Potential support for transgender individuals may lie with video bloggers

April 11, 2016

Stevie Berberick

By Stevie Berberick, Pennsylvania State University

Transgender individuals (folks whose gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth) are among one of the most marginalized groups in our society. One comprehensive study found that 51 percent of transgender individuals faced job loss due to a refusal to recognize gender identity as a category worthy of protection. This led to unemployment rates double that of the general population.

Finding shelter following the loss of a home proves especially troubling with 19 percent of respondents experiencing homelessness at some point during their lives. Shelters offered little respite, with violence and harassment looming, just as it does on the streets and sometimes at home. Unfortunately, this also leads to sweltering rates of suicide or attempted suicide within transgender communities.1

These aggressions open the door to various discussions, but perhaps most important is the question of how non-profits that center on gender and sexuality can best assist transgender individuals during their times of need. Furthermore, it is vital that non-profits address the ways in which they can reach and communicate with individuals that do not have access to a physical site/shelter. The question of access is paramount, as transgender individuals are more likely to live in poverty and thus transportation and travel time can be especially challenging.

The Arthur W. Page Center summer research funding has allowed me to explore the potentialities of YouTube as a social media platform that can offer valuable resources to the transgender community if utilized by non-profits.

I will travel to meet and interview six transmasculine (assigned a sex of female at birth but heavily incorporate masculinity into their gender performances) YouTube producers that create video blogs (vlogs) and exhibit them on YouTube to answer these questions. These vloggers have thousands of subscribers and sometimes millions of views giving them incredible insight into transgender needs, both because of their own histories and because digital transgender communities have formed around these producers. A precursory investigation of YouTube content indicates that vloggers receive far more views than non-profits with a YouTube channel. It has also indicated a lack of presence of sexuality and gender centered non-profits on YouTube.

Yet a strong social media presence by non-profits can increase awareness as to which of these organizations exist while also opening virtual communication channels between non-profits and individuals in need. Advice from experts (YouTube vloggers) positioned within the communities these services advocate for may instruct non-profits in best practices for online reach, while also providing information as to what the trans community most needs.

Additionally, this project adds to our academic and social landscape in that the depth and breadth of interviews offers a reflexivity and exploration into and of lives and voices that have been consistently pushed to the margins–sometimes to the point of battery and death. This research will center on these experiences, not as a means to answer our own questions about gender in the everyday, but as a means to privilege voices long silenced.



1Grant et al. (2011). Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. Washington: National Center for Transgender Equality and
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Available at: http://www.thetaskforce.org/static_html/downloads/reports/reports/ntds_full.pdf