Early Monday morning, Calum McSwiggan stimulated an outpouring of sympathy from the gay community. The YouTube personality received over 5,000 likes on an Instagram post in which he can be seen lying in a hospital bed with a bandage on his forehead and a hand over his heart.
“Last night was the worst night of my life,” he wrote in an accompanying caption. “After one of the most wonderful weekends at VidCon, we went out to a gay club to celebrate, and towards the end of the evening I was separated from my friends and beaten up by three guys…With three broken teeth and six stitches in my forehead, I’ve never felt so terrified to be a gay man in the public eye.”
But the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department tells a different story. According to several reports, McSwiggan was arrested for vandalism, after he was discovered drunkenly picking fights at the popular gay club. Though McSwiggan claims the attack happened before his arrest, a mugshot reveals no injuries whatsoever. An official police report goes one step further. “Responding deputies were unable to substantiate the assault,” it reads. After being booked and photographed, “McSwiggan was then observed injuring himself with the handle and receiver to a payphone inside the cell.” He is now being charged with falsifying a report of a criminal offense.
While some in the YouTube community are calling for a boycott of his channel, McSwiggan’s videos — though difficult to stomach — offer some insight into the mind of a person who would fake a hate crime for personal gain. With clickbait titles like “I Paid for Gay Sex in Thailand” and “Gay Armpit Fetish,” McSwiggan is clearly no stranger to the digital media numbers game. Even this recent controversy has him racking up views.
The London-based “LGBT & Lifestyle” vlogger makes videos from a white, male, Western perspective. His most popular video — with over 466,000 views — is called: “I Did Gay Porn & I’m Sorry.” In it, McSwiggan faces the camera and apologizes for this transgressive chapter of his youth, presenting the view that sex work is shameful and disgusting, as if it were a universally-held belief. He espouses similar views in “I Paid For Gay Sex in Thailand,” with a healthy dose of cultural exploitation thrown in for good measure. In that video, he tells of paying for a massage in the gay red light district in Bangkok (where he maybe once heard a little rumor about the kind of massages one gets there) and acts mortified when his masseuse begins “moving down towards [his] nether regions.”
Why would you knowingly hire a sex worker if your intention was not to pay for sex? Might it be that it would make for a great YouTube vlog? Much like, say, faking your own hate crime? And consider the topicality of his stunt, given the recent tragedy in Orlando — which McSwiggan also capitalized on earlier this month with a crocodile tear-filled response vlog titled, “Orlando Shooting: Pulse Night Club Tragedy.” (Hits all the Google trend words, natch.)
Fame may be fleeting, but YouTube fame is like a fleet week sailor: back at sea before he sets foot on land. It’s hard out here for a gay lifestyle vlogger. What’s a guy to do when he gets arrested for drunkenly assaulting his friends at The Abbey? McSwiggan, empowered by his online stardom, seemed to think he controlled the narrative. But at long last, he seems to have lost his grip.