The LGBTQ+ Panel took place on Saturday at Summer in the City. It featured Gary C, Tyler Oakley, David Levitz, Alex Bertie, Rose Dix, and Rosie Spaughton and was chaired by Jazza John.
Opening the panel, Jazza John asked how important sexuality and/or gender is to the panellists channels. All of them agreed it is important, but that their sexuality doesn’t fundamentally define the content that they make.
David Levitz and Tyler Oakley also agreed that they’re happy to be a resource for LGBTQ+ people, adding that many of their videos are gay-themed, but that equally it isn’t all they do.
Alex Bertie, who is transgender, said it is hard for him to avoid the subject of gender as a lot of his content aims to support other trans* people and raise awareness about trans* issues.
However it is important to show that this isn’t solely what defines him. He therefore creates a lot of content that isn’t aimed just at the trans* community, but the wider online community too.
Jazza then talked about the importance of things like the It Gets Better campaign. He asked the panellists what helped them through their journey, since most had already come to terms with their sexuality before such campaigns existed.
Tyler believed what helped him the most was that his parents were always very careful not to reinforce heteronormative ideas, down to the point they were even aware of the day to day language they used.
This made it easier for Tyler when dealing with his sexuality, and he noted that language can play a bigger role than many non-LGBTQ+ people realise. “Allies sometimes don’t understand that their language can affect the process,” he said.
Rose Dix was helped by Willow Rosenburg’s storyline in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, mentioning that when Buffy finds out about Willow’s sexuality she doesn’t react negatively to it.
Rose’s partner Rosie Spaughton felt she didn’t have something to help with her sexuality growing up, mainly because there weren’t any bisexual icons of note. However Rosie did discuss a recent interview with Anna Paquin about her sexuality. In it the actress was asked if she was a ’non-practicing bisexual’ because she is now engaged to man, a ridiculous question she quickly set the interviewer straight about.
Through this a discussion opened up about how bisexuality isn’t fully understood or accepted. Rosie explained how people assume she is a lesbian because of her relationship with Rose. They write off her interest in men and/or confuse her sexuality for polyamory, which is not the case.
Rosie then mentioned that discrimination against bisexuality is often found within the LGBTQ+ community itself. She found this odd, believing that people within this community should understand the identity issues which bisexuals are going through.
Once again the issue of bisexual role models was brought up by Rosie. “Who is bisexual that you see on the telly?” she asked. This is an important question within the LGBTQ+ community, and despite acceptance growing greatly in recent years there is still a huge lack of visible bisexual role models.
Rosie wished that there was a bisexual equivalent of Kim Kardashian so that you could watch their every move. This is why she continues to make videos, because she believes that there needs to be more bisexual role models who teens can look up to.
Alex then mentioned that there are a lack of trans* videos available on YouTube, but if you dig you can find some. He first came across hormone update videos which helped inform and educate him. “The trans* community on YouTube are known for our monthly updates… So every month people will explain their physical and emotional changes,” he said.
David explained that YouTube was a great help for him in terms of acceptance. He found that it aided him on his journey alongside his theatre classes. David also mentioned that he has a very accepting and supporting family and wishes that more people could have a similar journey.
Jazza then brought up the topic of coming out on YouTube. Four members of the panel, namely Rose, Rosie, Alex and David, had made coming out videos while the rest have not.
Gary C said that he has taken some YouTubers “under his wing” who are about to publicly come out. He explained that their biggest fear is being rejected. This can be rejection by family members or rejection by their audience on YouTube. “It can not be an easy life, it’s not an easy choice,” he said.
Tyler added to the discussion mentioning that he believes coming out videos are very important on YouTube. He said that even if just one coming out video is the one that someone connects to, then they will feel less alone. Tyler also explained how coming out isn’t just a one time event. It can happen everyday for many, a choice to be made with each new person you meet.
Jazza then asked the panel how important being out to your audience as a YouTuber is. He believed that in the UK we have a phenomenon where many Youtubers are out within the behind the scenes community but not to their audience.
He asked what the panellists think of this in comparison to the United States, where there feels to be more openly gay YouTubers. This despite gay equality seemingly having a stronger presence within the UK with things such as equal marriage. It’s then mentioned that Rose and Rosie are engaged, to which the audience cheers loudly.
Rose was the first to answer, mentioning that some people may just be more comfortable not being out to their audience, and that that’s nothing to be ashamed of. “For some people being in the closet isn’t necessarily about shame, sometimes it’s just personal choice,” she said. “If they are comfortable then you have to let them be comfortable.”
Rosie explained that it’s a difficult decision because as soon as you come out to someone you no longer have that boundary. She felt that you “open the flood gates” and are inundated with questions which can be overwhelming. She understood why people choose not to be out to their audience because of this.
Alex was asked about how coming out was almost the opposite for trans* people, that they prefer to keep their trans* identity hidden where possible. “We like to go this thing we call stealth,” he said. “When you meet someone you’ll introduce yourself as the gender you identify as, instead of y’know, ‘Hi I’m a trans* person!’” He felt that if he told every person he met he was trans*, they would start asking really personal and inappropriate questions.
Alex also explained how he thought that if trans* people come out they give up a part of their life, a chance to be themselves. He said he doesn’t think he’ll be able to go into a new college or a new workplace and not have him being trans* come up at some point, because all you need to do is google his name and there it is.
“There’s nothing I can do to hide it, but y’know that’s what I wanted to do,” he said. “At the time there weren’t that many trans* resources, especially for younger people, so that’s why I do [my videos].”
The question of what more needs to change was then brought up by Jazza. It raised mixed opinions from the panel.
Gary mentioned that as a community [the LGBTQ+ community] we need to be more accepting of ourselves as individuals, and more education on the subject matter is needed. Gary believed that a lot of the homophobia which he has seen on YouTube is very much in house.
Jazza revealed that he now has a Grindr account and mentioned that he has seen a lot of homophobia and racism on there. “On Grindr you see accounts that say straight acting, as if there is something wrong with someone who is effeminate,” he said.
Alex added to the discussion that there is a phrase in the trans* community known as ‘not trans* enough’, by which members of the transgender community will discriminate against others who haven’t undergone the full surgery. This seemed to shock the panellists and also the audience.
Tyler believed that the journey for gay equality and education in the United States is currently snowballing. He mentioned that many issues are still yet to be discussed because there is so much to be done, but also added that “the ability to just be out and not be killed for it” is a huge accomplishment.
The panel then entered a brief question and answer session with the audience. There was a tender moment with Alex who passed on advice to an audience member who was struggling to support their trans* friend who had disapproving parents.
The final question came from a girl who had travelled from Russia; she asked advice on dealing with transphobic and homophobic individuals. “I don’t feel like coming out because I feel unsafe,” she said. This touched the hearts of both the audience and the panellists, and also raised an important point. The panel ended with the agreement that the number one priority was to stay safe.
TenEighty caught up with some of the panellists later on, and asked them what they thought of the panel.
David expressed how refreshing it was to hear a trans* point of view from Alex. “A lot of my panel members mentioned that they had never seen a trans* vlogger before the panel was announced,” he said. “Then once they looked up Alex’s channel, yeah it was inspiring, enlightening and informative, and I think Alex definitely brought that to the panel.”
We also asked Alex himself how he thought it went. “I think it went well,” he said. “People seemed to engage, and all the other YouTubers, they were linking their stuff back to me, which was really nice, I didn’t expect them to do that at all.”
He had received a lot of strong compliments throughout the day, so we asked him how he was feeling about it all. “I feel like I don’t deserve it, because i’m just doing what I thought was right” he said. “I wasn’t doing it for like, people to praise me on it. So when people are coming up to me after saying ‘Oh you spoke so well’, it’s like, i’m just saying what I thought I should say.”
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Words by Lewis Parker & Teoh Lander-Boyce
Photos by Olly Newport & Nathaniel J Rosa