Famed YouTuber Eugene Lee Yang spent a year conceptualizing and planning for his official coming out video aptly titled, “I’m Gay.”
Timed to be released during Pride month, Yang spent two weeks gathering resources and a week editing before he uploaded the deeply personal five-minute clip to YouTube over the weekend. Unsurprisingly it went viral. Very viral.
Within five days, the thematic contemporary dance piece received over 8 million views, raising over $76,000 for the suicide-prevention group The Trevor Project in the process. In the video, Yang maneuvers through various colorful sets, tackling subjects that are all-too-relatable for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community.
He confronts bullying, struggles with religion and pressure to conform to social norms, a stark contrast to the whimsical humor he displays online as a member of the YouTube troupe Try Guys.
The video is “steeped in a lot of personal issues and incidents in my own life,” Yang told USA TODAY.
“I know many YouTubers who are these amazing LGBTQ icons for young people, but many of them have not come out publicly, even though they’re well known online,” he said. “Most of the inspiration was for me to take all those moments in my own life and put it on a screen in a way that you don’t often see in platforms like YouTube.”
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A new era
Yang’s momentous coming out arrives on the heels of several others posted to YouTube by LGBTQ influencers, showing that the art of revealing who you are online has evolved from public explanations about one’s sexual identity to expressions of artistic storytelling that are as diverse as the community at large.
Last week, vlogger Daniel Howell released a 45-minute video titled, “Basically I’m Gay.” In the video, Howell shared his thoughts on the labels people use to define themselves and others, occasionally using animation to tell his story.
It has been viewed over 8 million times.
In many ways, technology and video platforms are unsung heroes in the LGBTQ community.
The internet has given people access to information that helps them more accurately label and identify themselves. Apps enable people to interact with others who have similar experiences, and video streaming websites like YouTube prove that coming out as something other than straight doesn’t have to be isolating.
A big deal
Coming out videos aren’t just a fleeting fad, they’re one of the most popular genres of videos on YouTube and have been for years. They serve as a source of information for people who may be questioning their sexuality, and they can launch careers for people looking to make a living as influencers.
On average, coming out videos receive three times the engagement of other videos on the same channel, according to Google Insights. And they’re a global phenomenon, with some of the fastest-growing markets including Italy, South Korea, and Argentina.
Google said that the trend started in North America and has been growing over time, hitting an all-time high in 2018.
No longer just ‘queer’
As one of Buzzfeed’s Try Guys, Yang spent years producing videos that knocked down the first barrier of entry for people looking to try new – and often outlandish – things. The 33-year-old had not previously labeled his sexuality, choosing to refer to himself as queer because he thought of it as a “catch-all term” that his family would think means “quirky.”
“That was a tightrope I walked very carefully,” Yang said.
“It actually comes from a place that is inherently very toxic. I was trying to do as much as I could as someone with a lot of influence, but I was still concealing a lot of myself from those who are very close to me (because) I wasn’t sure they’d accept that side of me.”
While Yang’s coming out montage was a big budget, well-thought-out project involving investors, stylists, and state-of-the-art camera equipment, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for leaving the closet or coming out on tape.
We spoke to three other YouTube influencers whose audiences, subscribers and video views exploded after they uploaded coming out videos to find out what the experience was like for them.
Five years ago, Dragun began giving her YouTube followers a front-row seat to transformative makeup tutorials.
Her 2014 video titled “STUPID PROOF Highlighting and Contouring” received 146,000 views. Her next video titled “Get BIGGER KYLIE JENNER Lips!” more than tripled that.
A year later, when she came out in a 10-minute video titled “I Am TRANSGENDER,” she was well on her way to becoming a major force in the beauty blogging world. She launched a beauty brand called Dragun Beauty in 2019.
For Dragun, posting a coming out video was both “relieving” and “scary,” she told USA TODAY. Back then, “I didn’t have all the answers,” she said, noting that she referred to herself as “transgendered” in the video, which is a word that is considered offensive to trans people.
She also said she edited out some of her crying scenes before posting the video.
What inspired you to come out on YouTube?
“Up to that point, I wasn’t really that honest with my following. Like, I never really addressed whether I was trans or not,” Dragun said. “I was being such a little scaredy-cat. I thought If I recorded it and put it out online then I would have to face it.”
Dragun said her parents and neighbors found out she was trans after the video came out.
Did you ever second guess yourself about posting the video?
“I was in my college dorm room, first of all, so I took a big moment when everyone was out of the house, sitting literally in front of a bathroom door, and I recorded it. I cried so much and was like ‘No, I could never post this.'”
Dragun sat on the video for about a month before deciding to upload it.
“Once I posted it, I remember thinking, like, this is a mistake. I remember shaking. I was, like, I don’t know what I just did. Even after it went viral and it was crazy, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I wish I could delete this.'”
How do you respond to trolls or people who weren’t supportive?
“In the beginning, it was a little bit harder of course. It’s just difficult to see so many different opinions; and the bigger you grow, the more opinions you get. You get all sorts of opinions from everywhere,” Dragun said.
“That video was for me. At the same time, there are so many comments from people all over the world who don’t have the means to come out on their own journey. I’ve seen over the years how it’s helped so many other people with their life. So I’ve always kept that in the back of my mind.”
In late 2017, Elle Mills delivered a coming out video that’s hard to forget.
The 20-year-old Canadian says her viewers often asked her how she identifies in the comments section, and her response was a tear-jerking celebratory declaration to her friends, family and the world that she’s bisexual.
What inspired such a creative video?
“I don’t often sit in front of the camera and just talk. I always tend to go a bit out of the box. I knew It had to be a bit extra,” Mills said. “I’m pretty impulsive. I came to the conclusion that I was bisexual and then a week later the video was posted.”
How’d you feel immediately after uploading the video?
“When I pressed the upload button, my face was super hot. There was like a weight on my shoulders. But clicking it I was like ‘Oh my God, what’s going to happen now?’ Because there are a lot of people in my life I hadn’t told and I was going to come out to them through posting this video.
She said watching other coming out videos on YouTube inspired her to create her own.
From 2009 to 2015, Ingrid Nilsen grew her online following as she posted videos about styling hacks and beauty tricks before deciding to do something she “instinctively knew had to happen.”
She came out as gay in a video titled “Something I Want You To Know,” which has now been viewed over 17 million times.
What made you decide to come out to your YouTube followers?
“Part of coming out for me was about ending the cycle of self-betrayal that I had been living in for 26 years. Sharing my truth fully, with everyone, was the first step in shattering this pattern.”
Take us back to that moment after you uploaded the video. What thoughts were going through your mind?
“Pretty sure ‘Oh my God, what have I done!? Did I really just do that?!’ was on a constant loop. But isn’t that how it usually is when you step into a place of vulnerability?”
In the video, you said that coming out helped you grow even closer to the people you chose to tell. How so?
“Hiding was a coping mechanism for me – it kept me safe for a long time when it wasn’t safe for me to be out,” Nilsen said.
“But then, I got to a point where I didn’t need it anymore and the pain of staying in the closet became more agonizing than the thought of coming out. Putting this thing out into the world that I never thought would see the light of day and being embraced by the people closest to me changed everything. We entered a new and deeper dimension of love.”
What’s your favorite coming out video? Let Dalvin Brown know on Twitter: @Dalvin_Brown.