To celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month, TenEighty is taking a closer look at the UK’s gay YouTubers in a three-part series.
In the first part we met Gary C, Trent Owers and Luke Shayler, and Lewis Parker, who discussed the ways in which their content has been affected by being open about their sexuality. In the second part we discussed the differences between click-baiting and Queer-baiting, when YouTubers optimise their title and thumbnails to allude to homosexual relations for the sake of tricking viewers into watching.
In the final part of the LGBTQ+ series, we will be looking at closeted YouTubers. These are regular content creators who have already come to terms with their sexuality and are out to their friends and family. Some are yet to come out to their online audiences, others have chosen not to. And some either market themselves as straight or use Queer-baiting tactics as a distraction; by appearing to joke about being LGBTQ+, they trick audiences into assuming they are straight.
Lewis recently came out on YouTube, and therefore knows how difficult the process can be. However, he doesn’t sympathise with closeted YouTubers. He believes that if they are already out and comfortable with their sexuality, then they have a responsibility to be open with their audiences.
“Any LGBTQ+ person has the right to come out when they feel it is appropriate,” he explains. “The decision is theirs to make and no one else’s.
“However, when they are out in all other aspects of life, and even within their own YouTube community, I think they most certainly have a responsibility,” says Lewis.
Gary, who is widely considered a trusted and nurturing confidant to the YouTube community, has helped many content creators come to terms with their sexuality. But he doesn’t feel we should expect creators to out themselves online. “Coming out is a personal choice,” he says.
“Would I love it if huge YouTubers came out and raised awareness for the LGBTQ+ youth? Of course I would! But that’s a big ask of anyone and it’s not mine or anyone else’s place to demand that,” Gary explains. “It’s their choice, their journey, we can’t rush them.”
The issue of content creators who choose not to disclose their sexuality online was brought up on the LGBTQ+ Panel at Summer in the City 2014. On the sensitive subject, prominent US gay vlogger Tyler Oakley said: “Yes, it’s brave to be unapologetically yourself, but it’s also brave to know when it’s safe for you and when it’s right for you… Everybody’s individual and nobody should presume to know somebody’s situation.”
In Closeted YouTubers, Jazza John, who chaired the panel and is one of the organisers of the event, said he didn’t have a problem with those who keep their sexuality part of their private lives, but felt that those who actively portray themselves as straight in their content were damaging because “it is a dishonest relationship with their subscribers”.
“It’s when these creators are older, they have long-term relationships, and they still choose to either not disclose or lie about their sexuality. Where does this shame come from?,” asked Jazza. “I’m genuinely perplexed as to why there aren’t people choosing to be open to their subscribers and being advocates.”
Referring to US television presenter Anderson Cooper, Jazza speculated that closeted YouTubers may not have meant for their sexuality to become such a secret, but have found themselves stuck. “When they were first making videos they perhaps weren’t as confident or secure about their sexuality,” he said.
“But that gap – the decision to make a step and be out to your audience – becomes harder and harder as time goes on. And also as your audience grows,” he continued. “Coming out to your mum and your dad and your little brother is one thing. Coming out to over a million people on YouTube; that sounds daunting.”
A comment on the video, from LunaObsessions, suggests that it may be the reverse of this. “I think some closeted YouTubers may be afraid of coming out because they feel like THAT’s what will get them stuck,” the comment reads. “A lot of them, I think, are afraid to get stuck with this label because they don’t want to have their channel centred around their sexuality, which is what may be expected of them if they come out as anything other than straight.”
Luke believes that nobody should be forced to come out, but if they do choose to share their sexuality online, they do have a responsibility to put “a positive message out there”.
Trent agrees. “Some YouTubers don’t realise how much impact they can have on one person and what a simple sentence you say in your video might do,” he says. “Sometimes it can save someone’s life.”
In Connor Franta And Closeted YouTubers US bisexual vlogger Ashley Mardell says that demanding someone to come out because of their status level is “very loaded” and inconsiderate. However, she also expresses how it could be a positive opportunity.
“I guess in the end if nothing is hindering you from coming out, then why not? Don’t underestimate the power you could have to change someone’s life,” says Ashley. “Maybe this is a personal thing, but if you have the opportunity to be an advocate, to connect and help others, like, why wouldn’t you?”
Could the responsibility that comes with being out on YouTube be the reason many choose not to? As suggested by LunaObsessions, some LGBTQ+ people may not want to be labelled as anything other than themselves, but as we’ve seen from Trent and Ashley, being open about your sexuality in your content comes with a certain amount of responsibility. It could be that some closeted YouTubers are uncomfortable with the idea of becoming a role model or LGBTQ+ advocate.
Gary notes that Connor Franta and Troye Sivan did well after coming out, and they are now both considered LGBTQ+ role models too. But he highlights that their audiences were already rather large and that they had a support network of famous YouTube friends to help the transition. “I think the biggest fear for a small-to-medium-sized YouTuber is lack of support and the possibility of being rejected,” he explains.
“This is magnified if their audience is predominantly teenage girls and the main draw is a person’s appearance or established personality,” Gary continues.
TenEighty contacted a YouTuber who identifies as gay, but has chosen not to disclose their sexuality online. They wish to remain anonymous for this article. “I don’t feel as though I’ve not come out, as everyone in my ‘real life’ knows I’m gay and that I’ve had a partner for five years,” they say.
“The reason I’ve never mentioned it online is that I don’t see it as highly relevant to what I do. It would have an impact on my career outside of YouTube,” they explain. “Nonetheless, I would certainly never lie about my sexuality or pretend to fancy girls or say I have a girlfriend.
“In terms of being a role model; that is the one thing that tempts me to ‘come out’ online,” they add. “Although that, in itself, is a big responsibility.”
It has been suggested that LGBTQ+ visibility on YouTube is far greater in the US than here in the UK, which seems strange to members of our community when the UK appears to be closer to equality. However, Lewis disagrees with this. “I wouldn’t say there are less here than there,” he says. “There are many in the UK community who just haven’t come out to their audiences yet, and until recently I was one of them.
“But when you actually look at the amount of LGBTQ+ UK YouTubers, the number is higher than you might think. They just aren’t as well known as the US creators,” he adds. “In my opinion, it’s mostly the case that there aren’t as many out LGBTQ+ YouTubers in general.”
While the UK may be more progressive with regards to LGBTQ+ rights, this doesn’t necessarily translate into visibility on YouTube, let alone acceptance and understanding. For young people struggling with their sexuality, it isn’t necessarily the laws of the land that help them find peace, but often being able to identify celebrities, television characters, or indeed YouTubers as similar to them.
“Yes, coming out videos are great,” says Jazza in Closeted YouTubers. “But just knowing that somebody is out there, is similar to you and happens to be gay as well, that helped me when I was coming out. And I wish that more UK YouTubers were OK with doing that for their ever-growing audiences.”
And visibility doesn’t just pertain to the ‘G’ in LGBTQ+. It is important to note that there are significantly more openly gay male YouTubers than there are female ones, even in the US. Similarly, there are few openly bisexual, and even fewer trans*, YouTubers.
On the LGBTQ+ panel at Summer in the City 2014, Rose Dix, Rosie Spaughton, and Alex Bertie shared their frustration at the lack of lesbian, bisexual, and trans* icons in mainstream media, which led on to a discussion about the prevalence of biphobia and transphobia amongst LGBTQ+ people.
Since its establishment, ‘G’ has dominated the LGBTQ+ rights movement. Bisexual people continuously face the struggle of not feeling accepted by either the LGBTQ+ community or heterosexuals, and trans* people are so incredibly underrepresented in the media to the point where many people still don’t understand what the word means.
Do LGBTQ+ YouTubers, in a sense, have a duty to come out? Should they use their celebrity status, however minor it may be, to act as role models to their subscribers? It ultimately comes down to personal choice, and while there is clearly a need for wider representation, some YouTubers – lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, capital-letter Queer, questioning, or otherwise – aren’t ready for the responsibility that comes with being out.
What did I miss?
This is the third of a three-part series! In the first part, TenEighty met Gary C, Trent and Luke, and Lewis, and found out whether their sexuality has affected their content. In the second part we looked 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.
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.