Illustration by Jihyang Lim

Life

Is Social Media A Safe Space For Queer Youth?

Does the internet help or hurt?

The rise of social media over the past few years has provided more people than ever before with overnight celebrity. Fame is the name of the game, and going viral is anyone's golden ticket to the top. These platforms have become the digital middleman in helping many achieve elevated status, not only by blurring the lines between what it means to be famous IRL versus URL but also by giving platforms to people in underserved communities who remain unrepresented in mainstream media.

But attaining fame through the internet still means subjecting oneself to the same, or even more, scrutiny traditional celebrities face; this is especially true for those who are queer, trans, people of color—anyone who doesn't fit into a white/cis/hetero mold. Dealing with cyberbullying and cyberstalking can often be heightened for minorities with a platform.

Still, the internet essentially makes up for Hollywood's representational shortcomings, by allowing minority groups the platform to express and represent themselves on their own terms. And to go viral as a person part of an underserved community gives an individual a chance to use their platform to provide visibility and safe spaces for their communities. 

"When we see queer people with visibility, we see queer youth with more role models and with more references to discover more about who they are," Insta-famous makeup artist Spencer Claus tells me in an email. "The rise of queer people in social media has been fantastically helpful in giving queer youth a safe space to be themselves."

So, who better to enlist to discuss safe spaces across the ~interwebz~ than some of the biggest LGBTQ stars of this generation?!

Internet stars like model-actress-YouTube personality Gigi Gorgeous, makeup artist Bretman Rock, reality star Jazz Jennings, makeup artist Spencer Claus, and YouTube personality Brendan Jordan are just some members of the LGBTQIA+ community that use their social media fame to provide these safe spaces for queer youth, while balancing the responsibility of fame with their personal lives and experiences as young queer people.

Click through our gallery below to read about their personal experiences after going viral, their thoughts on queer representation in media, and how they found and provide safe spaces for queer youth on social media.

Photo courtesy of Gigi Gorgeous

Gigi Gorgeous' rise to internet stardom began nearly a decade ago via her YouTube channel. Nine years and millions of followers later, the Canadian model, actress, and internet superstar continues to share her story, inspiring countless others along the way.

Your journey has been documented nearly every step of the way on YouTube since 2008. Why did you decide to take to the platform to share your experience? How has it changed you throughout the years?

YouTube is where I got my start. I started making makeup videos for fun in high school and when I was ready to come out—first as gay, then as transgender, and now as lesbian—I had already established a strong relationship with my audience. I've grown up with my audience and, to some extent, they've gone through these transitions with me.

Has being a young public figure and activist helped you in your life in dealing with your own journey and finding your voice? In what ways has your experience helped others?

By sharing my story on YouTube and across social, it's held me personally accountable for my opinions. Once you post, it's out there. It's helped me become more confident in who I am because I've learned how to look past any hate or negative feedback. I hope that by sharing my story and opinions, others are inspired to share theirs, too.

Is there anything you’d want to change about the way media and internet fame is structured for queer youth? Why or why not?

We need more trans characters in film and TV! We've come so far with people like my friend Laverne Cox and shows like Transparent and Shameless featuring trans story lines, but there's a lot more to do. I hope there are more and more roles for trans actors and actresses.

Given the rise of social media over the course of the past few years, how has using platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and YouTube helped or hindered your own personal journey?

It's only been positive. Any personal walls I have, are broken down because I chose to put my life out there for the world to see. I really don't have anything to hide since it's basically a Google search away.

Do you ultimately believe that these platforms can provide safe spaces for queer youth? Why or why not?

Yes, 100 percent. It's where I found my community early on, and it's only grown since then. I look back and think about the LGBTQ+ role models I had to look up to, or lack thereof, and I think about how YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and other platforms that have paved the way for so many new LGBTQ+ voices like Tyler Oakley, Connor Franta, Miles Jai and more.

Photo courtesy of Brendan Jordan

Being a viral sensation was a "blessing in disguise" for Brendan Jordan. Now, through social media, Jordan continues to vocalize the importance of representation in the queer community.

How has going viral affected your personal life? In what ways has your experience helped others?

Going viral has changed my life in so many different ways. It was a blessing in disguise because through that I got to meet amazing people just like me. Some people even say that they get inspired with how carefree I come off, and that makes me so happy.

  • Being a viral sensation was a "blessing in disguise" for Brendan Jordan. Now, through social media, Jordan continues to vocalize the importance of representation in the queer community.
  • How has going viral affected your personal life? In what ways has your experience helped others?
  • Going viral has changed my life in so many different ways. It was a blessing in disguise because through that I got to meet amazing people just like me. Some people even say that they get inspired with how carefree I come off, and that makes me so happy.
  • Is there anything you’d want to change about the way media and internet fame is structured for queer youth? Why or why not?
  • So far media and "internet fame" for queer youth has a decent structure, I just wish queer POC got a little more representation. Representation is so important because it provides inclusiveness which is what everyone deserves.
  • Being a viral sensation was a "blessing in disguise" for Brendan Jordan. Now, through social media, Jordan continues to vocalize the importance of representation in the queer community.
  • How has going viral affected your personal life? In what ways has your experience helped others?
  • Going viral has changed my life in so many different ways. It was a blessing in disguise because through that I got to meet amazing people just like me. Some people even say that they get inspired with how carefree I come off, and that makes me so happy.
  • Given the rise of social media over the course of the past few years, how has using platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and YouTube helped or hindered your own personal journey?
  • Using different social media platforms over the past few years has honestly just been such a blessing. I learn so so much through social media on every single topic. It's one of the very good things that social media can provide. 
  • Being a viral sensation was a "blessing in disguise" for Brendan Jordan. Now, through social media, Jordan continues to vocalize the importance of representation in the queer community.
  • How has going viral affected your personal life? In what ways has your experience helped others?
  • Going viral has changed my life in so many different ways. It was a blessing in disguise because through that I got to meet amazing people just like me. Some people even say that they get inspired with how carefree I come off, and that makes me so happy.
  • Do you believe that these platforms can provide safe spaces for queer youth? Why or why not?
  • I 100 percent do believe these platforms provide safe spaces for queer youth. Of course, there will always be some homophobic people on every type of social media, but they're literally behind a screen and can't do anything to you. Through social media, you can find a community that loves you for you, and provide a safe space that one might not get at home.
Photo courtesy of Jazz Jennings

Jazz Jennings made national headlines when she came out as transgender at just five years old. Now a teenager with a hit reality show and two foundations geared towards the support of trans kids, Transkids Purple Rainbow Foundation & Purple Rainbow Tails, Jennings continues to give others the courage to live their most authentic lives, as she navigates through her own. The new season of I Am Jazz is out now on TLC.

Your life has been documented nearly every step of the way since your 20/20 profile in 2007. In what ways has your personal life changed since you’ve been given this public platform?

Honestly, I still live my everyday life just like any other teenager. I go to school, play soccer, and binge watch a lot of TV! People in my hometown treat me the same way, although I do get recognized more often. Obviously, my story is very public, and I’ve had to sacrifice my privacy, but if others can benefit from hearing my story, it is worth it!

Has being a young public figure and activist helped you in your life in dealing with your own journey and finding your voice?

Yes. While being trans doesn’t define me, it is a huge part of who I am and has helped me realize what makes me unique. I have such a better understanding of myself and have learned to love and embrace myself for who I am. 

Is there anything you’d want to change about the way media and internet fame is structured for queer youth? Why or why not?

I feel that social media gives everyone the opportunity to have a voice. I love seeing LGBTQ expression rise to the surface. We are able to watch a boy do makeup and hear a trans person share their experience. These things are becoming more normalized because we have this platform for expression. The drawback is that trolls and haters have easy access to attack people who are different but all in all, the good outweighs the bad. 

Given the rise of social media over the course of the past few years, how has using platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and YouTube helped or hindered your own personal journey?

The rise of social media has given me a chance to strengthen my message, reach a broader audience, and create more visibility for the transgender community. Social media has become a modern way for us to communicate and express our ideas. It’s been a major part of my personal journey because it allows me to be myself and share that with others. 

Do you believe that these platforms can provide safe spaces for queer youth? Why or why not?

I think they can. Queer youth have the freedom to interact with people who are like them and can serve as a reminder that they are not alone. Sharing inspirational posts and opening up about their journeys creates a sense of community and safety. They have a platform where they can be supported as their authentic selves.  

Photo courtesy of Bretman Rock

Social media gave Bretman Rock the platform to expand on how he expresses himself through fashion and makeup. Now, he's learning how to balance the dichotomy of internet fame through the support in his audience, while extending a helping hand to any and all who need it.

Has being a young public figure helped you in your life in dealing with your own journey and finding your voice? In what ways has your experience helped others?

Yes, it definitely did. It was a confirmation for me, and when I'm sad, it's really great to see the support from my audience and that they are real people; it gives me the courage to be confident in myself and help the confidence of others. 

Is there anything you’d want to change about the way media and internet fame is structured for queer youth? Why or why not? 

I feel like social media is always going to have a problem with all types of people. I don't think being queer isn't any different than someone else. We all have that wall, and someone will always get hate for it. So I don't think anyone should be treated differently or placed into a specific stereotype due to their sexual orientation, preferences, color, etc. Not every gay person is like me, and I'm not like every gay person. We are all people and have traits that make us who we are. Treat us as such. 

Given the rise of social media over the course of the past few years, how has using platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Youtube helped or hindered your own personal journey?

With the rise of social media, it helped me a lot with pursuing goals I wanted to do, like fashion and makeup. I get to explore the community I want to be in. However, at the same time, it comes with a lot of responsibilities. I help my family out a lot, which is stressful as a teenager. I want to help everyone, and that's a lot of pressure on myself to please everyone. Deep down, I'm a perfectionist and a pleaser. I want everyone to be happy, and with people depending on me, I don't want to let them down. 

Do you believe that these platforms can provide safe spaces for queer youth? Why or why not? 

I definitely believe that these platforms can provide a safe space for queer youth, but there is a lot of hate to handle too. While I think it's a safe environment, obviously there are people who believe being gay is a choice. It's a space if you are vulnerable, it can really hurt you in the long run. For me, I have found friends in this community and a supportive audience who makes me understand it's okay to be me, no matter how little or how much glitter that includes.

How has makeup changed the way you express yourself and potentially helped others find ways to express themselves? 

Makeup hasn't really changed the way I express myself, but expanded it. I love creativity, and makeup is really an artistry to me. It's something I fell in love with, and I think when someone sees someone else comfortable in their own skin, and showing off what they are passionate about, it inspires them to do the same. That's exciting! 

Photo courtesy of Spencer Claus

Spencer Claus is widely known for his jaw-dropping makeup transformations. But he believes that some of the most beautiful transformations should come from within, by teaching queer kids that it's more than okay to be different—it's beautiful.

Has being a young public figure helped you in your life in dealing with your own journey and finding your voice? In what ways has your experience helped others?

I never thought about my journey as something that I had to "deal" with. My self-discovery has been a relatively easy process because there was never any "thing" or any type of person that I refused to be, you know? I've been extremely privileged in that I grew up with fantastically supportive parents, so I was never taught that there was any wrong way to live a healthy life. I hope that my experience has shown others that there are times when being queer and being "other" is difficult, even with support and especially without, and that it's okay to be open and talk about those times. But it's also okay to address some of those times with humor and with levity—if we take everything too seriously, we will all go absolutely insane. But there has to be a balance. In its most basic sense, as a boy who wears makeup and as a male makeup artist, I hope that I can show other boys or other people who are masc-identifying that makeup can be whatever you want it to be because its art and art has never been and will never be gendered. The bottom line is that I want people to see that things are hard but things will be okay. I say that from a place of privilege, but there will always be places of support and others who know what you're experiencing. 

Is there anything you’d want to change about the way media and internet fame is structured for queer youth? Why or why not?

So much of internet fame that's structured for queer youth is based on attractiveness. If you look closely, you'll see that every famous queer youth is conventionally attractive and that few are known for their intelligence or wit or what have you. That is not to say that conventionally attractive people cannot also be smart or funny, but that the queer prioritizes physical attractiveness over intelligence. For trans men and women, it seems like things are about passing for cisgender. For gay men, it's about being slim and muscular, having a six-pack, and having a decent jawline. And lesbians basically have to look like Ruby Rose. For all of these groups of people, it's also about being white. I can only speak from experience for gay men, but I've observed the expectations enforced upon other types of queer folk, especially queer POC. We need to teach queer kids, just like we do to non-queer kids, that it's okay to look different and that you're still beautiful even if you don't fall under the umbrella of conventional attractiveness. People, especially queer people with large platforms, need to give larger voices to queer kids who aren't "hot" but who are smart, funny, and who are going to bring more than simply aesthetic pleasure to the queer community. 

Given the rise of social media over the course of the past few years, how has using platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and YouTube helped or hindered your own personal journey?

Social media has been a really big part of my life for the last few years, and it has done nothing but bring me phenomenal opportunities in not only my field of work but also opportunities to connect with more queer people online and in person, who want to share their queer experiences. At makeup conventions, I've met boys in makeup who tell me that it was seeing my tweets and seeing me on Instagram that inspired them to wear makeup—those moments are kind of mind-blowing to me. I never thought that I would have that kind of impact on my peers. Platforms like Twitter and Snapchat that facilitate conversations with followers and audiences are important in sharing these experiences and have been important for me in gaining a well-rounded view of the queer experience.

Do you believe that these platforms can provide safe spaces for queer youth? Why or why not?

Social media platforms can absolutely provide safe spaces for queer youth. When we see queer people with visibility, we see queer youth with more role models and with more references to discover more about who they are. The rise of queer people in social media has been fantastically helpful in giving queer youth a safe space to be themselves. However, it can also make things hard if all they see is the same type of queer person and then think that they don't fit into that mold. The more diversity we can put into queer social media, the safer it's gonna be for queer youth.

How has makeup changed the way you express yourself and potentially helped others find ways to express themselves? 

Makeup is one of my favorite art forms because it allows for a deep physical transformation which I just personally find fascinating—how you can become one thing and then go back to your regular self in a matter of hours. In terms of gender and queerness, even though makeup isn't inherently gendered, it's become a great vehicle for masc-identifying people to express femininity. I hope that it has shown others that makeup isn't just cosmetics, it's art and that art has no bounds.