When same-sex lesbian family vlogging couple Allie and Sam held a competition for viewers to win a free vial of sperm, many people were baffled. The wives stated that to enter the draw you had to follow @fairfaxcryobank + @allieandsam, like the post, and tag “as many friends as you want (in separate comments)!”
It is ethically ambiguous to turn your family into a brand and then hold such a competition. After all, monetizing conception and children-raising brings child labor, parental exploitation, voyeurism of the audience, and privacy into question.
Celebrities have always had wild fans but vlogger audiences aren’t watching a movie or concert, the entertainment (and at times obsession) is somebody’s life. How real or personal is this DIY extension of reality TV? As lesbian vloggers become more influential, the audience also become customers for their merch — whether the vloggers’ own line, or whether for the brands that sponsor their videos, like that sperm bank Allie and Sam. For lesbian vloggers, merch and other income streams are especially important, as YouTube demonitizes and age restricts content with gay and lesbian keywords. This was the case for popular vloggers Bria and Chrissy. The pair have since launched an OnlyFans.
Reality TV’s popularity reveals audiences crave unscripted stories, but viewers turn to YouTube for authenticity you’d never see on contrived shows like The Real World. Lesbian vlogging fills a gap in reality TV (come on, there’s like four total lesbians in reality tv) by offering connection to lesbian community and culture.
The channels are as entertaining as they are practical, offering strength to help us come out, or solidarity against homophobia. Even parenting advice, such as vloggers Abbie and Julie give in their videos, including this pregnancy Q&A:
Intimacy in family vlogging blurs boundaries with some monetised lesbian family vloggers disclosing their P.O Box and making subsequent “gift unboxing” videos of presents sent by strangers. The line between viewership and family is intentionally blurred to maintain a loyal fanbase.
Mandi and Tara from Living Rosa experienced health complications with their fourth daughter. Tara, in the video linked below, said, “that’s all I’m going into. It’s a lot…that’s as far as I’m going into it…because it is personal and I know you guys care but it is personal and it’s been a lot and just understand that what I’m telling you now is after twelve days of going through a lot.” Tara begs the audience to leave them alone despite understanding they care and have personal experiences to share. This came after comments like this came flooding in after the couple reported Dorothy was in the NICU, before there was a diagnosis:
jnhartling87: “Just wanted to give you some hope. My son was born with a genetic syndrome and one of the issues he had couldn’t swallow properly... I was so so so scared to bring him home on the tube but honestly after a day it was second nature and so so easy. Our babies are so strong 💕”
Tara states that Mandi and herself decided to get back to some “normalcy” by recording again but should it be considered “normal” for a family to be under surveillance? Did Tara and Mandi really want to tape the hardship with Dorothy’s health or did they do it to maintain the channel?
Monetised videos aren’t strictly real life, they’re a performance. When parents persuade the children to advertise monetized products, should they be treated as performers?
Sponsored content shows these children playing with new toys, but it doesn’t matter if they like them or not, or if they wanted them or not. The videos are made with brand freebies, sponsorships and ad revenue in mind. They’re about the toy company, not the kid. If money is being made from their performance, then we need to consider whether it is labor.
Seeing the families share less about themselves and more about SkillShare™ once they get monetized is disappointing. But, more importantly, the monetization of lesbian family vloggers makes me question its exploitative nature: in order for the parents to make money off vlogging, they depend on the children to perform.
In the “TWINS REACTION TO SURPRISE GIFT! | #AD” video linked above, KATHERINE CARRARA comments: “I think we’re in for a very noisy Christmas with the girls opening presents. They are so excited. Happy video today.”
In using “we,” for example, the commenter unites the vloggers and the viewership as one big family, which vloggers promote to maintain a loyal fanbase. The vlogging family won’t make as much money without the audience not only seeing “the girls,” but seeing them as part of their extended family. Might the children be impacted by the “heady psychological implications of early fame” as Olga Khazan wrote in her piece about child stars?
Anonymity and Privacy
People may claim YouTubers going through hardship, like Mandi and Tara, bring the invasion of privacy upon themselves because they choose to share their family with the world. However, that’s not true, because the anonymity granted by the Internet to commenters, forum members and social media accounts breeds invasiveness.
The vloggers make viewers feel like family members, sure, but how should we behave when a friend or family member asks for privacy? If we wouldn’t hound a friend or family member after they’ve been through something personal, then why should we do it to a stranger online who we only think we know?
Monetizing family vlogging turns the family into a business with demanding, entitled customers. The channels often end up more about sponsorships than they do about the family’s life.
Lesbian Family Vlogging continues…
In spite of the ethical gray area, followers of lesbian vloggers still gain a vital source of representation, hope, and connection through these channels. Content creators may be juggling these ethical questions behind the scenes, but they don’t seem to be slowing down in front of the camera. In fact, influencer couples Jessica and Claudia and Rose and Rosie declared their first pregnancies recently! Time will tell if audiences and vloggers find a balance between privacy and profit.