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Ingrid Nilsen and the Art of Coming Out on YouTube

Ingrid Nilsen and the Art of Coming Out on YouTube

Somewhere out there, in the dead of night, the internet glamor tutorialist who’s garnered upwards of 3 million followers for her fashion tips, DIY hairdos and “shopping hauls” — staples of one particular feminine counterculture, for sure — uploaded the cyber version of stepping foot in the confessional to let her viewers know, with an inhale of apprehension, that she’s gay. Ingrid Nilsen, who is 26 and been an active ‘YouTuber’ for half the amount of time anyone can have claimed that as their job title or double life identity (a good five years), begins her announcement by jumping straight to the point: “I guess I am just going to get right to it. There’s something that I want you to know, and that something is… I’m gay. It feels so good to say that.” 

Nilsen proceeds to tell the touching tale of discovering her preference when she was like, four, but being driven by negative societal influences to keep it under wraps. She digressed into relationships with men she deeply regrets having been untrue to, and talks about Holden Caulfield-ing it up and fleeing to NYC to spend time alone for several months, hearing a resonant song lyric and “friggin’ losing it.” 

“I have had this wall up for so much of my life, but it wasn’t like this brick wall or stone wall,” she recounts. “I’ve described it to my friends as this glass wall, where you could see me but you were never getting all of me, because there was always that barrier there.” She departs from the 19 minute video on a grateful note, nearly in tears, by combatting any naysayers rushing to accuse her of undergoing a phase: “The part of my life where I was in a prison that was built for me and then I, at one point, took over the construction of that prison and kept the building going myself… That was the phase. Being in that prison. That was the phase.”

Miss Glamorazzi (Nilsen’s former vlogger moniker) joins the ranks of many an internet celeb with a developed yet niche viewership who, as of quite recent, have catapulted themselves into sight of the all-seeing mainstream eye by courageously letting their true, queer colors show. Then in reflection of social progress, these statements are mostly received with similarly soaring hues. Nilsen’s video has been live for little more than 24 hours and it’s already well on its way to becoming the most viewed of her 468 uploads. Two days prior I’m doubtful I’d have recognized her name, but since then her moment of truth has been covered by every major news outlet. Take to your Google search bar with “ing” and you’ll promptly be suggested the result “ingrid nilsen gay.” 

Whenever one of these waterwork-inducing coming-out stories emerges from the ether, it’’s easy to recall the fleeting fame of the last viral sensation and wonder what it will all mean one day. That’s not to say I’m a critic, because I do like them and have spent sleepless night bingeing on these stories, one after the other, sensing that they verge on the internet equivalent of a warm hug. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in my ceaseless fascination with the plethora of social media addicts whose personalities I really cannot stand, and who like, clearly have mastered the marketing of their personal brand more than anything else — it’s that I’m iffy about the performance aspect of it, and even moreso about the public’s preoccupation with diving headfirst into anything and everything that’s supposed to make them feel moved. 

To usher in the new year with a weight lifted from their shoulders, model twins Aaron and Austin Rhodes, known for their “The Rhode Bros” YouTube channel, posted a lil video that got a lot of attention: a modest 19 million views. The uber-conventionally-attractive clones dial up their father on speakerphone, cry, tell him they’re both gay — although one bro’s need to be heard steals the spotlight a little from the other bro, which nauseates me — and then they put it online for the world to see. The way in which it blew up was somewhat colossal (it surpasses young Olympian Tom Daley’s famous clip and the music vid to Diana Ross’ anthem combined), which is kind of incredible but still kind of a bit not? Ellen DeGeneres and her scouts seemed to only think the former, however, because she invited the blondies to sit on her TV sofa and chitchat. But you know, some are born destined for it, some achieve it, and some just have Ellen thrust upon them. 

I think Vanity Fair writer Richard Lawson puts it best by asking the same questions — this time about another young duo whose stunt was noticed and picked up, because the web’s overflowing with them — that fuel my existential uncertainty:

“It’s more the sort of cold glimmer of knowingness detectable in the way these two kids are reacting to this whole experience. It’s almost as if they planned for this thing to go viral, for Ellen to ask them on her show[…] But the question is, is that just them? Are they simply two really ambitious, marketing-savvy youngsters? Or is that all kids now? Is teen life now a constant stream of potentially viral moments? Is all teen life lived in that liminal place, the one teeming and busy with the potential of sudden, mercurial fame? I worry that might be the case. That embedded in all kids these days, quiet but glowing like an infinity stone, is this dormant fame monster, waiting to be unleashed upon the world and fly a brief, fiery arc across the pop culture sky.”

Another among the procession that paved the way to Ingrid Nielsen’s headlining clip was Connor Franta’s monumental “Coming Out” speech — which is just as emotional if not a little contrived-feeling, and being the teen heartthrob that Connor Franta is, accrued a view count of over 8 million and a — wait for it… book deal. Which don’t get me wrong, because I’m all for his continued flourishing and consider him brave and sweet-seeming and all that… I’m just maybe more dumbfounded than I should be that a 22-year-old whose literal claim to fame is curating his everyday cappuccino palm tree life to tween girls could land a bestselling memoir. Friends of mine don’t hesitate to use the word ‘dystopic’ but I’m clueless as to where I stand. I stand alongside Connor Franta, I suppose, on some sort of cusp or high ledge. 

The thing is that Connor’s no longer just projecting his message to the smitten teens, right? Neither is Ingrid Nilsen, and neither are Austin and Aaron Rhodes, and neither is Troye Sivan or Lucas Cruikshank or the increasing number of other online personas who aren’t met solely by their friends and family when coming-out o’clock strikes one, but have to face a fan base not unlike real celebrities do. But that’s the thing — they don’t really do anything except for play an appealing version of themselves, so there’s more at stake if their Subscribers refuse to subscribe to these new-told revelations. They mostly overwhelmingly do, though, and for me that makes it all mean something. And even if the fans didn’t, I would still have their backs.

Also because there’s no fate I can envision with more horror than the one that befalls minor internet celebrities who are rejected and forgotten, forced to live unknown like the rest of us.

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