I’ve known I was attracted to girls since I was 11 — I’m now 18 — but until I watched the Netflix show “Heartstopper,” I didn’t think I ever was going to come out as queer to my parents.
My parents were always vocally supportive of LGTBQ+ celebrities, and we’ve had conversations about gay people and the AIDS epidemic. So I knew they wouldn’t be hostile to my announcement, but I couldn’t shake the fear. What if they do react badly, or say the wrong thing? It might not be purposeful, but it would still hurt.
I came out as queer to two friends earlier this year, but coming out to my parents was different. They had always known me. I imagined they had a fixed idea of who I was. Coming out meant that I would have to tell them otherwise. I just didn’t know how I would ever do it.
Then, ahead of the premiere of Netflix’s “Heartstopper,” I read an interview one of the stars did in which he suggested that the show could help people come out to their parents. The show is about two high school boys falling in love. One of them, Nick Nelson (Kit Connor), comes out as bisexual to his mom, Sarah (Olivia Colman), in the last episode.
I texted a friend, “Wouldn’t it be funny if I used ‘Heartstopper’ to come out?’” After I joked about it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
The day “Heartstopper” landed on Netflix, I locked myself in my bedroom and told my parents not to disturb me — this show is important.
I watched the scene in which Nick comes out to his mom. One of the things I love the most is Sarah’s reaction. It’s such a warm reaction to an important thing. You can sense how nervous Nick is, and that he really wants to tell her.
She says, “I’m sorry if I ever made you think that you couldn’t tell me that.” It’s such a simple line, but so impactful. It immediately shows Nick that even though his mother might not relate to his experience, he can talk to her.
Watching the scene, I thought, “I want to do that.” I was ready. It had been seven years. It’s scary to share something like that, but I couldn’t keep pretending that I was straight.
A few hours later, when I was done with the 10-episode show, I sent my parents a text that changed my life.
I sent them a video of Sarah and Nick’s conversation. They were downstairs and I was in my bedroom. Then, after they confirmed they watched the video, I texted that I identified as queer. “Please don’t see me or treat me differently,” I wrote, and added that if they told anyone else I would run away: “I am serious.”
Then I shut off my phone.
My heart was racing. I was genuinely terrified. But it was also a massive weight off my shoulders. For seven years, I had tried to figure out ways to come out, to accept myself and my identity.
To me, being queer is just not identifying as straight. Coming out was also about being myself and not being ashamed of what I like. It’s different for everyone, but that’s what it meant for me.
I sent my parents the video so that they could see Sarah’s reaction. If they saw my text and thought, “I don’t know how to react to that,” they had an example.
On the show, Sarah is so open during the conversation with her son. When he says he has a boyfriend, she doesn’t cringe. She doesn’t say it makes her see him differently. She lets him talk and explain, and doesn’t interrupt. It should be mandatory for parents of queer children to watch that scene — it’s so beautiful.
My parents came to my bedroom. My dad said, “Do you want to talk about the text you just sent?” I said, “The text explained it.” My dad said, “You can always talk to us about this stuff. You’re still Esme to us.” It was emotional, but nice. And in a sense, surreal to finally share that with them, and have such a kind response. I’m very privileged to have parents who are accepting, because not every queer person does.
After coming out, I was proud of myself, so I shared my story on Twitter. I’ve seen so many other people also saying that “Heartstopper” helped them realize they were bisexual or helped them come out. That’s why representation matters so much. For so many years, I repressed my attraction to girls — I thought it wasn’t normal. I grew up in a small village in the north of England, which I jokingly say is full of old people. I had no queer friends. The only on-screen queer representation I saw was of the token gay best friend, or the butt of all the jokes. I didn’t see anything on screen of two women in a relationship and being themselves.
I’m only 18; I’m still young. But I wished I’d had “Heartstopper” when I was younger. Seeing openly queer characters who are so happy with themselves and each other would’ve completely changed my life. Now I want to work in film and tell other queer stories. I’m planning to eventually study film in college. I want to be able to tell the stories I wish I had seen, and help people in a similar way.
This essay refers to Esme Grace by her middle name to protect her privacy.
As told to Elena Nicolaou. This interview has been edited and condensed.