With the advent of social media, everybody can simultaneously produce and consume media. Lubna Anani looks at how this has helped trans* people represent themselves and reach out to each other through YouTube
Teenagers struggling with their sexual orientation often find solace watching shows like The L Word and Queer as Folk which, while flawed artistically, present a range of different storylines dealing with real social issues in the gay community. Trans*gender people, however, often have a harder time finding resources with hardly any trans* visibility in the media. Luckily, gone are the days of watching Oprah specials and dodgy documentaries featuring middle-aged men who – with a sudden dislike of all things virile – abandon their sports in favour of their wives’ closets. Trans* people across the gender spectrum have taken matters into their own hands, using YouTube to document their transitional journeys and talk about the serious issues neglected by the media.
With thousands of videos posted from around the world, trans*gender YouTubers have formed a strong, niche group among the growing community of vloggers. In this manner, they often feel like a conversation between intimate friends, casual and unscripted. Topics discussed range from serious heartfelt commentary such as coming-out stories and dealing with feelings of suicide and discomfort, to lighter subjects such as makeup and haircuts. It is essentially a safe space where trans* people are given carte blanche to discuss anything.
One of the most popular of those content creators is Skylar Kergil (username skylarkeleven). Kergil began posting videos on his channel in early 2009, as a way to document his medical transition from female to male (F.T.M). His first video, taken the same day he was injected with his first testosterone shot, shows the ecstatic teenager talking about the experience. “This morning I injected testosterone into my body. So today is my first day being born, I guess,” he enthuses. “I’m an Obama baby!”
Later videos document his physical and emotional changes on testosterone therapy over four years, his voice sounding considerably lower in each video, his facial hair growing and his body becoming more muscular, culminating in ‘top surgery’ and a hysterectomy. But more importantly, it is the emotional journey that is clear. In a 2010 video entitled ‘it gets better!’, he offers hope and support to viewers in similar situations to his, saying, “Today I feel like I’m on top of the world…and my soul is so happy … Just know that it gets better”.
On the other end of the spectrum is Julie Vu (username: princessjoules), a makeup artist and aspiring model whose videos on YouTube have garnered her over 92,000 subscribers.
Vu began posting videos on YouTube three years ago, revolving mainly around makeup tutorials, comedy sketches, and time spent bonding with her little sister. But it wasn’t until a year later that she came out publicly as trans*gender (M.T.F). In a video entitled ‘Transgender’, she declared, “I’m coming out to all of you as a trans*gender person … I see myself as a girl inside. I was born physically male but I am one hundred per cent female on the inside”. Announcing her plans to start transitioning to a female, Vu began posting videos on the effects of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) on her body, as well as other updates, among the most popular being ‘Being a girl’, ‘My first bikini!’, and ‘Lingerie Haul!’, depicting milestones for many girls growing up. Exuding confidence and femininity, Vu also uses her platform to focus on changing others’ perceptions of trans*gender people, and, by extension, avidly talks about sexism and violence against women.
The multitude of trans-related videos available on YouTube are not only a resource of useful information and personal experiences, but have brought together an active online community made up of thousands of people supporting each other in their transitions. This support extends beyond words to include action. Trans* YouTubers such as emqism and uppercaseCHASE1, who looked to get expensive trans*gender surgery but did not have the means to pay for it, have set up fundraising accounts. The outpouring of generosity from people held testament to the power and influence of online communities.
Traditional media is no longer the dominant dictator of how minority people are represented to society. This is especially true for trans* people, who have dealt with both negligence and distorted representations by the media. Nowadays, one only has to google the word “transgender” and an endless list of YouTube videos will appear. Through putting their privacy aside and documenting their transitional journeys online, trans* people exemplify the endless possibilities available for one to lead a happy life, however they identify.