Like, Comment, and Subscribe: How YouTube Builds Community and Creates Space for Marginalized Communities

It’s weird to think that I was already six years old when YouTube was created, because it feels like the website parented me, in a way. As a queer woman, YouTube, and the LGBTQ+ community thriving within it, was integral to shaping my life and helping me navigate through struggles that I couldn’t share with people in the real world. Queer people across the globe have found an outlet and a welcoming community within YouTube, as I’m sure is the case for many other minority groups as well.

 

Like many young queer people, I was prone to googling things like, “how to tell if you are bisexual” or “am I gay if [insert something that definitely means you’re gay]” before immediately deleting the search history on my family’s computer. It didn’t take long for me to bring these queries to YouTube, where I discovered a plethora of queer vloggers just waiting for me to hear their stories. These YouTubers offered me advice and anecdotes that, in my closeted state, I did not have access to in day-to-day life. I found that the YouTube of Charlie the Unicorn and Smosh Epic Food Battles I used to know had made way for an online gathering space for marginalized communities. The first queer YouTubers I came across were Stevie Boebi, and her then-girlfriend, Sarah Croce. I would watch their videos with my mouse hovering over the minimize button in case someone came home early, still somehow convincing myself that I was straight. But it was really Ash Hardell, who made videos like “My Identity” where she explained what labels she chose to identify with and why, that helped me realize that being bisexual wasn’t a bad or dirty thing. Since then, I have become entrenched in the queer side of YouTube, and I still continuously find the strength and hope I need through the likes of Rose and Rosie, Alayna Fender, Gaby Dunn, and many more. YouTube also gives me the tools to learn more about the identities of others. For example, by watching YouTubers like Chase Ross and Stef Sanjati (both of whom are Canadian), I am learning how to become a better ally to the trans community.

Before YouTube, and the internet in general, it was a lot harder to find other members of the LGBTQ+ community, especially if, like me, you were a closeted teen in a small town. Watching queer creators and reading the comments of people who are going through similar struggles can help make you feel a little less alone. The LGBTQ+ community is constantly silenced by society, and YouTube has been an amazing platform for us to share our voices, whether that is as a creator or as a spectator. As a member of the seemingly invisible bisexual community, which is constantly being erased (even by the gay community) and told to “choose a side,” seeing real, live bisexuals share their stories on YouTube gave me the representation I had been craving from mainstream media. These creators brought bisexuals from all around the world out of the woodwork to comment on, tweet about, and otherwise engage with their videos. Seeing so many members of the LGBTQ+ community when it felt that I was all alone was truly a life-changing experience. As cheesy as it may sound, you really can find a welcoming and supportive family through YouTube.

 

While this may seem like only theory, YouTube is literally, physically, bringing communities together. Through festivals like Playlist Live or Buffer Festival (which takes place here in Toronto) or creator meet-and-greets and tours, the YouTube community comes to life in the real world all the time. I recently attended the Toronto show of Rose and Rosie’s Exposed Tour, and the experience really solidified my faith in YouTube and its power to create spaces for people who have nowhere else to go. Rose and Rosie are a married lesbian and bisexual couple who make hilarious videos about their relationship and everyday lives. As soon as I arrived at the Glenn Gould Theatre, I could see the line-up of eager women snaking down the street. Some came with gift bags in hand and one woman even held a bouquet of a dozen roses. I went alone, as my friend couldn’t make it at the last minute, but within 20 minutes I already had a new crew of queer women. None of us had ever met before, but we were already bonded by our love for Rose and Rosie and our shared experiences as gay women. Though I usually get social anxiety at big events, I felt like I was among hundreds of old friends and had no problem striking up a conversation with the people around me. Of course, the show was wonderful as well. As much as it was about Rose and Rosie, who strongly encourage community within their viewers and involved the audience in every aspect of the show, it also felt like a celebration of queer women in a world where we are regularly beaten down.

Photo from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-close-up-desk-electronic-433604/

YouTube is not considered high art, or art in general, and YouTube as a job or serious passion is often scoffed at in the “real world”. While I cannot defend the likes of Jake Paul or Team 10, most creators deserve more respect than they are given. The format they are working with is only 12 years old, and even cinema is still considered a young art form. YouTubers are constantly experimenting with new and innovative forms and pushing the boundaries of what we consider video entertainment. Because YouTube is extremely accessible, both as a creator and as a spectator, creators have the freedom to express themselves and tackle subject matter that wouldn’t normally be covered in mainstream media, such as LGBTQ+ issues. Even though there are certain limitations if you want to “make it big”, these restrictions don’t stop creators who want to experiment and express themselves. Beyond literally changing lives by approaching taboo subjects and sharing personal experiences, YouTubers are constantly changing the digital media landscape as we know it, and deserve more than a condescending, “Is that even a real job?”

 

Because a lot of strong voices in the queer YouTube community do make their living off of YouTube, it becomes a problem when YouTube demonetizes queer content. While creators losing money over this is terrible, the larger issue is that YouTube is specifically targeting LGBTQ+ material, while its heterosexual counterparts are still considered “advertiser-friendly.” Like a couple other LGBTQ+ creators, Alayna Fender made a video, entitled “Youtube is back at it again,” discussing YouTube’s obvious bias against queer content. She starts off by sharing how her video about the Pulse Nightclub shooting, “In Response to Orlando, In Response to Ignorance” was demonetized simply because it contained queer content. Alayna then touches on the YouTube “restricted mode” which blocks a lot of LGBTQ+ videos when enabled, including Alayna’s “My Lesbian Youtuber Crushes” video. Also, consider that any child whose parents purposefully enact restricted mode to block queer content, probably needs to see it the most. Finally, Alayna explains how Youtube had been pulling advertising from queer videos, even those that are still monetized, and goes on to compare the ad revenue between her videos that mention bisexuality and the ones that don’t. Through these actions, Youtube is not only sending a message that being queer is controversial or needs to be literally blocked to protect children, but they are also hurting one of the communities that keeps the site alive.

The cool thing about YouTube is that it is not just an online community. It’s more like an outlet for marginalized, real-world communities to find each other across the globe. It’s a place where you can be validated by any number of creators who have gone through, and are going through, similar struggles. It’s a place where you can get advice for problems that you are too ashamed to bring up to people in your everyday life. It’s a place where you can find friends and family who will accept you with open arms.