Stranger Things Season Three: Queer coding to Queer actuality
This article does contain some mild spoilers for Stranger Things season three.
After the debut of Stranger Things season two, I examined fan supposition regarding Billy Hargrove's sexuality, the show's queer coding that pointed towards that and how this queer representation might play into his development. (you can read the article here). I argued that if Billy was the antagonist in season three, then he shouldn't be portrayed as gay - not because gay people can't be bad, but because gay people being seen as bad or wrong is a stereotype that persists to this day. To see the first explicitly queer character in Stranger Things be shown as evil would be distasteful to say the least.
Now that season three is out (check out The Digital Fix's review here), Billy did fill the roll of the villain, possessed as he was by the Mindflayer. Despite some hints in season two, he isn't shown to be gay, or even really queer coded this season (most of which came from his getting ready rituals, and interactions with Steve Harrington in season two). While arguably his own identity is mostly consumed by the Mindflayer, the villainy' of his character rarely seen. As in the previous article, I would still argue that Billy isn't really that scary. Any fear that he strikes in the hearts of viewer, possessed or not, is always tinged with the knowledge that under it all he is a scared child. The real terror of this season comes from the Mindflayer, who could be hiding inside anyone.
With Billy's queer coding out the window, I was intrigued as to whether or not there would be any queer representation in Stranger Things season three and indeed there have been more over moments in the more mature third run.
Will Byers is another character that audiences have been reading as queer for a long time. He is also the only one of the boys in the party who hasn't shown any interest in the teenage girls that surround them. Though it could easily be argued that he was busy with other things - like being trapped in the upside down and then possessed. This season however starts to openly acknowledge this difference in Will's behaviour. Not only is he the only one of the party not to have a love interest, but he is shown to be much more interested in playing dungeons and dragons than listening to his friends lament about their girl troubles. This comes to a head when Mike and Lucas are so distracted by their romantic problems that they ruin Will's carefully planned game. Leading Mike to say that 'it isn't his fault Will isn't interested in girls'. A comment to which Will has no reply.
This silence certainly suggests that Will is admitting the truth; he isn't interested in girls. Which is a big thing to admit for any teenager, let alone one in the eighties. However, this isn't built upon anymore in season three as, once again, everyone is a bit too busy for romance and the rising threat. I am intrigued as to how Will sexuality will be cover in the future. He could get a crush on a boy, or have a conversation with his mum or brother about it. What I would personally find even more interesting, would be for Will to explicitly show no interest in anyone. Asexuality is something that is not often spoken about on television and it would be amazing to have a main character in such a popular show identify that way, even if the word itself may not be said.
It would also be a deviation from a stereotype of teenager, especially boys, being obsessed with sex. Making Will asexual would give even more of a chance to show the importance of friendships and familial ties in the characters life. I hope that the writers don't just leave the subject where it is now. Will deserves to have a story arc outside of him being the first link to the Upside Down.
This, to my surprise, wasn't the big piece of queer representation this season. In the amazing, heartfelt scene with Steve and Robin sat on the floor of a cinema men's room, we got our first explicitly gay character in Stranger Things canon.
From the beginning of the season Robin is shown to have a burgeoning relationship with everyone's favourite babysitter, Steve Harrington. Even Dustin pushes Steve towards saying something to her. But this bathroom scene completely flips expectation on its head. Steve, previous king of Hawkins High, lets go of his ego and confesses that he likes Robin, who has previously admitted to being obsessed with him back in school. I was a hundred percent ready for her to confess and them to have an awkward gross 'we just puked and are still kinda high' kiss. But instead Robin does something that is obviously terrifying, even when held up to all of the other things they have already been through this season. She comes out to Steve.
It was the most beautiful and heartfelt moment of the season. Maya Hawke and Joe Keery did an amazing job of showing the raw emotion of the scene, Robin's vulnerability and Steve's confusion then acceptance. Despite its tonal change, it fit into the season amazingly well and made me love Robin as a character even more.
Going forward I do hope the Robin gets a love interest next season, just asI hope that Will sexuality is spoken about rather than left at the wayside. Though it may be a show about monsters, Stranger Things is also a show about coming of age. Growing up and finding both yourself and the people who mean something to you. Everyone experiences life differently, even when they live in the same town and fight the same otherworldly nonsense together.