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What this gay YouTube breakup tells us about online gay culture
Breaking down aspiration, reality, and performance.
On Monday, a popular YouTube gay couple announced their breakup. Fitness YouTuber Mark E. Miller and his equally symmetrical boyfriend Ethan Hethcote dated for 5 years and were pretty prominent in online gay scenes. Even if you’ve never watched any of their videos, God knows I haven’t, you’ve probably seen pictures or gifs of them circulating, especially if you were a gay man on Tumblr anytime between 2010 and 2015.
They were kind of seen as the aspirational gay couple for gay teens. Everyone was ready to leave their hometown and find their masculine white prince who was going to protect them from the outside world. Mark and Ethan existed way before the current wave of Instagram gays and gay online personalities, but they resemble a similar phenomenon. In a way, the progression of Mark and Ethan’s relationship — from popular online to business owners to their publicized break up — is representative of the same shift in how we operate our lives online.
Mark was a YouTuber for a brief period before Ethan appeared in his videos and even then wasn’t always tied to Ethan. One of his most popular videos was “Asking Guys If I’m Gay,” which was about him walking around and asking men if he fit the stereotypes of being gay. Which… OK, it was 4 years ago, we don’t need to deconstruct that. Beyond those beginnings, Mark and Ethan grew to their current level of fame at the same time.
Mark and Ethan created their own video production business called Everyday Pro. It’s unclear how much of Everyday Pro is work for other clients or just their YouTube production, but they definitely have a portfolio of both. Mark’s professional website lists some clients of his as Samsung, Paramount Pictures and Alaska Airlines and his YouTube channel has over 680,000 subscribers. They’ve created a whole career from the foundations of content around their relationship.
Curating yourself on social media isn’t unique to Mark and Ethan. In some form, we all do this, and no I’m not about to go on a “social media made us fake and everyone’s on their phones too much” kind of rant. However, I don’t think it’s too controversial to say that we only showcase certain aspects of ourselves online, even if it might not feel like it.
Being a freelance culture writer who often writes about his own experience, I’m probably on the extreme end of this. I write about identity, digital culture and video games — so my Twitter presence kind of fits that. I don’t post about my what I make for dinner, unless something goes hilariously wrong, because that’s not what my online presence is. Again, this isn’t to say that these personalities are completely artificial or fabricated. But just that one of the components of being online is that you don’t see an individual throughout their life, you’re seeing bits of them, and bits that they specifically chose.
One result of this community of curated authenticity, specifically in gay spaces, is a sense of loneliness or missing out. When I saw Ethan and Mark on my Tumblr feed, I would feel a sense of aspiration and desire. They’re cute fit white guys who have a kind of heteronormative relationship that feels really secure — that’s very compelling to a bunch of small town gays.
And now that I’m an elitist east coast gay, I’ve heard from friends who live in smaller areas that they often feel a sense of loneliness when they see some Insta or Twitter gays posting about the same gathering. Of course, FOMO isn’t a queer-specific feeling, but there is a certain level of intensity when that FOMO is tied to one’s identity. It’s not as simple as being envious of someone who is rich or attractive, it’s about yearning for a way you can express your sexuality or gender.
The breakup video that Ethan and Mark released on Monday is a good example of how all of this works. They’re extremely vague when talking about the reasons why they’re breaking up, chalking it up to “not wanting to be bitter” and their personal and professional lives mixing too much. Being vague is fine, and no one should demand answers from these creators, but it does kind of show the limited version of authenticity people show on the internet. It’s honest, but not too honest.
When Ethan and Mark started their relationship, and their YouTuber careers, the gay internet was a very different place. A lot of us were in high school or college and just aiming to be around other queer people. In 2018, gay culture is extremely online and people have not tired of the desire this couple engendered. In fact, there is a plethora of muscular white gay couples who strive to be online personalities. So, where do we go now?