In late 2014 and into 2015, the world started to see greater representation of transgender people across the media.
TV shows like Orange is the New Black, Sense8, and Transparent began showcasing trans stories, trans celebrities such as Laverne Cox became more visible, and, of course, Caitlyn Jenner shared her transition with a worldwide audience. Trans experiences started to spread into the public consciousness in a way they previously hadn’t, sometimes bringing further prejudice, but often bringing greater knowledge and understanding.
Younger generations are beginning to grow up in a culture where the stigma and ignorance surrounding transgender identities and lives is starting to dissipate. Even with this progress, though, there’s more that could be done. North Carolina recently passed regressive legislation restricting which public bathrooms trans people can legally use, healthcare is still not easily accessible, and there is a need for a stronger and more diverse representation of trans people in mainstream media.
Even so, while we still have a long way to go, it is worth celebrating the strides that have already been made, especially because they are also evident within the YouTube community.
We have vloggers such as Alex Bertie here in the UK and Gigi Gorgeous in the US who are finding real success on the platform. Last year, Bertie Gilbert and Sammy Paul released a short film called Blue Sushi, which tells the story of a trans man who comes out while performing in a popular band. It received more than 150,000 views, and was featured in Dazed magazine.
More than that, there is actually a larger community of trans vloggers here in the UK that we believe more people should know about. So, consider this your formal introduction to a few hidden gems in the YouTube community…
Fox Fisher, a trans man who identifies as non-binary, is one half of the duo behind My Genderation, an ongoing documentary started more than four years ago. Before teaming up with Lewis Hancox on this project, Fox started his own channel in which he documented his transition. “My first few videos were kept private for a while,” he admits. “I was transitioning for myself and nobody else, and I wasn’t ready to share my story with the world, particularly because I didn’t want judgement for self-medicating my hormones during the long wait for support by the NHS.”
Fox admits that a lot has improved for trans people in recent times, but when he first came out five years ago, there wasn’t as much understanding. “I found so much solace in the online YouTube trans vlogging community,” says Fox. “I had a cycle of denial before I took the leap to come out and medically transition. I would feast off of the videos of others going through their medical transitions, and I’d bawl my eyes out at how brave they were. Then I’d try and get on with life and end up having panic attacks every few months. But it was those transition timeline videos which gave me the strength to start my own journey, and when I did, I also began documenting it on YouTube.”
Since then, Fox has launched My Genderation, a series that aims to document the trans experiences and perspectives through a wealth of voices. With an innate passion for filmmaking, Fox admits that as a viewer he tends to gravitate towards videos with higher production values, both in sketches and in vlogs, which is clearly reflected in his work behind the camera on this series.
The My Genderation channel features more entertainment sketch-style videos, such as Awkward Moments In Transition, as well as tough, if not controversial, first-hand accounts. “We avoid ‘outing’ one of our contributors, Tranpa, by not revealing his name, getting an actor to read his words, and having blurry visuals,” Fox says. “However, his story is one of the most compelling I’ve heard.”
Lewis Hancox is a comedy writer and filmmaker. “I don’t identify as trans, but am very open about the fact that I am trans. It’s something that I am, but not who I am,” he explains. “To me, that simply means my body didn’t fit how I felt, a condition I was born with that needed correcting.”
Lewis found growing up difficult due to the the lack of support groups in his area, and the fact he didn’t know anyone who identified as transgender. Because of this, he turned to YouTube to find real stories of men who had transitioned and continued on to live happy, healthy, and ambitious lives. “It was my biggest fear that transitioning would ruin my life in many ways,” says Lewis. “These people on YouTube proved to me that it was possible to lead a perfectly ‘normal’ life!” With that in mind, Lewis started his channel with the the dual intention of documenting his transition and helping to add more UK voices to the community.
After gaining a bit of a following by 2012, Lewis was contacted to take part in a documentary, Channel 4’s My Transsexual Summer, where he met Fox Fisher. “That [documentary] gave me an amazing platform and helped a lot of people out there going through the same thing,” he says.
Lewis set up My Genderation alongside Fox, and has since become a significant figure attempting to diversify and open up dialogues about trans issues in the UK. While Lewis is grateful that so many people of different ages, races, nationalities, and identities can vlog openly and honestly, he stills feels there’s further to go.“I would like to see more trans YouTubers who are known for their other content too, not only associated with being trans,” he says. “I would like people to subscribe to me for my comedy and then later find out I am trans.”
While having his audience label him as a role mode (a title he doesn’t feel he deserves) and helping others to feel more comfortable in their own identities are added bonuses, Lewis’s main aspiration is to be recognised and respected as a performer. Recently he made the decision to focus on producing sketch comedy, and as a result he’s excited for the future. “The world is moving online,” says Lewis, “so you never know what opportunities might arise from someone seeing your videos!”
Jamie Raines is a 21-year-old research student who identifies as trans man and who has been vlogging for about five years. “To me, being transgender means that going through puberty involved a little extra step,” says Jamie. “I just see it as a different way of being that can bring with it certain challenges.”
There are many reasons why Jamie got into YouTube, but it was the ease of the platform that appealed to him most. “I wanted to record my voice breaking, facial hair growing in, and all the other changes that I was excited for,” he says.
As an extension of that, Jamie also took selfies every day for four years and compiled them into a single video which gave us an expedited look at his transition. The video, titled 4 Years on T, went viral and was featured in a Buzzfeed article late last year.
He hopes that documenting his transition will help others who may be questioning their gender – particularly those based in the UK. Processes such as legally changing your name or medical transitions differ from country to country, and most of the information that was on YouTube came from Americans.
Jamie recently made a video on how to transition privately in the UK, a topic that gained a lot of praise from his audience. “Someone commented on it saying that this had helped them so much as they were trying to go through the NHS but didn’t think they could wait that long for things to happen due to their dysphoria and other reasons,” he says. “They had no idea there was the option to go privately and my video made them aware of that and showed them what to do.”
Jamie recognises that other trans men on YouTube helped him through the early stages of his transition, and by being a voice on the platform himself he believes he’s promoting better understanding and a sense of camaraderie to others.
Since finding success and a stable audience on YouTube, Jamie admits that his life has accidentally become centered around being trans. From the content on his channel to the focal point of his postgraduate degree (for which he’s “investigating the development of behaviour in transgender people and effects on wellbeing”).
“I never believed or intended my channel to get the interest that it has, but it has opened up so many opportunities and put me in contact with a lot of really great people,” says Jamie.
“To me, being trans or non-binary means carving out a space in society where I can exist as myself without conforming to male or female gender roles,” says Naomhán O’Connor, a member of the My Genderation team who identifies as non-binary.
Noticing that many of the trans vloggers on YouTube either identified as strictly male or female, Naomhán began vlogging in the hopes of adding a non-binary voice to the conversation while also documenting their social and medical transition. “I think there is a vast array of transgender representation on YouTube, but the most popular are often white, able-bodied, young, binary-identified trans folk. Due to the diversity of non-binary identities, there is less cohesive representation of non-binary people,” they observe.
Naomhán also wants to highlight the bias within the NHS Gender Identity Clinic system. “Very few non-binary people have been honest about their non-binary identity while attending gender identity clinics due to the lack of access to medical transition, which is written into the medical protocol in the NHS, but does not apply to the Northern Ireland healthcare system,” they explain. “I’m using my advantage of transitioning in Northern Ireland to provide a positive example of non-binary medical transition that other non-binary identified people can draw upon to challenge the refusal to allow medical transition to them in the rest of the UK.”
Although their channel has just passed its first birthday, they have already started to see the monumental benefits YouTube has brought to their life. For one, Naomhán had a humbling experience at Trans Pride in Brighton. “A young non-binary person introduced themselves to me and spoke about how they identified with my story. It made me feel incredibly lucky to have met another person who felt like me, and every time I think about it I feel all warm and fuzzy inside,” they say.
And there have been some personal changes, too. “I have become more sure of myself and my identity,” admits Naomhán. “I used to doubt the validity of identifying as non-binary, but sharing my story has helped me to realise that my identity is just as real as male or female gender identities.
“It has also linked to the wider online global transgender community,” they continue. “Sometimes being trans and non-binary can feel so isolating, but vlogging has introduced me to a world of other people just like me, and it has made me feel that I am finally part of a group.”
Jake Edwards, a musician who has been making videos since 2013, realised he was transgender around the age of 16. Like much of his own audience, Jake admits that he found companionship through vloggers, while he was going through the process of understanding his own identity and beginning his transition. “The trans community on YouTube has come a very long way since 2012 when I was searching for people who understood who I was,” says Jake. “What used to be a mining expedition to find one golden channel that resonated with you is now an infinite treasure trove of diversity, with YouTubers of every kind of identity making comprehensive videos to help educate and comfort our community.”
Despite utilising YouTube to help him understand his own identity, when Jake set up his own channel it wasn’t with the intention of making content. Initially it was just an extension of his Tumblr account, where he’d already acquired an audience. It wasn’t until he started to date fellow vlogger Alex Bertie in 2014 that Jake began intentionally vlogging about trans issues.
After gaining a substantial audience over the past two years, Jake now has a pretty prominent voice within the community; a position that can be both empowering and intimidating. “I was very worried about my recent video GAY GUYS USING “SHE” because it’s the first time I’ve talked honestly about a controversial topic,” Jake admits. “It’s so important to make content that makes you vulnerable, because other people out there are just as vulnerable and need to see someone else being brave.
“If no one is talking about the difficult stuff you’re leaving a gap in people’s education,” he continues. “People, in our community especially, learn to be quiet about who they are, and therefore never talk about what’s wrong. If no one’s showing them it’s okay to speak up, then our community would be silent, and that’s the whole reason I make trans videos.”
While potentially scary, taking a stand like this doesn’t come without its rewards and memorable moments. “Someone actually got my lyrics tattooed on their body, along with the trans symbol,” he tells us. “That was quite an experience! When I came off stage at Summer in the City 2015, I was greeted by countless people who said that my songs had resonated with them.
“I was so humbled by the fact that I could be that person and show trans people that their identity doesn’t have to define them,” adds Jake.
Romario Wanliss is a transgender man who was born in Jamaica, and is the founder of Pure Gender, a company which sells female-to-male transitional products.
He began vlogging about his life in 2009 through a mixture of boredom and curiosity about filmmaking. As he got more comfortable on the platform, he began to open up and discuss trans-related issues, something he wasn’t seeing very much representation of at the time. “A guy called Antoneyo shared everything trans-related – it was a proper lifesaver,” says Romario. “I enjoyed seeing black trans men on YouTube because I could see how the surgeries and hormones would affect me as a black guy, especially the scarring.
“Some GPs don’t have all the answers to a lot of our trans-related questions, believe it or not,” he adds. Although he felt like contributing to this dialogue was important, at first he feared the effect this type of content would have on his life. “I worried that I would be ridiculed by the people offline. For example, in the streets. I really had to prepare myself for whatever was to come,” he says. Fortunately, he never faced this type of discrimination on or offline and feels that now, if it were to happen, he has the capabilities and tools to ignore it.
Since starting in 2009, Romario has noticed the voices on YouTube becoming more diverse, however he feels it could still be better. “There are more black people vlogging,” he observes. “We could always have more, of course. And maybe more Caribbean vloggers would be cool. I am Jamaican and it would be great to follow some Caribbean trans or LGB vloggers in the community.”
Charlie Martin is a trans woman, who has been living as what she calls her “chosen gender” for almost four years. She identifies as a tomboy, explaining that although she is a female, she believes she has held onto elements of her masculinity. “I guess that partly explains why I’m a racing driver,” she says. “ I’m not someone who thinks that we should be defined by our gender and put into boxes. Thankfully my parents gave me a gender-neutral name which I think suits me.
“Being transgender is about being true to yourself,” continues Charlie. “You can see it as a curse or a gift – I often think I’m lucky to experience life as both genders.”
Charlie was introduced to the vlogging community by seeking out people who understood her, and credits finding them as a catalyst for her own path towards happiness. “Seeing younger people around my own age, the effects that hormones had on them over time, hearing their stories and actually having a representative view of their life that I could identify with made me realise that I was capable of following in their footsteps,” she says.
Charlie tries to stay authentic in her videos. “To be honest, I’ve always kept my videos very open and raw,” she says. “I believe in presenting my life as it really is and I don’t make much of an attempt to stylise my videos in terms of how I present them to viewers.
“I know exactly how lost I felt when I was reaching out to people in those early days and the difference that YouTube vlogs made to me, so knowing this I feel compelled to make videos that people can take something away from.”
Since starting her channel, many opportunities to pursue things she is passionate about have started to come her way. From appearances on My Genderation to an upcoming series on Motor TV – which she hopes will move her closer to her dream of being a presenter – it all started with vlogging.
“It has helped my confidence and in some ways, emptying my head to a camera has been like a form of therapy,” says Charlie. “It also made me feel like I belong to a community of people all over the world, especially at low points when I’ve broken down in tears in a video only to wake up to the next day to messages of support.”
Check out some of the following features by TenEighty:
- Alex Bertie: Being Trans on YouTube
- LGBTQ+ on YouTube: Does Being Gay Affect Your Content?
- How To Make YouTube Engaging Again
- Eddsworld: Long May It Spin