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Child Star Felt "Prodded" by Public Speculation About His Sexuality

Noah Schnapp was 11 when he was cast as Will Byers in Stranger Things.

With the release of its first season in the summer of 2016, Stranger Things became a cultural phenomenon, and its young stars were catapulted into overnight fame. Naturally, it was a lot for the cast to navigate, particularly because several of them were between the ages of 11 and 14 when the show began. The youngest main cast member in Season 1 was Noah Schnapp, who was 11 when Stranger Things premiered and 10 when he was cast.

While all the Stranger Things kids experienced becoming celebrities and gaining fans at the same time, Schnapp also began to face something that the others weren't: public speculation about his own sexuality, as well as that of his character, Will Byers. In fact, when he was 12 years old, the actor made a statement regarding the comments about Will possibly being gay.

Several years later, not only has Will's sexuality been confirmed, but Schnapp himself has come out. In an interview with Variety, the 18-year-old actor reflected on how his character helped him to realize that he's gay, but he also opened up about how speculation from the public about his sexuality, especially when he was so young, had a detrimental impact on his life. Read on to find out more.

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Schnapp addressed fan theories about Will after Stranger Things premiered.

Noah Schnapp at the premiere of "Stranger Things 2" in 2017
Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock

In the first season of Stranger Things, there are comments made about Will that some fans interpreted as clues that he was not straight. These included his mother (Winona Ryder) saying that kids at school teased him and called him "queer" and that his estranged father had called him an anti-gay slur. At 12, Schnapp decided to address the speculation about Will's orientation on Instagram in a post that has since been deleted.

"I've been reading stuff for a while. I think everyone here is missing the point," he shared (via Teen Vogue). "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'm only 12 but I do know we all relate to being different."

He added, "A good book, or a good show leaves a lot of unanswered questions but makes you think. Which is what you are all doing." He ended his message: "I hope the real answer never comes out."

He explained what it was like to read speculation about himself.

Noah Schnapp at the Netflix FYSEE Kick-Off Event in 2018
Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock

Viewers weren't only trading theories about Will—Schnapp also began to read speculation from fans about his own sexuality. When this began, he explained, he was not even sure himself how he identified. Reading the gossip didn't help. "I think it made me hold it down deeper. Because it was kind of being poked and prodded out of me in such a public way," he told Variety.

Schnapp said that he now knows those closest to him already knew he was gay before he fully accepted it. "It was just, I didn't think it was a real thing," he said. "It was just the idea of being gay. I was like, 'I'm straight.' I just rejected that idea for so long."

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He confirmed what Will was dealing with in Season 4.

A still of cast members in 'Stranger Things' season 4

Schnapp confirmed that his Stranger Things character is gay before he came out publicly himself. In July 2022, he spoke to Variety about Season 4 of the show, in which it becomes more clear that Will is struggling with his sexuality and feelings for his best friend.

"Obviously, it was hinted at in Season 1: It was always kind of there, but you never really knew, is it just him growing up slower than his friends? Now that he's gotten older, they made it a very real, obvious thing," Schnapp explained. "Now it's 100 percent clear that he is gay and he does love Mike [Finn Wolfhard]. But before, it was a slow arc. I think it is done so beautifully, because it's so easy to make a character just like all of a sudden be gay."

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He came out in a TikTok six months later.


I guess I'm more similar to will than I thought

♬ original sound – Privacynbling

In January 2023, Schnapp came out publicly in a TikTok video. He lip-synced to one of the platform's popular clips, mouthing the words, "You know what it never was? That serious. It was never that serious. Quite frankly, it will never be that serious." On the video, he wrote, "When I finally told my friends and family I was gay after being scared in the closet for 18 years and all they said was 'we know.'" He also wrote in the caption, "I guess I'm more similar to Will than I thought."

Schnapp told Variety that if he didn't play Will, he probably wouldn't have come out yet himself. "I would be in a completely different place if I didn't have Will to portray, and to embrace and help me accept myself," he said. "I think if I never played that character, I probably would still be closeted."

Today, he feels very supported.

Noah Schnapp at a ceremonial lighting of the Empire State Building in May 2022
lev radin / Shutterstock

Schnapp received an outpouring of support from fans, friends, and family when he came out. And even before that, the response he got to Will's sexuality being made explicit helped ease some of his fears. "There was not one bad thing about him being gay. I was like, if he has all this support, then why should I worry about anything?" Schnapp said.

He also told Variety that being out might impact the way he plays Will in the upcoming fifth and final season of Stranger Things. "I think the way I act in Season 5, honestly, might be a little different. I will be fully aware of who I am. Knowing all of that about myself and being able to invest that in my character, I'm honestly just excited," the actor said.

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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