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YouTuber Jake Edwards Talks Being Trans, YouTube, and Being Trans on YouTube

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I’m sitting with Jake Edwards and his friend Georgia in Soho Square, London, as the evening sets in. Soho is the most notoriously LGBTQ+ area of the entire capital, but that’s just a coincidence. Cross-legged and no longer using his legendary e-cigarette, Jake begins, explaining that he started YouTube in the name of updating a few friends on Tumblr, mostly posting “long vlogs and occasionally singing.” His casual use became more of a hobby when, as Jake explains, he started dating his boyfriend. “I started dating Alex, I noticed how seriously he took YouTube, and how much I kind of, like, wanted to be a part of that.”

When I asked if Jake ever felt apprehensive towards doing YouTube because he was transgender, Jake commented, “I think it was very empowering, in a sense.” He goes on to say that he never felt being trans would hinder his career on YouTube, because in his words, “Alex was a trans YouTuber, and I was already out and semi-comfortable with my identity.” He felt that filling in the gaps with who he was, which is transgender, felt natural when his musical contributions to his channel became more difficult. He mentions that it’s one of the “meaty topics” that he can sit down and talk about, and the community around it has always been welcoming to him.Jake always suspected that, once he started gaining an audience, his fans were mainly LGBTQ+ themselves. He admits that it’s rare for him to come across someone saying, “I’m straight and I’m cis and I’m watching this video because I have a trans boyfriend or my sister just came out…”, and his audience has always been heavily weighted on the LGBTQ side of things. That being said, when I asked Jake whether he felt his videos concerned other LGBTQ+ people, or they were more focused on his own journey, his response was an interesting juxtaposition to his previous statement. “I feel like being young looking, and, like, being in a gay presenting relationship is something that people obsess over.”

Jake always suspected that, once he started gaining an audience, his fans were mainly LGBTQ+ themselves. He admits that it’s rare for him to come across someone saying, “I’m straight and I’m cis and I’m watching this video because I have a trans boyfriend or my sister just came out…”, and his audience has always been heavily weighted on the LGBTQ side of things. That being said, when I asked Jake whether he felt his videos concerned other LGBTQ+ people, or they were more focused on his own journey, his response was an interesting juxtaposition to his previous statement. “I feel like being young looking, and, like, being in a gay presenting relationship is something that people obsess over, and it’s like a desirable thing, and it is part of this whole ‘fetishising the gays’ thing…” he explains. He thinks that, in itself, has definitely helped his YouTube, if indirectly, as the fetishisation of gay male relationships is certainly something teenagers, cishet and otherwise, indulge in.

“I feel like the evolution of, like, living at home with my mum in an unaccepting environment to, sort of gaining a bit more adulthood and independence is appealing for younger people to watch because they wanna see what…their future could be like, they wanna see something positive. They don’t wanna see someone that’s stuck at home in a negative environment – they wanna feel like there’s hope if they’re in that situation,” Jake adds, making it clear that this is something a lot of his younger audience might have in common. Jake even related his situation to fiction, in which he compares it to a generic storyline where, “the big bad thing happens, and then the end is just, like, this nice, beautiful place that people… find themselves in; so people always want that element of escapism, and they want their escapism to be a happy ending.”Despite knowing that his position in life in cooperation with his identity is appealing to young LGBTQ+ people, Jake doesn’t find himself actively providing information and advice for other LGBTQ+ members of society. “I don’t feel like I strive to offer, like, accessible, educational videos. I feel like when I go into that educational realm, I try and get a layer deeper: I try and go more into, like, a ‘grey area’, political thing that people are talking about, but there aren’t a billion videos on.” As a sort of disclaimer, he points out that you can go on YouTube and find lots of FTM videos with advice and support, and he feels like that’s a great thing, but he tries to center his YouTube videos around topics that not everyone is necessarily talking about. He attempts to, “get that niche that people haven’t talked about yet, and get into a more, like, nitty-gritty place,” as Jake puts it. Despite this, for first-time watchers of his channel and suchlike, Jake ensures he covers the basics so that people can follow his more in-depth discussions in turn.

Despite knowing that his position in life in cooperation with his identity is appealing to young LGBTQ+ people, Jake doesn’t find himself actively providing information and advice for other LGBTQ+ members of society. “I don’t feel like I strive to offer, like, accessible, educational videos. I feel like when I go into that educational realm, I try and get a layer deeper: I try and go more into, like, a ‘grey area’, political thing that people are talking about, but there aren’t a billion videos on.” As a sort of disclaimer, he points out that you can go on YouTube and find lots of FTM videos with advice and support, and he feels like that’s a great thing, but he tries to center his YouTube videos around topics that not everyone is necessarily talking about. He attempts to, “get that niche that people haven’t talked about yet, and get into a more, like, nitty-gritty place,” as Jake puts it. Despite this, for first-time watchers of his channel and suchlike, Jake ensures he covers the basics so that people can follow his more in-depth discussions in turn.Even though he is a person documenting his transition on YouTube, Jake reveals that his place to give one-to-one advice on transitioning and the like is outside of his online career. He feels that “just by living my life, and by doing what I do, it’s showing enough that people can take what they want from that.” He tries not to tell people how to live their own lives, but rather, allows others to interpret how he lives himself however they like.

Being London, England, it begins to rain, and we sheepishly shift locations to Starbucks coffee. Once inside, Jake instantly responds to my question asking whether, as a trans person in the public eye, he receives awkward, disrespectful or boundary-overstepping questions a lot. His immediate reply is naturally “all the time.” He theorizes that if you’re on YouTube, people feel a sort of “entitlement to your life.” He elaborates, “because you put, like, an edited version of your life online, people think, ‘okay, now I can ask everything about you. Like, you’re an open book.’” Jake understands where they’re coming from, but “asking about me and my boyfriend’s sex life is not okay, like, it’s a long journey for me as a trans person to be comfortable with sexual stuff anyway…” he uses as an example. He puts it as “something we still navigate in a very sensitive way,” which is why fans asking him about it is off-putting to him, to say the least. He sums it up as “thirteen-year-olds being thirteen-year-olds and… not knowing how to talk to other people,” so he tries not to let it get to him. He deals with it by dismissing its validity and telling the enquirer that it’s not acceptable, and moving on.

Jake also clarifies that even if you’re not a YouTuber, you’re just a trans person living your life, people often feel like they can ask you invasive questions purely because you’ve disclosed that you’re transgender. In addition, these are questions people could “find the answers to on Google,” as he says.

Jake discloses that he doesn’t necessarily get outright ‘hate’ online for being transgender, but rather, it’s specifically those offensive questions that “come from a place of not knowing” which is the sort of negativity that gets to him.

Through this Jake has had a realization which has made him more lenient towards those who ask these kinds of questions. “You’re in an inner circle you don’t even realize you’re part of. When you’re queer, you sort of gravitate towards other queer people in your interests, the places you hang out… the people you talk to just kind of network with other queer people. It feels like you’re just living in this queer society, it’s like this golden haven of ‘everyone is gay’, ‘everyone is trans’, ‘everyone’s queer.’” Jake then says that you, at some point, hit reality and realize not everyone’s been exposed to LGBTQ+ life at all, so people can’t always entirely be blamed for merely not knowing.Jake recognises that for cis people, trans talk often ‘grazes over them’, and they don’t necessarily absorb that kind of information – how trans people live, what offends trans people – because it’s not really relevant to them, it’s just another thing that’s out there, like a certain people’s culture. “When it becomes relevant to someone’s life, they suddenly think, ‘oh, I should learn about this thing.’”

Jake recognises that for cis people, ‘trans talk’ often ‘grazes over them’, and they don’t necessarily absorb that kind of information – how trans people live, what offends trans people – because it’s not really relevant to them, it’s just another thing that’s out there, like a certain people’s culture. “When it becomes relevant to someone’s life, they suddenly think, ‘oh, I should learn about this thing.’”

Between us, in further discussion about the lack of exposure the general public have to trans people, the subject of non-binary trans people crops up, and Jake confesses, “When I first came out, when I was first going to trans groups and engaging in the community, about 4 years ago, it was a very binary world. Since then, being non-binary has steadily become more visible and talked about, and Jake realized he should educate himself about it. As soon as he did, he felt that more and more non-binary people just seemed to appear. There are now so many people he knows in his town that they are non-binary, and he has so many non-binary friends that it strikes him as odd that 4 years ago he wouldn’t have known how to deal with that.

Being a YouTuber who is in the know regarding the LGBTQ community, I asked Jake if he felt the pressure that many LGBTQ + people in the public eye feel to be an advocate and an activist. Jake confirmed that he is so passionate about educating others and that he’s happy to incorporate it into his YouTube. “I feel an obligation… because I feel obligated myself, but I don’t feel obligated because of other people.” he realizes. “I always state that I’m a musician, and a trans person. The musician label often comes first.” However, it has just been natural that his channel has now evolved so he now mainly uses it to speak out about being trans, purely because he loves talking about it.

“I’ve always been a very ‘my identity is not me’ kind of person, like, my trans status is not who I am, it’s just an aspect of me.” He continues to explain how you don’t have to be “that trans kid”, and it doesn’t have to be ‘the whole point of you’ as such. “If it is something you want to talk about all the time, that’s great, but it doesn’t have to be.”

On the other side of that mental spectrum is capitalising on queerness. Jake talks about how there is a massive community of cis, mostly white, gay male YouTubers. He describes that at first, their attitudes after they came out was along the lines of “I don’t wanna talk about it, I’m just gay” but then these people, according to Jake’s view, evolved into ‘gay channels’. And then it’s “all rainbow flags and every video titled ‘gay guy does this’ and it almost becomes a selling point.” Jake concludes that people seem to want to educate and immerse themselves in the queer community on YouTube because it’s appealing to their audience. “I never, like, condemn people for wanting to do that, but when it kind of, like, when it becomes… being gay for profit, it enters this kind of hazy, muddy water where you can’t tell who just wants to make that content and the guys on YouTube who only do it ‘cause they know it makes money.’”

On the subject of the white, cis, male gays, I asked Jake if he ever felt the pressure that queer YouTubers have to post a ‘coming out video’, seeing as that has become, if subconsciously, a rite of passage for YouTubers, of sorts. His view was this; “It was different for me. When I made my coming out video I was still in my baby stages on YouTube. I think the real reason I posted a coming out story was just so I could talk about the times I’ve come out. It wasn’t to be like, ‘hi guys, I’m trans’, it was to be like, ‘okay, so this is when I realized I was trans, this is how I came out to my family, this is when I came out to my friends’… it was just sort of, like, another topic to make a video about.”

After the pre-compiled questions finish, the conversation moves for another approximate half hour into the general concept of coming out, and the ethics of pride. Finally, the recording is stopped and we descend into general banter.

During my rush to the Tottenham Court Road tube station to catch the Northern Line home 45 minutes or so later, I mentally concluded with the fact that Jake has a lot of valuable things to say… and we should all look out for whatever it is he wants to talk to us about next.

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Written By

Sam Volante is a proud DFAB nb boy (he/him pronouns), pansexual, totally pop punk, and an aspiring journalist from London, England. Sam has a particular passion for the rights of LGBTQ people, feminist issues and mental health issues, along with studying media, English, creative writing and Spanish (currently at A Level).Sam is also a passionate fan of Halsey. Sam's favourite pastimes are reading comics, listening to Elliott Smith and blogging about the hardships of being a Supernatural fan. Contact @ volantemedialdn@gmail.com.

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