Heart Stopper Girl – Is Elle a Girl?

Young people have been flocking to Heart stopper Girl, a Netflix series that depicts teen love and LGBTQ representation. For many of the show’s younger viewers, it has been a catalyst for opening up about their own sexuality and for others, it has provided a much needed space to reminisce about the rosier, more innocent days of school romance.

Its appeal extends far beyond the LGBTQ community, though, as it is attracting a crossover audience of straight kids nostalgic for an earlier era of rose-tinted teen dramas. While the series may not be as racially diverse as one might hope, it does tackle the themes of teen friendships and love with compassion and care. It also offers a space for queer and non-queer children to connect with each other and feel less alone in this world that often feels hostile to their identities.

This is an especially important aspect of the show, since research shows that Black and AAPI LGBTQ youth are at higher risk for mental health challenges, which often stem from chronic stress from social marginalisation. The onus is therefore even greater to portray characters like Tao, Elle and Tara three-dimensionally – and the show does so brilliantly.

For instance, Elle is one of the most supportive friends on the show and she steadfastly supports Charlie when he moves to Higgs after transitioning and suffering from extensive bullying in Truham. She even voluntarily shows up for his rugby match knowing she may face his former transphobic bullies, a sign of her genuine caring and kindness for her friends.

However, there is a problem with Elle’s character. It is never discussed why she identifies as female, which is an important question to ask. It seems the 28-year-old creator of the show, Alice Oseman, would have us believe that a wig and makeup is enough to make Elle into a girl. This is a highly problematic way to frame gender identity, as it promotes the falsehood that you can be born in the wrong body.

It is a shame that Oseman does not explore this issue in greater depth, especially as it’s a show that aims to be so inclusive. But luckily, the second season will provide an opportunity to do so.

While there is a long way to go for Heartstopper Merch, it has made a significant impact on the lives of those who have watched it. For some LGBTQ teens, it has opened up spaces for talking about their own sexualities and for others, such as the real-life Fiona, it has rekindled memories of their own teenage loves. The show’s empowering messages of inclusion, self-love and acceptance are sure to resonate with a new generation of teenagers who will hopefully be more open about their own sexualities and will look upon their LGBTQ peers with respect and appreciation. A big thanks to everyone involved in making this beautiful and important series.