Over the course of its four seasons, Stranger Things has asked and answered a lot of questions: What is the Upside Down? Well, it’s a parallel dark dimension filled with monsters and danger. We know Eleven, but where did One through Ten go? Well, Two through Ten are dead, and One is a supervillain. What happens to the basketball-star boyfriend of a cheerleader if the cheerleader gets killed by a demon in the trailer of a Dungeons and Dragons–playing drug dealer? Well, he goes crazy and becomes an anti-Satanist fearmongerer. All these questions answered, and still one remains: Will Byers gay yet?
Will Byers’s sexuality has been a source of speculation since all the way back in season one, when a 12-year-old Noah Schnapp, the actor who plays Will, felt the need to address it on Instagram. “For me, Will being gay or not is besides the point. Stranger Things is a show about a bunch of kids who are outsiders and find each other because they have been bullied in some way or are different … I hope the real answer never comes out!” he said. A fine statement for a 12-year-old to make, surely, but six years later? The same sentiment ain’t cuttin’ the mustard.
Since that first season, coy “We’re not sure about Will’s sexuality, haha” statements have continued, but the Will Byers on the show just keeps getting homosexual-er and homosexual-er. In May, when season four’s first seven episodes were released, we found Will pining after Mike, turning down the advances of girls at school (well, one girl), and growing distant from his straight older brother — all very gay behaviors! When asked about it, Stranger Things creators the Duffer brothers said to Variety, “The full arc of the story hasn’t come to pass yet because we really are in Episode 7, it’s what we call the end of our second act.” They continued with a statement that implied more than it said: “So there’s a lot more resolution in the story; we’re trying to do the same with the characters’ arcs. And I would say that applies to Will’s arc. So it’s going to be much easier to talk about for everyone — the actors and us — once those final two episodes have played. But certainly, his journey and arc is far from finished.” Okay, Will Byers gay truthers thought. Sounds like this is leading us somewhere.
And now, with the new episodes dropping today, the question remains: Will Byers gay yet? The answer: a definitive “kinda.”
The new episodes feature two prominent “Will Byers gay kinda” scenes, one in each episode. The first features him cheering up his buddy and (subtextual) crush Mike by saying all the amazing things he thinks about Mike but in the guise of saying that they’re what his girlfriend, Eleven, thinks. The scene includes the gay phrase “When you’re different sometimes, you feel like a mistake” and ends with Will’s brother, Jonathan, seeming to fully understand what Will’s thinking. The second episode features an even more emotional moment: Jonathan telling Will that he loves and accepts him no matter what. It’s a lovely scene and a lovely way to respond to your brother coming out. Only Will didn’t come out. It’s all still subtext, and at this point, the subtextualization of Will’s sexuality is becoming a problem.
What did we actually learn from these two episodes about Will Byers? No. 1: Will is certainly gay or at least attracted to men. Jonathan’s speech makes virtually no sense without that component. Yes, he wants a connection with Will, but he comes at it from the angle of saying that he loves him no matter who he is. Even if it’s all just subtext, the subtext is so strong and so obviously in response to viewers’ preconceived understandings of Will’s sexuality that to make him fully straight at this point would be a ridiculous move.
No. 2: The Duffer brothers really don’t want Will to come out himself. It makes little sense that a straight man in the ’80s would be able to deduce on his own that his brother is gay, but the show implies that Jonathan figures out Will’s sexuality because they would rather do that than have Will say it. That’s an issue. This season of Stranger Things was thematically predicated on characters revealing their deepest insecurities, worries, and emotions. Max has to come to terms with the fact that she may have wanted her brother to die, and the plot was advanced in the final episodes by her admitting it. Mike’s arc is finished when he saves Eleven by telling her he does love her, something he hadn’t been able to say earlier. Hopper and Joyce end their seasons-long arc by finally admitting and acting on their feelings. And then there’s Will, whose arc the show wants you to feel has ended even though it hasn’t. Jonathan accepting Will’s implied sexuality ends Jonathan’s arc because Jonathan finally establishes an emotional connection. Meanwhile, the audience has to do all the legwork understanding Will’s journey this season because it’s entirely subtextual, and it still doesn’t have a payoff. For this plot to work, the subtext must become text. The reason for Will’s “otherness” must be acknowledged.
Look, as far as I’m concerned, we have an answer to the question “Will Byers gay yet?” The answer is “Yes, Will Byers gay.” Anything else goes against seasons of plot building up to Will Byers coming out. Now it’s just time for Stranger Things to admit it.