Content warning: this article contains detailed descriptions of transphobia.
If you know me, you know I watch an absurd amount of YouTube. I know the platform well—better, even, than some YouTubers. Pondering starting my own YouTube channel, I talked to a YouTuber from home. When I voiced my concerns about harassment against trans people, he sounded entirely puzzled. It was an unfortunate reminder that many do not know the dark underside of YouTube. My beloved website is a source of harmless entertainment and simultaneously a breeding ground for hatred. And occasionally, that hatred will ruin my entire day and derail my ability to function.
There are some incredible transgender YouTubers, including Chloe Arden, Contrapoints, and Jackson Bird. I watch these three regularly because they are artful and understand a life experience I share. But because of my interest in them, YouTube algorithms will suggest related videos such as “Dad dies inside when he meets his transgender son.” Not only does the title misgender the person (she’s a woman and is therefore a daughter, not a son), the audience for which this video is intended is hateful.
The top comment on the video is “You can see [the dad’s] disappointment” and over 18,000 people liked that comment. Another comment reads, “Imagine the moment of pride [the dad] had when his son was born” and that received over 15,000 likes. The comments that didn’t receive as many likes are more distasteful—some so vile I dare not repeat them ever, and I resent my misfortune for having read them in the first place. It’s not bothersome to me that this part of YouTube exists; it’s the intense popularity of this on YouTube. That video has 8.8 million views, and has a highly positive like to dislike ratio.
The clip I detailed originated from Dr. Phil’s show, but it wasn’t posted on YouTube by Dr. Phil’s official account. Every official Dr. Phil video involving transgender people has the comments disabled. It’s probably a good thing, but it’s disheartening to know that at one point there was a flurry of hatred that caused the comment section to close down. Other supposedly legitimate news sites, like HLN (which is no longer playing in Freeman thankfully), don’t care enough about their transgender viewers to disable comments or take down specifically transphobic comments.
HLN posted a video in which Ben Shapiro insults a respected transgender journalist to her face, to which she understandably responds in anger. The video once again has millions of views, and the comment section is filled with hateful comments. Many of those comments weirdly refer to God, and if God is transphobic then fuck him—I would rather hang out with Satan.
Obviously there’s a huge far-right contingent of YouTube. Just avoid it at all costs, right? Well no, it’s not that easy. There’s a group of far-left YouTubers who hate transgender people too. First, there’s the incessantly frustrating Magdalen Berns, whose most popular uploads simply mock videos of transgender people. She twists and contorts social theory to couch her hatred in intellectualism. In one video, she mocks non-binary activist Alok Vaid-Menon. She repeatedly misgenders them, smugly insults their appearance, and provides no commentary of substance beyond mocking them. Secondly there’s Arielle Scarcella, who isn’t the worst person I’ve ever encountered, but she did post a video titled “I Won’t Apologize For Being Transphobic.” I think the title speaks for itself.
These YouTubers are TERFs (Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminists), which are women whose feminism strangely obsesses over hating transgender people. TERFs are true feminists in the sense that they fight for equal opportunity—equal opportunity to hate trans people. Their logic is ridiculous and totally distorts feminist and Marxist thinkers. Yet, their twisted logic worms its way into my brain and makes me second guess every feeling I have. In a certain sense, TERFs are worse than far-right transphobes because they try to make me question my sanity.
So avoid everyone else but transgender YouTubers, right? Nope. YouTube has a history of attacking marginalized groups in targeted harassment campaigns. Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist video game critic, is the most famous example for the vitriol of her harassers. Riley J. Dennis is a transgender YouTuber who suffered the same fate after one of her carefully measured videos about being transgender was ruthlessly attacked.
It doesn’t matter what you do on YouTube. At nearly every turn, there’s the potential to run into hatred. The design of the website makes policing hateful content and engagement impossible. As an opinion writer, I usually argue in favor of how to change something for the better. For YouTube, I don’t believe change is possible anymore. The website has gotten so far out of control with its bigotry (the hatred on YouTube goes far beyond transphobia) that I don’t believe a policy change can fix it. The YouTube company produced a video on LGBT content creators that received so much hatred that they had to disable the comments on their own video. At this point, the company would be better off shutting the whole website down.
I love YouTube for so much of its content, but that content is inseparable from the dark bigotry of YouTube as well. There’s no way to engage with the website without occasionally stumbling down the transphobic hellhole part. And that happens, I lose control of my thoughts as I’m crushed by the weight of the millions of views, the millions of comments, and the millions of hate-filled people in the world who will never respect me for who I am.
Connor Aberle is a member of the class of 2019 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org