I am definitely not the only homo who has spent a few hours of my life killing time flipping through the YouTube celebrities and couples: I was big into Bria and Chrissy last year. These days I like Ari Fitz and Ashley Mardell. Hannah Hart and Ingrid Nilsen are the sweethearts of my internet fandom. I dabbled in Rose and Rosie. These YouTubers have a particular magnetism that I find myself drawn to- which I know is the case for many other queer women throughout the land.
YouTube remains a relatively new format of entertainment where people can cultivate niche fandoms, and YouTubing is the new blogging, except it allows for a more expansive dialogue between artist and audience. Certainly bloggers and commenters were in community and conversation with one another, but the frequency with which YouTube celebrities pull in personal donations and mail from their fans is disproportionate to internet fame of yore.
Part of this is the cultural shift around fandom—in large part to the centrality of tech in our lives in the last 10 years that has pulled in a strong cultural component of fandom. People have become more defined by their fandoms, and organize themselves according to them socially in a way that they didn’t 20 years ago. People who got married dressed in Star Wars costumes 25 years were a phenomenon; these days are just another notch in the tree. (At least in Seattle or on Offbeat Bride. Geeks are a splendid and curious people.)
But there’s something in particular about our relationship to the YouTubers we follow. Some of it is about the specificity of who we ship; what about these people shines out to us, and what we wish for. I know I followed Bria and Chrissy for a long time because Bria has dark curly stormy long mermaid hair that I have wanted for as long as I have had hair, but my waveyish hair will never be cute past my shoulders, it gets flat and sad. I wonder to myself about having a moody stormcloud of hair while traipsing with my girlfriend on lots of international trips or filming myself saying weird things to my cats while they wear bowties that internet strangers sent them. I don’t even have cats, but if I got some I would definitely want to sing to them about making biscuits with their paws.
It’s some combination of idealization of people that are for the most part some kind of conventionally attractive, and have some aims toward being in the entertainment business, eventually, through of course that’s a struggle as well.
There is also a voyeuristic/confessional quality that hearkens from the early, earnest days of the internet when we put everything into our public Livejournal posts. We friended people indiscriminately and keeping your myspace profile private came off as prudish and unfriendly. There is a very natural tendency to want to see the guts of other MySpace lives, and that’s why many people gossip, snoop in their friend’s purses and medicine cabinets, and creep on people’s social media pages to find out information.
In the past, it was easier to get the dirt on people online, because things were less protected, and we were less guarded. In the process of normalizing the robust increase of technology into our lives, everyone has become more guarded, and with good reason. These days, people spilling their guts on their internet are doing it for $50/piece on confessional websites or for sponsorships on YouTube and Instagram. On the upshot, it’s not that different from making your living than modeling or acting, and we are very interested in getting up close and personal with the internet personalities we favor.
Most YouTube personalities are aspirational in the sense that they are perhaps more believable or relatable than actual personalities. They mostly wear clothes that we could afford, don’t usually edit out their linguistic stumbles, and we can watch them enjoy the art we made them and the presents we sent. They’re people we can relate, with the remove of appearing wiser and more interesting than some of our friends. For some folks, it’s about connecting to a personality when queer community can be absent, scarce, or a bad fit. It’s perhaps an “It Gets Better” campaign of greater longevity, with more character development and some sponsorship.
So go ahead and find some YouTubers you love to follow around on the internet—many of them are engaged in interesting personal or charity work. You may just like the way they look or find them to be an interesting model to dream about the future with, or give you some playful ideas for dates or projects. At the very least, you can add the to the revolving cast of internet characters you keep up with: your cousin on Facebook with all the model planes, the pretty girl on Instagram who you went on a date with once six months ago but then neither of you called each other back, and now these goofy lesbian singles and couples that make time-lapse art and have really cute dogs.
Maria Turner-Carney is a therapist and writer in Seattle. You can follow her at seattlefeministtherapy.com/blog.