When it comes to the omnipresent social media website Upworthy, there are two widely held views:
1) It promotes high-quality social justice videos and content, repackaging them and getting them seen by a massively larger audience.
2) It’s clickbait bullshit.
As someone who produces semi-decent social justice videos AND copious amounts of bullshit (clickbait-worthy or not), I’ve always appreciated Upworthy for what it is. And understood what’s it not. They’ve supported several of my videos before, but the biggest boost they’ve given me was just last month, when they decided to promote my four-old-year performance of Coming Out Straight.
And yes, they gave it a total clickbait headline. But it made my shit sound fresh, so who was I to hate? (“What happens when a straight guy pretends to come out to his parents? Comedy gold.” Makes you want to watch it, right?!)
Between Upworthy posting the video, and then it getting reposted on the front page of the Huffington Post, my performance was viewed by over 100,000 new people in less than a week, doubling its views. As an artist, anytime your work gets seen by that many people, you appreciate it. I put my blood, sweat, and whiskey into this shit. So yes, it’s nice when my work gets a bigger audience than my uncle Rick and the half-dozen stoned-out socialists who show up every night at La Peña.
But you want to know the real reason I was glad Upworthy decided to post my ridiculous satire against homophobia? It wasn’t a reason. It was a place.
And specifically, the anti-LGBT “religious freedom” law that Indiana passed. Which Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the same week that the video dropped.
(And yes, that last link is talking about how the law is so bad even Wal-Mart is against it. When you’re too conservative for Wal-Mart, it might be time to take a step back from the looney ledge.)
When Upworthy posted my Coming Out Straight video and 100,000 new people watched it in a week, I got a lot of emails and tweets. 95% of them were positive. 4% of them didn’t understand that it was satire, and thought I was really complaining about how hard it is to be a straight white boy in America. (My response to those folks was: “Yeah…maybe you should watch it again.”)
Then I got one Facebook message which made all my hatred of social media go away. It was from a 17 year old girl in Aberdeen, Indiana. Population 1,875. The girl was named Kylie, and she wrote me:
“Dear Josh, I just watched your video three times in a row. The first time, I laughed my ass off. The second time, I cried for a lot of it. Because I’m gay. Well actually, I’m a lesbian. Well, really I’m just 17 and trying to figure out what the hell I am. But I know I’m different. And my family doesn’t like that. And they just passed this law here in Indiana that doesn’t like it either. So I watched your video a third time…and then I forwarded it to every person in my huge SUPER conservative family. What are they going to say??? I don’t know. But you know what? I don’t give a fuck!!!! sincerely – Kylie”
It’s the best fan mail I’ve ever gotten.
I wrote Kylie back to say thank you. I also wanted to find out how the family responded, and to make sure she’s ok. She is. And she said her mom really liked the video. Her dad, not so much.
Seems about right.
All that to say, this one’s for you Kylie. And to all the young people in Indiana (and Arkansas, and everywhere in the crazy way-too-Christian country) who are rising above the bigotry and realizing that whether you’re gay, straight, or wherever else you want to be on the beautiful spectrum of sexuality…the only person you should have to come out to is yourself.