turing.
Turing was an English mathematician who was essential to breaking Nazi German codes in World War Two. But in 1952 he was prosecuted for being gay and chemically castrated. He later died by suicide. Turing’s life is a horrifyingly recent, viscerally powerful example of institutionalised homophobia. It feels prescient that Will selects him as his hero.
Plus the soundtrack of the episode includes Kate Bush, known gay icon.
Will’s feelings about Mike’s relationship with Eleven (Brown) are a through line of seasons three and four. As viewers, we see him grow increasingly jealous of Mike and El’s relationship — but there’s also a sense that what Will really resents is change.
The youthful, uncomplicated days of his friendships ended when he got pulled into the Upside Down. But they would have ended anyway, which is the harsh reality of leaving childhood.
David Harbour aka Detective Hopper aka Hawaiin Shirt DILF certainly seemed to imply Will was gay in interviews before the show was released. In a video posted to the Mexican Netflix account, Harbour spoke about Will.
As translated by Variety, Harbour said: “If you’ve been watching the show, you should know that Will is not interested in El. He’s interested in someone else in the group.”
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He also made comments about Will wanting to spend the rest of his life with Mike playing D&D. Again, that sentiment could easily reflect two things: Will’s feelings about Mike or his feelings about growing up.
Variety spoke to Noah Schnapp and Milly Bobby Brown about a scene in season four where Will talks to Mike about having trouble opening up about feelings. It’s been read by many fans as an implicit suggestion by Will that he’s queer and struggling to come out.
But Schnapp highlighted the importance of the ambiguity.
“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,” he said.
“If it’s Will kind of just refusing to grow up and growing up slower than his friends, or if he is really gay.”
And it’s true — while I personally read Will as a gay character, as a gay former-teen I can appreciate that level of ambiguity. Being a teenager is awful and confusing. I mean, who hasn’t had a homo-erotically charged friendship which ended in tragedy? I did, but so did a number of my friends who identify as straight.
Will’s character embodies the fact that, yes, while some people do have it all figured out as a teen, most of us don’t.
It’s also perfectly understandable that Will’s feelings could be a mix of everything: of growing up and of having complicated feelings about the people you love as a teenager, whether romantically or platonically.
Millie Bobby Brown argued in the interview that it’s 2022 and we don’t necessarily need labels to explore sexuality on screen.
“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,” she said.
“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.”
It also makes sense for Will’s sexuality to be nuanced given the context. This was the era of Ronald Reagan — the man who ignored the AIDS epidemic and has the blood of thousands of gay men on his hands. Will’s character may not even have the language to described his sexuality or broader feelings.
For me as a viewer, Netflix has provided two really great examples of nuanced sexuality: there’s Will and there’s Robin (Maya Hawke).
I didn’t expect her coming out at the end of season three and it moved me immensely. Her friendship with Steve (Joe Keery) is easily one of the best parts of the show. It’s nice as a queer viewer to watch a show set in the 1980s which focuses on queerness and coming out as a theme, but doesn’t include homophobic rejection.
While Will’s sexuality may not be made explicit (though we do still have those two extra-long eps to look forward to), Stranger Things has handled the nuances of teen sexuality powerfully. And whether you read Will as queer or not, I think we can all agree the bowl cut is the next gay mullet.