The YouTube landscape has undergone numerous changes since the days when it still said “broadcast yourself.” Many of us spent a significant part of our teens watching folks from around the world showcase their talents on it. It was also a time when a signature brand of youth-targeted humour was emerging with the slapstick, often overdone routines of Smosh, Ryan Higa, Jenna Marbles and others. But as much as I loved the comedy, I was also put off by a lot of its casual homophobia (I’m looking at you, Shane Dawson). Of course, in the years that followed, part of the changing YouTube landscape also meant a growing sensitivity towards the LGBTQ community, and there is now a large presence of out-and-proud vloggers like Troye Sivan, Tyler Oakley, and Joey Graceffa. Heck, even Shane Dawson came out as bisexual, and has since embraced his identity.
But even in that friendly and accepting environment, the topic of asexuality was seldom broached. Asexuality is a valid orientation defined by a lack of sexual attraction, but it’s just not as well known as ‘lesbian,’ ‘gay’, ‘bisexual’ or ‘trans.’ As a result, you don’t get to hear about it very much. Sure, there was Swank Ivy’s series, “Letters to an Asexual,” but it never really got the traction it deserved. So when London-based vlogging sensation Dan Howell’s video ‘Internet Support Group 8’ addressed asexuality, it was an important moment.
The video follows the same format as its predecessors – Howell takes a few questions from his massive fan following, balancing out some of the more bizarre ones with a shot of vodka. ‘Internet Support Group’ was started four years ago as an interactive series, during which Howell and his viewers could all share in the swirling vortex of awkwardness that is human life. And it makes for a fun watch. But when he got to 16 year old Sierra’s question about coming to terms with being asexual, I almost did a double take.
“Once again I am a lost sock in the dryer of life trying to find the place I belong,” wrote Sierra – it was funny, but also incredibly familiar to me, and, no doubt, to all asexual-spectrum people. She talked about facing rejection from both straight as well as queer people, which has been almost characteristic of the asexual experience. At this point, I was fanning my eyes, mentally reaching for this Canadian teenager thinking, “Oh my god, I’ve been there, I feel you,” but then a sudden anxiety crept over me.
While Howell gives out some pretty solid advice from time to time, he can also be uber dismissive of some of the questions. Usually it’s because the question is so inane he has to shut it down with that trademark dry humour of his. But given how little known asexuality is, I wondered if Sierra’s question was also going to be quickly glossed over or laughed at.
However, Howell really comes through. After a customary two fingers of Smirnoff, he opens his advice with a warning against making generalizations. Then he talks about the importance of understanding human difference, of loving and accepting yourself, and not giving into the hate. The whole sequence is only about half a minute long, but is incredibly affirming not just for the teenager who asked this question, but for literally anyone watching.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=InTZfnNyLIQ]When a public figure like Dan Howell, with over six million subscribers, recognizes and normalizes an identity that is as contested and reviled and poorly understood as asexuality, it means something. It means that of the one million people who saw that video, at least a fraction might have gone back and googled the word “asexual,” and maybe another fraction discovered something about themselves, or about their close friends, or a relative.
And it certainly meant something to these twitter users as well:
@danisnotonfire thank you for addressing asexuality in the latest ISG video, you were amazing and it was awesome advice 🙂
— #STAYWOKE (@grace_exual) August 15, 2016
@danisnotonfire hey thanks for including the question about asexuality 💜 it's nice to see some representation once in a while
— wilma. (@WiW00) August 13, 2016
@danisnotonfire also thank you for talking about asexuality the amount of times people skip straight over it is really upsetting x
— ash ⚡️ (@reclfriends) August 13, 2016
@danisnotonfire cant wait to see the excited texts from my asexual friend saying that someone actually mentioned it 👍🏼 good egg
— santa sam (@rushious) August 13, 2016
Ok but can we talk about the support @danisnotonfire gave to asexuals in his video? Like thank you, I needed that.
— maddie christmas (@fxlloxtbxy_) August 13, 2016
Interestingly, the same video carried some comments about safe sex and STDs, because Howell does actually deliver on the “support” bit. In fact, he has on several occasions made his stance very clear on social justice issues. And this time, with regards to asexuality, he demonstrates a kind of effortless positivity that we sorely wish were more common, both online and offline.
So Dan Howell, you may not realize it yet, but what started out as your fun, kitschy segment, has, in its eighth instalment, provided a rare form of support to asexual kids online. And we’re sure glad to have it.
Cue asexy end-screen dance.