The fourth season of Netflix’s sci-fi coming-of-age series Stranger Things just came out. And apparently, its protagonist Will Byers came out too – that’s what fans of the show are anticipating, at least. But…why do they feel so strongly about it?
Fans have speculated about the sexuality of Will Byers, played by 17-year-old Noah Schnapp, since the introduction of his character. ‘Byler’ shippers even hypothesize that Will has a secret affection for his best friend in the series, Mike Wheeler. Stranger Things cast members and the executive producers, the Duffer Brothers, see such discussions as a given.
In an interview with Variety, Schnapp commented on the question of whether his character is in the closet, saying, “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.”
He continued, “I find that people do reach to put a label on him…He’s just confused and growing up. And that’s what it is to be a kid.” Well, therein lies the problem. Why are so many adult viewers anxious to talk about the sexuality of a fictional character who is still a child?
To begin with, the sexual orientation of a fictional character shouldn’t take center stage in the arc of their personal development. Time and time again, viewers find the trope of self discovery reduced down to a character’s identity markers. This theme is not even remotely interesting.
But to make this matter more disturbing, Will Byers was first introduced on the show at the age of twelve. It makes sense that, as a coming-of-age story for the protagonists, romantic scenes would be included. Mike Wheeler, played by Finn Wolfhard, has a high school relationship with their mutual friend Eleven.
Will shows that he’s jealous of the attention and time Mike gives to his girlfriend. In the third episode of Stranger Things 3, Mike snaps at Will, saying, “It’s not my fault you don’t like girls.”
In an interview with The Wrap, Schnapp offered his own interpretation of that line: “I kind of just interpret it like he’s not ready to grow up and he doesn’t really want to move on to dating and relationships yet. He still wants to be a kid and play in the basement like he did in old times.”
The root of Will’s angst is left intentionally ambiguous. To insist that his reaction stems from hidden romantic feelings for his friend is narrow-minded at best. At worst, that assumption comes from the pervasive and deeply false idea that boys can’t have deep fraternal bonds, especially in their formative years.
Stranger Things 4 wraps up on July 1st, so an unexpected twist is still possible. Any pressure placed on showrunners to service fans with an identity-driven agenda should be discouraged – it stifles creativity and makes for boring stories. Plus, shippers should have been banished to the darkest corners of Tumblr and DeviantArt years ago.