When Robin came out to Steve in Stranger Things season three, actor Maya Hawke brought queer representation not just to the fictional town of Hawkins but to one of Netflix’s most popular—and, by extension, most powerful—original shows. “I’m not like your other friends,” the warmly sarcastic Scoops Ahoy employee told her pal Steve (Joe Keery). The scene famously shows the pair splayed out on the bathroom floor at Starcourt Mall following an incident with Russian truth serum. “And I’m not like Nancy Wheeler.”
It’s a flawless line when you know the behind-the-scenes history of Robin’s character. Series creators the Duffer brothers originally wrote Robin Buckley as a replacement love interest for Steve after Nancy (Natalia Dyer) fell for Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) in the show’s second season. But that plot was changed mid-production after Hawke and the Duffers worked together to create a coming out opportunity for Robin (h/t Entertainment Weekly).
While some viewers might have perceived Robin as gay long before her John Hughes-esque monologue in “Chapter 7: The Bite,” she and Steve’s arc had, up to that point, fit a largely heteronormative will-they-won’t-they formula. So, when Robin revealed she had a crush on a girl (the unseen, minor character Tammy Thompson) while Steve was trying to tell Robin that in fact he liked her, it was a big deal for both him and the Stranger Things audience.
Steve’s reaction—a polite moment of stunned silence before an adorable assault on Robin’s taste in women, describing Tammy as a “TOTAL DUD!”—was perfect. The affable reception at once allowed us to keep rooting for Steve and his newly minted ally status (truly, Steve “The Homophobe” Harrington would not have had the same ring to it), and modeled how unsure viewers ought to positively receive “the news” of a lesbian character.
It’s because this scene is so well done that we’re carefully watching how Robin’s character and sexuality are handled in the forthcoming Stranger Things season four. Here’s what we’re hoping will—and won’t—happen for Hawkins’ favorite smart-mouthed ice cream scoop when we return to the Upside Down on May 27.
Before Robin tells Steve she’s attracted to women, he describes her as funny, smart, and “unlike anyone I’ve met before.” After Robin tells Steve what’s up, all of those things are still true—and should continue to drive Robin’s role within the main Stranger Things story.
Reducing LGBTQ+ characters to their sexuality can be as harmful as not including them at all. So while other characters might need to get caught up on Robin’s sexual orientation, it’d be better if her storyline didn’t turn into a revolving door of coming out speeches. Robin’s identity should remain integral to her development, but so should her code-breaking and espionage skills.
Similarly, while it’s totally fair (important, even!) to acknowledge the homophobia women like Robin faced in the ’80s—and, dishearteningly, continue to face now—we’d rather not see her go through that kind of hell. Absolutely send her off to fight Demogorgons and Mind Flayers. Just don’t put slurs into your sci-fi show, you know?
As any LGBTQ+ human can confirm, coming out as gay doesn’t automatically assign you a signifiant other. In fact, being gay in certain places—oh, say, suburban Indiana—could make finding other LGBTQ+ people to date a whole lot harder. With this in mind, for both believability and the aforementioned “not reducing LGBTQ+ characters to their sexuality” reasons, Robin probably shouldn’t get a full-blown girlfriend in Stranger Things season four.
That doesn’t mean she can’t explore her identity in other ways, of course. Steve and Robin’s friendship presents a great opportunity for discussing lesbian culture and experience, without forcing an endgame love interest to the forefront of the show. If the Duffer brothers maintain the same poignancy evident in Robin’s coming out scene, there’s no question that friendship could continue to chart a meaningful path for the fan-favorite pairing. (Send them to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show, dammit!)
That said, no one is saying no to Robin flirting a little—maybe even with the mysterious Tammy Thompson? No outlet has reported the character being cast yet, but not meeting the aspiring country singer Steve described as sounding like “a Muppet giving birth” seems like a missed opportunity.
It’s great that Robin came out in season three, but to imply she’s the only LGBTQ+ person in Hawkins would be a serious misstep. Whether it’s in Stranger Things season four or beyond, more LGBTQ+ characters should be introduced to this world and given as many meaningful moments as time will allow. By increasing the number of LGBTQ+ subplots being explored, Stranger Things can assure it offers a better breadth of representation that puts less pressure on characters like Robin to do and be everything for everyone.
It’s worth noting that some fans think other existing main characters, like Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), could come out on the show. That’s fitting, since the practice of “queer-coding” is as old as any of Stranger Things’ pop-culture references from ’80s.
Robin may not be “like Nancy Wheeler,” but she better get the same unrealistic narrative armor as the rest of the Stranger Things cast. Coined by comic writer Gail Simone, the term “fridging” references a storytelling trope in which one character is killed to propel the plot of another. This often involves women being killed off to—you guessed it—motivate men. This particularly annoying quirk of onscreen sexism has hit lesbian, bisexual, and trans women especially hard since it intersects with ye olde “bury your gays” trope, another term describing the problematic, perceived expendability of LGBTQ+ characters. Simply put, if anyone is killed off the season, please don’t let it be her.