He spent the better part of his teenage years in Orange County, California, where he struggled to fit in and hated being seen as a girl. He turned to the internet for solace, stumbling upon videos from the LGBT YouTuber Tyler Oakley and some blogs about the trans experience. He began making confessional-style videos in his bedroom in 2011, came out as trans in 2015, and has vlogged his way through his transition, documenting family struggles, appearance changes, and the ups and downs of hormone-replacement therapy. Today, he has more than 1 million YouTube subscribers and an army of online fans, most of whom are young and LGBTQ, according to McKenna.
“If there’s been one message that Miles has always had, it’s that you’ll always find someone to love you for who you are, no matter what your blood family thinks,” Mary said. By and large, McKenna’s channel is less prescriptive than descriptive—he doesn’t dole out advice on products like chest binders or packers, he says, but rather details his day-to-day life as a young trans person. And this being YouTube, of course there are stunts: trying on meme Halloween costumes, recreating fan art, dyeing his armpit hair.
“Seeing Miles go through hormones and getting top surgery has been such an amazing thing, and the guy is just so incredibly strong,” said Mary. “I’m so glad I found him when I did.”
Many of McKenna’s subscribers say that watching his videos empowered them to be more open about their own identities. In one video titled “Send This Video to COME OUT 2 Someone,” he poses while words pop up on screen reading, “Whoever sent this is gay or bi or transgender or pansexual or asexual or nonbinary idk ... just go love that little bitch.”
Caroline, an 18-year-old in Florida who asked to be described with a gender-neutral pronoun, used some of McKenna’s tips when they came out to their family as queer. “I have suggested his channel to so many of my closest friends who struggle with ideas other people have about their own sexuality,” Caroline said.
McKenna told me he’s flooded with message from young people who feel ostracized by their own communities.
But it’s not always easy being a queer YouTuber. McKenna and creators like him are frequently targets of harassment campaigns and some say they have seen their YouTube channels demonetized without explanation. YouTube also allowed homophobic advertisements to run on the channels of queer creators, Polygon reported earlier in June. Trans creators told The Verge that they’ve regularly experienced having their channels restricted from younger users, and that use of the word “trans” or “transgender” in video titles triggered instant demonetization. YouTube denies all these allegations.
And then there’s the fact that documenting your transition for millions to see is complicated. In February 2018, McKenna privatized his coming-out video, along with years’ worth of old YouTube videos and Instagram posts. So many fans reached out afterward that McKenna produced a YouTube video explaining why he made the choice to remove his coming-out video. McKenna had initially come out as nonbinary, but now identifies as male, and it felt weird keeping up a video that was no longer an accurate depiction of how he identifies, he said.