When Skylar Kergil was 3 years old, he announced to a family friend that from then on he wanted to go by the name “Mike” and shortly thereafter cut off all his hair. At that age he wasn’t conscious of his gender not matching his sex — born a girl but identifying as a boy — and it wasn’t until he began going through puberty that he realized what he felt on the inside, wasn’t being reflected on the outside.
For Autumn, there was no set moment in which she realized her female identity did not match the male body she was born into. Looking through old photos that show her in dresses braiding her sister’s friend’s hair, Jessica recalls that she didn’t realize that what she was feeling was socially unacceptable until she entered the school system.
Skylar and Autumn are both transgender individuals who have taken to YouTube to document their gender transitions, Autumn from male to female and Skylar from female to male. Through the years vlogging, Autumn’s channels show the effects of her hormone treatments that have depleted her facial hair, raised her voice and allowed her to grow breasts. For Skylar, along with hormone therapy, he also chose to remove his breasts in what is called “top surgery” and captures in his videos the lightening of his chest scars throughout the years. “Transgender” is an umbrella term used to refer to people whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex at birth. And along the way of watching their own bodies change, both YouTubers realized that their vlogs were being watched by others going through the same internal struggles between gender and sex.
“In honesty, I started putting my videos up on YouTube when I ran out of space on my Macbook that I was recording them on. I had been taking video of my voice almost every day to see if maybe it would have dropped just a little bit — it usually hadn’t — since starting hormones,” says Skylar. “Somehow people found my videos, perhaps because there weren’t as many trans people on YouTube in early 2009, and I started tailoring my videos towards having an audience. It quickly became more of a vlog than just my stash of recordings on my changes.”
Combined, Skylar and Autumn have a viewership of over nearly 32,000 subscribers and have each become a key part of the transgender community on YouTube. Yet identifying publically as transgender in the U.S. has proven dangerous for many individuals; as reported by “The National Transgender Discrimination Survey,” 63 percent reported experiencing serious discrimination such as losing a job, being evicted from their homes, being bullied and harassed in school by both teachers and students, physical assault, sexual assault, homelessness, loss of relationships and denial of medical service. In addition, 41 percent of the transgender individuals polled reported having once attempted suicide in comparison to 1.6 percent of the general population. But with transgender individuals being targets for bullying, discrimination and hate crimes, is a public channel on YouTube putting these individuals at a greater risk or providing them with support from a community all around the world?
“While there is always the risk of bullying on YouTube or the internet in general, I believe that the positives outweigh the negatives. The ability to find others, share experiences, question, and connect among many other options is infinitely helpful for a community that is larger than imagined, but not all located in similar places,” Skylar says. “While I’ve definitely received some ignorant or bullying comments on my videos, I’ve been dealing with it so long that I often just skim over them and don’t let them get to me. For many, the comments linger and hurt, and I definitely think I was more apt to being upset over them when I was just starting out vlogging. However, oftentimes other trans folk and allies will respond to negative comments before the vlogger even see.”
Autumn’s opinions about YouTube are relatively similar, as she shares: “I think that YouTube has its pluses and minuses. To start off with the pluses, a woman found my videos, and this woman is in her 60s, she transitioned 35 years ago back in the 80s, she has been married to a straight male for 30 years, and she found my videos. She messaged me and we’ve connected, and she really has become such a role model for me. However, there are also risks with having YouTube videos. My videos are public, and I will never be able to completely get rid of them because they are public. Especially as a trans person, at some point a lot of trans women are given the option to live their lives as women — not as transgender women — and if you have YouTube videos floating around there is always a possibility of someone finding out.”
After talking with Skylar and Autumn, who both had strong support systems behind them as they were transitioning, it seems important to note than many individuals going through the same process become isolated or ostracized from their family and friends. With negative internet comments piling on top of the bullying an individual is already receiving from classmates and friends, opening a YouTube channel could be more harmful than helpful for these individuals. And when the gender transition is complete and individuals are ready to live their lives fully as a man or woman, these diary-like videos continue to remain active online, anchoring them to a past they are attempting to move beyond. It is a delicate decision and dependent on numerous factors in the transgender person’s life. But past the negative comments, YouTube has become a vital platform connecting transgender individuals from around the world as well as educating the public on how to support the transgender individuals in their own lives.
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