OUT ONLINE: TRANS SELF-REPRESENTATION AND COMMUNITY BUILDING ON YOUTUBE, TOBIAS RAUN (2016) New York: Routledge, 228 pp., ISBN: 9781472466761, h/bk, $149.95
By October 2012, a YouTube search for 'transgender' displayed 134,000 hits (Raun 2012: 9). In just four years, this number skyrocketed to over 1,580,000 results. Revealingly, a YouTube search for 'Janet Mock' in April 2017 displayed 37,100 results and a search for 'Laverne Cox' displayed 154,000 results, yet a search for 'Caitlyn Jenner' received 663,000 results. As this snapshot of YouTube's search engine results reveals, trans content on YouTube is in many ways a reflection of the gendered and racialized coverage of transgender individuals in mainstream media. While trans women such as Mock, Cox and Jenner are more visible in mainstream media than ever before, we are still 'far from seeing a democratization entailing a non-sensationalized or pathologized screen representation and equal rights' (25). Though visibility does not entail democracy or equality, trans people have an increasingly strong presence on new media platforms such as YouTube. Since the Google buyout of YouTube in 2005, YouTube has become an international outlet for trans community building and subcultural knowledge sharing. In his book Out Online: Trans Self-Representation and Community Building on YouTube, Tobias Raun makes an excellent first attempt at outlining how and why trans people, specifically those who are medically transitioning via hormones and/or gender-confirming surgeries, are turning to YouTube to document their lived experiences.
The work presented in Out Online derives from Raun's 2009-12 dissertation research for which he conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with eight trans vloggers based in the United States or Europe, four of whom were trans men and four of whom were trans women; only one self-identified as a person of colour. All eight participants in this study were 18 years old or older, had uploaded at least 30 total vlogs and, except for one 'lesser-known vlogger', Carson, were what Raun considers 'typical' trans vloggers whom one would likely find in a simple YouTube search of trans YouTube content. Each vlogger's channel began in conjunction with their medical transition. In response to critiques that his work does not seem 'queer', 'radical' or 'subversive enough', Raun asserts that trans people do not have any obligation to 'queer' gender through non-normative gender expression, nor must good research always be critical and deconstructive--it can simply be descriptive. Thus, Raun's methods are heavily influenced by his commitment to a narrative ethic of 'letting stories breathe', rather than imposing an unwarranted deconstructive analysis. In addition to providing quotes from interviews, Raun contextualizes the vloggers' videos within ongoing conversations with trans and queer studies, media studies, cultural studies and sociology.
In Chapter 1, Raun stresses the importance of not separating trans vlogging from the systems of oppression in which trans vloggers are functioning; these systems include (but are not limited to) unequal access to health care, racialized discrimination and misleading trans representation in western mainstream media. As Raun and several other trans studies scholars (such as Shapiro , Fink and Miller ...
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