The virtual world has become an alternate reality of sorts where those who are geographically or socially isolated can find communities online that share their unique interests and experiences. At ThoughtLeaders, we cherish digital spaces like this that foster individuality as part of the collective, and we can’t envision a better example than the LGBTQ community. In fact, the strength and size of the LGBTQ community is due in large part to the evolution of these communities online - in the study Identity, Sexuality, and Relationships among Emerging Adults in the Digital Age, online platforms like YouTube and blog were early places for underrepresented groups to gain more visibility. As that visibility grew, so did alliances between these communities directly due to the unifying capabilities of the internet. More than half of LGBT young people report having one or more close friends they met online that they’ve never met in person (compared to just 19% of cishet folks). What has resulted is a “worldwide phenomenon which would perhaps not be possible” without the power of connection online.
June 2020 is a particularly important time to celebrate the LGBTQ community - not only are we normally celebrating Pride in ThoughtLeader’s home city of Tel Aviv, widely considered the epicenter of Pride celebrations worldwide - but we’ve witnessed a huge step towards progress with the recent landmark decision by the US Supreme Court to uphold protections against gender and sex identity discrimination in the workplace. Many consider the decision a much-needed win in 2020 where thus far we’ve been collectively traumatized by pandemics, riots, and general civil unrest.
(A brief moment of silence while we reminisce about last year’s pride parade… here’s a video of what awaits us in 2021, fam!)
Queer YouTube is here to heal America - with more hairspray and giltter than expected, perhaps - and we’re taking time this week to spotlight LGBTQ creators who inspire us during these trying times through the world of digital content. We thank these creators for encouraging LGBTQ people and youth to be proud of who they are, spreading a message that Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness best sums up here:
Be you: be beautiful
Long gone are the stereotypes of what is considered traditional beauty. The beauty vlogger world has been taken by force by the gay and queer community at large and there’s no turning back.
It’s usually a stereotype that gay men were once little boys that liked to dress up in their mom’s or sister’s clothes and makeup - but these YouTubers are a true story. They have brought the idea of “dress-up” to the forefront of entertainment and beauty content and we are here for ALL of it!
Bretman Rock is one such influencer whose claim to fame began with his mom’s makeup set. A comedian-turned-beauty blogger, Bretman is a Filipino-American social media personality based in Hawaii whose looks have earned him top collabs with brands like Fenty. We can get any type of content, from rants, to cooking videos, to “my sister/boyfriend did my makeup” (always a fun one), and complete transformations like the Darna look below.
In an interview by a filipino newspaper, Bretman explains his childhood: “I was fortunate enough to be raised by parents who were very accepting. They were never afraid to let me do my thing and let me live my life. Even though my dad came from a family that was very religious, he was actually the first one who bought and let me play with Barbies. My mom, the first makeup I ever used was hers, and she never once said, ‘Oh, you’re so gay for doing that.’”
Gigi Gorgeous has also opened up her personal life to the public through sharing her transition journey online. She began the original YouTube channel in 2008 and announced her transition in 2013, bringing her growing audience along for the appointments, consultations, procedures, and recovery. Gigi’s unique plan for her cosmetic procedures obtained viral status and got people talking about the rights of everyone to feel comfortable in their own bodies, and to have the freedom to look how they want. Gigi’s personal experiences continued to help shape conversations about trans rights, whether that was her intention or not: in 2016, there was widespread media coverage after Gigi was deported from Dubai because of her status as a transgender woman. Gigi became the subject of This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous (2017), a Barbara Kopple-directed documentary that followed her life during her transition and was shown at Sundance Film Festival and received several accolades.
Gigi makes all sorts of “a day in my life” videos now, but here’s a link to a very emotional recording she uploaded a few years back looking at some of the key attention and questions that arose after her initial transition. It’s a great place to start if you have questions about how to talk to trans people about their transition.
If you’re looking for hour after hour of primo makeup tutorial content, that’s when you go to the expert, PatrickStarrr. Truly every single one of his videos (400+) discusses “makeup”, “hair”, “fashion,” or “style”. Similarly we have nearly 10% of all his videos featuring “HOW TO” in the title - and there’s instructions for everyone. Videos for drag queens on “how to get boobs” and videos on the latest Haus Labs (Lady Gaga’s makeup brand) highlighters and how to apply them. He offers everything from beginner-level to advanced aesthetics techniques and it’s truly amazing to see his artistry at the end of every video. At ThoughtLeaders, we are aware of the painstaking process of creating awesome videos like this: hours of time, editing, re-recording, narrating, plus the actual 2+ hours of completing the actual look itself. A 15-20 min video in reality probably took a few days if not a solid week for Patrick to complete, and his dedication pays off. Now, most major makeup brands feature products on his channels when they launch a new palette or setting spray because he’s considered one of the leaders in the space. Basically, if PatrickStarrr doesn’t talk about you, are you even a cosmetics brand?
Here’s a list of 60 other gay beauty vloggers that are doing amazing creative work - keep an eye out for a few of these rising stars in the next year or two!
Drag and the queens we love
The Drag community is unavoidable to the mainstream culture now that Ru-Paul’s Drag Race has made it to television (and made it BIG - there’s now a bunch of hotly followed podcasts from the show and related creators):
Curious to know where the term “drag” came from? Well, you can get a thorough history lesson here from the Queer blog/online magazine Them. You can also watch a quick vid from RuPaul’s team here:
Bottom line, drag has become a part of mainstream culture - just check out how much content is being made around the topic of “drag queens” and “drag shows”. Of course we will find our main content on YouTube, since so much of drag is about performativity and aesthetic.
Here are some other featured Queens besides our madonna RuPaul who are breaking down gender barriers and boundaries with their content.
Miss Fame is the stage name of Kurtis Dam-Mikkelsen, an American model, makeup artist, drag queen, recording artist and reality television personality who was actually a contestant from Season 7 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. The star has launched his own makeup collection and does collab videos titled “Painted by Fame”:
Alexis Stone is another creator transforming the scene. Alexis has been featured in the news recently for reversing cosmetic procedures
Alexis’ work on costume makeup looks reveals just how focused the creator remains on validating the intersections of beauty, gender, and race. For example, in an article on Dazed Digital, Alexis Stone describes the way he takes skin tones and racial discrimination into consideration when designing his makeup looks.
“As a white man, I really understand the privileges I have and I am not completing these transformations as a costume, they are simply make-up transformations which I have proven can be done without darkening my foundation.”
Jaymes Mansfield, another queen who made the main stage through RuPaul’s Drag Race show, has defined his niche in the space through wigs. All drag queens know the wig makes or breaks the ultimate look - and furthermore, there are very few brands and vendors that currently cater to the specific market of “performance wigs.” Jaymes Mansfield has a consistent format just like PatrickStarrr:
With only 200 or so videos he’s already gained 104K subscribers and as much as half a million views on some of his top content. That’s a pretty convincing 20% audience loyalty, and is sure to continue to grow as coronavirus encourages creatives to push the limits of their transformations and stylized looks.
With LGBTQ healthcare protections on the line, it’s very clear that the queer world isn’t all glitter and rainbow wigs. In equal force to the sheer magnitude of queer beauty vlogger content on YouTube, we can find lesbians and trans people engaging in political discussions and addressing key concerns like queer youth suicide and LGBT mental health stigmas. Tough conversations, ironically, are actually some of the most popular content coming from the LGBTQ online community that is widely shared across social media. The simple fact is: many people have never spoken to an openly gay/lesbian/trans person before, and hearing their stories is one of the best ways to begin to change people’s minds.
Jade Fox is a masculine-presenting black lesbian whose YouTube channel keeps it 100% real 100% of the time - addressing pop culture trends to mental health stigmas and best practices, she’s covering it all and dedicating each episode to the issues facing the LGBTQ and specifically lesbian community. We can see her tackle a big issue in the world of content creators here:
She also runs a series of videos entitled “If Introverts were Honest…” and reviews various scenarios, like dating or being in the office at work, where an introvert’s inner dialogue is most entertaining.
Kat Blaque is a trans content creator whose work has been particularly groundbreaking in terms of collaboration and education. Beginning her YouTube channel in December 2010, she originally covered the issues on the ground: race, intersecting identities, gender discrimination, and more. Kat Blaque’s content is particularly intimate and invites conversations from those “outside” or tangential to the LGBTQ community - her videos are used in classroom instruction on gender identity and she’s partnered with Buzzfeed to discuss gender pronouns through her online show, True Tea.
Kat is someone I’ve personally followed since middle school and has helped reinforce the idea that every person is unique and should not be ascribed to the stereotypes that society promotes. Kat does a ton of content around anime, animation, cosplay, and ComiCon as her personal passion, reminding me of the YouTube channel King Vader we featured in our last week’s newsletter. I wrote in that piece that “only an estimated 3-10% of fans across all levels of anime fans (and yes, there are levels of fandom for anime) are black, and less than 20% of fans are of hispanic or asian backgrounds, whereas nearly 90% of anime fans are white, and dominantly male.” It’s important to note that Kat is forging paths and using her platform to increase awareness and visibility of unique identities and the intersection of being trans, black, and, in this case, an anime megafan.
Like Jade Fox, Kat Blaque regularly comments on issues within the world of content creators, especially pertaining to other LGBTQ creators. In her most recent video, she reviews forthcoming information about gay beauty icon Jeffree Star (who has been mentioned in our newsletter before for clashing with YouTube about his content).
Kat doesn’t shy away from big names or big topics - JK Rowling’s recent transphobic remarks get a quick pass from her in this video before she moves on to talking about “fake allyship”:
Here’s just one quote to chew on from this video:
“We have people like JK Rowling who are feminists, who have created this sort of space for women to discuss their stuff. And they have a hard time wanting to shift that around because they fought so hard for that spot. Right? So JK Rowling knows that there are transgender men and non binary folk who menstruate, who can express and have experienced the same sort of things that she has, even though they don't identify as women. I'm sure she to some degree understands that. But if for her to concede that point, it would be her losing the sort of protection that she has sort of created for other women, women, obviously in this context being cis-women.”
While most conversations and content have taken place on YouTube, it’s important to note that serious political discussions are taking place on podcasts. We also can find queer-curated music podcasts, queer fan-fic podcasts, and more happening on podcast, showing that while physical visibility and aesthetic is important to the LGBTQ community online, it’s not everything. Both queer-specific interests and queer-specific experiences can be shared through spoken word on podcast, and we expect this segment to grow significantly. Put it this way - all these channels were founded post-2015 (with the exception of Homoground, who was early to the game and started up in 2011).
The podcast QueerAF is especially important because it often represents stories of LGBTQ youth, who are among the most vulnerable to health risks like higher suicide rates and other health outcomes that disproportionately impact non-cishetero/non-binary folks. The podcast description states:
“Listen for free every week, as a different student, graduate or LGBT+ producer tells their most #QueerAF story on the podcast by National Student Pride. Hosted by Jamie Wareham, we commission young LGBT+ producers to tell their own stories so long as they are beyond the binary, sex-positive, challenge mental health, sexuality and identity taboos – or have unicorns spewing rainbows everywhere. Download and take the best UK lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer story podcast with you, as recommended by Cosmopolitan, Gay Star News, Attitude Magazine and Apple Podcast's Pride collection. #QueerAF keeps the pride of conversation – that is National Student Pride, an event for LGBT+ students and graduates – a discussion that carries on all year round. We have the UK's biggest free LGBT+ job fair powered by Pride.Careers, taboo challenging and topical panel discussions, live recordings of the show and tantalizing performances. Don't miss the biggest event in the UK's student calendar, in February, the UK's LGBT History Month.”
June 2016 featured their first episode on transphobia:
Their most recent content falls in line almost 4 years later with talks on disabled queer experiences:
Queer youth - the future of the LGBTQ movement
But there are other examples of queer youth who have created their own platforms, in part to find community, and in part to participate with Gen Z’s specific love of “oversharing” - at least, as a millennial, that’s how the constant outpouring of TikToks and instastories feel. But for Gen Z, the digital space is, to them, a more ‘real’ reality than the schools and towns these youths tend to grow up in. Online, your individuality can be explored by connecting to people with similar interests, unique upbringings or family structures in a way that local social circles may not be able to support. For LGBTQ youth, who according to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey experience bullying at a rate of 33% in-school and 27% online, finding safe spaces can be challenging in isolation, the internet is one such outlet.
Youth are particularly vulnerable because identities and individual interests are still evolving - that’s why it’s alarming that among students who identified as “not sure” of their sexual orientation, they also reported being bullied on school property (24.3%), being cyberbullied (22%), and not going to school because of safety concerns (10.7%).
The following youth are breaking barriers and showing other at-risk LGBTQ teens that 1) the world sees them and 2) there are people who accept them as they are.
Jazz is simply an amazing public figure for queer youth - she’s one of the youngest people to publicly document or talk about their transition, and she has been sharing this journey over the course of a decade, a feat in and of itself. She’s an example to other children who become aware of their identities and need the courage to embrace who they are, having battled body dysmorphia. She’s had a doll made after her and continues to advocate for youth on her platform and in other media, like interviews with the New York Times and ABC, and notably in a debate with Tomi Lahren.
Mads is another queer non-binary singer and model who is changing the idea of what is masculine or feminine. Mads uses they/them pronouns and dresses “genderqueer”, a style that combines masculine and feminine elements that traditionally are seen as “opposites”.
Here are a bunch more rising voices that are shaping the future of the community through digital and other means:
There are also several YouTube channels and blogs dedicated to modern families and how they’re managing to raise kids in the digital age. Some families look a little different, but that’s ok - and it’s this wholesome content that we’ve seen the most controversy over, especially when major companies have created ads featuring unique families (it hasn’t always been risk-free).
Proud Parenting is a successful blog that was started as a forum for lesbian and gay parents to discuss parenting in a predominantly hetero world. A mix of personal stories, Q&A, photoshares, and news, the blog has supported folks since February 2007 and has 15,000 followers on instagram and over 250K on Facebook.
LGBT Parenting has created highly educational and instructive content on YouTube specifically for LGBT parents seeking resources and real-life stories. Almost every video title seems controversial, and that’s the point - they’re videos with experts and clinical professionals that grapple with issues that can be tough for any parent, gay or straight, to talk with their kids about, gay or straight.
It wasn’t that long ago that we were celebrating marriage equality - and in 2020 to have a decision on upholding gender discrimination protections in the workplace be so hotly debated, it’s clear the LGBTQ community has a long path ahead to ensuring on a legal platform, they stand equal. But on a socio-organizational level, this community has embraced the power of online connection to develop a network of informative, entertaining, and relatable content that has spread far beyond the screens of LGBTQ folks.
There’s just something so fundamentally uplifting about a person being themselves and sharing that self-love and community love online - that’s perhaps why the world has willingly welcomed the mainstreaming of LGBTQ influencers and the rapidly evolving policies around tolerance and acceptance. These changes have been in large part due to the heightened visibility of these communities and individuals within the fabric of our towns, neighborhoods, family circles and friend spaces. We are proud to feature pioneers that are building and reshaping the digital world to better fit the image we collectively have for ‘tomorrow’ - and we’re committed to continuing to learn from and amplify these voices.