Stranger Things Season 4 | Will Byers, Acceptance, and Sexuality


The new season of Stranger Things has given us our fair share of scenes that tug at the heartstrings, but one in particular has been circling social media – the scene in which Will’s sexuality appears to finally be addressed. Stranger Things has never been one to shy away from the topic of sexuality, with the first on-screen queer character being Robin, who came out to Steve in an incredibly beautifully written, emotional exchange. While there was online discourse about the possibility that Will might be canonically gay, there was never a clear answer, and while still, not everything relative to Will’s sexuality is fully and openly affirmed in season 4, it is more relevant to his story than ever. 

Much of the discussion about Will’s coded coming-out scene has been fans criticizing the Duffer brothers for queerbaiting. While queerbaiting is a major problem in mainstream media, the less-than-subtle nods to Will’s sexuality do not appear to be a way to represent the LGBTQ+ community in a shallow way to get ‘diversity points’, but rather, present the viewers with a careful account of the queer experience in the 80s. Also, many characters who come out in a lot of mainstream media tend to have that be their sole trait. Will, however, has been a fully fleshed out character, with this discovery of his sexuality acting as a side arc by which his relationship dynamics are further developed. It also calls back moments from past seasons, like when in season 3 Mike tells Will, “It’s not my fault you don’t like girls,” and Will’s general attempts to hang onto childhood with Dudgeons and Dragons. 

Not only are we given a better understanding of Will’s character through this scene, but it also feels deeply authentic. For just a moment, we see the relief Will feels by talking about his implied feelings for Mike through El, and in this short exchange, he is able to free himself from the confines of sexuality in the 80s. While Mike, who is caught up in his own relationship problems, fails to realize the subtext of what Will is saying, Jonathan appears to understand this ‘code’ that Will is talking in. The incredible performances by Noah Schnapp and Charlie Heaton enhance the deeply emotional reaction that this scene provokes, as we also get a glimpse into Jonathan’s own reaction to finding out this information about his brother. Being queer was, and still is, discriminated against, and it’s only natural that Will would fear being cast out by the people he loves for his sexuality, and that fear during this scene is definitely palpable. It’s almost like Will is trying to soften the blow of coming out because of the fear he has that he won’t be accepted.

The van scene and the final exchange between Will and Johnathan that happens at the Surfer Boy Pizza ties up this arc for now and opens up so many possibilities for Will’s character in the final season. He and Jonathan are brought together, and it also seems like Will’s journey to accepting himself will bring him closer to his friends, so we can’t wait to see how that is explored in season 5. This beautifully written, phenomenally acted scene introduces a new perspective to the show about being queer in the 80s, and definitely holds an incredibly meaningful place in the canon of the show and, more importantly, the hearts of the viewers who see themselves in Will. 

You can catch season 4 of Stranger Things only on Netflix and be sure to check out YEM’s other exclusive content about the show!