Heartstopper’s Isaac pushes the envelope for asexual representation, and it’s about time

Isaac Henderson (played by Tobie Donovan) embarks on an asexual journey in Heartstopper season two. (Netflix)

Heartstopper season two is finally here, and this time around the show is set to make fresh waves as book-lover Isaac discovers his asexual identity.

Based on the best-selling graphic novel series by Alice Oseman, Netflix’s hit coming-of-age show is one of the biggest LGBTQ+ series right now. Centred around the budding romance between queer teens Nick Nelson and Charlie Spring, the show also features a diverse ensemble cast of teens and adults from across the LGBTQ+ spectrum.

In the first season, viewers were introduced to the ultimate queer friendship group: openly gay student Charlie (Joe Locke), bubbly trans teen Elle (Yasmin Finney), lesbian sweethearts Tara (Corinna Brown) and Darcy (Kizzy Edgell), supportive friend Tao (William Gao) and the quiet but reliable Isaac, played by Tobie Donovan.

The colourful cast of characters expands further in season two, with gay teacher Mr Farouk (Nima Taleghani) joining Mr Ajayi (Fisayo Akinade), as well as Elle’s new friends Felix (Ash Self) and Naomi (Bel Priestley), and bisexual prom-planning Sahar (Leila Khan).

There was no shortage of hard-hitting storylines in the first season, and the follow-up looks to be no different as we see Nick’s difficulty with publically coming out and Charlie’s struggles with his mental health. Elsewhere, Elle and Tao’s continue to dance around each other in their will-they-won’t-they relationship, while there’s trouble in paradise for Tara and Darcy.

But it’s Isaac’s asexual storyline that provides truly poignant representation seldom seen on the small screen.

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Isaac in Heartstopper. (Netflix)
Isaac is thrust into the spotlight in season two of Heartstopper. (Netflix)

This season, Isaac, is catapulted into the spotlight when fellow student James McEwan (Bradley Riches) develops a crush on the shy bookworm. As the two spend more time together, Isaac begins to question how he feels about his new friend.

He seeks advice from Charlie on how he knew he had feelings for Nick, and we catch him watching kissing couples with intrigue on more than one occasion. After Isaac and James (Bradley Riches) share an unsuccessful kiss, Isaac is left to wonder why he isn’t interested in James in the way everyone expects him to be.

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Then he attends a queer art exhibition featuring a piece from an asexual artist (Ethan Joseph-Robert) that celebrates their identity and liberation from societal expectations around sex and romance. It’s here that Isaac experiences a lightbulb moment.

According to Stonewall, asexuality is an umbrella term used specifically to describe a lack of, varying, or occasional experiences of sexual attraction. Many people from the asexual community may also label themselves as aromantic (a lack of, varying, or occasional experiences of romantic attraction) and vice versa.

It’s no surprise that season two welcomes an asexual plot line, since author Oseman identifies within the aromantic-asexual (aro-ace) spectrum herself. Alongside her Heartstopper series, she has also written coming-of-age novel Loveless, featuring an aro-ace protagonist.

There is a lack aro-ace representation, both within the LGBTQ+ community and in the media. While there are a handful of TV characters such as Raphael in Shadowhunters, Abbi in The Imperfects and Spooner in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, nuanced depictions of people who identify as aro-ace remain few and far between.

As a consequence, countless aro-ace people have resonated with Isaac’s confusion over his sexuality, especially as so many lacked the tools to fully understand themselves when they were growing up.

“I grew up never seeing myself represented and I know the long-term impact that can have, not just on your self-esteem but on how others perceive you,” asexual visibility activist Yasmin Benoit tells PinkNews.

It’s why Isaac’s journey, which has only just started, is so meaningful. “It’s very exciting to finally have a new asexual character on TV and that a generation of young ages will be able to see themselves represented on screen,” Benoit continues.

“I know Tobie will do an amazing job depicting Isaac’s journey, and, most importantly, it’s written authentically by an aro-ace person. I hope it inspires increasingly diverse ace and aro representation in the future.”

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In the final episodes, we see Isaac cautiously choose his latest read, Ace, by Angela Chen.

Chen’s ground-breaking non-fiction novel gives a platform to diverse aro-ace voices from across the spectrum and tells stories from the too-often-overlooked community.

In the end, Isaac’s journey of self-discovery is perfectly portrayed. An ace character, depicted by an ace author, reading a novel about the ace experience and enjoying ace-themed art? Put simply, Isaac is leaps and bounds ahead of any other ace representation of its kind.

Heartstopper season two is streaming on Netflix now.

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