“Let me tell you a queer little story about a boy named Dan.”
Daniel Howell released his latest video to discuss not only his relationship with his sexuality, but also to highlight mental health and depression, the world’s heteronormative view, and how homophobic abuse continues. He also clearly communicates how there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Dan summarises his early childhood as being surrounded by people who used the word “gay” as an insult: “A boy in the 90s being happy and generally polite acting? Sounds kind of gay, if you ask me.” He goes on to explain that “masculinity was so fragile and people were so proud and scared, and society so aggressive, that a boy in any way emoting was seen as a threat.” He experienced a homophobic attack as early as six years old, where he was kicked in the stomach and called “gay”, and thus the word immediately became associated with violence, pain, and a wrongness. During primary school, Dan “understood one thing: being gay was clearly the worst thing you could be.”
The realisation that he liked boys when going through puberty was, therefore, a painful one: “You’re telling me this whole time I actually have been the bad thing people keep calling me? Shit.” Dan describes this as the beginning of a descent into self-hatred, before moving on to explain how the introduction of “bisexual” as a cool word into the lexicon became a useful catch-all for anyone who felt confused, as well as those attracted to more than one gender.
“The world was clearly telling me that if I ever wanted to be accepted by anyone or, in my particular environment, survive, I couldn’t be gay.”
After the dissolution of his friend group, Dan describes feeling increasingly self-conscious and hopeless as homophobic attacks shifted from verbal to regular physical abuse and threats. He began to suffer from internalised depression and homophobia, eventually culminating in an unsuccessful suicide attempt. “I’m so glad I failed,” Dan says. “For the people in my life, for the future I would have wasted… I thought I was trapped in a situation forever, when in reality the entire world I lived in changed completely. I thought it was hopeless, when in reality there was so much to hope for. Time changes everything.”
A gap year, university and a YouTube account allowed Dan to embrace his queerness. However, he notes that his personal life isn’t anyone’s business but his own, and he wants to keep certain aspects of it private. “I know lots of people these days, thanks to social media, want to share and monetise every aspect of their life, and as soon as something changes, there is this huge drama because everyone got invested in the story of your life like it’s a soap opera,” he says.
The mass interest and “aggressive speculation” surrounding his sexuality has caused him deep anxiety. In 2011, Dan says he felt a shift in the relationship between himself and his audience from being direct communication between individuals to being “communities of people that formed to talk about me while I wasn’t there”. While that was fine in itself, he found people digging into his private life deeply distressing and it had an impact on his personal relationships, triggering PTSD for his past. At the time, none of his family or old friends knew he wasn’t straight, and he didn’t tell his family until just prior to uploading this video.
“I wanted to understand my identity on my own terms and timeline, and not just have it hijacked as fuel for people’s sexual fantasies or some headline in an article.”
Dan says that, instead of focusing on forcing people to come out into potentially hostile situations, the world needs to focus on making society as a whole more accepting so that “people will come out when they are ready”. He explains how seeing LGBTQ+ representation in the media has helped him, and now it’s important that he can help others. “I have a platform and a following of millions of people, many of whom have been through exactly what I have, and if I tell my story… I know it will mean something to someone,” he says.
He further questions the notion that people can tell your sexuality from looking at you – a practice generally based on harmful stereotypes. At one time, Dan felt extremely self-conscious as a fellow student announced he gave off “a bi-vibe”. He expresses that people who react to someone coming out with “yeah, we know” are “showing a complete lack of empathy… And making it about themselves”. He adds that, were he not an able-bodied cisgender white man, this process would have been even harder and states that “we all need to stand up for equality and social justice.”
Dan concludes by explaining that he doesn’t like labels and sees them as a means for people to “know how they feel about you and [not] bother thinking”. However, he notes that not caring about labels is also a privilege and that trans people, in particular, find labels very helpful, and that the use of correct pronouns is important and can help people feel valid.