On October 7, YouTuber Trisha Paytas shared what she says is her truth—and upset a lot of people in the process. In a video posted to her YouTube channel and shared on Twitter, Paytas—a 31-year-old who has become well-known for her comedy and mukbang videos (don’t worry, SFW)—Paytas revealed the she is transgender. “I AM TRANSGENDER (FEMALE TO MALE)” Paytas titled the video, alongside a thumbnail that featured the content creator dressed like Troy Bolton from High School Musical.
In the 15-minute video, Paytas (who still uses her birth name and female pronouns) talks about her gender identity and sexuality, telling her followers: “I like guys, but I also identify as a guy—if that makes sense.” For a lot of people in the LGBTQ+ community, it didn’t.
Almost as soon as Paytas shared her video to social media, the Twitter-sphere was alight with people responding to the YouTuber, calling the video not only confusing but transphobic, exploitative and seriously harmful to transgender individuals and the trans community at large.
I’m sorry but did Trisha Paytas really just makes a video with the thumb nail as her dressed as Troy fucking Bolton coming out as “trans” because she doesn’t wear make up some days, is attracted to gay men and has more guy friends or did I just hit my head and am going crazy?!?? pic.twitter.com/8y49n2ecN3
— Kirsty (@kkirstylouise) October 7, 2019
Among some of the comments made in her video, Paytas said she also identifies as a “drag queen” (which is not a gender identity) because she likes dressing like a woman. The YouTuber also says that while she “1,000 per cent” thinks she is transgender, she also “1,000 per cent” identifies with her “natural born gender” and has no plans to transition.
The definition of transgender is someone whose gender assigned at birth by a doctor does not match their gender identity. “I think gender identity and expression as well as gender dysphoria can look different for everyone,” says Tatiana Ferguson, a trans activist and program coordinator at METRAC, of Paytas’s video. But, according to Ferguson, that doesn’t mean that some of what the YouTuber says isn’t actually harmful.
Paytas generalizes and makes *a lot* of assumptions
One of the biggest issues with the video is the way the YouTube star seems to be generalizing and making assumptions, both about members of the LGBTQ+ community, and herself.
Among the many generalizations Paytas makes is the idea that gay men can’t have masculine energy and straight men can’t have feminine energy. Throughout the video, Paytas repeatedly details that she is drawn to gay men and gets along better with them, because she doesn’t like “masculine energy.” A statement like this, while seemingly innocuous, is actually pretty barbed, as it implies that gay men can’t be masculine or straight men can’t be feminine, which reinforces toxic stereotypes about gender and sexual orientation.
She also makes assumptions about her own trans identity, drawing a parallel between her desire not to wear makeup everyday and lack of cattiness (a trait she sees in other women) as an indication that she must be trans, telling her followers: “I never wear hair and makeup in my day-to-day, I usually look crazy. As far as girly-ness goes, I never wear makeup, if I’ve got zits on my face I just let them go. So I’ve always just related to guys on that level.”
According to Pride.com, statements like these can be extremely harmful because not only do they trivialize a very nuanced identity, reducing people’s trans identity to not wanting to put on makeup or do their hair, they also make identifying as trans seem like a choice, and even an answer to being lazy or not wanting to adhere to society’s beauty standards. I don’t want to brush my hair either, but to say that *that’s* a reason you think you’re trans? It just doesn’t add up.
…and equates gender identity with sexual preference
Another issue that Ferguson pointed out is Paytas’s conflation of gender identity (a person’s internal and individual experience of gender, which can differ from the gender they’re assigned at birth) and sexual orientation (a person’s physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction to another person). In the video, Paytas says: “I have always been attracted to gay guys so I always thought I am gay man.”
“While there are some trans men or female-to-male who are attracted to men and some who identify as gay or queer, their gender identity isn’t directly linked to their sexual preference,” Ferguson clarifies.
By Paytas’s logic, because she is attracted to men whose sexual orientations are queer, then that must mean that she—in wanting to be the object of their desire—is a gay man. While it may seem confusing, it’s really not. Trans people can be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual or queer. The gender they’re attracted to is completely independent of the gender they identify with.
The conflation of identity and sexuality is prevalent when it comes to people’s assumptions about the transgender community. In her 2017 memoir, The Secrets of My Life, Olympian Caitlyn Jenner touched on the public obsession with her sex life and partners post-transition. “It hearkens back to this misperception that people transition because of their sexual desires,” Jenner wrote at the time. Which is not cool.
The video trivializes the experience of trans people and spreads misinformation
While Paytas most likely wasn’t intending to be harmful with her video, the fact is she has a huge platform—with 4.9 million YouTube subscribers—and according to Maya Henry, a trans activist and Toronto-based YouTuber, addressing her audience when she may not have been entirely informed about terminology or the nuances of the LGBTQ+ community can actually be quite dangerous.
This is especially harmful when the stakes for coming out as trans, or merely existing as a trans person, are so high. Right now, in both the United States and Canada, trans women—especially trans women of colour—are being murdered at alarming rates.
trisha paytas literally said she was transgender because she cosplayed troy bolton. can she stop being so disrespectful? trans people are literally being killed for being themselves #trishapaytasisoverparty
— mai 🕸 (@finestqirlz) October 7, 2019
“It’s harmful because a lot of people really struggle to come out as trans, and people can be killed for it,” Henry says of Paytas’s video. “She isn’t explaining it properly, and I feel that since people won’t take her seriously, they might not take the trans community as seriously. So she’s spreading a lot of misinformation about what it means to be trans.”
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Henry points to some of Paytas’s reasoning behind identifying as transgender as an example of this misinformation. In one part of the video, she talks about how she would wear a sports bra when she was growing up because she had lopsided breasts.
“She was comparing that to binding for trans men, where they bind their chest closer so that they experience less dysphoria,” Henry says. “She was conflating [those two experiences] even though she had justified the fact she would wear sports bras because she was uncomfortable with her breasts being lopsided, not with the fact that she had breasts at all.” For Henry, this conflation, along with comments Paytas makes about having penis envy, miss the point of why people transition. “The things she touches on aren’t relevant to being trans,” Henry says. “So it makes people think that this could be a phase.”
As a content creator herself who has been documenting her life and transition since 2014, Henry says that while she’s received immense support from the trans community, it’s at times overshadowed by the hate. “No matter what you post, someone will comment something transphobic or discriminatory against who you are. And you deal with that on every video,” she says. “It’s not like you can make one video about being trans and then everyone forgets about it. It’s who you are. And so that’s something that I feel like Trisha doesn’t really cover in her video. It’s very different being a trans content creator versus what she’s doing.”
…and comes across like it’s for clicks
The YouTube star stressed in both her initial video and a subsequent apology published on October 8 that coming out as trans is not a stunt, but it’s hard not to wonder if it’s for the views. Under her first video, Paytas promotes her ongoing tour, “The Heartbreak Tour.” And as Cosmopolitan writer Hannah Chambers pointed out, the repeated use of phrases like “this will be scandalous,” and “it just sounds so crazy” make it seem like she’s trying to be intentionally controversial. Not to mention the video’s thumbnail image, in which the content creator is dressed as a HSM-era Zac Efron, which Henry says is “obviously for shock value.”
Report this tweet. Using gender identity as click bait is a privileged act of violence. I’m not gonna stand for it. I don’t care what it’s actually about. The headline and photo used cannot be serious. Trans people are murdered for quietly trying to live their life. Big NOPE😡 https://t.co/b7PB99vc5H
— VICKY VOX (@TheVickyVox) October 7, 2019
It all boils down to education
The thing is, Paytas’s statements most likely come from a lack of knowledge and not flagrant maliciousness. “She’s trying to say something very genuine,” Henry says of the video, “so I’m trying to be respectful of that. But at the same time, you look at the thumbnail for the video, [and] it’s very clickbait and not respectful to the topic.” Beyond the thumbnail, Henry says the point of the video itself is confusing.
Henry says the title of the video makes it seem like Paytas’s intention is clear—to share with the world that she identifies as a female-to-male transgender person. “But in the video, she goes on to say that she doesn’t really want to transition and that she sometimes identifies as male and sometimes identifies as female. It can be very misleading.” For Henry, this back and forth was an indicator that Paytas hadn’t taken the time to educate herself on what it means to be trans. “That’s one of the biggest factors in the video being offensive to a lot of people in the LGBTQ community and potentially harmful, because she doesn’t really understand a lot of the stuff that she’s talking about.”
But, we shouldn’t demonize her
As easy as it could be to write Paytas off, we shouldn’t. “My biggest takeaway from [the video] was that she’s confused,” Janelle Villapando, a trans woman and fellow YouTuber says. “She still has a lot to figure out.” And regardless of how we might feel, we also have to realize that this is her experience.
“Yes, she should be more informed,” says Villapando, “because being more informed helps you get your point across more effectively; but I also don’t think it’s anyone’s business to stifle anyone’s expression of themselves. I don’t ever want anyone who identifies as trans to have to feel like they have to explain themselves,” she says.
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Moving forward, Henry says she’d like to see Paytas work with the transgender community. “It would be nice if in a response to this video she sat down with someone from the community and they went through the video with her and talked about it and she responded to their thoughts on it,” Henry suggests.
Ferguson has similar thinking. “As an activist, I believe people should always speak their truth,” she says. “So my suggestions is to do another video with a specific focus that would centre on her true feelings rather than vague generalizations.” And that includes the ultimately misleading title of the video, Ferguson says, pointing to a statement Paytas makes around the 5:45 mark of the video. Talking about the idea of labels, whether on gender identity or sexuality, Paytas says she’s never been a fan when it comes to identifying as “male, female, gay, straight, bi.” “I don’t know if I would say I’m confused, I would say I’m all of it,” Paytas says. Ferguson says a message like this would have been a good title for the video, as it would set up and indicate the video as her *personal* (and sometimes confusing) experience. “By having a title that is specific to her experience she can talk more openly and authentically as opposed to associating herself to a community that she doesn’t inherently feel a part of.”