Tyler Oakley On Binge Book, Break Ups & Butt Holes 

tyler
Photography by Ryan Pfluger

Tyler Oakley sits atop an expansive, self-made virtual empire. At 26, with more than 20 million subscribers across YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, he's arrived at this point through years of hard work and a lot of oversharing. His easy candor and infectious laughter have wedded a generation of YouTube lovers to him and his brand—the two are synonymous—millions of young people who hang on his words and eagerly anticipate his next moves.

RELATED | Tyler Oakley and the Cult of Oversharing

For his very active fan base, then, this year has been a hugely exciting time of change. In addition to a new podcast, Psychobabble, Oakley has a documentary, Snervous, coming out in December, and a book, Binge, which will hit shelves next week. For fans, these offer new insights into the life of someone many consider to be a friend. At the same time, they offer a chance for people unfamiliar with his YouTube channel to get to know the young personality.

Admittedly, I belong to the latter category. I hadn't watched a single video of his before picking up Binge, but I couldn’t help it—I was instantly hooked. With a confident voice and clear message, Oakley blends giggle-inducing humor with serious discussions of his personal battles with issues like depression and eating disorders—an accurate reflection of the man himself, who uses fame realized through light-hearted commentary on pop culture and daily embarrassments to advocate for LGBT youth, already rallying his subscribers to raise more than $1 million for the Trevor Project as part of successive birthday fundraisers.

Speaking with Oakley, it’s no wonder millions of people feel such a strong personal connection with him. Quick to laugh, there’s an earnestness to the interest he expresses in those around him, an air of compassion he very clearly drives his life and work. He dedicates Binge to his “people,” and the stories he tells are for them—whether providing the untold saga behind well known events, like his interview of Michelle Obama, or revealing personal struggles for the very first time. Ahead of the book’s release on October 20, Out spoke with Oakley about everything from the writing process to Grindr versus Tinder and his friends’ buttholes.

RELATED | Inside the YouTuber Hive Mind

Out: This is the last stretch! Your book is coming out so soon. How are you feeling?

Tyler Oakley: Oh my god, [laughing] it's so stressful! For the longest time, all I've done has been on my own pace—whether it was YouTube or podcasts, or whatever, I could do them and then put them up at my own discretion. For this, we had to announce it so far in advance, so I was like, Oh my god, this is the longest countdown of my life! But now, we're less than a week away, which is freaking me out!

You’ve made a name for yourself online, through YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr. What made you want to jump into literature and produce a physical, printed book?

Well for me, I never even thought it was in the realm of possibilities. When I started YouTube, I had no intention of doing anything outside of it. But then, as the years went on, I started to see my friends get a lot of opportunities, whether it was books, or TV, or a movie—it was just kind of like blowing my mind that this was something that was could come from just uploading content onto YouTube.

I initially got offered a book deal in late 2012, and I was like, What would I write a book about? It never even crossed my mind. I was like, I’m not a writer, I had never spent time trying to figure out how I write, what my voice is. So when it came to that I was just like, I don't think it's right for me to say yes to this just because I can. So I turned down the offer, and I was like, I’m gonna try to write on my own time, and then if I'm proud of it, if I feel like I have something to say, I'll come back. So fast forward to late 2013, I had been working on writing, trying to tell stories in chapters, and took them to my book agent and was like, “I think I wrote a proposal?” And she was like, “Oh my god! Finally!” Every few months she’d check in, making sure I kept the possibility on my radar.

As anyone can see, you’re incredibly busy, something that the book makes even more apparent. How did you find time to write?

You know, the writing process wasn’t the hardest part for me. I’ve always had a lot of fun telling stories that I had wanted to share, and since knowing that there was the opportunity for a book, I started saving good stories. I’d think, Oh that could be great for a video, that could be great for a podcast, and, you know, that’s going to be a great chapter. So the writing process was fun, whether it was on a plane or in a hotel, I was always taking notes in a journal, on my phone, my computer. The writing was nowhere near as challenging as all the stuff I didn't even anticipate—production, marketing, the daunting part of it all has been not understanding that it's not just writing a book that goes into making a book.

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Between the book and your documentary Snervous, which comes out in a few months,  you're really spreading your wings, dipping into new types of mediums. Is this a point of departure for a new era in Tyler Oakley?

I don't think it's necessarily a departure, because I feel like that implies I'm leaving YouTube. I still love YouTube, there are stressers and challenging to it, but it’s something I still call home. When anything exciting happens, I still love running back to my living room and talking about it to a camera. So as long as I'm still enjoying that, I’ll keep doing it. But this year has totally been about exploring new mediums—not necessarily leaving YouTube for them, but adding them to what I want to try, and each are a good way to connect with people who enjoy my content in a unique way. There was the tour, where I can meet individuals themselves, the podcast can be more conversational, the book lets me dive deeper into subjects that may be a bit more serious, and then the documentary is a way for me to show the day in the life of what it's like to be a YouTuber. The videos I make seem fun and whimsical, but there’s a lot of work that goes into them.

At the end of the chapter where you talk about coming out, you say that realizing how fortunate you were, how supportive everybody around you was, makes your work with LGBT youth and the Trevor Project so personal to you. Today, things with your dad are good, but it took him a while to come around. How do you think the negativity from that experience, surrounded by all the positivity, has affected the work that you do?

Well first I want to acknowledge that there are so many stories out there that are so much more challenging than mine. I was really lucky and privileged, but the experience that I had with my dad, it fucking sucked. I feel like everyone that has faced somebody not accepting them can relate to that, and it still affects our relationship. We’re much better now, yeah, but it’s rooted deep, and even in conversations I’ve had with him this week, there have been things that have bubbled up about the past. It’s not necessarily something you can move on from, that you can ignore–it affects your entire life. So knowing that people have it more challenging than me, I think it's important to share my own story because I want people to know that there can be a happy outcome. Even if today is negative, it doesn’t mean people can’t come around, and that has totally influenced why I wanted to get involved with the Trevor Project, or any other group that helps youth—I feel like they should get a chance to see that better tomorrow, as cheesy as it sounds. They deserve a chance to get to that point. When it comes to suicide prevention and crisis prevention, I can't stress how important it is to work through it, and get to that better moment, because the better moment will come. I was fortunate to reach that better moment, but so many people are not, and so to tell them that these resources are out there, even if they never call, is literally life saving.

It was just National Coming Out Day last week, and we pulled together a collection of some of the biggest coming out YouTube videos. Of course, you don’t have one because you’ve been out for so long. If you were to come out today, what would that look like?

You know, I’ve always said I need to make a coming out video. It’s so overdue—a decade plus years of being out, but I’ve just never gotten around to it. And then, when I was thinking about the book, about that chapter, I realized it feels so much better to write it and structure it, as opposed to making a video about it. My videos have always been, at least I've wanted them to be, a little more lighthearted. This year I started to see a lot of my friends make their official coming out videos, these huge moments to share their identity, and I saw the reaction, how many people were affected. So then I thought maybe I really should make a coming out video. Even if it’s ten years late, it could still speak to someone. I don't think I would do anything theatrical, I don't think I would do anything glitzy or glamorous. I would just do a video, zero edits, of me talking, sharing the story, the good and the bad, showing what happens after coming out—because a lot of the coming out videos, at least from this year, were from the perspective of, This is my big announcement and this is the first day of the rest of my life. I had that first day so long ago, so it might be cool to show what the rest of that life has been for someone.

In the book, you're very candid about hookups, sex, Grindr, foot play, but you’re still very quiet about more recent relationships. Can you talk a bit about the balance you maintain between your person and public life, and why that’s so important?

I had a public-ish break up in 2012 or 2013. It was so long ago, and I had a much smaller audience, but even then I remember thinking, Oh my god, why is everyone so invested in this? My audience kept asking questions, wanting details, and so ever since then I was like, I will never share anything online again. I’m so thankful I’ve kept those things personal because people can get really invested. YouTube is a form of entertainment where, even though these people are real, they do kind of become characters, and viewers get into the plot. I don’t ever want to feel like anybody has a say in my relationship other than me and that person.

But who knows, I would never want to write it off, and I would never say somebody sharing their relationship online is not what they should be doing. Maybe ten years from now, I’ll be daily blogging the husband and the kids and a dog or whatever. For now, I've got boy problems enough [laughing]! I don't need other people's opinions about them.

You're also very open about your struggle with an eating disorder, with depression, with an abusive experience in a relationship, about the night that you called the Trevor Project. These are all things that can’t be easy to talk about, but you say that you feel it’s important because it could help somebody. What’s it like sharing those experiences?  

It's like, really scary. A lot of those things my mom didn't know. But at the same time, it also felt like a burden coming off. Some of those things I’ve never shared, but I know that had I faced them at the time having read of a similar experience, or known someone with a similar experience, I think I would have felt less alone. I would have felt more okay knowing that there could be an outcome from all of this that’s positive. I think sharing these us more than just therapy, it makes me feel good knowing that, through sharing it, somebody else can feel a connection, can feel less alone about what they’re going through, or may go through, if they have to.

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Now, a few quick questions: You obviously travel a lot. Any truly horrific plane stories?

Oh god. I fly so much. Mostly, things are fine, but then somehow, terrible things happen… Once I had someone who was doing yoga literally right next to me, in the aisle. It felt like I was on a prank show. I was like, This is not real life. And then there was the first time I was ever in first class. I was like, Oh I'm so fancy! I'll have this meal and that meal and any free food you want to give me. And I ate something and it just, murdered me. I was immediately sick. It was swordfish or something pretentious, and so I was like, You know what? Now I know. Just stuck with Coke Zero.

What dating apps do you currently have on your phone?

[Laughing] I haveee, Grindr and Tinder.

Do you have a favorite?

Um, you know, I don't really. I'm sure people say this, but I don't really get on them as much anymore. When I lived in San Francisco I was all about that life, but it’s kind of different now. I’d much rather go into things like that meeting in person. I’d like to know if they know me, and it’s harder to navigate that, pick up on that, via texting apps.

How long does it take you, after you get to know somebody, before you’re prepared to name their butthole?

Oh my god [laughing]! I was like, Where is this question going!? I don't know! It's all [laughing], it's usually a conversation between me and Korey, my best friend. I think like, once they're in our group of friends, that's when. I guess it's kind of a rite of passage, if you will.

Is there a little ceremony?

Oh. There's no ceremony. I can only imagine what the ceremony would be like...

What is your spirit animal?

You know, there's a caterpillar emoji and I feel like that—I really identify with that. Every year I'm like, This is the best year of my life, how next year be better? I always try to think, I got a long life to life, I'm still just a caterpillar. I don't need to think that I'm big in my breeches.

The caterpillar emoji in particular? Not a caterpillar in general?

Yeah not just the caterpillar. The emoji.

Do you have a halloween costume yet?

No! I mean, I'm making one kind of, for a video, but I'm actually going to be on my book tour on Halloween—I have two stops in the UK on Halloween day, and I'm really excited because I wanted to find something fun. My last tour was my slumber party tour, and everyone came in onesies, every meet and greet picture was us as different types of animals onesies, and that was so fun! For the book tour, I guess I just have to wear like, normal clothes. So Halloween will be the one day I get to be weird.

What do you hope people will take from this book?

Oh god. Um, I hope people like it. I mean, to be honest it's something I always think about—I'm going to be so gross—but Oprah once was talking about how, no matter who she interviewed, whoever was on the other chair across from her, even most important person, the most famous person, after the interview, they'd lean over and and say, “Was that ok?” And I always think about that, no matter what I put out there, Do people get me yet? Do people understand me in some capacity? So I just hope people like it. More than that, I hope that, if somebody is going through something, they can relate to me in some way from a chapter. That would exceed all of my expectations.

But yeah, I just hope people enjoy it. It was such a labor of love, and something that I spent so long on— I've never really done anything like this where I've been this nervous or been this excited for a project as I have been for this. So I hope people like it.

 

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