It was February 13th 2017 – almost two weeks since my last video upload – when I started receiving a larger amount of ‘hate’ than usual.
Being a ‘YouTuber’, I’m used to the occasional criticism and manage to brush off any negativity when the majority of feedback is so positive, but something was different this time; one comment became two… it was like a landslide.
‘You should be shot’, came one comment, ‘Please get cancer and never make another video’ read another, ‘The indoctrination of young children with this is child abuse!’ – these are just a few of the ‘cleaner’ comments that I am able to share; you can imagine the rest.
Within the space of a day I’d received hundreds, if not thousands, of hateful, threatening and abusive comments. The safe, rainbow coloured LGBT+ bubble that I’d been happily floating in had ironically, popped.
My channel, Pop’n’Olly, is an LGBT+ and equality educational channel used by children, parents and teachers. Our work aims to combat ideas of homo, bi and transphobia.
Many of my videos and books are successfully used in primary and junior schools as part of lessons and provide the representation of LGBT+ characters that we feel children need in order to gain an understanding of equality and diversity.
For the past two years, my videos have been received exceptionally well. It was scary posting my first ever video, which explained different types of families (including those headed by same-sex couples) to kids. I wasn’t sure how the world would react. But to my relief my work was welcomed and what’s more put to use.
I felt like I’d somehow created my own mini empire which, at its heart, had an important message. I was proud of all I had achieved, excited about a book publishing offer and inspired by the countless positive stories and responses to my work.
But then came the so-called ‘Attack Helicopters’ – hundreds of YouTube users whose ideas about the world were very different to mine and my usual audience. These new guests of my channel weren’t afraid to let me know exactly what they thought.
The video in question, which had sparked an online attack, was entitled ‘Preferred Gender Pronouns’ in which we explain what preferred gender pronouns (or PGP) are. We carefully talk about how our PGP can be whatever an individual prefers or decides and that we must respect other people’s PGP too.
I’ve since learnt that ‘gender’ can be a very tricky subject to address online as there are some very strong opinions to contend with. As much as there are many thoughts on the matter, my intentions were to make a video that can help a child who may be struggling with their own gender identity, a video that can be watched by classes in order to gain a better understanding of gender, and a video that ideally encourages respect towards the PGP of others.
The numbers of children being referred to the ‘Gender Identity Development Service’ at the Tavistock Centre in London seems to be continually rising. 2,016 children were referred to them in 2016-17 and it is thought there will roughly be a 2,500 per cent increase this year in comparison to numbers in 2009-10.
There is no obvious cause of such increase, but one school of thought is that the visibility of transgender people in society is growing which could be a contributing factor. This may be thanks to high-profile transgender people in the media or online, but what is certain is that more children and young people are now feeling brave enough to come forward and address their ‘gender dysphoria’.
We learn from the NHS website that “Gender dysphoria is a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there's a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity.”
Failing to help those who are struggling with their gender identity can have a lasting, damaging effect on the persons mental health, however even with aid there are still many other issues to deal with.
Factors such as transphobia, prejudice and bullying also have a severe impact on the lives of transgender people young and old alike.
Stonewall's ‘The School Report (2017)’ tells us that “more than four in five trans young people have self-harmed” and “more than two in five trans young people have attempted to take their own life”.
Their 'Unhealthy Attitudes (2015)' report and 'The RaRE Research Report (2015)' states “nearly half (48 per cent) of trans people under 26 said they had attempted suicide, and 30 per cent said they had done so in the past year, while 59 per cent said they had at least considered doing so”.
It is facts and figure like these which compel me to do something, to make a change.
Pop’n’Olly’s video ‘Preferred Gender Pronouns’, and much of our other content, aims to combat prejudice, create more awareness and educate that those who are trans, or of varying gender identities, deserve be respected and treated equally. Content like this is crucial to attain harmony in the diverse world that we live in.
One moment that will always stay with me was when I was greeted by a young boy named Jamie who must have been around nine years old. He’d just bought a copy of my transgender Cinderella story (which is funnily enough called Jamie too) and wanted me to sign it. As I did, Jamie said to me, ‘Thank you for writing this story, because this is me… I’m Jamie’.
Jamie was transgender, assigned female at birth, now living life as boy. He told me how happy he was to find a book like mine that represented someone like him.
Four weeks after the initial blast on my video, like all things online, it blew over. No more hate messages, death threats or abuse. The pack had moved on and left me – a little shaken – but still standing.
It was my first experience of what some may call ‘trolls’ and looking back I sometimes wish I had reacted slightly different. Instead of panicking, it may have been better if I had just ignored it.
But is there a smart way to respond to this sort of criticism? I always think comedy is a great way and we often see many YouTuber’s ‘Reading mean comments’ on their channels as a way to take back control.
But reading mean comments isn’t really my style, particularly not on a channel that is designed to be used by children. So almost one year later, I’ve responded in the only child-friendly way I know how; with a song. A song that I hope will inspire children to be themselves and to not get disheartened by the trolls of this world.
- ‘Who I Am’ is available to watch on the Pop’n’Olly Youtube Channel
- The song is available to download and stream on iTunes, Google Play, Apple Music, Amazon Music and Spotify.
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