Essay, LGBTQ, Life, pop culture, Pride 2017

COMING OUT IN THE AGE OF YOUTUBE

My first laptop was a thick black Dell that required a near-constant source of power and hummed louder than a barbershop quartet.

It took minutes to load up and froze frequently, which I’m sure is entirely unrelated to the buckets of shady porn websites I was searching. Also unrelated to my search history was the Dell’s untimely and unseemly demise at the hands of a Trojan virus.

On that laptop I wrote my stories, a thousand beginnings to stories where beautiful (sometimes mythic) girls fell in love with hot guys and I wrote a 200-page novel that languishes on my bookshelf. If I ever published it, I would get slammed with copyright infringement because it is essentially a patchwork of every book I read as a tween. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and honey, I must’ve been really sincere. It’s the laptop I created my Facebook account on and took photos of me wearing two polos layered over each other and a dog-tag with my camp girlfriend’s name on it. This laptop was PG (pre-gay).

After the Dell died—a fitful, restless death—I got a Macbook Pro, lightyears faster and sleeker. That was the laptop I came out on, in a few lines typed out over Skype because I was terrified to say it out loud. It’s bizarre to think that, technically if I could remember that username and password, I could access it again because those first moments of truth are forever immortalized in the ether.

But before I came out (at 15, around Easter) I knew I was gay for months. Well, technically years because I don’t know many straight five-year-olds who wrap a blanket around their waist to pretend to be Ariel from The Little Mermaid and claim that they’d love to marry Prince Eric. I know even fewer straight people who, at eight years old, would put on Radio Disney in the dead of night and pretend to be in a school hallway talking to my boyfriend Aaron Carter.

But in my sophomore year of high school, my feelings for a Certain Boy, a crush of mine which is also forever immortalized on my teenage blog, shifted from “buddy” to “booty.” I could no longer pretend I was admiring his gym techniques during track practice as I traced my eyes over his abs (fourteen years old!) when he lifted his shirt to wipe off sweat in rest moments.

In fact, much of my coming out process was centered on running track. In the endless empty hours while we ran, I thought. I thought about the way that Boy’s hair shifted from caramelly-brown to golden blonde, how his eyes shifted from blue to green under thick dark brows and framed by thick dark lashes. His vocal fry. I thought about how I wish I could talk about him to my friends, but I couldn’t because of the Big Reason. Because in the cloister of my heavily religious, heavily regimented life—private, all-boys prep school; small, chatty town—I knew that this Big Reason was a Big No-No.

So when I couldn’t turn to any people in my real life, I buried myself in online friends—YouTube. In 2010, YouTube was only five years old and the content was still very unpolished. But, in the nascence of it grew this weird phenomenon of collaboration channels, particularly gay collabs. One of the firsts, from what I could find, was “5AwesomeGays” which was slightly before my viewing time but introduced me to people like Joseph Birdsong, Korey Kuhl and Tyler Oakley. While I never watched 5AwesomeGays, they inspired an entire new genre of YouTube, and I became hooked on one of the copycats, “AGayADay.”

Five days a week, Monday through Friday, one of the collab members would upload a video. The video was based on a theme decided for the week, and they talked about everything from fashion to music to dating to politics. It was my first introduction to actual gay people, not caricatures or stereotypes or negatives. Just gay teens and twentysomethings living their lives on the Internet.

I devoured this content and began unsteadily tracing out my own gay identity. Much of early queer life—at least my early queer life—was like that. For better or for worse, they taught me about what it meant to be gay, in the slightly un-PC way that only existed for that brief window in the late ‘00s. I based my own identity in resistance or attraction to these gay men. They were everything I wanted to be in some ways—out, open gay guys who dated boys and wore skinny jeans and cooked and were sassy and sharp and clever.

YouTube also wasn’t anything like it is today. You didn’t talk about what YouTubers you liked; it was, for most people, exclusively viral cat videos and hair tutorials. So the experience of watching—to an obsessive nth degree—these young men was entirely solitary and intimate. No one knew who these guys were—at least in my world—and they were mine.

“AGayADay” gifted me with my first gay crush. One of the boys (Thursday?) was named Brandon, probably a year or two older than I was. He had spiked hair, a turned up nose and deep, dark eyes. It was my first experience with having a crush on someone who, hypothetically, would have a crush on me back. He lived in Pennsylvania and his videos were always more tentative than the others; he was the youngest, he was in the closet, and this was early enough in YouTube’s formation that there wasn’t “Internet fame.” He could be out on the Internet and closeted in real life and no one would know. Later, it seems, people did find out and he was the first of the collab to drop out—his videos disappeared like the snap of a closed book—after he went to college.

His awkwardness and vulnerability and cuteness made me so deeply attracted to him in a way that can only exist when you’re fifteen and closeted and angsty. I hated his boyfriend, Alec, (who I later unwittingly matched with on Tinder and had to unmatch because how weird is that?) for loving him and when he left the group, I left too. The phenomenon of gay collabs petered out eventually as members splintered into individual channels. There was, it seemed, more power and marketability, as we entered the 2010s, in the individual brand.

It’s probably a direct result of watching so much YouTube that I started a blog a year after coming out. The idea of creating content online was so bizarre and fresh and new to me that I wanted to emulate my “idols.” It only occurs to me later as a young adult the absolute chutzpah I had to write about all the boys I had crushes on while being in class with them in my very small, very straight, very religious all-boys prep school. My generation of queer people were the first ones to be able to look to the Internet for advice and guidance, and the first ones to not really know what to do with it. I in particular really didn’t know what to do with it.

It was also Brandon and the other members of AGAD that spurred me to come out. The perception that they were living their lives out made me worry (here it makes sense to realize I was struggling with undiagnosed anxiety and depression) that, at fifteen, I had somehow missed the boat and was too old. Only years later did I understand that Brandon was closeted, that half of the guys were in their twenties when they came out, and some were estranged from their families. But that nuance was lost to me then, and so I came out at fifteen to my parents.

I’m now almost a decade older than when I first realized I was gay (14 to nearly 22, that’s like, what 7.8 years?) and the world has changed so much. Everyone has an online presence—a blog, or a well-curated Instagram or a LinkedIn—and the market is so saturated with people wanting to cultivate their “brand” that it’s easy to forget the beginning.

I don’t miss being fifteen—who the fuck does—but in some ways I miss the intimacy and blindness of the Internet. When I could log on and watch a seven-minute video of someone filming on a grainy laptop camera, my Skype chat minimized until the “boop-BOOp-boop” started ringing. I missed having a crush on someone so intensely and singularly that I thought I would literally die if I didn’t see them. Slowly shifting my library seat until we were sitting next to each other, or watching through videos and memorizing the lines on someone’s face.

There’s such an intense innocence to being gay and closeted and fifteen and in a small town. I’m not yearning for that again, but it’s nice to remember that before the world was cracked wide open, it was just me with the volume low and the door shut, watching five gays on the Internet.

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Inspirational, Life, Mental Health

FOR THE SAKE OF THE GOLDEN RATIO

Partially inspired by my latest podcast interest Who? Weekly (I think I’m going to leave “obsessed” and “obsession” in 2016), I decided that I need to follow more celebrities on Instagram. Let me back up and explain myself, because this is going to be a wild ride.

In order to obtain a better ratio—thusly avoiding social media humiliation and ostracizing—I often unfollow celebrities whom I follow on social media platforms. I do this because A) they’re never going to follow me back, and I firmly believe in a “Follow for follow” maxim, and more importantly B) I’m afraid that if I unfollow people I know that they’ll somehow realize and unfollow me, thus ruining all the careful calibrations I made to achieve the ratio.

Side bar: has anyone factored the “Golden Ratio” into Instagram ratios? Just a thought.

Side bar update: my ratio is not the Golden Ratio. And I did math to prove this. Is this interesting? The golden ratio is that the ratio between the two individual numbers is the same between the ratio between the total sum and the larger of the individual numbers. The ratio between my individual sums (followers vs. following) is 0.501, and the ratio between the total sum and the greater individual is 0.666. Oh my gosh, I just wrote that out and how spooky!! So, like, how do I get the the golden ratio? If more people follow me without me following anyone (unlikely) the first ratio will decrease, so I need to follow more people without other people following me (very likely). Therefore, I’m perfectly warranted in following garbage celebrity accounts, because I’m in pursuit of the Golden Ratio!

I can’t believe that I just used math in a productive way. I might be the next (what’s his name, the guy who was in The Theory of Everything?) Stephen Hawking! Wow, that just mitigated any progress I thought I had made, because I only knew him from the Eddie Redmayne movie (a name which I knew instantly).

But in the pursuit of the perfect ratio (let’s think of a different name for it, since it’s not the Golden ratio…Silver is too high…Bronze is bourgeoisie…Tin! The Tin Ratio!) I unfollowed every semi-interesting non-friend account. That led to my Discover page becoming increasingly scattered as it, panicking, tried to find edgy fun accounts for me to look at. And I was not pleased. At all.

Before I decided to play God, my “Discover” was full of fat-to-fit Instagrams, hot dudes working out, photos of the Kardashians, and delicious potato products. Now, I only really have pictures of the Kardashians (AND NOT EVEN KIM), and pictures of this one hot gay that a few people I know follow, so he’s always there—some sort of karmic retribution for me somehow, I’m certain.

There are “suggested” videos for you to watch in a constant stream. Mine were usually grouped into the categories of “Boston Terriers” (<3) “Extreme Weight Loss” (-_-), “Make-Up Tutorials” (thanks Kylie; no seriously, thank you so much for all you do), and then just random food-making videos or cake-decorating. I was living the life, and I didn’t even know it, is the crazy part. I had so much going for me. Then I decided to tamper with my ratio, and I lost everything. But isn’t that always the case? Wolf of Wall Street, Picture of Dorian Gray, etc.

And as 2016 ends and 2017 is poised like a loosened gargoyle hanging above you off a dilapidated cathedral in a French noir film, I think it’s important that we give ourselves as much joy as possible in the face of…you know. Everything.

(As I’m writing this, a bunch of no-name robot Instagrams are following me, thus driving me deeper away from my Golden Ratio dreams) 

I followed a few YouTubers I watch (I watch luxury haul videos as a method of stilling my anxiety, which might be the gayest thing about me currently), some “celebrities (?)” like Chrissy Teigen (I know she’s like a celebrity, but is she a celebrity-celebrity? I didn’t even know who John Legend was until “All of You”; like, I really like her, but I like that she’s kinda solidly B-list even though she’s friends with A-list people), some reality television ‘stars’, A BUNCH OF FOOD BLOGS, and Taylor Swift. The last one is truly so dark, that I don’t even know why I did, but I think it’s the best thing for me rn.

When I was a kid/young teenager—and my best friend can attest to this (he doesn’t like the pseudonym I gave him but I haven’t thought of a new one yet)—my iPod (classic, duh) I had a total random collection of music. I don’t know if there is a statute of limitations on this, but I used Limewire when I was young. I would download everything and anything so that if someone looked on my iPod, they would think that I was cool.

And I thought that I had shaken that habit, but I did the same thing with my Instagram. I didn’t want to follow the girly fashion bloggers I like, or the horrifyingly funny joke Instagram accounts. I was curating my following list for someone who doesn’t exist and doesn’t care. And for what? So that someone someday would think I was cool? I want to be happy and enjoy something stupid and fun if that’s what I want, not look at a boring Instagram feed or an iPod (well, not an iPod because it’s 2016) of unlistenable music.

I just watched a great video about the Law of Attraction, and I think that it’s something I’m going to take into the new year. I’ve been repeating, in various articles, that 2017 is going to be hard. It will be. That’s not crazy for me to say. But how I deal with it, how I react to it, is up to me. And I know that these could just be empty words, and I could go on operating from my base level, which is pessimistic. But fuck that, you guys.

Fuck it.

I’m going to be positive. I’m going to see out the golden ratio of good energy in my life, and I encourage everyone else to A) also seek it out and B) send it/$20 my way. Much appreciated. But in all seriousness, I’m really going to seriously try. I know people in my life who are always getting good things their way, and it’s not because they’re sitting on their asses. It’s because they’re striving towards it.

There’s a great series of books called the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo. In them, she deals with this idea of “thisness” and “thatness.” It’s in specific relation to essentially witches who can manipulate matter by accessing the similarities in molecular structure—am I the smartest fucking person or what?—but there’s a great quote that is also touted as an aphorism (seriously so fucking smart):

Like calls to like.

Putting out good energy calls to good energy. Positivity breeds positivity.

This got surprisingly deep for a post originally about how I followed a bunch of Foodstagrams, but I’m not hating the place it went. Have a great day! (See what I did there? I’m outputting positivity!)

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Source: Giphy// I want more of this in 2017

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