Love them or loathe them, YouTubers are the new superstars of the internet generation, beaming their videos in the bedrooms of adolescents across the globe in numbers most TV shows can only dream of these days. You’d be foolish to underestimate their influence, and this year National Student Pride decided to pay tribute to the power of LGBT vloggers to provide a window into gay life that has previously been denied to isolated, closeted kids.

One of the UK’s biggest LGBT YouTubers is Calum McSwiggan, who started pressing record on his life just over two years ago, and earlier this month hosted a special YouTube panel at National Student pride in London, where the topics of diversity and spreading gay equality around the globe were firmly on the agenda. It was cameras of a different kind that made Calum hit the headlines recently however, after the 25-year-old went public about his gay porn past following increasing threats to blackmail him over the online webcam videos made in his teenage years.

We caught up with Calum shortly after his Student Pride panel to see what the fallout’s been from his decision to reclaim his adult film past, and talk mental health, body-shaming in the gay community, and how YouTubers are changing the world for LGBT kids…

Student Pride’s been celebrating the power of YouTubers in promoting gay visibility this year – how does it feel to be an LGBT role model to so many young people?

It’s funny because originally I fought quite strongly against becoming an ‘LGBT YouTuber’ – I just wanted to be considered a YouTuber who happened to be gay. But the more time I spent on YouTube and the more responses I got from people saying ‘This really helped me accept who I am’, I realised that even with my relatively small audience you can really have the power to help people, and that’s why I continue to do it now. I’ve had people from all over the world, countries where it’s illegal to be gay, asking for my advice, and in that situation I’m like ‘I don’t know what advice to give you, but I’m here and I support you’.

Sometimes I don’t know how to help these people and that’s often incredibly frustrating. But there was this one guy in his 70s who came to see me speak, and he pulled me aside afterwards and started talking to me. I could tell he was really nervous and his hands were trembling, and I said ‘Is everything okay?’ And he said: ‘There’s something I want to tell you. I’ve never told anyone this in my life before but I think I’m gay.’ This was a man in his 70s who’d never told anyone before, and he was finding the bravery to do that just because he’d seen some videos. I know we talk about young LGBT people a lot, but it’s also important to remember the older people who haven’t had the same opportunities to be themselves that we’ve had.

The theme of this year’s Student Pride was mental health – are mental health issues something you’ve had first-hand experience, whether it’s yourself or people you know?

Well I’m really glad they made it this year’s theme because there’s still so many people who don’t think it’s a real issue or a genuine health problem; that because it’s in your head, it doesn’t exist. A couple of years ago I was diagnosed with clinical depression, and for whatever reason I felt a great deal of shame about that. I didn’t want to admit it to people, and I hadn’t even wanted to go to the doctor and admit that this was a problem I had. I think a part of me also thought that depression wasn’t real, and that I could just get over it. So it took a long time to actually reach out for help. And I think that’s the problem: even people that do have mental health issues can believe that mental illness isn’t a real problem, and that’s really frustrating. That’s something I try and get across in my YouTube channel, and I’m really glad that it’s the focus of student pride this year, because it’s such a problem in the LGBT community.

Obviously you’ve been in the headlines in recently after going public about the fact you’ve done porn in the past. You’d been hounded and blackmailed before deciding to go public – how did it feel to talk about it so openly?

It was terrifying. I was at the point where I was Googling my name all the time just to make sure the videos weren’t coming up and associated with me, because every week I’d see more and more people mentioning it, and I’d think ‘so many people know about this now’. It was really frightening, because I’d have people commenting on my videos calling me a slut and a whore, and saying they were going to tell my mum, my boss… It was just this secret that was held over me for such a long time, and I thought ‘you know what, I have to take control of this.’ I know some people said ‘Oh, he’s putting this on, he’s not really bothered’, but it really was scary for me. I only told my parents a few days before it came out, and I was genuinely worried that they would disown me. Obviously they didn’t and they were amazing and really supportive, but it was terrifying.

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I think the thing that really surprised me was that after it all came out I didn’t get people calling me whore or giving me the hate that I expected. I actually got a lot of hate form people within the porn industry, porn stars and directors, saying ‘you’ve done a really bad thing here; you’ve apologised for something that isn’t a bad thing’. And I completely understand where they’re coming from, and I completely understand how me apologising attaches stigma to sex work, which was never my intention. I don’t think there is anything wrong with sex work, it was just that for me, it was a mistake, and I don’t want other people to do it if it’s going to be a mistake for them If they’re passionate about it and comfortable with it, then all power to them. But for me it was a mistake, and that’s why I was apologising – I was almost apologising to myself in a way, and people took it the wrong way.

It was great to see how positively people reacted though, there was so little judgement.

Absolutely. Everyone, whether it’s friends, former colleagues or viewers, every single one has been so unbelievably supportive. I’ve not seen one person go ‘Oh I used to love your content but now you’ve done this I think you’re despicable’, which is honestly what I was expecting, I thought people would unsubscribe in droves. The only hate I got was outside of my own bubble, so when it got picked up by other media like The Daily Mail, suddenly people who’ve never seen your content before are seeing it, and that was quite scary, even though about 80% were still positive. But a hate comment is always the one that sticks with you, especially when they’re personal.

You mentioned your own mental health before – do you think was carrying that secret had been affecting it?

I honestly think it was. Every single day they’d be something that’d make m think about it. Even my mum, every time she’d go out with her gay friends, I panicked and thought ‘oh god, what if someone’s seen it and tells her. There was always a worry about it, so it was such a relief to get it off my chest. And I’m still not used to it, because people talk about it openly with my now, and I panic because I’m so used to thinking it’s this big secret.

You’ve also spoken recently about some of the body-shaming and abuse you’ve received about your personal appearance. That must be a very nasty downside of increasingly being in the public eye.

It is. I never ever in my whole life had an issue with my body. I was very body confident – I mean, I did porn! And even in my early videos there might be a cheeky bit where my shirt would come off for some reason, just for a bit of fun. But the more time I spent on YouTube and the more people who started watching me, the more and more people would start commenting on my videos, and last year I did gain a bit of weight. I was by no means fat or overweight at all, but I’d gained a tiny bit of weight and people would pick up on that, and say ‘Oh my god he’s got so fat now’. I got a lot of that, and I was always someone who was so body confident, but then suddenly when you’re seeing all of these messages – and at first I’d be laughing it off, like ‘I’m not fat’, but when you see it every single day, you start going ‘Maybe I am fat’, and before you know it you’re looking in the mirror and seeing a fat person looking back at you, just because people have been putting those ideas in your head.

It is an issue within the gay community, because I think you’re either expected to be a skinny little twink, or extremely masculine and ripped and buff. And I don’t want to be either of those things, I’m quite comfortable how I am, but I’m constantly being told I have to be something else, and I think that’s a problem that affects so many gay people, because I think the average person probably has a similar body type to me, and when people are saying that’s not normal, then that’s a problem we’ve got to address.

For more of Calum’s videos, subscribe to his YouTube channel and follow him on Twitter @CalumMcSwiggan.

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