I was just screwing around on wayback machine and I realised that in December ‘07 the vlogbrothers had <12,000 subscribers. That suddenly strikes me as not that many. How many did they have when I started watching? Can’t have been more than 10,000 tops… and how many of those people are still watching? Realistically it’s probably not a huge number.
For the first time I’m really realising just how long I’ve been watching their videos. I watched all the way through high-school (that’s 7th through 12th grade for you Americans) and 3 years of university. When I started watching I was 12 and now I have a degree and the beginnings of a career. I’ve watched on three continents (four if you count the time I watched youtube videos during a layover in Hong Kong airport).
I’m just riffing here but honestly those videos have had a pretty huge impact on my life. Who knows how I’d be the changed without them, since I watched (and was really invested in them) throughout such formative years. When I was 12 I stopped getting upset when people called me a nerd and started calling myself one. When I was 13 I stopped desperately trying to fit in with the cool kids and found my own friend group. When I was 14 my travels through the internet lead me to figure out (and accept) my sexuality. When I was 15 the girl who had been my biggest bully became my best friend. When I was 16 I decided I wanted to be an actor and that no disadvantages were going to stop me. I’m getting nostalgic now and I could go on, but the point is that whatever flaws some might fancy pointing out about the nerdfighter community (as is their right, keep us in check!), the vlogbrothers were damn good influences in my life. I learned tolerance and understanding, I believed that it’s cool to be smart and okay to feel different, I donated money to charity since before I could anywhere near afford it and I became engaged in and informed about politics and global issues when I was still just a kid.
(sidenote: I believe my watching the videos and later recommending them to my friends who then recommended them to their friends and so on might have made my home town (with less than 10,000 people) have one of the highest nerdfighter counts per capita, at least prior to tfios becoming so huge)
Back in 2013, Hank Green made this video all about how to deliver an apology when you’re unintentionally hurtful. It’s pretty on point, and it makes use of a lot of content from chescaleigh’s video on the same topic (one of my favorite videos from one of my favorite YouTubers). The takeaway from both videos is that, when someone calls you out for crappy behavior, it’s important to acknowledge that behavior was crappy, whether it was intended that way or not. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It just means that you screwed up, and in the future, you can change your behavior. In light of this video, I thought I would share an experience with Hank that continues to bother me.
Hank and John have addressed a lot of difficult topics in a sensitive and accessible manner, which is pretty great. Every time I see Hank Green, though, I remember a very specific time when he wasn’t so sensitive. My goal is not to demonize or “expose” anyone, but to bring attention to the ubiquity of casual transphobia and the harm it causes.
Some background. Several years ago, the vlogbrothers (mostly Hank) ran an experimental channel Truth or Fail, “YouTube’s first game show.” Users would click the truth between two supposed facts, and the buttons brought them to subsequent videos elaborating on their chosen answer, indicating whether it was right or wrong. It was usually a nice blend of silly and informative for all kinds of topics.
So one week, the topic was penises. One of the alleged facts had to do with how FTM bottom surgery is performed. At that point, I’d already struggled a lot with gender identity. Transition wasn’t talked about nearly as much as it is now, so I was always curious what people had to say about it when it was brought up (especially people that I looked up to and idolized like the vlogbrothers). I clicked the false fact about it, just to see what Hank said. Hank… used it as an opportunity to flippantly make a joke about trans guys and being unsure what to call them (referring to them as “ladies”).
Again: this was 4 years ago, and at the time, there really wasn’t a lot of mainstream discussion about trans people. I’m sure that it wasn’t Hank’s intention to be hurtful, but as he and chescaleigh so eloquently point out, intention and impact are not the same thing. I can still remember how surprised and hurt I was when I saw this.
It’s something that’s always just been there in the back of my head whenever I encounter Hank Green, and that makes me sad, because I want to be able to appreciate and enjoy his content without thinking of that whenever I see it. When I saw his video on how to apologize back when it was first posted, it made me feel better. I assumed that if someone brought it to his attention, it would be important enough to him that he would acknowledge it and apologize. So a few months back, I decided I would do just that.
I sent him an ask in April, making an effort to be polite and assure him that I didn’t mean to attack. I know Hank probably gets a lot of asks, so it didn’t bother me that I didn’t get a response right away. When a month had gone by and he’d answered several innocuous asks (some clearly more recent than the one I’d sent), I started to feel a little anxious about it. I sent another ask, emphasizing that I just wanted him to acknowledge it, even if it was just privately.
Since then… more silence. I used to be able to still enjoy his content and his posts, but now it’s hard for me to see any of them and not feel pretty crappy, so I’ve had to unfollow him various places. That doesn’t mean I don’t still see him, though, and see when other people that I also like and respect are collaborating with him. A week ago, I sent another ask, this time more of a “tell”:
“I always felt a little weird/sad after you made that super transphobic joke, which was a shame since I like a lot of the things you’re involved in. That’s why I thought I would ask you to address it – you’re a good guy and I figured I could finally move past it. But now that you’ve ignored it the multiple times I’ve asked you (instead answering a bunch of safer messages that might not endanger your image – that’s what I’m assuming, which is why I said I’d be fine with a pm), I feel way worse.”
Still more silence. And… yeah. I get that Hank doesn’t owe me anything. But I want to reemphasize that this is not about demonizing him. For a long time, this has just been an uncomfortable thing that I haven’t expressed, and that’s maybe why I haven’t been able to let go of it. So while there’s a part of me that hopes this is seen and addressed by Hank, I know that’s not super likely. For anyone else, I hope this can serve as a reminder that our idols are not perfect, and we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to that.