My experience as a closeted gay kid in high school was similar to many of the LGBTQ+ stories being told today — sans the whirlwind romance. The hopeless romantic in me wanted to be loved so badly.
Without the love of my life by my side, I turned to the internet for companionship, and I spent a lot of time consuming queer content on the World Wide Web. I watched videos by creators like Tyler Oakley, Connor Franta and King “Kingsley” Russell during what I like to call the “Golden Age of YouTubers.” Davey Wavey’s videos about sex and relationships helped me understand more about sexual health, and YouTubers like Kat Blaque and Laci Green helped me learn about intersectionality within the queer community. It was a time when the most popular creators were genuinely enjoyable to watch, and their collaborations were often born of actual friendships.
I paid the most attention to Troye Sivan, a skinny, pale white boy with piercing blue eyes and a head of curly brown hair. I watched Sivan’s YouTube videos in earnest and felt like he and the other YouTubers were my friends.
I was introduced to Sivan when I was thinking about coming out to my parents. I didn’t know what to do or what to say. So I typed “Coming Out” in the YouTube search bar, and was served hundreds of videos of young white guys who had come out to their parents and received immediate positive reactions.
I happened across Sivan’s “Coming Out” video, where he spoke about how the word “gay” scared him. I felt connected to that, because I felt the same way. I didn’t want to be gay. His video drew me in because he and I both found solace online during our coming-out journeys. This was enough for me to want to subscribe to his channel. It wasn’t until later that I realized he’d helped me through more than one major moment in my life.
As Sivan’s star started to rise, I was along for the ride. He dropped his official debut single, “Happy Little Pill,” during my junior year of high school in 2014, and I listened to it repeatedly from the moment it came out. The bold yet subtle dream-pop aesthetic was precisely the type of music I never knew I needed. The explicitly gay lyrics were an added bonus.
In his song “Heaven” with Betty Who, he wonders: “Without losing a piece of me, how can I get to heaven?” It was a question I was familiar with, being raised in a Catholic household. His honesty continued with songs like “10/10,” where he describes not being the perfect partner to someone, and “Animal,” where he talks about the animalistic love of being with the right person.
His second studio album, “Bloom,” explored the sexual relationship between two men through the analogy of a flower. “Postcard,” in which he describes the lack of effort he saw from a partner, helped me through a similar situation. I’ve partied to “Wild” and “My My My,” and related a little too much to “Seventeen.”
At some point, though, I realized consuming so much content online was making me miserable. At the time, Tumblr was everyone’s platform of choice, since it was easy to keep up with the popular YouTube creators and talk about their work. But along with that came more presentations of unrealistic body standards, an endless stream of chiseled abs and thigh gaps. I knew prolonged exposure to this kind of media could be doing more harm than good, and soon it began taking a personal toll on me.
It was the year leading up to my senior prom, and I decided that I didn’t like the way I looked: tall, brown and overweight. This was definitely a symptom of being terminally online as a teenager, getting bombarded with images of attractive white people and realizing I didn’t look like those pictures.
Then I decided I could fix one of those things: being overweight. I went to the gym more often, started eating better (but sometimes very little), and became obsessed with losing weight quickly. At one point, I decided to stop eating carbs altogether, and the pounds dropped off significantly. When I was at my skinniest, my aunts would compliment me, telling me I looked great, that they could tell I’d lost a lot of weight. I was in this paradoxical space of “looking my best” and feeling the worst. I wanted to hide, but there was a part of me that also wanted to be seen.
I started feeling like I could be someone who posts selfies on Tumblr and gets hundreds of likes. Hell, maybe I could even be a YouTuber like these people I’d been watching for years. They were so open about who they were; they seemed like they had no problems to deal with, ever. They were sent free things and got invited to amazing events.
It wasn’t until I read Oakley’s book, “Binge,” that I realized it wasn’t all glitz and glamour. Oakley is open about the burnout he experienced, how the expectations of creating content were piled on top of speaking gigs and red carpet events. While it all might have looked amazing, it wasn’t always the best experience.
In some ways, that prompted me to look inward and remember that these people who had seemingly perfect lives were dealing with their own shit, and if they could handle theirs, I should work on mine. The struggles with my identity are still a work in progress: I’m more than comfortable being gay, but the community of gay men in New York City is not always the most welcoming, and I’m sometimes confronted with those body-image issues I told myself I’d work on. But enough on that ― that’s between me and my therapist.
Over the years, there haven’t been many constants in my life, but Sivan has stuck around. He’s been with me through graduations, heartbreaks, new jobs, loss, and now a pandemic. I’ve listened to “Take Yourself Home” on repeat after it came out during the pandemic, because it reminded me of dancing in a gay bar with no worries at all.
He and his music have taught me a lot about myself, and I’m glad he found me when he did.