By David T. Valentin
Before Reading, BE Warned: this article contains spoilers for Season 4 Vol. 2 of Stranger Things.
For the past four seasons, Will Byers is described as a different kind of kid by almost every character in the show. From his mother and father getting into an argument about it in season one, a brief mention in season three by Mike of how Will doesn’t like girls, to season four vol. 1 where it is incredibly clear Will’s feelings towards Mike is more than friends.
Despite the obvious hints of alluding at Will’s sexuality and him being “different” than the rest of his friends, his sexuality is never explicitly stated in the show which leads some fans to feeling as though they’re being queerbaited.
Come vol. 2 of Stranger Things Season four, it becomes painfully obvious that Will is trying his best to hide his feelings for Mike all while trying to emotionally support Mike as he finds himself feeling inadequate as Eleven progresses in her journey as a superhero. Despite the pain it causes Will, he uses his feelings towards Mike to boost moral to get through yet another world ending event.
It seems, despite Will and Mike being best friends, the only person who seems to notice Will’s pain is his own brother, Jonathan. As Will tries his best to keep it together while confessing his feelings to Mike and disguising it as just a normal pep talk, Jonathan watches the moments play out with a knowing, brotherly look.
The emotions crescendo when Jonathan and Will are alone and Jonathan makes a heartwarming speech about how he’ll always be there for Will no matter what and that nothing could stop Jonathan from loving his little brother, Will.
Although fans were hoping for a more straight forward coming out moment for Will Byers, a character many feel has been pushed to the side for the past two seasons while the trauma he’s endured the entire series has been relatively ignored by his friends.
In the lead up to volume two, Noah Schnapp said about his character Will, “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, 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 why does it have to be that way? Why, in the year 2022 in fiction, do queer characters have to be pushed to the sidelines to be desperate romantics while obsessing over a one-way love for their straight best friend who doesn’t even acknowledge their pain? Are we such a tortured community unable to be ourselves that we are told, through fiction, that we are stuck in a heteronormative world that we can’t change? That we just have to suffer through as people live out our dreams?
And even if it were Will having a hard time growing up or growing up slower than his friends, how beautiful would it be to tie both those feelings and his sexuality into that narrative; a narrative many queer people experience in the real world as they feel their childhood was robbed from them because they were unable to live as their authentic selves? Tie that into his trauma with his journey in the upside down and you have a compelling narrative and discussion on healing queer trauma through being embraced wholeheartedly by the ones you love.
Sure, you can make the argument the show does take place in the 80’s, but what about Maya Hawk’s character, Robin, who takes the risk in a life-or-death situation and to see that life is too short to live an inauthentic life so she eventually comes out to Steve, someone she comes to trust in season three? Of course, she remains closeted to most of the cast, but at least she’s allowed to explore her feelings and vent to Steve Harrington, someone who becomes a true friend to her.
That’s not to say the scene between Will and Jonathan just right before the final battle of volume 2 is any less than because it wasn’t explicit. Personally, I admired the subtley of the moment as Jonathan somewhat dances around what he’s trying to get at by opening up to Will through an anecdote from their childhood, opening up that they both wish they were closer like when they were children.
As someone who had a similar experience, I felt Jonathan’s love and concern for his brother while also respecting that, ultimately, it should be Will who outrightly speaks on his sexuality and comes out on his own terms. Even more so, for some, it might not be entirely safe to outwardly confess your sexuality or gender expression, and even more difficult is that those unfamiliar with queer communities might not know the right words to talk about the topic while also fearing they might hurt the one who is coming out.
Whether you enjoyed Will’s feelings unraveling on screen or hoped for better, what we got was still a beautiful moment between two brothers, something you don’t see often between a queer character and their brothers. Still, that’s not to say Stranger Things doesn’t owe Will a proper exploration into his trauma and experiences.
But if you ask me, considering Will was sitting inches away from Mike as he sobbed to himself, trying to calm himself down, and Mike didn’t even bother asking him how Will felt? I think Will deserves better anyway.