The LGBTQ+ in Online Video panel took place on Sunday at VidCon Europe 2017. It featured Joey Graceffa, Dodie Clark, Jake Akita, Rowan Ellis, and Roly West, and was chaired by Jazza John.
After the panellists had spoken about their identities and pronouns, Jazza‘s first question was about the role of YouTube in discovering their identities. Joey said that, while he was unsure of how his audience would react, he felt encouraged by seeing other coming out videos. Jake added that he would not have known about transgender people had it not been for YouTube, and Dodie agreed that YouTube gave her information about bisexuality that she would not have had otherwise. Roly mentioned that he has used YouTube as a form of “gender discovery”, adding that “finding other androgynous people and non-binary people really helped me discover my identity”. Rowan pointed out that YouTube has played a role in providing LGBTQ+ representation in back-and-forth relationships, as opposed to at a distance as in mainstream media.
Speaking about the recent controversy over YouTube’s “Restricted Mode” blocking LGBTQ+ content, Dodie said that it showed a “massive step back”, again focusing on how much YouTube videos helped her in discovering her identity and coming out. Jake added that “sometimes these videos that are being restricted are in the homes of people that need them the most”. Joey said that it showed a “lack of communication” from YouTube, while Rowan added that “it took it going viral for [YouTube] to give a shit”. Jazza referred to a petition about the issue.
The conversation moved to LGBTQ+ representation in mainstream media. Roly mentioned his happiness with a trans character in the Netflix series The OA being played by a trans actor, but Rowan criticised the recent Beauty and the Beast film for “queerbaiting”. She said that there was a “huge marketing campaign around the fact that there’s a gay character but [Disney did] not actually put anything explicit in the film itself”.
When asked what could improve LGBTQ+ representation in Hollywood films, Dodie asserted that there needs to be a normalisation of gay sex scenes, as opposed to them being seen as a “statement”. Joey spoke about his book Children of Eden, which features a bisexual protagonist who doesn’t experience questioning or having to come out, and he said that would love for it to be made into a film in order to normalise bisexuality in Hollywood. Rowan asked: “Do I see any butch women being taken seriously in mainstream media? No!” She added that this was the same for effeminate men, and that this can be combatted by YouTube, which shows real people who can share real experiences. Nevertheless, she added that Hollywood is able to reach people who need to be educated – for example, transphobic people – more easily than YouTube, so Hollywood still needs to be working on representation.
On the topic of whether being queer can be an asset on YouTube, Joey said that, in a world where people could choose their sexuality, he would still choose to be gay. “It makes me feel unique,” he says. “It gave me a story.” Dodie mentioned that it “gives you empathy” and Rowan added that “you have such a strong sense of who you are”. Roly said that being queer on YouTube gives the ability to change people’s lives. Jake mentioned that being transgender is an asset in terms of educating people on YouTube, but he stressed that people shouldn’t forget the negativity that comes with it, specifically referencing his reluctance to use public toilets.
An audience question focused on bullying in school. Joey referred to his own experiences at school and advised “hiding out when it felt necessary, standing up for yourself when it felt right”. Rowan’s advice was to “find your people outside of school”, while also saying that bringing in speakers about LGBTQ+ issues could help to change “the culture of the school”. “Don’t let someone else define you,” added Roly. Jake also mentioned that, although it is difficult to believe the common advice of “it will get better”, he believes it to be true.
To an audience member that mentioned being afraid to come out to their family, Jazza advised “your safety is paramount”, while also mentioning that LGBTQ+ charities can help, but added that “sometimes parents surprise you”. Jake advised having a friend to call and potentially stay with when the audience member decides to come out to ensure safety.
The final question was about a significant moment that the panellists have had with their LGBTQ+ viewers or friends. Roly mentioned a girl that had told him that she had been close to taking her life but hadn’t because of his videos, while Rowan explained that she asked her viewers to email her if they had no-one to talk to about the Orlando nightclub shooting and received hundreds of emails. Joey mentioned that he would have fans come out to him during his tour after he came out in his book In Real Life: My Journey to a Pixelated World, while Jake recalled his experience of being the first person a friend came out to. Dodie said that she’d had viewers in same-sex relationships tell her that her song She was important to their relationship.
Check out the Kickass Women Doing Kickass Things panel at VidCon Europe 2017, or read about Dodie’s music video for Intertwined.