Steve would be the first to admit that his internet ‘fame’ had mostly been an accident. He’d been intrigued by Youtube, subscribed to a few people, alternated between watching time lapse drawings and kittens falling off things, didn’t really think much more of it than that.
His first video, well, looking back on it, it’s pretty bad. He’d used his laptop camera, and the lights are low and he’s off centre and you can see his laundry stacked up on his bed behind him where he hadn’t been bothered to put it away yet. And he erms his way through his introduction, leaving dead air as he runs a hand through his hair and tries to figure out what to say. He ends up with the basics, that he’s twenty two years old, bisexual, an art student, aspiring artist, he’s interested in history and he lives in Brooklyn.
Nobody watches it. He doesn’t know which tags to use and his description just sums up what he’s already said. He’d have given up the whole thing for a lost cause, if not for stumbling across a video on his Facebook of a gay couple being verbally abused on the subway.
He posts a video response. It’s not the most eloquent thing he’s ever put together, even though he works off notes this time, but his clear, easy manner and the spark of anger and disappointment behind his eyes draws a few people to the video, not to mention the thumbnail, which, chosen at random by some algorithm, picks the exact moment he had stretched and his t-shirt had ridden up slightly.
He gets a few comments, and he gets nervous checking them, he’ll admit, because he knows enough about the internet to know that any opinion can be met with hostility. But it’s mostly okay, and slightly embarrassing, with comments like “Came for the thumbnail, stayed for the rational thinking” which has him scrambling to figure out how to change the icon because now he’s seen it and gah. He’s still not used to his post-growth spurt body, the way all his t-shirts seem too small now, and yeah, he goes to the gym, but all he does is pick up weights and put them down again.
His friend, Sam, finds out about the video, and gives him some tips. Sam seems to be a jack of all trades and annoyingly good at all of them, and guides Steve through video editing, explaining that Steve could even insert some of the weird creatures he doodles in his spare time into his videos. Hey, it’d be a gimmick. And he explains how to tag his videos, and how to utilise the description box properly. He also tells Steve to invest in a decent camera, and for god’s sake, tidy his room before his next video.
Steve wonders how Sam knows all this. Sam just shrugs, “I know a girl who knows a guy.” Sam knows everyone. When Steve goes for a run with Sam, they’re often stopped by someone calling Sam’s name. Sam is innately good natured and friendly, and currently volunteers at the VA working with soldiers with PTSD. Steve often wondered about being a soldier, but the idealised version he had of warfare bringing some semblance of peace, of there being good guys and bad guys, well, he can’t say he believes that anymore. So instead he enrolled in art school, though he still feels that twinge of what if.
His next video is a mess of jump cuts. But he does use his new camera, and his bedroom is spotless and he lets the light shine through the window and it hits his cheekbones just so and the comments are definitely not about his chosen topic, which is about the anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Instead, there’s questions about how often he works out, does he have a boyfriend or a girlfriend, and while he tries to steer the comments back to Stonewall, he can’t fight the tide of people who appear to be drooling over him. Which is, well, embarrassing.
He mentions it to Sam the next time he sees him. Sam goes for a high five, and Steve weakly accepts, but blushes bright red.
“Hey, they like you. How many hits did you get?” Sam asks.
Steve mumbles something about a couple of thousand and Sam whistles. Steve has no idea if that’s good or bad, except that his previous two videos are getting more hits and comments now too, and people are subscribing.
“At the end of your next video, ask for questions for a FAQ, then people should stop hassling you, or at least you’ll have somewhere to point them.” Sam suggests.
“What about the, the inappropriate comments?” Steve asks, wanting to head desk but they’re in Starbucks and he’s pretty sure you can’t head desk in Starbucks.
“Buy shirts that fit. Or go with it. Lots of teenagers out there want to see an attractive man talking about something he’s passionate about. Or anything, really. I mean, have you looked in the mirror lately? You’re a freaking Greek god.”
“Argh.” Steve says, and does actually head desk, causing Sam to put a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
“Baby, you’ll be a star.” Sam says, in an affected voice, and Steve can’t help but think this whole thing has been a big mistake.
Until. He gets a message at 3AM, when he’s working on a sketch for his portfolio, and it’s from a kid, thirteen years old, who’s pretty sure he’s gay and he’s terrified. He says he’s kinda skinny and gets beaten up a lot, and Steve’s heart aches for him. The boy can’t tell his family, they’re strict Catholics and he doesn’t know how they’d react. He doesn’t say it in so many words, but it’s clear reading between the lines that he’s considering harming himself.
Steve drops his sketchbook, reads the message over again and again, before writing a response. He explains how he was the skinny kid too, how he got beaten up a lot too (though in fairness he started half those fights), and how the realisation that he was bisexual knocked him back like a ton of bricks, how he’d tried to repress it, not look at boys that way, but then how he realised he had absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. That there was nothing wrong with him. And there’s nothing wrong with the boy either. Steve writes that he doesn’t know if there’s a god or not, but if there is, he’s heard that he’s a loving kind of guy, and that there are a lot of people willing to take a few verses out of context. He doesn’t urge the boy to come out, but he does link to a bunch of websites and hot lines that can help him. He doesn’t want to sound clichéd, but he has to say it: it does get better. If you can get through high school, he writes, you can get through anything. Just keep your head held high and remember that you’re you, there’s nobody else like you in the world, and nobody has the right to belittle that. He rewrites the message about ten times before sending it. His stomach twists in knots and he hopes he’s done the right thing.
The next day, he wakes up early, before class, and writes a script for a video to make that evening. He decides to call it You Are A Survivor: High School, Coming Out and How You Are Amazing. He reiterates what he said in his message, but draws more on his own experience, and how art school is so, so different, and how he seen things change even within his life time. When he first came out, he couldn’t have imagined he’d be able to marry a guy. And now, look. He links to the same websites and help lines in his description and adds a note, that anyone can message him at any time, day or night, and he’ll try get back to them as soon as he possibly can. That there’s too much potential within everyone to be thrown away based on the words of bullies. He ends the video with the words: You’re going to change the world, just wait and see.
After uploading the video, he goes to sleep.
He wakes up to twenty thousand views. Apparently several blog sites linked to it. He’s heralded for his earnest honesty and the way he doesn’t pretend that things aren’t hard, but how he describes it as a fight worth fighting.
The boy gets back to him a week later, his message more upbeat than the previous one. He told his best friend, who just looked at him like she’d known forever, and he’d called a help line, and the man on the other end had put him into contact with a local teen LGBT+ group, which he’d been to, nervous but excited, and yeah, things still sucked at school, but he wanted to thank Steve, because he could see the light at the end of the tunnel now.
Steve breathed out a sigh of relief. This time when Sam high fived him in Starbucks, he accepted it readily. It felt like he’d found a platform where he could make a difference. It felt good.