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“Last year feels… what happened?” Green, 28, tells the Daily Dot. “It just feels like a fever dream.”
When she announced in March 2017 that she’d be engaging in a livestream debate about gender with conservative, anti-feminist creator Blair White, fans were shocked, accusing Green of betraying her feminist roots. Another Green video was criticized for being transphobic, and after lots of public dragging, she decided it was time to log off.
In her 11-plus years on YouTube, the feminist educator and activist has weathered her fair share of internet storms. In 2014, she was praised as the feminist crusader fighting against Sam Pepper, a popular British YouTuber accused of sexually assaulting fans. She’s rallied YouTube to publicly condemn the rampant sexual harassment culture of its prank community and modernized the ways sex education is shared in the classroom. But last year, the headlines surrounding Green’s YouTube channel began to shift amid whispers of a full-on, red-pill conversion.
Since starting her YouTube channel Sex+ as an undergraduate attending the University of California, Berkeley, Green has risen to become one of the most recognizable voices on the platform. “I started making [YouTube videos] because I didn’t really have a place to get information and talk about sex and sexuality,” says Green, whose split from the Mormon Church as a teenager caused a strong backlash within her family. “I was in an abstinence-only high school, and I couldn’t really talk about sexuality at home, so I turned to the internet like a lot of people. I wanted to create a resource and a space for people to talk about stuff, people of all walks of life.”
Her sex-education videos have gained 153 million views. They landed her the opportunity to work with Planned Parenthood following her graduation in 2011 and since Green has hosted series for Discovery and MTV. She travels the country to speak at universities and works hands-on with nonprofits around California. Her videos are hailed as some of the most credible on YouTube, covering all topics surrounding sexuality, gender, consent, sex, sexual health, mental illness, body image, and more. In retrospect, the backlash for engaging with fringe, anti-woman YouTubers was inevitable.
“I knew some people would give me a little pushback but I had no idea,” says Green. “A lot of people accused me of changing my opinions when really I was just engaging people who have different opinions. I think there is no way to be an activist without engaging your detractors. That is what activism is!”
In her few videos published shortly after the debate, “Caught Between Two Extremes” and “How Many Freakin Genders,” Green attempted to clarify her desire to engage—not join or agree with—alt-right YouTubers in the hopes of helping them better understand her feminist viewpoints. Instead, Green was accused of bullying the transgender community and taking an anti-feminist stance.
As the Daily Dot flagged in July, the “Freakin Genders” video critiques transgender activists and the science of trans biology. She also blasts a sarcastic tweet by trans activist Zinnia Jones and seems to present it as a literal argument, which trans activists spoke out against. Some believed Green was “taking information out of context to make a point that isn’t grounded in reality.”
Green says that wasn’t her intent.
“The video is a step-by-step argument about why there are more than two genders and explains why trans people do, in fact, exist. The response was overwhelmingly positive in my community,” says Green via email when asked about this point of contention. “I think it’s more accurate to say that a few people online and press outlets (including the Daily Dot) sensationalized the video for clicks and views and inflamed it for as long as possible.
“Outside of the outrage cycle, I ended up having a lot of really productive conversations with people across the political spectrum. In the past year, many ‘anti-feminists’ have shared their lightbulb moments about gender in response to the video. It was a starting point for real conversations and mutual understanding.”
The sarcastic tweet that Green criticized in her video was itself responding to a transphobic comment. “Have your trans girlfriend rub her balls and dick on your face until you realize how awesome it is?” Jones wrote. Green maintains that it’s a bad tweet, and she isn’t sorry about attacking it.
“While I understand Zinnia meant to be sassy to someone who was presumably being an asshole, I don’t believe there’s any context in which a comment like ‘rub your balls in someone’s face until they like it’ is appropriate,” responds Green. “And that goes for anyone—it doesn’t matter what their gender or sexuality is. I do find it creepy and triggering, to be honest, having been the recipient of similar comments online and off. I feel this is a broader problem in the gender debates. People are often very crude and disrespectful toward each other.”
Though Green has become accustomed to the ever-present public attacks on her creed and character, the increasing death threats and media rumors following her red pill video prompted her to leave YouTube for five months.
But being silenced by critics has never been Green’s jam, and just as quietly as she left, she returned even more determined to engage opposing viewpoints in conversation about sexuality.
“It’s easy to say and do the things you think the internet wants to hear, but for me, just being open and honest about my ideas and how I see the importance of these conversations has made me a happier person,” says Green. “I have a gritty background, my entire family is really conservative and a lot of my family voted for Trump [Green did not]. I just needed to have my real-life to match more closely to my online work.”
Green no longer approaches her channel as a full-time job but rather, a pleasurable hobby. She still identifies as a liberal and a Democrat and remains a sex-positive feminist. But she’s also growing up.
She recently launched a new series to her channel, “State of Sex,” in which she discusses current events and controversies within the world of sexuality. Green likewise announced last month that she’ll be publishing her first sex book, Sex Plus: Learning, Loving and Enjoying Your Body, in September. Green will also be going back to school to become a nurse practitioner in order to more intimately work as a sexual health nurse within her community.
These career adjustments have likewise brought online vitriol to Green. Often creators are pressured to stay within the confines of the content that made them famous, leaving little room for growth or experimentation. But what fans often forget is that many of their favorite YouTubers are still very young and by watching them over a long period of time, these creators’ tastes, interests, and opinions are bound to shift.
“The feminist movement, in particular, can be a very difficult place to exist as a person who is still growing up and still trying to figure things out in the public eye,” Green says. “People continue to harass me and threaten me about silly mistakes that I’ve apologized for. This is silencing women’s voices because you put young women who want to have a voice, who want to speak up, under so much scrutiny and so much pressure to be perfect!”
But as she evolves, her legacy as a YouTube pioneer comes into focus. Green’s refusal to stay silent has inspired an entire generation of YouTube fans to demand better online and IRL.
“It’s no secret that there’s a particular eagerness with which some feminists on social media ‘drag’ their own allies, to the detriment of, well, pretty much only us,” Green says. “Having had a lot of exposure to the right-wing internet, I can tell you they are absolutely gleeful that we are constantly consumed by infighting. Ultimately, I blame the click economy for this mess. Drama and sensationalism draw eyeballs—that’s why reality TV became such a success for cable, why the National Enquirer somehow still exists, and why drama channels took over YouTube in 2015. But I don’t think feminist movement has anything to gain with this approach. Too many of us (myself included) waste too much time and energy fighting each other—people we mostly agree with!—rather than the right-wing extremism that is making a serious comeback in America right now. Anybody who pays attention to politics is well aware that major feminist victories are coming undone at the seams. In response, we need to cultivate a feminist social media environment that is more unifying and uplifting, more welcoming of open dialogue, and more focused on getting shit done.”
While her continued mission to drive conversation between opposing thinkers might not be to everyone’s taste, in this era of political unrest, it might just be our best bet.
Carly Lanning is a journalist who covers social media. Her work has been published by Psychology Today, NBC, Thrillist, and Ms. Magazine.