Heartstopper, Alice Oseman, and AroAce Vibes

Heartstopper is making waves in young, queer love. We aren't quite the target demographic for this story, but there is still much to applaud and potential for AroAce rep in future seasons. The writer, Alice Oseman is AroAce which is enough for us to lend our support.

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Courtney: Hello, everybody, and welcome back. My name is Courtney. I am here with my spouse Royce, and together we are The Ace Couple. And today we are talking about emerging Netflix sensation Heartstopper. Now, I will be saying right off the bat, we do a lot of episodes about asexual representation in media, and this episode isn’t totally that. I would not consider this first season of the show to have much in way of ace rep at all. But if you are active on Twitter, if you are active in the fandom, if you are especially familiar with the writer Alice Oseman, then, perhaps you might be hearing whispers that there is ace rep. Now, I do want to be very clear, this isn’t a situation of, “the ace rep is bad,” or we are condemning this or anything, because, overall, I think there were a lot of very, very wonderful things about this show. I just want to set expectations more than anything.

Courtney: So let’s begin with that. Let’s start talking about sort of the spoiler free things before we get into anything pertaining to the main plot itself. Which, perhaps it’s best to start with Alice Oseman themself, the author of Heartstopper, which was originally a webcomic turned graphic novel, now Netflix series. And Alice Oseman over the years has created quite a bit of buzz in the asexual/aromantic/demisexual spheres, as well as just general Young Adult queer content. And I do want to make very clear right off the bat that Alice Oseman has come out as an aromantic asexual individual. So, this is an aroace creator. And that in and of itself is probably groundbreaking. I cannot think of any other aroace creators who have been able to reach this level of acclaim in publishing, and now in Netflix.

Courtney: Can you think of anybody, Royce?

Royce: Not off the top of my head, no. I’m not particularly well versed in media, but I can’t think of anyone.

Courtney: I can’t think of anyone either. I mean, recently, Jaiden Animations came out as Aroace, and that was like earth-shattering, because that was the biggest content creator, as a YouTuber and a prominent–

Royce: Right.

Courtney: –animator.

Royce: But prominent YouTube, and book publications, and Netflix, or streaming service TV shows reach different audiences.

Courtney: Yes, they are different spheres. So they’re both very, very important. We need that aroace rep in, sort of, all areas of the public sphere. And there’s absolutely something to be said for just supporting aroace creators, aro and/or ace creators for that matter. Any A-spectrum folks. Period, regardless of whether or not their content is pertaining to any of these topics, because at the end of the day, for me, the point of representation is for the real-life people, at the end of the day. Whether it is a queer creator reaching success, and being able to make a name and a living for themselves. Or if this is showing a more mainstream audience, “Hey, this is our identity. We exist.” Because it’s been proven time and time again, that fiction does help foster empathy, especially when it is about a group of people that you maybe haven’t personally interacted with yourself. So it can be a very, very important educational tool. And the reason why we stress over and over that representation is important, is because it does have real-world implications on real-world queer people, and their lived experience and their quality of life, and ability to exist in society in a way that is wholly true to themselves.

Courtney: So we adore an aroace writer who has been picked up by Netflix. This is no doubt going to reach a whole new audience of people that the books and the webcomics haven’t reached on their own. And that in itself is a reason to support this writer, I think. And we know that Oseman is Aroace because of a little book, which maybe you have heard about, it has created a lot of buzz, called Loveless. That is also by Alice Oseman. And I will be very, very real, I haven’t read it yet. It was out in the UK for quite some time and I was hearing some UK-based folks talking about it, talking about how wonderful it was and I was really curious to read it long ago. But it honestly just got picked up by a US publisher just a couple of months ago. It’s relatively new in the US, and I have it. It’s sitting actually in our bedroom right now. I think it’s on the dresser. So I have it. I got it in the mail. I pre-ordered it long ago. I just haven’t had the time to crack it open quite yet, but I was delighted to see that when it did debut in the US, it hit the New York Times bestseller list. So that, phenomenal, beautiful. We love that. Maybe once I do read, we’ll actually do a future episode on that book alone. If we feel like we have enough new material to talk about, pertaining to this.

Courtney: But the funny thing actually is, about my introduction to Alice Oseman’s work, is that contrary to almost all of the other books, comics, TV shows that we’ve talked about on this podcast, I did not go in expecting any sort of asexual representation. The first book I was ever introduced to by this author was called Radio Silence. And it was actually recommended to me, not as ace rep, but as something I might like because the person recommending it to me knew that I used to listen to a lot of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast. Welcome to Night Vale, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you if you’re listening to a podcast, I’m sure you’ve at least heard of Welcome to Night Vale, but it was the first podcast I ever listened to, the only one I ever pseudo-listened to regularly for a long time. I think we mentioned before, we aren’t the biggest podcast listeners in the world. Even though we have a podcast ourselves.

Courtney: But someone at some point said, “Hey, if you’re a big fan of Welcome to Night Vale, you should listen to Radio Silence.” So, I didn’t get much of an impression about what the book was about. So when I first got the book, I thought it was going to be like weird fantasy horror fiction and I was kind of excited to see that, but totally different tone. Very YA, realistic real people, sort of slice-of-life-y. And the connection, I realized, to Welcome to Night Vale was that there was sort of an in-universe podcast in this book that was referenced, talk about, that was, you know, sort of described as having sort of a Welcome to Night Vale phenomenon of this fiction podcast, and this sort of separate world.

Courtney: And let’s see. What was I doing? That one I actually listened to on audiobook and I was doing something. Oh, this was in 2020 that I listened to it. And, after, you know, “lockdowns”. Lockdowns in quotes, because we never had any real lockdowns, but we basically hunkered down in our house and never left again. But there is this big push for a while in, like the first half of 2020 that was, you know, support small businesses, find ways to promote artists and creators whose, you know, income has been affected by the pandemic. And for me, I am a creative, I am an artist, I’m a small business owner, I make artwork out of human hair.

Courtney: And an organization, I don’t know if anyone listening has heard of it, they’re known as The Order of the Good Death, I’ve been sort of in and around their sphere for a number of years – haven’t really done much with them for the last few – but they reached out to me, and said, “Hey, we are creating an online Mortals Market where we want you to make a video for the YouTube channel and you can sell your things. And we’re going to try to just get our big audience of people to just shop all of these creators who have work that has something to do with death, or grief, or mourning, sort of pertaining to these themes.” And so I said, “Yeah, why not? I’m on board.” I can’t– I can’t go to in-person shows anymore, I can’t have an art show. And my gosh, did that end up being a lot of work?! Oh my gosh, did that end up being a lot of work… I have never had so many sales in a single day in my life as when I participated in that market. And it took maybe a solid three weeks after that day to just package everything.

Royce: We had piles of boxes that were waiting to be picked up by USPS.

Courtney: Piles of them. It was– it was mind-boggling. And for as nice as it was to have just a huge boom, and a huge spike in traffic, and so many sales in a single day. Oh, as one person… I– I was overwhelmed. How am I going to keep up with all of these orders? And so I basically decided, well for at least the next week, if not, two, and it ended up being more like three, my full-time job is packaging these existing orders. So we set up like this whole packaging station with all of my merchandise, all of my artwork, everything that got sold, and just tape. So much tape and boxes. And I just said, “Okay, I’m just going to listen to audiobooks this whole time. I’m just going power through books while I am packaging.”

Courtney: And so this Radio Silence book was just on a list of books that I had. And I do also like between audiobooks and physical books, but I like to have a physical book if I think I’m going to do anything with it after the fact. If it is historical in nature for my history work, if it’s you know, ace rep and something that we might want to talk about on the podcast, I’ll probably get the physical book because I like to write notes, and I like to reread passages. But if it’s something a little more casual then I’ll pick up an audiobook. So, this was just on a list somewhere and I picked up Radio Silence. And the biggest impact for me that that book had was that I went into it not knowing that there was any sort of ace rep.

Courtney: So I was, like, exhausted and overworked, just packaging all these things for hours and hours on end, and listening to this book which for a while I was like, “Yeah. Okay.” It’s atmospheric. It was, you know, really pleasant to listen to, so it was kind of exactly what I needed that day. But it was also YA which isn’t always my favorite genre. I don’t think I’m quite the target audience for it. But then I found out that like a prominent, prominent main character, Aled, is Demisexual. And I had at that point, never read, watched, listened to anything that had demisexual representation in it. So, I just like, immediately started sobbing. It was ridiculous. Sobbing amongst all of these scraps of bubble wrap because of this demi rep. And so that was really impactful.

Courtney: I don’t think it would have been nearly as impactful. If someone said, hey, this has demisexual rep, go read it. So that’s kind of a– an interesting thing. Because we have often found that if we’re going into something expecting the rep, sometimes it just falls a little short, but it was nice to just happen upon it. So that might actually be a good segue into talking about why some people are getting so excited about the alleged ace rep in Heartstopper right now. Because I honestly did not know this, but upon further research, it turns out that the character of Aled was in the original material for Heartstopper, in the original comic and the graphic novels. He was sort of the fourth friend in this main friend group. I had no idea that there was crossover between them, but Aled did not make it to the Netflix special. Special, I say special as if it’s like a holiday special, a TV special event. No, the Netflix series.

Courtney: And let’s just retrace our steps for one second to find out how I found this out. A tweet, which blew up just– honestly the day after we watched the show. We watched it basically in a night, it’s eight episodes, and like 20 to 30 minutes each, so the span of about two movies, you can watch the whole thing. So this group of four friends in the Netflix show is: Charlie, who’s one of our two main protagonists, love interests; his friends, Tao, Elle, and Isaac. Isaac is Aled’s replacement. And this tweet, no doubt blew up because Alice Oseman responded to it on Twitter. We will link these articles we’re referring to and links to the tweets assuming they’re still up – I don’t know why they wouldn’t be at this point – in all of our show notes, if you want to check them out.

Courtney: But the tweet reads: “So do we all agree Isaac has big aroace vibes? Yes, or yes? Not accepting criticism at this time. But Alice Oseman, I would love to know if this was intended.” And Alice Oseman says, “This was intended. I’m very glad you got the vibes.” So naturally aroace twitter is in a frenzy about this because, “Oh, my goodness, aroace rep!” And I was just a touch cynical about this. Because, yeah, maybe– maybe there were some aroace vibes. There definitely are Aroaces who are like, “Yeah. I saw myself in Isaac, for sure.” But of the friend group, as we see them in this first season, Isaac is definitely the afterthought…? Because of the fact that the other three in the friend group get sort of romance plots, love interests, “will they, won’t they,” and just a heck of a lot more screen time and dialogue. And we get to see them interacting with a variety of other characters. Isaac, on the other hand, is just like, occasionally present reading a book. And I love a reader. I’m a reader myself. I also am occasionally inclined to just pull a book out in public, back in the days when public existed. Public doesn’t exist anymore. It’s gone. It’s our private home and this podcast microphone and that’s about that.

Royce: Everything beyond the property bounds is a dark void.

Courtney: It’s true, it’s very, very true. We are one house in the void of Kansas and nothing else is real. So… Yeah. It’s cute. When– the couple of times he does have lines, like he is charming, he’s a likable character. He’s just not a very present character, which is fine. He does not have to be. But there was– there was no exploration of his aromantic and/or asexual identities in the show. The closest I think we got was an illusion that he’s not straight because someone else in the friend group is– refers to himself as the token straight friend. So, right off the bat we’re told, okay, so the other three characters are Queer. They are not straight.

Courtney: But we’ve sort of talked about this dichotomy before, where the default assumption to not straight is gay. And so I’m sure there are plenty of people watching this who did not pick up on these aroace vibes and went, “Oh, he’s probably also gay.”

Royce: That line was also made very early in the series before we had really been introduced yet the other characters.

Courtney: Yes, yes, so that was very much pre-established. And there was honestly, like, even before we saw this tweet, before we finished the show, there was a moment where I leaned over to you and I was like, “What happened to the other friend? He’s just gone.” And it really did seem like they were just sometimes where he just peaced out. And when he was there, he was often reading, which is clearly his character, so I don’t mind that so much. But it– It just felt like he was the odd one out in the friend group. And the reason for that didn’t get explained, he didn’t have, like, this whole slew of personal scenes where we’re seeing what he does in his time when he’s alone. So we don’t even get this, like, plotline of him being an introvert or preferring to be alone. We don’t sort of get that told to us.

Royce: There also aren’t any, like, telling lines when everyone else is going on group dates. Like his character was never like, “No, thanks. I’m out,” or anything like that.

Courtney: There was a moment where in this group of four, one ducked out for a date. So then, it’s like, “Okay, we can just be the three of us.” And then he did duck out, he sent a text, like, last minute that’s like, “Not going to make it, you two have fun.” And so it was just two of them. But yeah, there wasn’t much to that. There wasn’t much to that in my opinion. So when I saw this tweet with Alice Oseman confirming it and seeing, like 10,000 people liking, retweeting, quote retweeting, getting just so jazzed and excited about this aroace rep. I went, “Oh my, oh no.” And don’t get me wrong, because queerbaiting is a thing. We don’t like it, and I don’t think that this writer is doing that, I really do not. So I’m not accusing. I’m not accusing her of that. Especially because this an aroace writer, who has famously written a best-selling book about a loveless Aroace. So, do I think it was her just sort of teasing us? No, I don’t think that.

Courtney: I had hoped, based on that, that there is an intention to explore it more in a second season. I really, really hope that. Because if it’s just that one comment and left at that, I’m just not very impressed. But knowing that this is a webcomic and that there’s a lot more material that hasn’t been explored in this first season, I thought, well, maybe this was explored in the graphic novels already. So maybe people who have already read the source material are expecting this. So knowing how popular Alice Oseman is in the general aspec community, I retweeted this tweet talking about the aroace vibes, and we just sort of asked: can anyone who has actually read Heartstopper tell us if the original comics explore this in a way that’s more overt than vibes?

Courtney: And that is luckily, when people were able to direct me to articles saying, no, it was actually Aled originally in the books. Which I thought was neat because I’m like, “Hey! I know Aled, hello old friend! Didn’t– didn’t expect to find you here.” Which, hearing Alice Oseman’s logic behind that, makes a ton of sense. Because, since Aled is the primary character in a totally separate book, I get wanting to keep that character out because what if someone wants to pick up Radio Silence as a series or a movie? You’re probably going to want the freedom to use that character. So that makes sense to me. That’s probably very, very clever of them actually. But here’s the thing… the quote retweets on this– because there are definitely people who are like, “Well, we know this writer, we trust this writer… So– So, I’m going to put more stock in them canonizing these vibes than the average writer,” you know… And I still don’t love it. I don’t like when writers canonize vibes. This will 100% be forgivable if they get a second season and they explore this identity further, and I have full faith that that’s probably an intention.

Royce: The first season was, what? Eight episodes?

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: And it revolved heavily around relationships.

Courtney: Yes. Yes.

Royce: With most of the plot being devoted to the central characters’ relationships.

Courtney: Yeah, so it would be cool– And I know just since, you know, webcomics are so long and ongoing with a lot of material to pull from. So having not read it myself, I just know there’s a lot more to the story already. And there have already been several graphic novels published. So, I’m sure they have more material to go further and I do hope Netflix picks it up because I want more success and attention on this aroace writer. I also want them to have the freedom to explore aroace rep in another Netflix show, which will probably be done a lot better than Sex Education. Gosh, how often are we going to reference– How often we– How much we hated ace rep in Sex Education.

Royce: Well, that was the first ace rep episode we did. So I think–

Courtney: It’s true.

Royce: –everything calls back to that one.

Courtney: I think it’s the one we had the most feelings about. And it’s kind of those feelings, those– just like the anger, the saltiness, the resentment that I look at with– with the lens of like, “Oh, look at these vibes that people are canonizing. Everyone’s getting excited about this representation…”

Royce: Well, the prospect of representation in Sex Education was the only reason we sat down to watch the show.

Courtney: Yes, exactly. Because so many people in the Ace community said, “This is great representation. We are so excited about this character. We are so excited about this show.” It seems like for a certain period of time, people were talking nonstop about the ace rep in Sex Education. So we were like, “Well, I guess we have to watch that!” And starting at episode 1 of the first season, and we got literally less than 5 minutes of ace rep in one episode of the second season… we were like, that was an entire waste of time, since that was the only reason we came here. So, so that was sort of the saltiness. And that’s what I fear might happen when I’m seeing the way that some people are responding to Alice Oseman saying like, “Yeah, those vibes were intentional. Yes.” Because now, there are people who are saying, like, “BRB running to Netflix to watch this now.” “I wasn’t sure if I was gonna watch this show, but now that I hear there’s an aroace character, and I trust Alice Oseman, so let’s go.” Also just a bunch of claims of like, lots of exclamation points, lots of in caps, like “AROACE REPRESENTATION!!. Yes! aroace rep!! OMG aroace rep!!”

Courtney: So like clearly, we’re starved for aroace rep. This is something to be excited about, but if I didn’t already know about this show, if I didn’t already watch this show, if I didn’t already know about Alice Oseman, and I saw this Twitter thread blow up and we went into the show watching it on the grounds that there is aroace representation…? Oh my goodness. I would be livid. I would be livid. And yeah, here’s the thing. It is okay, 100% okay, to be excited having already watched this, having maybe already picked up on Isaac, like, reading all the time being like, yes, we love someone who’s just a reading introvert on the periphery of the group like that. That’s a character trait that a lot of people will enjoy and relate to. So, no shade, no issue with that. It’s okay to watch it and then after the fact learn that he is Aroace, and that’s intentional and to just personally be like, “Yeah. I like that. That is meaningful to me.” You can still be really happy about this news. But social media has a major issue of not setting expectations.

Courtney: And setting expectations is so important! It is so important because now everyone’s screaming about the aroace rep.

Royce: Which is barely existent.

Courtney: But where is it? Again, I want a second season where it is explored. I think it’s a possibility. I think it’ll be done well, if it is. But man, oh man, the number of people who are gonna see this huge thread of like – literally right now, and this has only been up for a few hours at this point – Alice Oseman’s response to this has 9400 likes and 560 quote retweets. So it’s blowing up and it’s going to keep growing. But all these people: “OMG canon Aroace,” “Aroace Isaac,” “It canon OMG,” “Hold up. I’m crying my eyes out.” And again, like all these people saying, “I wasn’t going to watch this, but now I am.” I’m like, No… Don’t do it just for that reason, do it because you’re interested in the actual plot that is actually presented to us. Because there is a lot to like about this show, but I would not say that there is aroace rep to, like, as the singular season that it currently is. That is my two cents.

Royce: Yeah, the show was subtle about a couple of different things, with most of the plot being dedicated– being dedicated to the protagonist who is gay and his relationship with someone who is coming to– is coming to discover that he is bi.

Courtney: Yes. And I think it’s just about a good time to actually start talking about what the show actually is. And what we liked about it all that. But for briefly, I do just want to touch on the fact that we clearly are starved for representation. People want it. People haven’t seen it yet. It’s like my reaction when I was like, “surprise demisexual character that I’ve never seen depicted before, gonna cry now.” I’m not even demisexual. But– but that surprise and that, like, naming the thing, when I wasn’t going into the book prepared for it… I was like, that’s very, very cool. But it also kind of goes to show that, if canon media representation of your identity is something that is important to you, and is something that you want to see, you should probably explore all the different types of media and not just rely on things like Netflix. Because in order for this Netflix show to even be a thing first it was a webcomic, and I’m seeing here, the first, like, publishing of Heartstopper I think I saw was 2017, and it was a webcomic. It was a graphic novel, the rights to this show got purchased in 2019 and now in 2020 [2022] we are getting the show.

Courtney: So this show for the representation that it has is actually like on a 5-year delay. And that’s honestly going to be the case with a lot of movies and TV shows. And Queer YA is huge right now, and it has only been growing and growing for years. And so the people who are seeing this saying, like, “I’ve never seen an aroace character.” Well, Loveless just got published on the New York Times bestseller list. And that is way more overt. I haven’t even read it yet, but it’s called Loveless. I know the– the gist of the representation because the UK Aspec folks have been talking about it plenty for me to see. The representation is out there and it is often by queer writers. It is people who are writing about identities that are their own, so it’s very often done in a very good nuanced way, that’s also very mindful of the audience and wanting to make sure that the audience gets the right information, if they’ve never met a character with this orientation yet.

Courtney: So it does just kind of go to show that it is important to support queer creators, because you’re going to be waiting years before it’s picked up by Netflix, if it’s even picked up by Netflix. Like those big companies– and even, even publishing for that matter, even traditionally published books, before they will buy a book they want proof that there’s a market for it. So, with these smaller niche orientations, by the time there is a traditionally published book showing that representation, there are probably tons of self-published books, fanfictions, original stories online, and webcomics, and things of that nature where these queer creators have already been making the representation. It just hasn’t gotten a big mainstream audience yet. And we can’t always trust the corporations, like Netflix, to pick up all of our stories that are worth telling. Part of the reason that it’s so cool that Heartstopper did get picked up is because they could have very easily just not, but they did. And we love that they did. So, consider expanding the range of the media you take in if you are really looking for representation. Because it is already there, even if it’s not put right in front of your face.

Courtney: So that said, if you haven’t watched Heartstopper yet and you are someone who is averse to spoilers… we’re– we’ll start talking about the plot now and things that we especially liked or found a little meh.

Royce: Well to start this is a high-school romance where the actors are not all ripped 20-somethings, they’re actually age-appropriate.

Courtney: Oh, and that was refreshing. Oh, oh, that was refreshing.

Royce: I also found that the… the events of the story, the drama, or the plot of the story was more slice of life, or realistic whereas in a lot of other shows, even if it’s a series of events that could conceivably happen to high school students, it’s still taken to this theatric extreme.

Courtney: The most dramatic possible answer, every time.

Royce: Right. And every dramatic thing that could happen to someone in this age is all happening within the same school, directly to the cast of characters. It felt like a reasonable look at someone’s life. The show is very Queer, the cast, it was mentioned that the core group of friends there is the person who considers themselves, the token straight person.

Courtney: The token straight friend.

Royce: And then–

Courtney: We love that. Everyone should have a token straight friend.

Royce: Of that group, one of them is the main character, who is gay. There is the character we’ve been talking about most of this episode, who was not confirmed in episode, but was confirmed outside to be Aroace. And–

Courtney: Which maybe he doesn’t know yet. Maybe that’s something that is to be explored. Maybe he doesn’t know what he is yet, and he’s just like, “Uh, I don’t understand this romance. I’m just going to read my book.” That would be great, actually, if there’s another season that pulls in that direction.

Royce: I think that– I don’t know where the drama for the rest of this series is supposed to go, but I think they ended things at the end of the first season at a point where they could explore individual characters more in the next one.

Courtney: Yeah. Yeah, because it– the center focus of the entire season is the budding relationship between Charlie and his love interest, Nick. Nick is a rugby player, woo, and it is very, very cute. It is very queer. And it’s very optimistic. It’s very much– I don’t know if I want to say totally feel good, but it’s mostly feel-good. Because bad things do happen to the characters. They do have high emotions, but–

Royce: There is an environment of bullying.

Courtney: Yes…

Royce: At the school.

Courtney: But the overarching theme, the focus I think, at the end of the day is on positivity. Which is something a lot of people just need. Because I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but things really suck for the Queer community right now. Oh, my goodness. Anti-trans bills attempting to be passed left and right. The political climate right now for the LGBT community is very grim. So to have something that is, like, positive young queer love, with the optimism and just like endearing nature of this…? I can see how it’s going to be very timely for a lot people right now.

Royce: Which, speaking of, we started to go onto the central two characters before, getting to the fourth member of the cast of friends who is trans.

Courtney: Mm-hmm.

Royce: And this was addressed in a way that I didn’t even pick up on. Courtney, you caught it during the series.

Courtney: I caught it. And I will be fully– I’ll be fully honest. It probably took me longer than it should have to be like, “Oh, that character’s trans!” But I actually really love it. Part of it is just like, silly American wasn’t even thinking, like, “Boys school… girls school… Oh, I see.” Because when we’re introduced to Elle, she has just transferred schools. So she’s talking about, you know, trying to make new friends. She’s very, you know, sort of alone and isolated in the classroom at first because she hasn’t met anybody yet. And she’s meeting up with her group of friends and they are like, “Yeah, how’s the new school?” And they always get together for movie nights and it’s a very sweet group. And so we know that Elle transferred schools, and used to go to school with them. Now, I knew right off the bat that she was going to an all-girls school now, and that she left because of bullying. Or at least she was bullied before she left, but it took a stunningly long time for me to be like, “Oh, they’re at an all boys school too!”

Courtney: For some reason, I mean, all-boys and all-girls schools are just not common where I grew up, where I currently live. And so, even though I knew she went to an all-girls school, something in my head was like, “Oh well, clearly the school she transferred out of was co-ed.” But no, turns out. I saw a van at one time that was like, “boys school” with the name of the school. And even then I didn’t get it immediately, because sometimes my brain’s on a lag. Sometimes I’ll see something or hear something, and for no reason at all, my brain will not process it until well after the fact. So, it was like the episode after I saw that van that I was like, “Wait a minute. Is this a boys school? Have we seen any girls at this school yet?” Which I think it’s so silly. I think part of also what threw me off was even though this is a boys school and we have now confirmed that it is a boys school, it shows the kids before school starts sort of hanging out outside of the school on these, like, picnic benches talking to each other. And there are girls present in the morning before classes start. So, I just assumed they also went to this school, and we were just waiting for school to start. So, I don’t know if this is a situation where, like, the campuses are actually just right next to each other, that’s probably what happened. But my brain lag eventually picked it up.

Courtney: But the thing is, I thought that is such a cool, refreshing, and creative way to canonize a trans character without making her story about her transition, about her transness. This is a story about her being a new girl in a new school, making new friends dealing with a shifting dynamic of her old friend group. As one of them is getting into a relationship and another one is worried about the friend group breaking up. So it’s really about her navigating those things. And it’s realistic in the sense that there are mentions of the fact that she was bullied. Her being bullied is not the focus. And I just can’t think of any other media that has been able to so successfully, like, prove on paper without a doubt this is a trans character, without kind of making a whole fuss about it…? Actually– actually Euphoria kind of didn’t make a big fuss about it, but that’s such a different show. And I have so many more ill feelings toward that show.

Royce: That’s true. A lot of shows need to force it to have the conversation.

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: Jules in Euphoria was a very prominent character.

Courtney: Yes.

Royce: And her life, as a trans woman, did take focus.

Courtney: Yes.

Royce: So you saw many aspects of it.

Courtney: Yes. I do hope that this speaks to progress in media representation for trans characters. Because of the fact that now, two shows which we watched in pretty close succession– because we were, we were late to the party on Euphoria. The way Jules was written in that show and the way Elle was written in this show, where it is present, it is confirmed without a doubt, but also just not a big deal. But also not a big deal in the fact that they don’t just brush over every possible issue that a trans teenager could have. Because I would also be saying, like, really unrealistic if she was like, yeah, totally accepted when she came out at the all-boys school and didn’t get bullied at all, and then transferred to an all-girls school and didn’t get bullied at all. And everyone– everyone knew all sides of the transition from beginning to end, and was super supportive. Like then I’d be like, it’s at touch… yeah wish-fulfillment-y. ’Cause I don’t want queer stories to be about the trauma. I’m over queer stories being about the trauma. But I also want them to be real, at least in a slice-of-life-y thing like this, where it’s very grounded in reality. These are supposed to feel like real possible teenagers. So I thought that was wonderful. I was really, really thrilled about that. And she was played by a trans actress, which we also love. I think– Dare, dare I suggest that maybe the issue of casting non-trans people as trans characters is no longer an issue anymore? Maybe I’m out of the loop, but I don’t, I don’t remember the last time I have seen or heard of a new piece of media where it’s like, “Oh they cast this– this guy as a trans woman.”

Royce: I feel like it’s at least been a few years.

Courtney: It’s been a while. It’s been a while. So, hopefully that’s also just the new default requirement. So that was lovely, really appreciated that. We should perhaps mention, going a little bit back to everything we’ve seen about the, the Twitter Buzz today. There is one other character that everyone is shouting about being canon Ace. And the thing is, again, not shown in the show at all. It is nothing to write home about as far as rep yet, but she was kind of our favorite character. Charlie’s older sister, Tori, is allegedly Ace according to many tweets I’ve seen today. She was not a main character. She was definitely an at-home side character who just seemed to be very observant. Like she kind of knew what was going on when, when Charlie had new friends over, when he was feeling really low. She seemed to really care about her younger brother, but would also just sort of pop up in the background, like, sipping on a drink with these long dark bangs in her eyes. And kind of monotone sometimes, I loved her, the way she’d pop up. And some of her lines were really, really great. Because in the very first episode, Charlie is actually secretly seeing another boy who is not out and is very much like, “Don’t tell anyone. Keep it a secret.” But also, “I am not going to wave to you in the hallway. I’m not going to acknowledge your existence when we are in public.” And that guy sucks. We don’t like him, he is definitely a jerk and that relationship gets broken off. But, is it basically the very first episode it gets broken off?

Royce: I think so. Yeah.

Courtney: It’s early, early. And so, of course he is upset about everything that transpired. And at home Tori, his sister, just sort of pops up in the background and is like, “What’s going on?” And when he admits that he broke up with this other boy, her response was maybe my favorite line in the entire show. Because so often when it’s like, “Oh, I broke up with someone.” Everyone’s response is immediately, “Oh, I’m so sorry!!!” Just gushing condolences. And sometimes that’s the correct thing to do, but she didn’t know much about the ins and outs of this relationship. She didn’t know much about this boy at all, so her response was just, “Was he a knob?” And Charlie said, “Yes…” And she’s like, “Oh well, well done then.” Like, oh congratulations. Which I loved. Because yes, he was emotionally manipulative, there was an instance of actual physical abuse that happened at the time of this breakup. So like, yes, yes Tori, he was in fact a knob.

Courtney: So, I love that because there have even been some situations– if it’s a good friend of mine and I really know the nature of their relationship, then I probably know a bit about what happened and whether or not the breakup is a net positive. Because you can still be really, really sad and upset about a breakup even if you know it’s the right answer and the relationship was toxic. So sometimes just asking like, “Is this break up for the better? Is this breakup a good thing? Is it a bad thing?” Can kind of help. Because yeah, you don’t necessarily want people being like, “Oh, I feel so sorry for you. I’m so sorry.” If in fact, it was an abusive relationship and it’s for the better that you’re out of it. So, So just ah… The simplicity of it too. And, and just her mannerisms and her characterizations. “Was he a knob…? Well done, then.” I love it. I love Tori.

Courtney: So currently Twitter is telling me she’s also Ace. I’ll be happy to see that explored more.

Royce: But we got no indication of it during the series

Courtney: No indication of the series. So I’m not saying she is ace rep, we love the ace rep. I’m saying we love her as a character. If we also get ace rep out of her, oh, yeah, I’m gonna love that because she was, she was my favorite. She was absolutely my favorite. So we mentioned this break up that became violent. Here’s the bit where as much as we are saying this is very realistic, and it is ultimately positive, but it’s not unrealistically positive it still mentions some issues. There are some bits of it that kind of just does seem to me like, young queer wish-fulfillment…? Which I think is fine for the times we’re in, because some people just need that.

Royce: Are you talking about big, strong, rugby player coming to the main character’s rescue? And then also being bi?

Courtney: Yes. Yes. So Charlie gets assaulted by his soon-to-be ex, and Nick – the rugby player, the, the rugby player that’s a grade older – shows up and just, like, pulls him off of Charlie, and is like, “Get out of here.” And then he’s also like, “Are you okay, how are you? What can I do?” And like sending him DM’s on Instagram later that night to check in and see how he’s doing. And then they just start hanging out constantly, like, “Hey, do you want to come over to my house this weekend? Do you want to come over next weekend too? And just, by the way, do you want to join the rugby team? We can play rugby together. I’ll Teach you how. Here, tackle me.” There– There’s definitely an air of young queer wish-fulfillment. You know, it’s– it’s fine. I mention it because I think it’s important to set expectations, and I personally don’t love most brands of wish-fulfillment fiction.

Royce: I was considering interrupting earlier when you were saying all of these people were excited for the aroace content, and I was wondering how they were going to react to a show that is mostly two boys kissing.

Courtney: It is, it is a lot of two boys kissing. It is a very romance driven series. So, especially, like, obviously some aromantic people can enjoy a romantic fiction. Aroace people can still want a romantic or romantically coded relationship. That’s, that’s not up for dispute here. But there are also some some Aroaces who are just kind of like totally averse, or repulsed, or put off by anything romantic or sexual in nature. Some people do not like watching kissing and making out. And so like that, that should be stated. Like, there is a lot of romance. That is the main point of this first season for sure.

Royce: Yeah, if you came for the aroace vibes, this is definitely not an aroace show.

Courtney: No, but it’s not– it’s not egregious, like, all the teenage sex shows that we complain about constantly.

Royce: Yes.

Courtney: It’s not like Sex Education, where every single couple is just like, constantly going at it. And also getting into kink, and also very sexually confident. Maybe they had multiple sexual partners.

Royce: Did Sex Education do something where, basically, the opening scene of every episode was some kind of sex gag?

Courtney: Pretty much.

Royce: Some of the high school sex shows are just blending together in my head, I can’t keep them apart.

Courtney: Oh no… [laughs] I’ve seen too many adults playing teenagers acting sex scenes on television. I hate it. So yes, it should also– again like setting expectations. If someone’s like, “I’m watching this for the aroace vibes.” And then it’s almost exclusively romance driven. Hmm? Because this is the, the main romance happening and is between Charlie and Nick. But there are others too. Because Elle, the girl who transferred to an all-girls school, and the other friend Tao, they also kind of have this like… “I think we maybe like each other…” It’s not as prominent, it’s still there though.

Royce: Right. And the first group of people, that our main couple come out to, are two lesbians who are also in the process of coming out more publicly.

Courtney: Yes.

Royce: And one of the, I guess, sort of pivotal moments of the season takes place at a triple date.

Courtney: Yes. Yes. Yep. They do have a triple date, kind of a double date with like a forced try to get these other two people to be the third. Because the– the lesbian students, let’s see, Tara, what was Tara’s girlfriend’s name… Darcy. Tara and Darcy go to the all-girls school. I don’t think I need to specify that anymore. Those are the only two schools in the show. The boys school and the girls school. And yeah, Tara and Darcy are kind of the first friends that Elle makes, and so they’ve got their new queer little friend group. But Tara kind of becomes relevant conversation at the boys school because apparently Nick, years ago in like Middle School, ended up kissing Tara, because I guess their middle school was co-ed, or maybe they just had school dances together. I don’t know if that was clear, I don’t know how non co-ed schools do. But they were like, each other’s first kiss in Middle School. And then, they both ended up being queer. Tara ended up being a lesbian, and was very much like, “Yeah, actually kissing you is one of the things that helped me realize that that wasn’t for me.” But Nick’s still kind of figuring it out. He very clearly right off the bat has feelings for Charlie, and they start seeing each other constantly. They kiss. And then they start kissing a lot more. But, you know, Nick is not only in the closet, but he also doesn’t quite know if he’s gay or not.

Courtney: And so, there are these good moments where I like the way they showed it, where he’s just like in his bedroom at night on the laptop searching like, am I gay? And it shows the montage of, like, the websites he ends up on, there’s like, a “Are you gay?” internet test, which he scored like, what? 68% 60-something percent? So he’s like more than half gay. And so over the course of several episodes you see him change his internet search to like, “How do I know if I’m bisexual?” And it shows him watching a really sweet YouTube video of a bisexual man, talking about how he knew he was bisexual, what it was like, why it was so confusing. And so– and you can just see the emotion on his face as he’s watching these videos. So you sort of get that journey. You also get two different forms of representation out of that singular relationship.

Courtney: That is technically a mixed orientation relationship, which is something that in the Ace community we talked about quite frequently. Because a lot of Aces who do date or do want to date, end up with allosexual partners. So another example of a mixed orientation relationship. But I thought it was great how they handled the fact that there was an already established queer couple, who sort of became the safe space in the new school for the new transfer student. Also kind of ended up being Nick’s outlet of like, “Hey, yeah. Remember that time that we kissed? And can we talk about what that meant and what that felt like? And now you’re in a relationship with a woman, and I am kind of in a relationship with the man, but I I don’t know if I’m totally gay… So…” In that sense, I also think it was very realistic because Queer community can be everything to young LGBT folks. Or not even young, but people who’ve just recently come out, or planning on coming out, or exploring their identities. It really, really helps to have that community to talk to. Because very, very often and I don’t think we really talk about this very much, is the fact that coming out isn’t always just a one singular public declaration, where you’re just out and done. It’s almost always a process. Sometimes it’s a staggered process. Sometimes it spans a long period of time. And the original usage of the word coming out was not even, “I am coming out to straight people. I am telling straight people that I am not straight.” The original usage of coming out was, “I am coming out to the Queer community. I am coming out and joining the Queer community.”

Courtney: So in that sense, this was very realistic and felt very good and often is how it happens. Sometimes you talk to other people who just get it while you’re sorting out your feelings, and trying to figure out how and when to come out to your family, your straight friends, strangers if you so choose. So I did like the multiple sides of coming out that we also saw. Because we saw characters already out, characters trying to come out, characters who did come out and had complicated and mixed feelings about it. So I like seeing that diversity as well. There’s a queer teacher who is is not a huge character, but I loved the inclusion of him. He was like the art teacher and had little rainbow flag pin on his shirt and Charlie, as like the only out gay boy at school, kind of had his little safe space with that teacher too. He would go into his office on lunch break to talk to him, between classes to talk.

Courtney: And I think that’s also really important in this time where we are once again getting a huge resurgent of people, legislators, right-wing conservative people, claiming that just existing as an openly queer person around children is somehow grooming them. I hate that that is getting more and more common again, but that is the fact of the matter. And I don’t know about you, Royce, because you went to a much smaller school than I did, but we did have gay teachers. I had, I had, very specifically one, very open, gay teacher, and he had a husband. And I knew his husband’s name. He had a picture of himself and his husband on the desk. And he was just a great guy. Wonderful, wonderful mentor to a lot of people. And we also had another queer teacher, who honestly was the worst for a lot of different reasons, so we’re not going to talk about him right now. But yeah, actually having queer teachers who are openly Queer, who maybe can be the faculty advisor for things like a GSA – the Gay Straight Alliance is a common queer club in the US at least. I don’t know if it’s still called GSA. That’s– that’s what it was when I was in school. A relative– relatively new concept to our school at the time, but I think that’s so important. I think it is so important for kids to be able to have queer adults to look up to, even if there aren’t any in their family.

Courtney: Are there any other plot things definitely of note that we should touch on? Or should we just sort of give our final thoughts?

Royce: I think that’s about it. It was a short season.

Courtney: It was a short season, and it was cute. I mean, the, the main relationship between Nick and Charlie has a very happy ending in this first season. So should there be another season, since this was kind of their process of becoming a couple, and coming out, and going public, and all of that… I’d love it, if going forward, we could have some focus not only on other characters, but also on just how they navigate life as the queer teenage couple. So my final thoughts. It was cute. It was positive. It was a little bit wish-fulfillment-y, which I personally don’t love. It is very YA adjacent, which is never my favorite. So can I say, like, without a doubt this is like one of the best shows that I think you should absolutely go and run to? I can’t say that. And again there wasn’t aroace rep in this singular season as it was. So that’s not a reason to see it.

Royce: Yeah, I don’t see myself as the intended audience for the show.

Courtney: Oh, no, neither of us are.

Royce: I thought it was fine. I didn’t come out of the show with really any tangible criticisms, like I have with some of the shows that we’ve done ace rep on.

Courtney: No doubt and if this was kind of the very first positive, teenage queer, sort of feel-good story I’ve ever seen, then it might have hit different and I might be like, “Oh my gosh, you have to see this.” But at this point in my life, and at this point in media, it is not the first time I’ve seen something with this vibe. So I mean, this isn’t the only one but, like, Love Simon, I think at the time I watched Love Simon I was like, “Wow!” Which was also I believe adapted from queer YA book, but I was like, “Well that’s refreshing to see something so nice and positive.” From, you know, a queer teenage perspective.

Courtney: So, were we the intended audience? No. Was it good? Yeah! I think there were a lot of good things in it. There are a lot of things to celebrate about it. And I love supporting an aroace writer. I want her to be wildly successful. I want so many people to watch this and love it, that it gets picked up for another season. I want Netflix and or other media companies to pick up more adaptations of their work. Like that is not a question, 100%. And I think it did help that it was only eight episodes and that they’re under half hour each. It wasn’t a huge, huge, huge time investment. Because there are some shows where the runtime is an hour, and they have 10 plus episodes, and those can be a lot. That can be a huge time investment to go and watch. So I think, had it been much more of a time investment, I would have been like, “Okay. I’m not the audience for it.” But for what it was, it was about right. And I don’t think I would have liked it as much as a movie either, because then the movie would have had to cut out some things that I thought were really endearing and special.

Royce: We tend to find movie length too short, for a lot of storytelling.

Courtney: Yes. I rarely meet a movie that I adore. Oh, I did just think of one other line that I thought was great. The… the lesbian couple, once they were officially out as a couple, there was one very awkward interaction with a straight girl. And this actually did have me laughing a lot. I loved it. Because she comes up and she says something to them, asks a question or something. And then she’s clearly just, like, very awkward and doesn’t know what to say, and it’s kind of just tiptoeing around it. And you can tell she just feels like she needs to say something to acknowledge that they are lesbian couple, and she says something like, “I’m not a homophobe. I’m an ally.” And when she said “I’m an ally,” just looking and sounding so awkward while she does it, the lesbian couple without dropping a beat, one of them just says like, “Congratulations…? Good for you.” And the other one says very sarcastically, “Thank you for your service.” That “thank you for your service” was so good.

Courtney: Oh, was so good. I like– I want to use that if anyone ever to my face says, “I’m an ally.” Because it’s– it puts the humor on the awkward straight person who doesn’t know how to behave, and doesn’t know how to just treat queer people like real people. Like, yeah, you probably aren’t overtly homophobic. You, you agree with, you know, gay rights in theory, but you also just, you don’t know how to act, you gotta do better. So that was, that was funny, but also just kind of hints at the fact that so many people will say they are allies and consider themselves to be allies, and even if they aren’t enacting overt or intentional harm on that community, it’s also kind of like, what have you done? What are you doing? Like, you’re sitting here telling me to my face that you’re an ally. But the rights of queer people are being stripped away and attacked all over the country. And like, are you just going to say, like, “Yay, you’re a girl and you have a girlfriend.” Or are you, like, are you contacting those legislators? Are you marching in protests? Are you supporting queer businesses? Are you sending money to trans people? Like there are so many ways that you can actually do real tangible good in support of the queer community, but I think a lot of people are just like, “I’m an ally because I believe that you should have the right to marry. I believe you should have equal rights. Therefore I’m an ally.” So, that was one line that said a lot without saying a lot. And I did really, really love that.

Courtney: Also Tao’s mother, now that I think about it… Because,Tao and Elle started hanging out more because Charlie was off hanging out with Nick, and yeah, Isaac was reading a book somewhere presumably. There were some times where I was like, where is he? But Tao’s mother, every time Elle would show up at the house, she would just, like, gush over her and be like, “Oh dear! So good to see you!” And like, clearly loves this girl. And in hindsight, after having had that delayed revelation of, “Oh, she’s a trans teenage girl who formerly went to this all-boys school and that’s how she knows these people.” It’s like, if they’ve been this established friend group for so long, this also is the mother of your best friend who saw your entire transition. Like she had to have been there that whole time and been able to see it through, and still just like absolutely in love with this kid. Beautiful. In hindsight that’s so much better than I even gave it credit for in the moment.

Courtney: But aside from those really beautiful, like, nuggets of gold, it was a lot of kissing. It was a lot of, you should probably communicate a little better, which is kind of all relationships, but also kind of teenagers. Very much teenage relationship. So not unexpected, but also just– The things that I find as a viewer, at this point in my life, to just be like, “Meh, alright.” I guess my next order of business is to actually pick up Loveless and get that read. Maybe it’ll be my next book after I finish the one I’m currently on. Who’s to say. Definitely let us know if you do want an episode about Loveless, once I do read that. Because I’m definitely not opposed to talking about it.

Courtney: And we’ve had very mixed episode successes on our media representation. Because some of our media representation episodes are some of our most liked and listened to episodes, and then some of our ace rep episodes are underperforming compared to others. So it’s kind of a mixed bag, but we will do more if you want it. So, you can always tweet at us @The_Ace_Couple should you have any specific requests. So on that note, thank you so much for being here. Do whatever it is you need to do, on this particular platform you’re listening on, to show us that you liked this episode, to give us your support. Give us likes, give us reviews, ratings, comments, even if on– you’re on YouTube. Do the things, and we will talk to you guys next time. Goodbye.