why we love elle argent in heartstopper

elle argent is a character like we’ve never seen before, the possibilities of her impact are enormous.

image credit: courtesy of netflix

when young adult author alice oseman told fans that she was bringing a trans character to heartstopper, i was excited. 

of course, i had concerns. usually, when a cis person puts a pen to paper and decides that they want to write a trans character, they complete a full house of bad trans representation bingo.

we often clap back with some criticism on the representation – as is our responsibility. i’ve lost count of how many discussions i’ve had with (cis and trans) friends on all the tropes we see in the media about us, especially when it comes to transfeminine characters.

from the unsettling gender reveal in films like the crying game to crossdresser psychopaths like buffalo bill in silence of the lambs, these representations have “suggested we’re not real, have suggested that we’re mentally ill, that we don’t exist” (laverne cox, disclosure, 2020).

only since shows like pose and euphoria have hit our tvs, we have seen more complex and nuanced depictions of ourselves – and we finally are not just the butt of the joke! 

oseman had included trans representation beforehand in her novel i was born for this with the transmasculine protagonist jimmy – whose portrayal felt both human and messy. 

however, when it came to seeing someone more like myself in my favourite graphic novel series, heartstopper, i had my bingo card at the ready – just in case. i was going to pick her new character, elle argent, apart. 

when elle arrived early in the series, she was tall and mysterious (new trope alert!). in heartstopper (and its parent book, solitaire), the schools are divided by sex. elle transfers, or should i say – transitions – from truham school for boys to harvey green “higgs” school for girls. so, elle, in both the show and the graphic novel, deals with a lot of change and is isolated in school and from her former friendship group. 

elle’s portrayal leads me to believe that alice oseman could be highlighting a hurtful truth of the trans experience: “occupying a space that you necessarily aren’t supposed to have” (brian michael smith, disclosure, 2020) – or rather told that you could never have. elle is an out transgender girl at 15 and starts attending the girl’s school, which is major. at her new school, elle feels out of place and desperately misses her supportive friendship group back at truham. but she knows that higgs is where she belongs: an interesting observation on the fact that sometimes, to be our authentic selves, we must leave some people behind.

sometimes, to be our authentic selves, we must leave some people behind.

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that is until elle makes friends with tara and darcy, who come out as a lesbian couple during the show. nearly every young character on the show, apart from a few exceptions – like tao –  is entirely queer: an accomplishment i’ve never witnessed before, through this oseman brings forward the importance of chosen families

so, elle feels safe. kind of secure. but, during the show and the graphic novels, a spanner is thrown into the works. she starts to get feelings for her heterosexual bestie, tao xu. messy! 

tao is a great friend: fiercely loyal and will pretty much defend you until the end of the earth. for example, elle shares being suspended for her hair length at the boy’s school. on twitter, i saw a theory about him growing his hair to an odd length: “[tao] wanted to prove that the hair wasn’t the problem, their school was just transphobic [towards] elle and suspended her for her hair”, showing the lengths tao will go to show his support.

their chemistry is second to none, but elle feels as if she can never tell him how she truly feels because it’ll ruin their friendship. in episode 6, tara puts it perfectly: “sharing stuff like that changes everything [and] not always for the better.” having a (straight male) friend like tao when you’re a trans girl like elle is a rarity. in a society where transfeminine people are told love is never an option for us, her hesitation to talk about her feelings and pursue her crush makes perfect sense. 

however, little does she know… tao could possibly feel the same way.

though elle was only a secondary character in season one of heartstopper, she has so much potential.

with this storyline of her blossoming situation-ship with tao developing, could there be a depiction of a healthy relationship on tv between a straight cisgender boy and a trans girl? practically unheard of.

with shows like heartstopper, the trans narrative in the media is partially being subverted.

for the first time in history, young trans people are seeing trans people positively represented.

despite the outpouring of love and support for this show, i can’t help but feel a little sad and resentful i didn’t have this growing up?

in discussing the show, adam miller touches on this feeling we may have as older queer people: “seeing [heartstopper] earlier could have encouraged me and other queer people to realise we were worthy of love much sooner” (metro, 2022).

but, we are finally seeing healthier queer and trans portrayals on screen – and elle’s character is making that happen.

despite the outpouring of love and support for this show, i can’t help but feel a little sad and resentful i didn’t have this growing up?

as for yasmin finney, she is changing the game.

she is a young black british trans girl working for netflix! this is something we need to celebrate. from attitude magazine to nyx cosmetics, miss finney is gracing us within an inch of our lives. and we are loving every second. with 507k insta followers under her belt and plenty more ad campaigns to come, we’ve not seen the last of her. 

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