The YouTube community has always prided itself on its inclusiveness. It’s a community where people feel free to express themselves creatively and harness the power of video-making to share themselves online.
YouTube is host to a wealth of coming out videos, where LGBTQ+ people discuss their sexuality in the hope of aiding others on the very personal journey. It’s also where Dan Savage’s It Gets Better campaign gained traction, which aimed to tackle LGBTQ+ teen suicide rates. British diver Tom Daley even used the platform to reveal more about his sexuality, famously avoiding labelling himself either gay or bisexual.
To celebrate LGBTQ+ History month, TenEighty is taking a closer look at some of the UK’s gay YouTubers in a three-part series. In this feature we’ll be chatting to Gary C, Trent Owers and Luke Shayler, and Lewis Parker to find out if their sexuality has affected their content and how being out has been received by their audiences.
“If I was going to put myself online, I needed to be me. It was all or nothing,” says Gary.
Gary first began making YouTube videos as early as 2006 to showcase his singing career before creating the character of Cheeky, a purple puppet that vlogged about celebrity culture mimicking the style of Michael Buckley. In 2012, that all changed and he presented himself simply as Gary C.
“My content was considerably more camp and less issue based when I first vlogged,” he confesses. Gary has never hidden his sexuality from his audience, but the change from character-based vlogs meant redefining his on-screen personality. “People liked the camp entertainer but I got bored [just] being that part of me very quickly,” he explains.
“I was becoming another character, which seemed pointless as I’d only just changed from Cheeky.”
Part of being a YouTuber is often developing your own personality into a brand. During the YouTube Culture Debate, creators talked at length about how they represent themselves in their videos often citing that viewers only knew part of who they really were.
When you throw LGBTQ+ elements into this mix, there’s often an internalised pressure to play up to gay stereotypes or camp tendencies within your personality. For others it sometimes means the complete opposite, attempting to distinguish themselves as gay but ‘straight-acting’, a controversial phrase which is widely debated by gay men.
However, Gary has seen past this, and is now more comfortable being true to himself. “My audience have been incredibly supportive throughout my various evolutions,” he says. “Thankfully they clicked ‘subscribe’ for more of me and I adore them for it!”
Trent and Luke have also always been out on YouTube; in fact, Trent used the platform to come out to his family. “The first video I ever made was called 10 Reason to be Gay,” says Trent. “That was kind of my way of coming out to all of my relatives and old friends that I didn’t really talk to much. I thought it would be a bit random to message them on Facebook and be like ‘Hey! Haven’t spoken in a few years, oh by the way I’m gay!’”
Trent initially created content on his own channel, but when the couple decided to make a joint YouTube account, that documented their relationship, their following rocketed to 60,000 subscribers in under a year.
“I’ve been out of the closet since I was 16 and have a very supportive family,” says Luke. “It wasn’t a big deal for me to be known as gay on YouTube. That’s who I am, who we are and we really wanted our channel to be about self-acceptance and loving who you are; showing people that this is the norm.”
Luke believes that the majority of their audience are LGBTQ+ themselves and admits that most of their content is gay-themed. “I don’t think we will ever change that,” he says. “It’s helped out a lot of people and that’s what we wanted to achieve.”
Trent agrees, but also points out that there will always be negative comments. “You are always going to get that one person who is browsing YouTube, stumbles across your videos and leaves a rude comment because they’re either confused and small-minded, or they deliberately want to try and hurt you,” he explains.
On a whole, however, this doesn’t affect either of their outlooks, as the sheer amount of support they get makes it worthwhile. “They are so caring of us and really want us to succeed,” he says. “We are always thinking of ways we can give back because of how amazing and supportive they are.”
Unlike the others, Lewis was still figuring out his sexuality when he started making videos. Vlogging since he was 16, Lewis came out to his YouTube audience in January. “I wanted to be open in all aspects of my life instead of hiding the real me away in the shadows,” he says.
He says the response has been phenomenal and that he’s grateful for how supportive everyone has been. “Pressing upload was the scariest thing I have ever done,” he explains. “It’s also one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
“It hasn’t really affected my content, it’s just opened my content up to a broader scope,” he says. “I can now discuss other issues which I previously felt I couldn’t.”
Lewis identifies YouTube as the main medium that helped him come to terms with his sexuality and further his understanding of LGBTQ+ issues. “Coming out videos alone helped me to identify with other people, which helped me on my own journey of acceptance,” he says.
“Further than that, people like Alex Bertie have educated me on trans* issues which I previously had a shamefully lacking knowledge of,” adds Lewis.
Gary also confesses that his knowledge of the trans* community was limited, but thanks to Summer in the City 2014 he’s finding out more. “I met Alex Bertie at the LGBTQ+ panel we were both on, and I’ve learned so much more since then,” he says. “There’s always more to learn and it’s up to us as individuals to get educated and be respectful to everyone we encounter.”
This resonates with Trent and Luke, commenting that just as straight people are using the platform to learn more about the LGBTQ+ people, they are too. “It’s really interesting when you watch other people’s videos about their issues and how they identify themselves,” says Luke.
Trent agrees. “You learn so much about their lives, their personal struggles and facts that you would’ve never known or even thought of,” he says. “YouTube is such a massive place and I think it’s great that people can educate the world from the comforts of their own home!”
What’s to come?
In the second part of this series, TenEighty will be looking at Queer-baiting – when content creators allude to homosexual relations to provoke a response while downplaying it as a joke or the audience’s misinterpretation – and in the third part, we will be discussing LGBTQ+ content creators who are out in their private lives but have chosen not to disclose their sexuality online.
Alternatively, you could check out our interview with Alex Bertie who discusses being trans on YouTube, our coverage of the LGBTQ+ panel at Summer in the City 2014, or watch five of the best videos that deal with sexuality.