Luxander on YouTube, Injustice, Trans Rights, and Reactionaries
An in-depth conversation with Luxander, a YouTuber with lots to say about the space they inhabit.
When we talk about YouTube royalty and how their prolonged stay on the platform helped shape it for years to come, rarely discussed are the trans people who helped shepard a new era of much-needed visibility for those who had no prior example to heed. Luxander was such a figure for a few, but loyal dedicated group of followers–while their individual input alone isn’t cause for much fanfare, them alongside a persevering ecosystem of trans masc and non-binary content creators make for an important collective to sustain and keep healthy on the platform, regardless of what the culture war flame-fanners would have you otherwise believe.
Mindful of what small but significant influence they have on their audience, Lux believes a core objective of their content is to accurately reflect what would it be like to be a non-binary person with similar lived experiences, navigating the fickleness of lackluster trans recognition in a world oft-tainted with much unwarranted adversity. “I primarily make educational content about non-binary and trans issues in general, but specifically as a non-binary person. I want to provide at least one example of what your life can look like as a person who’s accepted this and moved on,” they told me. “Some of that is for other non-binary people to help them discover themselves, and some of it is more 101 cis population education–those are the main things.”
Due to the polarized nature of our modern politics, being trans almost necessitates active involvement in causes of socio-economic equity, a primary domain of the political left. Even though discussions of trans experiences are a main staple of Lux’s channel, they see the perceived distinction between what they do and the group more formally recognized as “BreadTube” to be somewhat puzzling, even as their output has more explicit political undertones. “A lot of the people who are considered part of BreadTube — like Jack Saint and Lindsay Ellis — do primarily media analysis. It’s interesting that some of what they discuss is political within the subject matter, but they’re not making political content,” they said. “People don’t consider me part of BreadTube despite the fact that I have more directly talked about politics in my videos, but I think that because I primarily focus on trans issues.”
Secondarily, Lux laments the way that BreadTube’s popularity has led to long periods of sustained fandom-infighting, their intensity almost mimicking that of Tumblr’s darkest days. “BreadTube has been built up to be something it was never meant to be. It’s edutainment– it’s meant to entertain you, and you learn a little bit of something, but I don’t think anyone intended for identity groups to be formed around it and I think that that is a little bit unhealthy,” they said. “But I like learning! So I like those creators because I like to absorb their information and the way that they present it obviously works for a lot of people.”
Shifting away from YouTube, I wondered what creators were most influential to Lux from the streaming sphere, and their answer was understandably reserved. “I try not to think of people in inspirational/aspirational ways having been burned once or twice on really appreciating a creator only to then find out that they’re a garbage person,” they say. “[But] I would say that I’m really inspired by creators who do put a lot of effort into the presentation of their work. […] As far as who I find politically-inspiring, about a year ago I was watching a lot of Vaush’s content — I found it a little bit easier to digest — and he’s a bit straightforward and toxic in a way that I find acceptable? He has some interesting ideas, and he’s willing to just go out there and say them, and that sort of encouraged me to look further into theory. […] It’s not the be all and end all of political influence, but it is a good place to start I think.”
When further delving into theory beyond the grotesque platitudes that even academia’s most rigorous political science curriculums often indulge, you come to forge a political identity that is uniquely your own, even if it’s not all entirely novel. Lux found themselves squarely in the socialist column, but they don’t think the label warrants using beyond denominational purposes. “I very broadly describe myself as a socialist, a leftist, and I do jokingly call myself a communist,” they said. “My approach to labels in many spheres — and particularly in politics — is I don’t really think that the specific label is as important as getting the fundamental idea out there–[like] redistributive justice, equity, all of those broad concepts [outlining] that people’s needs should be taken care of.”
Most-egregious to Lux has been the way that leftist causes are bastardized as being too radical, putting in question whether the status quo itself isn’t too radically complacent. “It’s frustrating too because that position is considered radical–when I did my political compass test on my YouTube channel, I’m in the far bottom-left corner,” they said. “If my beliefs are radical, that’s something fundamentally wrong about the political system and what it does to people’s brains. The fact that my desire to let people have freedom and the true ability to pursue happiness and not be concerned about not having their basic needs met; if that makes me radical, then that’s a big big statement about the society that we live in and we need to fix it from the ground up pretty much.”
A few months into Joe Biden’s tenure, the tone of American politics seems to be shifting into something far less chaotic, albeit not without its flaws. Lux had seen the writing on the wall, but didn’t rule out the possibility of further pushes made by the left if liberals to its right don’t cower in complicity. “We’re in a really interesting position politically, and I will focus on US politics because I live here and also because the situation here — unfortunately no matter what — is going to be of global consequence. I think that because of how intense the last four years have been, a lot of mainstream liberal types are feeling like they can take this big breath of relief and be like “oh, the right administration is in office now. They’ll take care of it, and they’ll do what they’re supposed to do” and what I’m really witnessing, is promises not being followed through on,” they say. “I understand that the political structure is complicated and you can’t necessarily just do things and have them function overnight, but it really does seem like we’re seeing some reneging on promises made.”
The adage of “still being at brunch” if Hillary had won instead of Trump in 2016 was very much the tone of Obama’s two terms, giving those with no political bait to bite little reason to care about the current state of things. “I worry that there will be a sort of fizzling out because so many people became politically active under Trump’s administration [due to] how really intensely egregious his behavior was, and I think a lot of those people — just like under the Obama administration when they were complacent — will not continue to push,” they said. “Leftists are still going to be as vocal as we ever have been. […] It’s hard to say how things are going to move forward, and whether we’re going to be successful in applying these pressures since we still have very little true representation of our political beliefs in our government. […] We’re basically just going to have to continue supporting grassroots political movements where people are running for office who never would have before [and still winning].”
Even considering Biden’s lukewarm welcome by the left, Lux deems it at least a positive signal that his administration is willing to take up trans equality as a baseline belief, putting aside for a moment if that would ever result in a tangible improvement of trans people’s material conditions. “I’m really grateful that this administration is the type that thinks the popular thing to do is to pay lip-service to trans people,” they say. “Even if they’re not gonna actually do anything to really make things better, at least they think it’s good PR to say that they will–that’s way better than the situation we were in before.”
Coming standard with the question of trans recognition is that of trans visibility, and how despite its often-problematic manifestations, it still served as a window for the mainstream to come to grips with a novel — and more sound — understanding of gender within the context of our rapidly-changing cultural landscape. “I think that we in America might be about to catch the [transphobic] bug from the UK. [The situation there] has been increasingly volatile over the past few years, and it seems to be increasingly difficult to access medical care, not to mention the rising issue of social acceptance, and now we just saw Trump mention “biological males” in reference to trans women [in his CPAC 2021 speech]. We had an executive order come out recently from Biden’s admin very early on that was about [combating anti-trans discrimination], and I don’t even know if it mentioned sports, and yet that’s the narrative [that transphobes latched onto]–facts don’t matter to these people.”
The difference in visibility that trans and non-binary people garner depending on their gender expression is a fraught, if very real phenomenon. Lux had an interesting take on the relatively-small space that is YouTube, which often stands in sharp contrast with mainstream celebrity. “You look at YouTube, and the number of trans women on YouTube — granted within the leftist sphere is only going to gradually increase as is natural — but we have a lot of trans men or trans masc individuals who have relatively successful YT channels, and even relatively fewer trans women who have that, and especially not as many trans women who have that visibility and built it from being trans the entire time,” they said. “Like ContraPoints and Philosophy Tube gained a lot of their subscriber base, got ahead in the algorithm while they were still presenting as cis men–so it can be really interesting to see who gets visibility in what spheres and at what levels.”
Though the dynamics can feel lopsided at times, Lux urges measuredness and tact when discussing the issue even if lashing out is a source of temporary — but ultimately unsatisfying — catharsis. “There’s an unfortunate amount of tension between [trans masc and trans femme people] where I don’t think there ought to be–I personally know a lot more trans feminine people [than otherwise] and I’m working on building a community of trans masc people for myself. We [sometimes] end up in these situations where one group is saying “oh, the fact that trans women are so visible is really toxic for us and they’re resentful of that,” but then trans men are resentful [in return] because they don’t have as much representation, even if they [concede] that the visibility is [most-often] not great,” they professed. “Then you have on top of that the fact that trans women are more readily visible in society, and more present in people’s minds because they’ve been presented with this idea of a man transitioning to a woman. You have a trans man who upon their first interaction with a cishet person, they might be conceived of as a trans woman because that’s [society’s] most prominent conception of what being trans is.”
Even if giving in to tension in small doses might prove opportune, Lux thinks there’s little use in further fracturing a community that has long been ravaged by the storms of political division and frivolous cultural warfare. “I personally find a lot of companionship in trans feminine people and I know a significant number of [them]–they’re always really interesting and kind,” they confessed. “It’s good in my opinion to really flesh out your perspective as a trans person, to surround yourself with those who are assigned the opposite sex so you get a better feel of what their experiences are like and [be relayed] that first-hand experience because that’s the best way to learn about any group.”
As is the case with other niches on YouTube, viewership tends to concentrate along a few familiar faces. BreadTube is no stranger to it–the triple-threat of ContraPoints, HBomberguy and Philosophy Tube were up until very recently all anyone knew and cared to watch in the space. Some might dub this an algorithm issue where YouTube naturally favors its engagement champions, others see this as a failure of the bigger guys to trickle down some of their influence to BreadTube’s small, but vibrant freshmen class. “We as creators have the power to influence the algorithm certainly. […] And if you are specifically trying to bring in Black people, people of color and whomever else to the group, then collaborations and explicit shout-outs are really important. Having more than one collab between several different creators within that sphere, could easily be enough,” they say. “That’s probably one of the best methods of just bruteforce-changing the algorithm. […] You really have to be willing to do some cross-pollination–I think there’s a fear of affiliation with the wrong creator, and while I understand that, I wish those who are very well established would be a lot more willing to go out on a limb and promote other [smaller] voices.”
Why Lux advocates for such measures has to do with how they gained so much of their following in the first place. “I have basically gotten all of my notoriety from my public talking about ContraPoints and then [her] shouting me out on her video, and my video being shared on the BreadTube subreddit,” they said. “It definitely makes a big difference to have that recognition that smaller creators are also doing things of value–and it doesn’t even have to be in the polished hour-long video essay with all your fancy lights and everything; at the very least use other functions like the community tab on YouTube, retweet creators who don’t have as big a following as you with a really good take on something, and help counter the Twitter algorithm which tends in my experience to [heavily] suppress link-sharing.”
When asked about what the future for Lux holds, they displayed great confidence in their ability to achieve many great things. Though they remain unconvinced in YouTube’s ability to keep them financially-afloat, they’re still making content out of passion regardless. “I don’t know that my content is ever really going to grow from where it currently is, because I’m not a career YouTuber–I’m not trying to establish this as being my primary form of income because it seems to me to be a quite fickle and unhealthy job to have,” they say. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m not interested in branching out somewhat–I do enjoy the conversational format of my videos, and I like that I just think about my ideas long enough that I can tell you what I think. […] I see my content as being more for the love of it, what I’m going to enjoy talking about, and what I think is important.”
As unassuming as the bigger ecosystem of trans masc and non-binary creators is currently, Lux foresees many great things to come from more collaboration, acting in the collective spirit that a leftist political impulse often urges. “I have recently become friends with several noteworthy non-binary YouTube creators, and we’re having a lot of conversations about doing collaborative work, and how we as a group could possibly be a force for influencing what the conversation is,” they said. “I’m looking forward to having an opportunity to work with some of these other creators, even with something as small as voiceover work. […] there is going to be a lot more collaboration, especially when COVID eases up and we have the opportunity to meet each other in person and possibly record some content that way. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Having partaken in the online leftist discourse before, I’ve noticed a propensity among those most-involved to act with a passion and vigor that can see them antagonizing even their closest allies–Lux thinks it’s a tough needle to thread given it’s often a verbalization of long-repressed trauma. “The fact that people don’t take a break from it is probably the most actively-traumatic part for everybody involved. I have personally been witness to many years of watching people who are dealing with a lot of stuff personally, then coming and engaging with politics and… it’s not really possible to do without bringing all of that baggage with you,” they said. “I do wish that people were more mindful of when it would be healthy for them to engage [in the discourse], but that’s me shunting it off onto personal responsibility and I don’t think that that’s really tenable long-term.”
To deter from animosity is to persuade, and in its pursuit, Lux posits that lashing out is a least-efficient method of doing it. “If you do have the presence of mind to be aware that heightened emotions cause these really intensely-escalating situations, and really understand psychologically that people don’t respond to criticism when they’re being inundated; just focus on effectiveness and champion it,” they said. “Taking a step back from those heightened situations, recognizing when there’s a Twitter mob happening and trying to engage with people as calmly as you’re able to in any given moment, [that’s what you’d ideally do].”
Having been on YouTube for so long, Lux had run-ins with the platform’s slant of reactionary content creators. The most recent among those were Kalvin Garrah and Arielle Scarcella; both conservatives with a penchant for ruffling the feathers of the left’s uncompromising view on inclusivity and accommodating everyone regardless of how divergent from the norm their identities might be–Scarcella’s transphobic screeds in particular reeked the Ben Shapiro stench for how earnest they present themselves, even when they’re told in bad faith. “[Scarcella’s] content doesn’t make sense to me because she doesn’t really seem to have a flow from one idea to the next. And trust, I have ADHD, so I get it–but I would either script or outline if I was going to be as all over the place as she is,” they said. “What she does is ask leading questions, and a lot of the time they’re mutually contradictory ideas. […] She did make this swing into coming out as a conservative, this whole “I’m leaving the left” thing — as though we ever wanted her in the first place — she made the video with Jaclynn Glenn five years ago at this point, and it was criticism about those beliefs — partially voiced by me then — that made her realize that the queer community is kinda moving past her as far as her beliefs about gender are concerned. […] She’s trying desperately to stay relevant while continuing to make money, and the community is just getting bored of that shit–it’s sad and funny at the same time. I just don’t understand her.”
Something I couldn’t let go Luxander without asking is what they thought of conservatives shifting the goalpost of their cultural victories away from the thwarting of gay rights into their trans counterparts–they think it’s no more than a carefully-calculated political ruse. “It’s a divide and conquer tactic where if people are focused on this bullshit social issue — like the bathroom bill in North Carolina — they’re not gonna notice when you pass another couple trillion dollars defense bills,” they said. “As cynical as that sounds, I have grown to a point where I just wouldn’t put it past them. I don’t perceive any reason for it, except as a diversion, because they actually want to accomplish other things–it’s duplicitous as fuck honestly.”
Right before I cut the tape, I gave free reign to Lux to talk about their new-found passion for playing the guitar, and it ended up turning into an interesting rant on the subtle ways cisheteronormativity even affects how comfortably you can play your favorite instruments. “I’ve noticed that my wrist was hurting a lot and it had to do with how I was standing with the guitar, and interestingly one of the things I’ve noticed is that every video that I’ve watched about guitar posture is from a cis guy, but I have these really intense boney shelf-hips that change how the guitar rests against my body, and it was making my wrist hurt a lot more,” they explained. “I do wanna make a video that’s sort of like “here’s some general posture tips that will allow you to play for longer periods of time without experiencing wrist pain” and specifically if you have a non-normative body type, like if you have a really curvy body, that there are additional tweaks that you might have to make [so] the play [is] comfortable, because I don’t think I’ve seen anyone talk about that before.”
A thing that is often hard to ascertain with content creators — especially smaller ones — is whether they can stick the course after years of faintly-rewarded attempts at satisfying the content mill that is the YouTube algorithm. Even if it’s not their main preoccupation, Lux has made it clear they’re in it for the long haul–given that YouTube isn’t their bread-earner, they can afford to take risks and not be enslaved to the demands of the algorithm at every turn.
For myself personally, it never gets old seeing those who everyone bet against making a small, if tangible impact on even a few lucky inquirers. It’s a tough world out there for trans and non-binary people, so for them to have a guidance so easily accessible, produced out of the kindness of a content creator’s heart who chooses to be vulnerable for it to be at all possible… it’s admirable to say the least; and even better when it comes from a place of strident belief in a much brighter political future for all involved.