I don’t know about you, my fellow WGS 170 students, but I love watching YouTube videos. I could literally sit on my phone, or at my computer, for hours and hours watching video after video….it’s become a little bit of an addiction. From Zoella and Alfie Deyes, to Thatcher Joe and Caspar Lee, to Tanya Burr and Jim Chapman, to Jack & Finn and Dan & Phil, to Marcus Butler and Niomi Smart, to Miranda Sings and Jenna Marbles (I found it hard to make a short list of my favorites) – the YouTube community and all of its many members are extremely influential in today’s society. I not only watch their videos for laughs and giggles, but for hair & make-up inspiration, fashion tips, and overall good advice.
However, after following these internet celebrities for several years, I’ve noticed a new series of videos that have been gaining more and more attention in pop culture, a series that’s very different from the common Q&A, tutorial, or challenge videos that subscribers are accustomed to. In addition to their regular content – or should I say, in supplement to – Tyler Oakley, Troye Sivan, Connor Franta, Hannah Hart and Lucas Cruikshank (whom most will recognize as his alter ego, Fred) have all made coming out videos, videos which each of these YouTubers made in the hopes of inspiring those watching their videos who may be going through similar identity struggles. These YouTubers share everything about themselves with the internet, and each had their own motivation to share such a personal detail with their audience, & it was this desire that each felt the need, and the necessity, to make their own coming out videos to describe their unique experiences with recognizing their sexuality. “Are you gay?” was the most popular question asked in one of Lucas Cruikshank’s Q&A videos. His viewers, like all human-beings, have this compulsive need to fit everyone into a box, and to categorize things into these boxes. Troye, Connor, and Lucas risked everything – subscribers, likes, their careers – all to help these curious viewers fulfill their need to categorize. But by taking the power into their own hands and by making these coming out videos about their own experience, these YouTubers have created a space in which one’s sexuality – a term which Somerville argues becomes “constitutive of identity” – can be explored and acknowledged in positive regard in today’s pop culture (241).
Lucas Cruikshank: ARE YOU GAY?!?
In the History of Sexuality, Foucault argues that those who hold the power in regards to sexuality regulate its discourse and public opinion – it isn’t about who confirms or denies their sexuality but rather “to account for the fact that it is spoken about, to discover who does the speaking, the positions and viewpoints from which they speak, the institutions which prompt people to speak about it and which store the things that are said” (11). In regards to YouTubers and their coming out videos – YouTubers are the ones who do the speaking, their viewpoints are their own unique experiences with coming out to family & friends, the internet and its many subscribers are the institutions which prompted them to speak about it, and YouTube stores the things that are said in these videos for viewers to watch anytime & anywhere. But despite their common goals, none of these coming out videos are the same – some have a more serious tone, while others a more casual, light-hearted style but nonetheless, all have an impact.
The modern generation draws so much influence from what they watch on the internet. Viewers become attached to YouTubers and create a connection with them by watching their vlogs, videos which virtually bring millions of people into their lives & homes every day – so it’s no wonder why these viewers are curious about the sexuality of their favorite YouTubers. As mentioned previously, its only natural to want to put everyone (and everything) into its own box – so natural that human-beings even invented the term “heterosexuality” back in the 1890s to satisfy people’s need to classify & categorize human-beings based on their differing desires and attractions. Just as viewers wanted to know if “Zalfie” (the ‘ship name of Zoella & Alfie) were an item, viewers wanted to know if “Troyler” (the ‘ship name of Troye Sivan & Tyler Oakley) were an item – henceforth creating categories for heterosexual & homosexual of YouTube couples.
The first YouTube coming out video that I ever watched was by Troye Sivan – a talented, Australian YouTuber who drew influence and support for his video from fellow YouTuber, Tyler Oakley. His video was so inspiring and so heart-warming – and it was in fact, the inspiration for this blog post. With currently over 4.9 million views, Troye’s coming out video is well-known in the YouTube community as it served as one of the first platforms for other individuals to publically accept their sexuality – other individuals such as fellow YouTuber, Connor Franta. Back in December 2014, Connor made his own coming out video which has received 7.1 million views in just three months. And although these videos are very impactful, Connor (and Troye & Tyler) just insists that “it’s just another video, another video where you just learn a little bit more about me…” And that’s all these videos are, just another video. But by creating coming out videos for the internet, these YouTubers are providing courage and support for the thousands of adolescents watching who may be struggling with their own identity issues.
Troye Sivan: Coming Out
Connor Franta: Coming Out
The emergence of the queer community as a subculture on YouTube continues to gain in popularity & recognition as an open space to discuss issues of gender, sexuality, & identity – and as Becca Frucht of PopSugar notes, these coming out videos are slowly putting the “You” back into “YouTube” by making more relatable content available to the site’s millions of viewers. With the increasing influence of YouTubers in today’s pop culture, society will pull sexuality “out of the realm of nature and biology, and into the realm of the social and historical” as Katz once urged (29). Even though coming out videos are a modern phenomenon, utilizing queer theory and its past critiques to understand their impact provides better context for Foucault’s discussion of the relationship between power and sexuality – as coming out videos clearly demonstrate that it’s the individual (not the audience) who has the power in speaking out about their sexuality. Therefore, I believe that YouTube is making a historical impact on our culture, by empowering those who were perhaps once too afraid to be themselves…so trust me, if you haven’t yet discovered YouTube as more than a place to watch cat videos, you’re truly missing out. Please feel free to not only check out the links I’ve provided below but to actually check out the YouTubers’ channels & who knows, you may find that you too #CantStopWatchingYouTubers 🙂
PopSugar: The Most Inspiring Coming Out Videos on YouTube