Coming out to You[Tube]

“Okay… I’m doing this,” Ingrid Nilsen says with a shaky voice, speaking into the camera to her millions of YouTube viewers. “There is something I want to tell you. I’m gay.” With tears in her eyes she says how good it feels to finally say that out loud. Traditionally she might have just shared this with friends and family in an intimate setting, but these days, millennials have been looking for a bigger audience: the global one of YouTube.

The phenomenon of coming out videos has been around for a long time – some of the earliest examples were posted in 2006 – and has created a supportive community of millions of people. So why do people share these stories online? And what is it about the videos that make so many people want to watch them?

Troye Sivan, who was a famous YouTuber before he posted his coming out video, tells his millions of followers that it feels only natural to share something this important with them. “I feel like a lot of you guys are real genuine friends of mine. I share everything on the Internet. Whether that’s a good thing or not, I don’t know. And this is not something I’m ashamed of. It’s not something anyone should be ashamed of.”

Another YouTuber, Steven Boyle, said in a phone interview that he made his coming out video, uploaded in 2015, because his followers had been asking for it. “I wanted to keep it message-central and genuine. Before I came out, I was really scared that people wouldn’t be okay with it. But they were! It was all in my head.”

Steven said that he didn’t do it for the likes or the views, but because he wanted to help other people make their coming out easier. The response he got was overwhelmingly positive.

One person who found the courage to come out by watching YouTube videos is Willow MacDonald. “I watched one, one became two, and six hours later I was like ‘oh my god, I relate to these stories so much,’” she said in a phone call. “That’s when things started to click for me.”

Willow was a Big Brother Canada contestant and also ended up using YouTube to share her coming out story. She explained how living in the Big Brother House pushed her out of the closet, and how re-entering society afterwards dragged her back inside, unprepared to face reality.

“It was all very confusing. It took me about a year to feel comfortable with myself. Seeing these videos made it easier, because most of them have a happy ending,” Willow said.

With that, Willow touched on the most important message of these videos: The coming out process might be difficult, uncomfortable and sometimes sad, but in the end it will be worth it. The moment you’re true to yourself and accept who you are, you can start living your life.

Conveying this message was Willow’s main motivation for sharing her story. But she also made the video for herself and the people close to her. Coming from a small town, not everyone understood her. People had questions, but were scared to ask them. This video gave them answers, and it gave her closure. “Telling my story to a camera was like journaling,” she said. “Getting out all of my thoughts and feelings that I suppressed for such a long time felt so good. By the end of it, everything started to make sense.”

In the comment section of these videos, the community responds. Most messages are positive and supportive, like this one underneath The Rhodes Bros’ video in which they came out to their dad:

“This is so great 🙂 My heart was pounding for you two, congrats! <3” – Nick Laws

Some people use the comments to reflect on their own coming out struggles and say things like this one underneath Connor Franta’s video:

“I’m crying. I’m still in the closet as a pansexual. I needed this so much and I didn’t know. Growing up religious and a hetero-only father. We are people and we are equal.” – The Extremo Trinity

Many viewers tell the maker of the video how much it has helped them come out themselves, like this person did underneath Troye Sivan’s video:

“I came out on August 7th 2015 because Troye gave me the confidence to do it. I love my boy so much❤” –Jess Likes Bands

But, like everywhere on the Internet, there are also people who share their negative opinions. This is a small part of a long comment on Riyadh K’s video, in which he tells his coming out story with his parents:

“The Bible says God is 100% opposed to homosexuality. Indisputable fact.” – Ave Maria, gratia plena.

Apart from the few negative comments, the communities are unimaginably helpful. Willow and Steven both agreed on the reason for this: nobody wants to feel alone. Steven says: “When you feel sad you just need to know that you’re not alone in whatever that has you feeling down, whether that is in a song, book, movie or video. I think it’s just a human thing. You feel such a crazy bond to someone when you see them say something that you’ve been hiding or trying not to think about. It’s a beautiful thing.”