Maya Hawke / Screenshot: Stranger Things / Netflix
To go a day without hearing about Stranger Things this month is to go a day without leaving the house or speaking to another human being or even looking at your phone. Which is to say, if you have somehow managed to survive until now without being spoiled for season 3 (maybe you went into hibernation?) stop reading immediately. Stranger Things is a gargantuan demogorgon of insane popularity (according to Netflix, season 3 was watched by 40.7 million people in the first 4 days of its release - more than any other TV show or movie on the platform).
But let’s be honest about one thing - this show has never been known for its diversity. It has board game monsters come to life, children who can make trucks fly and a mall called “Starcourt” that’s used as a front for a secret Soviet base, but in terms of representation, Stranger Things has never exactly been groundbreaking.
Until season 3, Stranger Things had only one non-white character in all of its main cast (and yes, we stan Lucas). The show’s strongest heroes are, obviously, the girls (we stan not just Eleven but also Nancy, Joyce and Max). But the cast and characters of Stranger Things are most significantly made up of the heterosexual, white, male variety.
Season 3 introduces a new character to the ranks - a smart and snarky multilingual ice-cream scooper with cool hair named Robin, who works at Scoops Ahoy with our boy Steve Harrington.
For the majority of the season, it seems like the writers are setting Robin up as the new love interest for Steve. They make use of all the favourite tropes - best friends who (we think) secretly have crushes on each other that they cover up with relentless banter and sarcastic comments. Two characters who are held hostage and literally tied together with rope. Two characters who accidentally get really high and share all their secrets with each other.
And then, gloriously, in the penultimate episode of the season, the Duffer brothers turn it all on its head. When Steve finally confesses his feelings for Robin, and the audience (i.e me, alone in my room at 2am) waits with bated breath for them to dissolve into each other, Robin is forced to tell Steve her own secret. She’s a lesbian.
This scene isn’t just important because the show has a lesbian character at all (although, thank god it does). It’s important because of the way Steve responded to this rejection and revelation. In his own way, he is tender, kind and supportive. He treats Robin the same way he and Robin have always treated each other: with well-intended mockery. He lets her know he’s not going to stop being her friend because of this.
This shouldn’t strike me as so significant in 2019 - there are lots of out characters on TV these days! Characters who have happy lives and romantic fulfilment and supportive friends and family! (Okay, “lots” is a huge overstatement. But there are at least enough for this not to be the first lovely coming out scene I’ve seen on television).
I think the reason this scene felt so important to me is the timeframe in which it is occurring. Although season 3 of Stranger Things was released in 2019, its characters live in the oversaturated, capitalist world of 1985. This scene, set in a culture that was in the midst of the AIDS crisis, could have very easily gone very differently than it did.
Not to mention, there is a certain bittersweetness to the fact that the LGBTQ+ folks, closeted and scared kids of the 1980s, never got to see a scene like this on their own TV screens, let alone on the most popular show of the year. (According to Wikipedia, there had only been two gay characters on TV by 1985, neither of them lesbians).
Robin’s coming out scene is important because of the duality of emotions that come with watching it. It made me feel happy for every queer Stranger Things fan in 2019, young and old, who would be able to see themselves in this character, and thereby see a world in which they are accepted for who they are. And it made me sad for all the real Robins of 1985, who didn’t have a Stranger Things to watch or a Steve Harrington as a best friend.Support Villainesse