Kids at work: a YouTube vlogger

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Kids at work: a YouTube vlogger What is life like for millennials? What do they think about their uncertain future? Edward Siddons meets Jake Edwards, a transgender YouTube vlogger.


'I still think it is surprising that people want to watch my videos,’ Jake says with a smile.

‘The system has failed so much in our lifetime that a university degree means nothing now,’ Jake Edwards says. ‘Nothing is certain anymore. So if you have something special that people want to pay you money for, you should just do it.’

Jake, 21, describes his millennial career as ‘Vlogger’, ‘YouTuber’, and ‘content creator’, but none of them are exactly right.

‘I don’t know if you can call it a profession,’ he says ‘Sometimes it feels like a hobby that I’m earning money from by accident.’

Jake makes videos. In some, he sings. In one, he tries baking with his boyfriend. In others, he talks about gender dysphoria – feeling unhappy about his gender at birth - and his difficult transition, his change of gender. Jake is transgender: he was female at birth, but he now lives as a man. He has over 145,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel and a new record deal.

Jake started YouTubing aged 16. His gender dysphoria was a real problem when he moved from an all-girls school to a co-ed sixth-form college and, after a few months, he realised he was a man. YouTube was an escape, a hobby without a plan for long-term success.

School was not a help for him. He left school with no qualifications. He sees his problems with school coming at the same time as his transition. ‘I wasn’t interested,’ he says. ‘The most important thing at the time was being queer and trying to find my place in that community.’ He regrets not getting any A-levels, any school qualifications, but it was during his problems at school that he realised the value of his online followers.

Jake’s transition caused problems with his family and he was about to become homeless. To get some money, he started a project on Kickstarter – an online crowdfunding site. His followers helped him. People he did not know gave him enough money to find a place to live. ‘That’s when I realised that what I do is important to people,’ he says. After three years of hard work, he now has hundreds of thousands of followers. But after hundreds of videos, working with other YouTubers, and as a public speaker, money is still a problem.

‘I still have to work in a petrol station,’ he says. ‘With my green hair, the purple and orange uniform makes me look like a carrot!’

For now, he has enough money with his part-time job and a 10-per-cent discount on meals. YouTube doesn’t yet pay the bills and it’s getting harder to make a living from videos alone. Like most online media producers, Jake has had problems with digital advertisers. ‘A while ago, I made OK money from advertisers,’ he says ‘But then there were problems.’ Advertisers saw that their brands were on videos showing bad content, including YouTube’s growing group of fascist commentators.

So YouTube started stopping money for certain videos. They used a computer algorithm, which was not always accurate and many vloggers lost incomes.

Jake’s videos have other difficulties. Videos with the names ‘gay’, ‘trans’ or ‘queer’ are – ‘restricted content’. This means that YouTube stops under-18s from seeing his videos, and this makes money from advertisers less reliable.

There are problems with YouTube but Jake seems too thankful for his popularity to worry about his uncertain situation.

‘I still find it a surprise that people want to watch my videos,’ he says, with a smile. But he hopes he can stop his weekend job at the petrol station soon. ‘I don’t know how long that will last, but even if it’s only a few months that I can give up the job, I’ll be happy.’

Watch one of Jake’s videos:

Edward Siddons is a freelance journalist whose work is published by the BBC, Newsweek, The Guardian, The Times, and The Independent. He works as the Lead Writer on Violence Prevention at Apolitical, a policy platform for public servants.


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).