What My Spat With Vaush Taught Me About Being a Black Woman Online

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I started a YouTube channel in 2005, which means I’ve been a YouTuber for most of my life. Growing up, I felt very isolated in my community. I was one of the only Black kids and one of the only openly queer ones. This made me feel very alone, so I turned to YouTube to vent about my frustrations at school. My classmates often considered me to be “one of the good ones” because I didn’t act how they assumed all Black people did. I remember going out of my way to distance myself from all of the negative images they associated with blackness because it felt good to be accepted in a situation where I was one of the few. They’d say stuff to me like “you’re so well-spoken” with a subtext that made it clear they weren’t expecting me to be. It would take me years to unpack that specific type of anti-Blackness; but long story short, it encouraged a certain degree of “respectability” that to this day is still a central part of how I move through the world. No matter how much unpacking you do, sometimes old habits die hard.  

Ten years later, in 2015, my YouTube channel went from being an emotional outlet to a very unexpected career. After graduating from Animation college, I realized Animation wasn’t what I wanted to do so I turned back to blogging and started using what I learned in school to make more elevated YouTube videos. When I graduated college, my goal in life was to be “stealth.” I wanted my transness not to be at the forefront of my life, and simply be known as I am now. I was in a relationship with a man with a very conservative family and living deep in a very conservative part of Orange County. Stealth was, in many ways, safety for me at the time, but as I pursued YouTube as a career, I had to accept that stealth probably wasn’t going to be a possibility for me anymore. My channel was small, but I had a dedicated following. One day a Youtuber I admired whispered to me that I could be a “mainstream” transgender YouTuber if that’s what I really wanted. I wasn’t sure If it was, since being “mainstream” has never exactly been a focus of mine. However, when I sat with it for a while, I realized how desperately I needed representation when I felt isolated in my small town. Representation can be so powerful and there weren’t, and still aren’t, many well-known black transgender YouTubers. I realized that I had not just the foundation, but also the privilege to be able to put myself out there to help others and so I started making more elevated content about transgender issues. However, being stealth meant that transphobia was something I often spoke about in past tense. Those conversations were important to me, but especially living in a predominately white area during the beginning of Black Lives Matter protests across the country, race quickly became a more important topic for me. So, I started creating more content about racism.  

Pop Feminism was at an all-time high in the mid 2010s’ and I had a job at Everyday Feminism creating YouTube content that educated folks about the various things I embodied. This would get the attention of the “Anti-SJW” crowd, who would make a career out of responding to my content. Harassment has always been a complicated topic for me, as a person who started a YouTube channel as a suicidal teen. I’ve never known a time on the internet where I wasn’t mercilessly attacked for who I was and when you have been dealing with that for most of your life, it becomes easy for you to build thick skin around even some of the shittiest behavior. I don’t conflate criticism with harassment because it’s part of posting things online. However, what I started to recognize was that these Anti-SJWs were almost never criticizing arguments I actually made as much as they were criticizing the angry, Black woman avatar they made me out to be. Quite frequently, they would argue I was advocating for the opposite of the kind of society I was advocating for.  

Being black and transgender has meant that my life has not been an easy one. I have spent most of it fighting to simply function and provide for myself and that’s hard in a society that not only doesn’t understand you but seems averse to you. I’d like to think that the content I create is about encouraging a more understanding and empathetic society where the experiences I’ve had because of who I am are less common. Because of what I’ve experienced, I don’t believe in supremacy of any kind, and I certainly don’t believe that justice would be the marginalized wielding the same power as the privileged to oppress them in an equivalent way. I’d like to exist in a society where our differences are celebrated instead of being used to justify oppression and mistreatment. People who were actively listening to how I voiced my world view, understood this to be my position, but Anti-SJWs would quite frequently twist my advocacy against white supremacy into an anti-white sentiment.  

The most frustrating thing that would happen back then was that these Anti-SJW creators would take something I said, edit around it and make it sound like I was saying something terrible and indefensible. For example, I once made a research-based video about how the Irish were treated in America. The gist of what I said was that while the Irish were treated poorly, they were not under chattel slavery the way Black slaves in America were. I was incredibly careful in my wording because regardless of context, I see the act of owning and exploiting a human being as incredibly immoral, and I’ve always made that clear. One blogger took that video and twisted it into the message that I thought slavery was peachy-keen as long as the slaves were white. To this day, this video is one of their top videos. It didn’t matter that I never said that and would never say that; there was an audience thirsty for content attacking feminists and women of color. Then other bloggers would repeat the same exact misrepresentations of my ideas and the lie would get bigger and bigger and bigger. My channel was small back then so these creators, who were almost always white cis men, were able to establish and define my arguments to their much larger audiences, which of course meant that my channel would be overrun with comments demanding that I answer for my supposed anti-white racism. Most annoying of all, some of these creators wanted me to go onto their channels to have a live debate with them to defend the arguments I never made.  

Debate is an interesting subject for me. I’ve always valued conversation over it; at least how I’ve seen it online. I’m an atheist, and I was very much part of the online atheist community in the 2010s’ during a time where debate dominated atheist conversation online. No one is more of an obnoxious debate bro than a self-proclaimed “militant atheist” in the 2010s’, I promise you. I listened to The Atheist Experience every week. I’d tune in to hear Matt Dillahunty and his co-hosts debate with theists about religion and I got a lot from those conversations because they were so focused on the ideas being shared, less so who was sharing them. I could be misremembering, so correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t remember there being much of a cult of personality around Matt, Tracie, Russell, or Jeff. They were normal people who dedicated (and are still dedicating) their weekends to a public access show where they discuss and debate ideas. I didn’t know very much about their lives or really who they were beyond the show and while I appreciated their argumentation, I did not adore them as these god-like figures. I was a fan of the show, not necessarily them. These conversations being had over the phone meant that aside from a few repeat callers, I didn’t really care about whoever was on the other side of the line. The format meant that the ideas were central to the conversation, and no one was really trying to enrich themselves financially from them. They had these conversations because they cared about advocating for Atheism, and most of all advocating for a separation of church and state.  

Then something changed. I’m not exactly sure when, but these conversations slowly became about winning or “pwning” as we called it back then. Other figures emerged and capitalized on shifting social media trends and suddenly we had these online creators with fan bases and curated images. Most of these creators were white men who would have conversations with random Christians on live streams, similarly to The Atheist Experience, but with entertainment being the focus. What this meant was, at a certain point, people were tuning in less-so to hear arguments against theism, and more-so to listen to these Atheists absolutely obliterate their opponents with “facts and logic.” There was a certain degree of bravado in all these conversations, and they would often become repetitive and masturbatory. These figures would sit on a stream with a self-satisfied smirk on their faces and they’d argue against what was frequently, low hanging fruit. The conversations became repetitive and so many of these channels would branch out and quite a few of them became prominent Anti-SJW channels. Some of the very ones that made misrepresenting me their job.  

For years, it seemed like I was their favorite person to pick on. I ignored most of it, but it still got to me that they were able to, so easily establish me as having ideas I simply did not have. I have very few pet peeves, but a big one is a confident belief in something untrue about me. I don’t really take issue with someone criticizing my actual ideas or positions, but so often, I felt like I was forced to address and clarify arguments I never made. For years, people called me a “Black Supremacist” because I once made a joke on twitter to a white nationalist about his fear of mixed-race children. People like Phil DeFranco would cover the story and spread this misrepresentation to, quite literally, millions of people who confidently believed I not only hated white people, but thought I was biologically superior to them. No one criticized the white nationalist sending me hate, just my response. There’s a side of the internet who believes that I think a man looking at me for too long is “rape” because I made a video about rape culture where I described a man stalking me on my way home and trying to invite himself into my apartment. Quite frequently, I found myself derailing the conversations I wanted to have to clarify that I didn’t hate white people or cis people or men. I couldn’t actually just talk about what I wanted to talk about, I had to obsessively worry about how anything I could say could be easily taken out of context and this became quite overwhelming. Perhaps that was the point.  

I started to think maybe it was my approach. Back then, most of my videos were scripted and under 10 minutes. Sometimes when you’re trying to be concise, but comprehensive, you can sound declarative. I figured that maybe that’s why people thought I was such a dogmatic person. So, I invested in a teleprompter and started speaking more freely and less stoically. I wanted to be more personable and welcoming. I thought that would make it less likely that people would misrepresent me. In so many ways, that worked, and my channel grew quite a bit. However, I’d leave my relationship in 2017 and embark on a new journey to the city where I would try hard to find the person I lost in that relationship.  

Now I was 27 years old living in the city for the first time in my life. I was overwhelmed, but this felt like the right path for me. I was finally in a more diverse area with the sorts of people I wanted to connect with and in many ways, I changed pretty drastically as a person. With that being the case, I felt like I needed to take a break from YouTube, so I didn’t upload a new video for an entire year. During that time, I really tried to reexamine what I was doing on YouTube and if I’m being honest, I became frustrated with the fact that I could devote so much time to researching and scripting videos, just to have some white man wave his hand over it, misrepresent it, and establish to the world what I “actually meant.” This pattern had a way of causing me to doubt myself to the point where I really started to question if my videos were as bad as people seemed to make them out to be. To this day, I watch some of these videos back and it’s crazy how concise, polite, calm, and non-confrontational they actually were in retrospect. I didn’t want to bend to the pressure to stop creating content, but I had to examine what would be healthy and stable for me. So, I figured if they couldn’t trust me to faithfully narrate history, maybe they’d trust me to faithfully narrate my own life. So, my work became more personal and less political. For the most part, this worked, and my channel grew pretty dramatically, but YouTube had changed quite a bit since I was gone. 

In my absence, several left leaning creators had risen to prominence and as I was figuring out what I wanted to do when I returned to YouTube, their content was certainly inspiring to me. It seemed like being an Anti-SJW slowly went out of vogue, and left leaning content became more polished and entertaining. While I admired this content, it also stood out to me that many of these creators were essentially saying the same things I had said but being received in a vastly different way. All of these creators were white and had, at least on paper, more radical politics than I. They certainly received criticism, but I noticed how frequently that criticism was actually engaged in their ideas, not usually misrepresentations of them. There were certainly grifters who did that, but even when being criticized, they were often complimented. While I loved these creators, I felt compelled to make a video called “Why Is LeftTube So White,” and in that video I expressed my frustration for how differently our content was received. To be fair, my content was certainly different than theirs. What was technologically advanced in 2015, was certainly outdated in 2018. I have always been more experimental and lo-fi than these creators and I was still figuring out what I wanted to do. So, this wasn’t a conversation about how I wanted more subscribers or how I was personally disappointed in my own success. It was about how differently our content was received, even by the same exact people who used to misrepresent my work. It was bizarre seeing people who used to send their audiences to dogpile me applaud a white person saying the same things I said, but with bisexual lighting. In my video, I actually broke into tears because I was processing the very real impact this had on my mental health. I had just spent months researching for a video essay I was creating about the rebranding of white nationalism and those caustic ideas were still in my head. It made me upset that I couldn’t simply state that fascism was dangerous to me as a Black person and have people believe that to be true. It seemed like the only way I’d be heard is if I once again, changed my content and theatrically spoke about how fascism scared me. I resented the idea that I’d have to do that to be heard and in the back of my mind, I knew that still wouldn’t work.  

Ironically, the fans of these creators would come to the comment section of that video and say that I was simply jealous of the success of these white creators. They overlooked what was said and assumed that my video was an attack against them. Many of them didn’t even actually listen to the video in full until the creators I spoke about asked their audiences to hear what I was saying. I resented the idea that I could, once again, devote all this time to clearly communicating my thoughts, but the only way they’d listen is if my work was first presented to them by a white person. It felt like whether it was misrepresenting me or hearing me out, viewers couldn’t process my work unless a white person framed it for them and that was extremely hard for me to handle. I could not believe that despite very clearly naming and stating my issues, that people still believed what I was complaining about was clout. What confused me about that accusation was I very much struggle with the idea that “clout” should be the goal of political conversations online. This feeling has made the phenomenon of the “leftist streamer” quite confusing to me.  

At 31, I’m embarrassed to acknowledge that I finally identify with my parents who used to struggle with how rapidly technology changes. Streaming is something that feels so above my head and while I’ve tried to understand it for my own work, I still struggle with understanding the culture around it. Maybe it’s my camgirl past but staring at a person for hours on end or having them drone on in the background doesn’t really appeal to me. I enjoy streams when they’re structured, but I don’t really understand the parasocial nature of streaming culture. Perhaps because of this, I’ve been baffled by the trend of the so-called “dirtbag leftist” who doesn’t feel very functionally different than the Anti-SJW crowd that used to harass me. In fact, to my understanding, that’s their target audience.  

Speaking of being young and hip, my first impression of the dirtbag left was that it’s an attempt to make all of this boring political stuff more entertaining and edgy. They say the naughty words I avoided during my pop feminist days and apparently these tactics appeal to people who were caught up in the so-called “alt right pipeline.” Readers might be shocked to hear this, but I am not a white person so I’ve often struggled to understand how a white kid could grow up and just accidently trip, do a racism and start advocating for an ethnostate, so this content has never really appealed to me, personally. That said, I was constantly told that their work was far more effective, and far more leftist than mine. As a person who obviously wants what I create to be helpful to others, I overlooked my initial reservations and tried to understand the tactics behind their approach. However, I predominately saw them through the lens of Twitter where I’d see them engage in racism, sexism, and transphobia in an apparent pursuit of leftist principles. I was told repeatedly that whatever I interpreted as bias was simply tactical. When I’d say this didn’t seem very left leaning, their audiences with brow beat me with a very Jordan Peterson-esc demand that I watch their 10 hour long live stream to understand the full context of why they were saying what they said. As a person who has been used to being misrepresented, I guess I understood that request to some degree; but time and time again, this brand of right wing appealing “leftist” content was not only unwelcoming to me, but incredibly antagonistic towards all of the discussions I had about race and gender. It seemed like being part of the “dirt bag left” was being dismissive of these issues and it was bizarre for me to observe that these particular people were being celebrated as further left than I was. It’s strange to me how their ideas can parallel conservatives, yet somehow be further left than me. This confused me quite a bit, but my altercation with Vaush, the most prominent “dirt bag leftist,” would help me understand exactly why I should have gone with my gut and ignored this altogether, instead of trying to understand the tactics. 

When it came to Vaush and others like him, I had largely dismissed them as being “not for me.” If they help little racist white kids come to the left, I think that’s probably a good thing. However, Vaush would often trend on Twitter each time he’d get into some spat or say something dumb. Recently, he made a tweet where he said that JK Rowling could have remained a beloved author, but instead decided to derail her career to be transphobic. I agreed with that part. He then followed that tweet up with an “ironic” joke about how women should be more silent; not TERFs, not JK Rowling specifically, women. This tweet got a lot of attention; including from JK Rowling herself, who would go on to compare his tweet to the domestic violence she experienced from previous partners. Now, TERF discourse is mind numbingly cyclical, and entertaining it as reasonable, probably isn’t a good idea; but one thing I’ve observed from many “gender critical” cis women is they often seem to be functioning from a place of very real trauma. Trauma they have because of how men have abused or mistreated them. When I came back to YouTube, I decided to speak openly about my experience as a rape survivor. I had spoken around that topic on my channel for years, and I wanted to start having conversations about trauma because those conversations aren’t frequently had. As a survivor, I understand how trauma can frequently manifest in a way that isn’t rational where you may fear certain types of people because of what you’ve been through. I don’t really believe in sympathy for transphobes, but I do empathize with the fact that some of these people have experienced trauma and feel how they do for that reason. Perhaps because it’s a very personal thing for me, but when I saw this tweet, even though I understood he was making a joke, the misogyny bothered me. In theory, he’s saying something that was in defense of me, but I didn’t feel particularly helped by what was frankly, an unnecessary misogynistic joke. TERFs are often struggling to find examples of transgender women and their advocates being misogynistic, and it just seemed like a very obviously bad idea to be misogynistic while defending transgender women, especially because it seemed like it sabotaged the message of the tweet, and it wasn’t necessary. I believe he didn’t expect her to see it, but I’m still confused by why that matters. The post went viral and appeared in my feed and certainly made me think about the tactics of so-called transgender allies that may lean heavily into misogyny. 

In recent years, I’ve come to regret the ways we spoke about allyship during the height of pop feminism in the 2010s’. I think it encouraged a very performative expression of support that focused on building a brand around your allyship instead of actually doing the work to truly unpack the impact of oppression and how the privileged benefit from it. A lot of people seemed to have gotten the impression that putting things in their bios or wearing t-shirts was enough, and most of these people truly only put on those performances for other privileged folks. I remember how jarring that was when I moved to Los Angeles and the “allies” in my various communities seemed to only ever surround themselves with other privileged people and never truly stood up for the marginalized in a way that would require they be a bit uncomfortable. For example, I remember when a venue in LA made it clear that they were going to specifically charge transgender women more for entry, as to discourage them from coming. I saw several of the people who’d post pro-trans stuff on their various social media pages, still go to that event, because they wanted to. An event I wasn’t welcomed, but they were. It’s clear to me that some people deeply resent the idea of allyship in practice, but support the idea of it in theory; at least that’s the impression I get. It seems like allyship has become this thing to be congratulated, not an expression of work you’ve done to understand what you’re supporting. I’ve seen these “allies” get defensive when someone expresses to them that what they’re doing isn’t very helpful. The conversation shifts immediately from trying to address the issues they’re claiming to be against, and it becomes all about them. It’s clear to me that people like Vaush really resent the idea of their advocacy being criticized in any way and it doesn’t help that by virtue of being a cis white man, he’s applauded and given a mountain of support and credit for just saying…literally anything. I’m supposed to be thankful that someone more privileged than I said something supportive of transgender people and If I criticize it, I’m a “wokescold.” Oh, and that’s another thing: the “dirtbag left” hates “wokeness,” which almost always refers to the various conversations marginalized people have about their experiences with oppression. To me, citing misogyny while defending transgender people draws attention to the lack of work, he’s done when it comes to truly understanding transphobia. Transphobia and misogyny are intrinsically tied. Transgender women are seen as shameful men who’ve lowered themselves to become something lesser than them, and trans men are seen as confused women who are incapable of understanding their own bodies, who must be led back to their rightful, delicate genders. Both of these thoughts cite misogyny. For that reason, I have always been suspicious of people who are misogynistic, but pro trans. However, that’s me. I wanted to ask other transgender women how they felt. So, I made a post asking transgender women how they felt about the situation.  

The post was prefaced with a request to ignore who posted it, and reservations they may have about Vaush and focus on the tactic of using misogyny to defend transgender women. I presented the topic this way because, frankly, it didn’t matter to me that he was the one who made the post. I was focused on the tactics because I didn’t understand how someone could advocate against transphobia, yet be misogynistic, even in a joking context. Going against my gut, I wondered if I was simply out of touch, so I wanted to understand if other transgender women saw the post and appreciated it. The answers I got were interesting. Most transgender women said they didn’t appreciate it, but some said they didn’t mind it because JK Rowling was a terrible person. I understood that position, but it surprised me how many transgender women weren’t phased by misogyny. Very briefly I thought to myself that maybe these TERFs aren’t getting the impression that transgender women on twitter engage in misogyny from nowhere, but that was a narrow way of viewing it. I think because misogyny has impacted my life very drastically, I have a very different response to stuff like this. To me, the idea that we can weaponize isms against people we dislike really doesn’t seem productive. It seems like fighting against one problem while creating another. I understand it being said in a cathartic context (even if I still disagree), but I didn’t understand it in the context of advocacy for transgender women. I had a well-rounded conversation about his ideas, and it reached its natural conclusion. I mostly ignored twitter for the rest of the evening.  

Then late at night, while I was waiting for my boyfriend to get off work, I got a direct message from Vaush. He was upset about my tweets. He believed that I had some sort of hate boner for him and really didn’t appreciate my public criticism of his tweets. Frankly, I was baffled because I didn’t understand why he’d care that I was having an objective conversation about his ideas, not him as a creator. My thread didn’t include personal attacks, nor did it encourage people to attack him. It was quite the opposite, but he wasn’t convinced. Once again what I said couldn’t be taken at face value, there was some unspoken sinister nature beneath my words. I tried to politely communicate that he isn’t a person who takes up space in my mind like that, but there’s really no way of saying that without sounding like a massive bitch. I don’t “hate” anyone online and sadly, often to my detriment, I tend to be a very forgiving person. However, I deeply resent the idea that I have to engage with all of these random lefty folks who make YouTube content. With that being my position, I could have ignored the messages, and I probably should have, but since I was bored, I entertained him a bit.  

I respect that his fans probably think I owed him a private debate, but members of my audience know that I tend to have conversations like this to have objective conversations about people’s ideas, not really tear them down as individuals. For example, in the several videos I’ve made criticizing Arielle Scarcella’s content, I focus on her content and the ideas behind it, not her as a person. Socially, she’s also an absolutely miserable person that I’m not a fan of, but that really isn’t relevant to the conversations I’ve had about her ideas. Watch almost any video I’ve ever made criticizing other bloggers and you won’t find me being obsessed with tearing them down, personally. However, I think I might have truly underestimated his ego. I cannot think of any time in my 16 years of being on YouTube that I have gone into someone’s DMs to demand that they have a debate with me, and I certainly wouldn’t feel the need to do it in this context. I respect that he felt misrepresented, but it’s not like he didn’t know he was deliberately citing misogyny… that was the joke. I always find it to be quite strange when people throw rocks and then hide their hands. I fully acknowledged that he was joking, but that didn’t change the question for me. I didn’t think he was a true misogynist until he said misogynistic things to me privately.  

I didn’t understand why the conversation needed to happen to begin with. Let’s say we went over everything, and he convinced me that his tweet wasn’t that bad; my question wasn’t how he felt about it. It was about how transgender women felt about people who use misogyny to advocate for transgender women. He was not the target audience of my post. Trans Women are JK Rowling’s main target, but I got the impression from this conversation that he resented the very idea of transgender women sharing their input about the efficacy of his advocacy. Once again, the fact that he was saying anything was apparently enough, and I should just appreciate it and stop complaining. At a certain point, he told me that he was a better advocate for the transgender community than I’ve ever been, which seemed like a needlessly arrogant thing for a cis man to say to a transgender woman who quite literally sacrificed stealth and subsequent safety to advocate for transgender people.  
He contacted me with the purpose of winning an argument, nothing more and nothing less. I know that cis white men hate hearing things like this, but the rhetoric JK Rowling espouses does not directly impact them but very much does impact me. That’s why I had the conversation I did. Whether shit gets worse for transgender women or not, he will remain unaffected, and I cannot personally say the same. His degree of confidence and arrogance was unfathomably to me. He had a lot of audacity to say some of the things he said to me. It seemed like at every turn; he resented the idea of not being at the center of the conversation. At some point, he even tried to make the argument that invalidating his input, as a cis man, was like invalidating a transgender person who hadn’t physically transitioned…it was a mess. I could write a lot of posts dissecting the strange aspects of that conversation, but ultimately, I left it feeling really silly for actually believing that this was a person whose tactics I should consider. His arguments were weak, but I could see how a young white kid with little exposure to the outside world or access to intracommunity conversations could be convinced by them. However, in all reality, they did not actually measure up. As I disagreed, he’d say things to me like “I’m really concerned for you, “which of course sounded incredibly condescending and quite misogynistic. I’m not insane or unstable because I don’t agree with his ideas, but it seems like he’s convinced himself that only insane people could disagree with his logic. All this space taken up by someone who will never experience transphobia and misogyny the way I have throughout my life. And I’m supposed to be thankful to him. 

The exchange left a poor taste in my mouth. I haven’t really been able to define this feeling, but there’s a type of interaction I’ve experienced when men will say some really messed up, often gaslight-y or manipulative stuff to you in private and you’re expected to just deal with it because calling it out often reflects poorly on you. I still could not really understand why he contacted me and why he spoke to me how he did. It did not really feel like a conversation as much as it felt like a set up. His messages were phrased as gotcha moments, and he was shitty to me throughout. After years of putting up with bullshit online and not addressing it publicly I felt like I should say something, so I made a thread detailing our interaction. I didn’t want to share the actual exchange, because I felt odd about sharing DMs, but when Vaush saw the thread, he would go on to deny that the conversation went how it did and rant about how obsessed I was with him. This is where my pet peeve got stuck on a loop because I am far from being obsessed with him but saying this about me so confidently and his audience believing it really did bother me. So, I decided to stand up for myself and I shared our DMs on Twitter. You can see all of our messages right here, for your own curiosity. When I posted the DMs, I posted it with the caption “The closest I’ve ever been to being obsessed with @Vaush is the few days we sexted. But I’m not going to share those messages, here are the relevant ones.” 

I’m ashamed to admit it, but forever ago, Vaush and I sent some spicy messages back and forth. I still wasn’t remarkably familiar with his content, but back then I was in a certain headspace and for whatever reason I felt comfortable sexting him. I was still figuring my own shit out and adjusting to life in the city and I hadn’t really been single for a really long time, and I made a lot of mistakes with men in that phase of life. Back then, all a guy had to do was be a leftist with a beard and I was probably interested in him. I gave entirely too much credit to men giving themselves the leftist label. At this point in my life, I’ve dated enough annoying DSA dudes to no longer give men such credit. I honestly don’t even remember how it started or who initiated it, but it happened, and I knew that he knew that. Since our exchanges, I’ve heard, but still not deeply researched, that he does that sort of thing with a lot of women; trans women especially. I figured since he was running with the “obsessed” narrative, that would be the only piece of information he could point to that would back up his claim. I didn’t post about him constantly, I hadn’t seen many of his streams and when I looked at my view history, only 5 Vaush videos came up and each of them were about some drama he got into with another creator. I wasn’t “obsessed” with him, but again, my pet peeve got the best of me and here we are. Despite what some bloggers would have you believe; I did not share and would never share our sexts. If they leak, it’ll be because of him. I take revenge porn seriously as a person who’s experienced it several times through my very brief career as a sex worker. It’s not relevant to any of the conversations we had. In retrospect, I probably didn’t need to post that him and I had sexted, but it felt preemptive. While I can acknowledge it as unnecessary, I still have an awfully hard time feeling bad about it, especially because of where things went after this.  

It was incredibly frustrating to me that Vaush, like every other white cis man before him, got to lead the conversation about who I was, what I believed and how I felt and his much larger audience, like many other audiences before, just uncritically ate it up. Being in that position really sucks, especially when you’re someone like me, who devotes so much time to very carefully detailing every way in which they feel about something. I hated the fact that I could write about the exchange, and he could just deny it, so I posted proof. In the same thread, I explained how I fell into sexting with him all of those years back. He took my comments about bearded leftist men and somehow concluded that I was specifically speaking about white men and would argue on his stream that I just really wanted his dick. He would speak about how Black women like myself, who stand up against white supremacy and advocate against their own oppression, truly deep down inside, have a fetish for white men. We apparently racially fetishize white men the way racist white men racially fetishize Black women. These comments really upset me because I have devoted a lot of time on my YouTube channel to speaking about how racial fetishism has harmed and alienated me, especially in the context of relationships. He twisted what I said and argued that I wanted to be sexually degraded by white men and to me, that was pretty repulsive. In response, I made a tweet about how “underwhelming” his penis was, because, between you and I, I really couldn’t remember what it looked like; just that it was forgettable to me. That seemed like a rather light comment in comparison. Like my previous comment, I can acknowledge that it probably didn’t need to be said, but I struggle to feel bad for saying a man who argued that I was obsessed with white dick, had an underwhelming penis. I just do. 

I’ve been bullied and mistreated all my life. I have never known what it felt like to be protected beyond very few, often very conditional romantic partnerships. I think for that reason, I have these two fairly dramatic reactions to situations like this. My default position is to be patient and thoughtful, but there’s also a side of me that will go right for the throat if I want the conversation to end and end quickly. That’s what happened in this situation and it’s a side of me that most of you don’t see because it’s not a side I enjoy sharing. I cannot defend what I’ve said, but I will repeat that I do not feel bad for saying it and perhaps my long history of being harassed has made it hard for me to understand why these sorts of things bother other people so much. I understand how they would if we were any other two people, but I struggled to understand why it mattered in this case. From what I could tell, there was a completely different set of rules for him and I. He gets to be disrespectful and shitty and if I do it back, I’m the asshole. I guess I genuinely thought he could take it, but much like JK Rowling twisting his shitty, but rather harmless tweet into a conversation about domestic violence, he and many other bloggers would twist this altercation into a story of sexual abuse and harassment and milk it for weeks to come. What I didn’t understand at the time, that I now very much do, is this really seems to be what this kind of streaming culture is about.  

Correct me if I’m wrong, but from what I’ve gathered; this type of streaming culture is all about sitting on twitch long enough before some sort of drama happens between a streamer, another streamer, or their chat. Like the Anti-SJWs of yesteryear, whenever some sort of drama pops off, those bloggers will talk about it and then other bloggers will talk about it and then other bloggers will talk about those bloggers talking about it on their blog where they make blogs about other people blogging about blogs. It’s a sort of parasitic relationship where the telephone game-esc nature of it all often leads to the story getting bigger and bigger and the degree of harm gets overstated and over dramatized until there is one very solid villain and another very solid hero. Just like I saw in the online atheist community, the actual politics behind the conversation do not matter as much as the cult of personality these bloggers create around these incidents. This shouldn’t have exactly surprised me since most of the times I saw Vaush trending on twitter, he was getting into some argument with another creator. He apparently hates leftist in-fighting, but from what I gather, he seems to rely on it for content. Makes you wonder how much content he’d have if he solely focused on addressing, pressing leftist issues and not his confrontations or even interactions with other creators.  

The last conversation I had with Vaush before he recently reached out to me was when he was gearing up for a debate with someone who’d sent harassment my way back in the good ole Anti-SJW days. This person is, objectively, a grifter and I didn’t understand why he wanted to have a conversation with someone that was so unproductive and deliberately cruel. His YouTube channel was still relatively new, and I had given him a lot of validity in my mind because he labeled himself as a Leftist and some of his audience was part of mine and from what I heard, his content was enjoyable. I didn’t understand the decision to have this particular person on his channel because, in my view, there are other more productive conservatives he could speak to who don’t have a history of sending harassment at other people. We went back and forth about it and ultimately, the reason he gave for continuing with the debate was that this person had clout. He was trying to grow his audience and doing a debate with this person was a great way to do so. And he was right. That conversation led to him growing his audience quite a bit and I left the conversation with the impression that clout, not these conversations, were his actual focus. It turned me off, so I no longer spoke to him. It’s clear that we had vastly different priorities.  

I know that there are people reading this post who are going to walk away with the conclusion that this post is yet again more evidence of my obsession with him. However, I’m not writing this because I’m obsessed, I’m not even particularly writing this to call him out. For me, there was a bigger lesson here and an ah-ha moment I think I’ve needed to have for a while. This incident woke me up in a very profound way.  
Often, when you’re the only minority in a space, it becomes hard for you to advocate for yourself without doing it in a way that doesn’t isolate you from those around you. You internalize the obvious discomfort people have with you and what you know their assumptions of you are, and you want to try very hard to be, as I said, “one of the good ones.” If you care to be accepted in that space, you start making a habit of doubting yourself and you don’t want to immediately rush to judgement. This means when you hear or see bigoted stuff, you have a way of downplaying it or not immediately reacting to it. You’re aware that these people are terrified of being called a bigot and you don’t want to be one of “those” Black people that judges them and dismisses them. You intrinsically feel this emotion and you struggle to make boundaries for yourself because you want to be accepted. What this frequently means is tolerating what you absolutely shouldn’t for the exchange of belonging to a group of people who you know already look down on you because they put you under this pressure.  

As a Black person who’s spent most of their life in non-black spaces, I’ve constantly tried to avoid being seen as a thug or an easily angered mammy. That very intense pressure not to step out of line to defend yourself, even when justified, has a way of pacifying you in situations where you should be able to draw boundaries for yourself. It’s like when I was living in a white suburb in Orange County and white women would walk up to me in the supermarket and put their dirty fingers in my hair without asking. In those situations, I must decide if I want to smile while they violate my personal space or have the natural reaction where I flinch and say, “fuck you, get your hands out of my hair.” If I did the same to a white woman and touched her hair without asking, she’d think I was a weirdo. Hell, she might even call the cops; but by virtue of my Blackness and how alien I am in those spaces, I’m expected to tolerate it and saying no would make me “uppity.” Suddenly then I’d become the rude one for not allowing her to touch my hair. Even though I was being violated, the conversation would shift towards managing their emotions and making sure they knew that I wasn’t upset or offended. Yes, these things would happen to me all the time when I lived deep in Trump country with my ex. It always bothered me, but I often struggled to say no. So usually, I wouldn’t pull back and say what I wanted to say. I would nod my head, allow them to violate my boundaries and go back to my shopping, because that was the safer response. I’ve learned that many white people react very negatively when you draw these sorts of boundaries. When you solidly say no, a lot of them cannot process it without hearing an accusation in the subtext. You can see that at several points in my interaction with Vaush 

 Like I said, when I first saw “dirt bag leftist” content, I was told by many people not to outright dismiss it. Like a white woman scraping my scalp because she felt entitled to my body, even though the bias was obvious, I was encouraged not to react naturally to it. If I’m being honest, I guess I became far too invested in proving to my audience that I wasn’t that angry Black woman avatar that so many people were saying I was. The fear of appearing that way made it so that I tolerated disrespect in a way I shouldn’t have, and I was slow to properly draw a boundary between myself and work that obviously antagonized me. What stood out to me in this conversation is that from this altercation to my YouTube career generally, I’ve tried my best not to be seen as “one of the bad ones,” but I still was. I cannot overstate the amount of work that’s gone into me carefully peeling over every word and how I said it and the tone in which it was said, and how that very process derailed a lot of my progress as a creator. I’ve wasted years of my life constructing my work around potential misunderstandings. I watered down my messages to placate to the egos of people who were barely listening to me to begin with. Perhaps it flattered them, but it left me feeling depleted. I guess I really didn’t want to accept that certain people were always going to see me a certain way because of who I am.  

This may sound ironic because of the work I do, but I have, to some degree, always struggled with the idea that someone would simply dismiss me because of my race or gender. Maybe it’s all of those years I’ve spent being accepted conditionally because of how much I played into respectability politics, but it’s hard for me to understand how people could look at me and see me as an unfaithful narrator. I am not the kind of person who enjoys believing that I have certain limitations in life because of who I am. Though I speak so much about oppression, I suppose how I’ve moved through the world has let me very subconsciously feel as though what happens to other black or transgender people wouldn’t happen to me because of how I am. I feel a pit in my stomach acknowledging this, but I think acknowledging this thought in the back of my mind is central to unpacking it. I didn’t want to immediately believe that when someone disliked my content, it was because I’m Black and/or transgender, but after 16 years of being transformed into an angry black caricature by others, it’s very hard for me to deny that this is often the case. I have finally come to embrace that there isn’t a version of me, nor a way of phrasing my criticisms of oppression that will ever be universally embraced or faithfully understood. No matter how politely I phrase it, there are going to be people who read what I say with a subtext of anger and malice that simply does not exist within me. I’ve made the mistake of believing that was my fault, but it’s just a reflection of the system we live in. It was wrong for me to buy into this idea that I could shift white supremacist thought by simply adhering to a white supremacist outline of the sort of person I should be. I see that now. I must also accept that there are many people who see that I have a platform that sustains me who will believe that I do not deserve it because of who I am. So much of the bullshit I’ve gotten has had the subtext of “how dare she have what she does”. When Phill DeFranco made content about me being a supposed “Black Supremacist,” because YouTube has directly supported me a handful of times, they tried to get the attention of the CEO of the company to alert them that I do not deserve such support because of the beliefs they believe I have. I guess in the back of my mind, I would have assumed that bloggers like him wouldn’t so easily buy into these false narratives about me, but that assumption is based on the amount of credence I likely give these creators based on nothing more than how I’ve been socialized to see whiteness.  

I think a lot of white creators do not intrinsically understand that a function of white supremacy is that most people will look at a white person and see them as a blank slate whose ideas stand on their own. Sure, if you’re alternative or visibly queer in some way, people will make assumptions of you, but not in the way they’ll make assumptions of me. As I said, I’ve heard things like “you’re so well-spoken” all throughout my life. I must speak well, dress respectably and phrase everything I say in a docile tone for a wider audience to be receptive to what I’m saying. What I’ve struggled with is that “mainstream” frequently means having to engage in that sort of respectability and what I’ve really struggled with is the reality of how much that doesn’t align with who I am. People who’ve followed me since I’ve moved to Los Angeles have seen me slowly but surely shift my online persona towards something that feels more genuine to me and that has been incredibly freeing. For me, this lesson was one of the last ones I’ve needed to come into myself as a creator. I’ve learned through my experiences that no matter how I present myself or how much I assimilate, there will always be people who immediately look at me and already believe their assumptions of me. I’ve wasted too much of my life believing that there was something I could do to shift that impression outside of being so docile that I don’t stand up for myself. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many of the situations where people have hyper focused on my less than polite words, have been instances where I’ve been standing up for myself. As a self-critical person, I can acknowledge my own isms in some of the things I’ve said and done and see them as negative and unhelpful. At the same time, I recognize how much more freedom white creators get to be rude in the face of disrespect.  

Respectability politics very subtly teaches you that creating boundaries for yourself or even simply saying “fuck off” makes you “one of those people.” The more you meditate on it, the more you recognize that respectability politics are constructed to keep you in a position where you never quite get to accurately describe harm. Where you never get to be justifiably angry or frustrated by the things that harm you. It has a way of telling you to temper your pain and placate to people who are already struggling with the idea that you’re taking up space to begin with. When I broke down in my video about “Lefttube” being so white, that was the exact emotion that broke through. The frustration with the fact that I cannot simply just say that I am scared and be trusted. I must politely dance and show fancy graphics that explain the exact reasons why I deserve to be. I hadn’t processed that the very premise of having a conversation like that requires that I debase myself and put myself in a position where I am essentially begging for the privileged in my audience to hear me. It is inherently demeaning. When you play into that, it puts you into a perpetual position of frustration because these people were already barely listening to what you had to say, so when they still do not hear it, you feel exhausted by the labor you’ve wasted. That’s what was happening to me, and I still hadn’t let go of that toxic and untenantable cycle. I can confidently say that your average white creator is unaware that Black creators must do this all the time to get even a quarter of what they have. When I think of why so many of the black transgender women I’ve known on YouTube haven’t become more successful, it’s because they haven’t been doing this. Looking at my own platform, I can see more clearly that I probably have the following I do because I’ve entertained respectability politics through most of my career. However, what this situation taught me is that when it all comes down to it, that doesn’t work.  

Vaush would later be receptive and welcoming to a transgender blogger who made the same exact argument I made in my original posts that upset him so much. Would it surprise you if I told you that she was white? 

I feel incredibly stupid giving Vaush and his ilk any degree of my energy or consideration. I regret seeing these tactics as valid enough to understand. Had I listened to my intuition, I would have dismissed him the first time I saw the bigotry and moved forward. I would not have been curious about his tactics, and I wouldn’t have pondered his approach. I would have said “that seems racist/transphobic/misogynistic”, trusted my gut and simply moved forward. The upsetting question I’ve been asking myself is how much consideration would I have given him if he wasn’t a white man? Was trying to make sense of what was clearly so disagreeable to me a reflex that I had because he’s a white man? I think I’ve dismissed POC leftists for much less.  

I can sit here and pontificate about how frequently he’s been able to get away with saying terrible things to people, but that would be repetitive. I already knew why, but I doubted my perception. My frustration was based in this idea that we were both equally considered for our ideas and arguments, but that was naïve. Now, I no longer doubt my own understanding. I clearly see the reasons he, and other bloggers like him get to be the sort of person they are, while I am given less leeway. This experience was frustrating, but I am so thankful for the clarity it’s brought me. I’ve learned to stop attempting to placate to the emotions of people who need to be convinced I’m not who they’ve already assumed I was. I thought I had grown out of that habit, but when I reflect on my experiences, I realize that this is still a subconscious part of the way I approach these conversations. it’s clear I still have unpacking to do. However, as our world becomes darker and the rights of transgender people are fought against so viciously, it does not serve me to neuter my arguments with pleasantries and a degree of consideration I am never given. I’m not going to feel bad for dismissing someone outright for engaging in behavior that is obviously antagonistic towards me. I am still a gray thinker and someone who doesn’t think linearly, but I will no longer allow those thoughts to be informed by a subconscious desire to be “one of the good ones.”  

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