By: M. Kuehler
Cameron Walsh waited outside on a chilly Austin night for over an hour to see one of his role models. He got there early so that he would be one of the first people in when the auditorium opened.
“Tyler Oakley resonates with me because we have a lot in common,” said Walsh, a UT junior math and French major. “We’re white, cisgender, gay men. We have privilege in a marginalized community, and seeing him listen to and include other people’s narrative, especially people who are more marginalized in the community, is the best way to learn how to do the same in my life.”
Walsh is not alone. He was one of the hundreds of students who got the chance to see Tyler Oakley speak live recently at Hogg Memorial Auditorium. The University of Texas Events + Entertainment organization hosted Oakley as a part of its Distinguished Speakers Series on Nov. 7. Oakley is a YouTube and podcast personality, author, LGBTQ+ advocate and role model to people like Walsh.
Though Oakley identifies as gay, his work appeals to all demographics. Oakley started his YouTube career while he was in college in 2007. Originally, his videos were a way for him to communicate with his friends who were at colleges across the country while he was at Michigan State.
“What he came in with was knowing that he was gay,” Walsh said. “He is not a queer theorist. His YouTube channel in its early days was just him goofing around with other YouTubers. However, when he realized the power he had to influence people, he started raising money for the Trevor Project and advocating for social justice.”
Since his start, Oakley has gained nearly 8 million subscribers and made more than 400 videos. His videos are humorous in nature — like trying to eat as many chicken nuggets as humanly possible in one sitting or obsessing over pictures of popular Broadway and TV actor Darren Criss. He also discusses subjects such as queer politics and pop culture in his videos. Since his rise to fame on YouTube he has also started to make podcasts, host a talk show and write a book. Additionally, he is known for his involvement with the Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention among LGBTQ+ youth.
“My career is very spaghetti against the wall,” Oakley said at the event.
Walsh said that Oakley was basically the only openly gay youtuber until “about 2014.” Walsh also credits Oakley to starting a “gay movement” on YouTube, making other youtubers feel comfortable coming out. During Oakley’s rise to YouTube fame, he gained a large following, particularly of LGBTQ+ youth.
“There wasn’t a point where his fan base became gay,” Walsh said. “But there was a point where he transitioned to making his career more about being a part of the LGBTQ+ community.”
Oakley tries to educate his audiences on how to be a good ally to the LGBTQ+ community. He quoted transgender activist Janet Mock, who says that, “Ally should be a verb, not a noun.”
“What I appreciate about it is that you see him go from being someone living as a gay man to someone who learns about social justice, incorporates its ideals into his life, and is willing to educate others and create dialogues without being militant about it,” Walsh said.
Jessica Gonzales, a senior linguistics major, and her friend Shelby Dorf, a Baylor graduate, said that they have bonded over watching Tyler Oakley videos. Dorf traveled to Austin to see Oakley with her friend.
“We’ve liked him since high school,” Dorf said. “We would talk about his videos and there would be nights where we would have a sleepover to watch his videos.”
Gonzales and Dorf both said that they feel as if they learn how to be a better ally to the LGBTQ+ community by watching Oakley’s videos.
“I think it’s awesome that UT brought him to campus,” Gonzales said. “It teaches people about what he does.”
The friends are also proof that Oakley’s videos are not just for the LGBTQ+ community.
“I’m straight,” Dorf said. “But I still really enjoy his videos and learn a lot from them.”
Walsh said that as a teenager, Oakley’s videos educated him about what being a gay man is like. They taught him about the culture and traditions of the LGBTQ+ community in a way that was comfortable for someone who “didn’t quite have both feet in the community yet.”
“When I was closeted,” Walsh said. “It was important for me to see someone who was living an ‘out’ life and had reconciled that part of his identity.”
During the anonymous question and answer part of the program, someone asked for advice when coming out to their family.
“Coming out is super brave,” Oakley said at the event. “But I think the bravest part about coming out is being honest open and authentic about yourself and knowing when you’re ready. There is no rush to come out.”
When asked if he had any final advice, Oakley offered this:
“Be able to listen. Everyone should listen more than they talk.”