Television and film may have gotten better about showing gay characters in recent years, but new media outlets have offered a platform for even greater diversity. Places like instagram, snapchat and youtube are poised to offer a unique frontier for the larger spectrum of sexualities and gender identities ripe for representation.
That’s where local activist and YouTube personality Chandler Wilson comes in. At 18-years-old, they’ve amassed a massive online following with over 300,000 subscribers.
“One of the biggest issues is that LGBTQ people aren’t normalized, so there’s no representation or very limited representation,” Wilson said in an interview with GayRVA. They’re happy to share their personal stories, often several times a month, with their massive and captivated audience.
Wilson identifies as agender, which means that they do not specifically identify as man or woman. Agender, which falls under the gender non-binary umbrella, means a person does not identify as 100% male or female. The pronouns “they” and “them” best describe Wilson. Other things to describe Wilson include their proficiency in Spanish, their love of film and drawing, as well as their deep admiration for Underground Railroad operative Harriet Tubman.
“History is my favorite subject,” Wilson said. “My favorite parts are the civil rights parts. My lifetime inspiration has always been Harriet Tubman. I think one of the most important things about her is that she was so determined to help people. She was very persistent and persevered. Helping people to freedom was dangerous and she did it so many times.”
Concerning gender identification, Wilson feels the term “preferred gender pronoun” is problematic in that it implies a person’s gender is a choice.
“I don’t like when people attach that word of preference” Wilson said. “It makes it seem like there’s a layer of choice. These are not my preferred pronouns, these are my right pronouns.”
The YouTube personality, who was recently featured in a BuzzFeed video titled “Things Non-Binary People Want You To Know,” originally began making their own videos to fill a void in the Internet about three years ago. When they were first beginning to understand the true nature of their identity, they took to the Internet to seek out a community that was rather sparse at the time.
“It’s important to make a space where people feel valid and feel welcome,” Wilson said.
Upon noticing there was not much in regards to an online community, Wilson decided to create one.
“I feel like what’s really important to me is normalizing LGBTQ people,” Wilson said. “So I don’t just make videos that are educational about different identities, but also videos that are just like me and my fiancé just hanging out, doing our thing and talking to the camera, just trying to make people feel welcome and like they’re not alone.”
Wilson’s longtime friend-turned-boyfriend-turned fiancé, Xander, identifies as transgender. The two of them recently moved in together this past December.
Wilson came to fully realize they were agender between the age of 15 and 16.
“I didn’t mind when people would think that I was a boy because it meant that I wasn’t being seen as a girl,” Wilson said. “But I realized, I’m not a boy and I’m not a girl, so what am I?”
By the time they came to understand they were agender, Wilson claimed it finally felt right.
“It’s the real deal. It’s not just out of confusion. It’s who I am,” Wilson said. “It was coming out as agender that made me not feel confused.”
They claim that it’s not uncommon for subscribers or fans of their YouTube channel who are transgender or non-binary to contact them for advice on the coming out process.
“I always tell them that it’s different for everyone, but the first thing you have to consider is your safety,” Wilson explained. “If you don’t feel like you would be safe coming out, maybe put it off a little longer.”
As for Wilson’s coming out process, they were initially hesitant. Wilson’s older sister is transgender and Wilson claims their father has not been the most accepting person. Wilson also originally worried that due to their older sister being transgender, that their parents might not trust Wilson’s authenticity in identifying as agender.
However, they filmed their coming out with their mother and posted it on their channel. Wilson’s mother also appears in other videos.
“I eventually decided to come out to my mom because though she wasn’t exactly dropping hints that she would support me, she was pretty supportive about not calling my sister by ‘he’ and ‘him’ pronouns or her birth name,” Wilson said.
Wilson was born in Charlotte, North Carolina before their family moved to Chesterfield. They grew up in the Richmond area and attended Manchester High School’s Spanish Immersion Specialty Center where three out of of seven classes were taken in Spanish every year. Wilson graduated top of their program before beginning college at University of North Carolina in Wilmington.
As an 18 year old, the 2016 election was the first time Wilson was able to vote. They chose Senator Bernie Sanders in the primary and later, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
It was after the 2016 presidential election when Wilson began to fully realize UNC-Wilmington was not the best academic fit for them. According to Wilson, the campus lacked vibrant diversity in the student body and it was after Trump-supportive signs and decorations in their dorm were left intact while their Clinton themed materials were taken down that they decided to return closer to home and transfer to Virginia Commonwealth University.
Wilson reflected on the national debates and news concerning transgender and nonbinary rights to bathrooms as well as North Carolina’s legislation HB2, which requires people to use bathrooms which correspond with their birth certificates.
“North Carolina’s Congress is so far removed from the trans community that they think ‘oh well we don’t have those people here,’” Wilson said. “Fun fact, trans people have always existed.”
As of March 6, Virginian teen Gavin Grimm’s case against Gloucester County School Board was bumped out of its originally slated hearing in Supreme Court and placed back into lower courts as a result of President Trump’s retraction of protections for transgender students in Title IX.
Wilson said that it’s not uncommon for them to be misgendered as with he/him pronouns online and receive she/her pronouns in person, despite appearing as they always do in both instances.
“It’s so odd that there’s that weird disconnect because literally nothing has changed from online or offline.”
Wilson dresses androgynously. They also occasionally wear makeup, which has generally been perceived as feminine by society, though several makeup brands have challenged this notion by hiring men as spokesmodels in recent months.
“What I notice with a lot other nonbinary people that I know, and what is common, is just using the bathroom with the gender we were assigned at birth,” Wilson said. “I personally do use the girl’s bathroom. I feel like in person I get read as a female, it would just be safer for me to use a girl’s bathroom, but I do get weird looks in the women’s restroom.”
Wilson claimed that safety is important to them, and that technically men and women’s restrooms really aren’t the right ones for non-binary people anyway. They said that if there ever is the option, they try to use provided unisex or family bathrooms.
In summer 2016, Wilson traveled to California to attend VidCom, a conference for the online video community. It was there that Wilson discovered all-gender restrooms.
“I was so excited! There were cis people going in and they were just kind of like ‘huh, this is no big deal,” Wilson said. “It’s no big deal for cis people and it’s a really positive deal for transgender people to finally feel safe and welcome in a space. I feel like in Congress they make it seem like it’s going to be some big deal, but I’ve witnessed it firsthand and it’s been just like ‘cool this is a thing that we’re doing, alright.’”
Beyond placing themselves into an online community through collaboration with other LGBTQ vloggers on YouTube, Wilson also attends a support group called Side By Side.
More recently, Wilson has met with a therapist to discuss the possibility of starting testosterone. They want to utilize the hormones for less than a year in order to achieve some more permanent changes, such as a deeper voice. In a recent YouTube video, they explained that they’re more easily misgendered because of their higher-pitched voice.
Wilson said that that they felt better after talking to a therapist and that the meeting went well.
“I have decided to take hormones for a short while to get the more permanent changes. I really want a deeper voice,” Wilson said. “I’m going to try and go through planned parenthood because my dad is so unaccepting he won’t let me go through our insurance.
Despite their father’s response, Wilson claims their mother has been supportive.
“She sent me messages telling me that she loves me,” Wilson said. “There’s a stark contrast between the ‘I love you & you’re awesome’ comments from my mom and the extremely transphobic comments from my dad.”
Looking forward, Wilson is planning to transfer to Virginia Commonwealth University to continue studying Spanish. Though Wilson plans to continue work on their YouTube channel, they also desire to create short films with multi-dimensional characters on the LGBTQ spectrum, especially non-binary characters.
*This article was originally published on GayRVA.com and can be viewed here.