Anyone who follows the YouTube community at all should be well aware of who Dan Howell is. Under the previous screen name of danisnotonfire, the British YouTuber started posting to the site in 2009 and with each video, gained more traction. By 2011, Howell became known for his quirky, awkward, super relatable videos and his friendship with Phil Lester (YouTuber AmazingPhil). Together, the duo dabbled in everything from gaming videos, to craft videos, to radio hosting, to book writing and touring. But as time has gone on, the internet has seen less and less of Dan‘s presence. Video uploading became more inconsistent and irregular, before he took a nearly year long hiatus from the channel that ended on June 13, 2019 with a video titled “Basically I’m Gay.”
It starts with the announcement of “SPOILER ALERT. I’M NOT STRAIGHT,” before diving into a forty-five minute video against a solid black backdrop and a light somewhere off-camera that slowly rotates through the colors of the rainbow. The video breaks down his life and how he got to the point he’s at today, all while being told in typical-Dan fashion, dripping with sarcasm and self-depreciating jokes, as he covers difficult topics like internalized homophobia, bullying, and suicide.
“Let me tell you a queer little story
about a boy named Dan Howell.”
Howell grew up in an environment that often negatively attached the word ‘gay’ to behaviors and things that were abnormal, or weird, or not obviously masculine. During his years in school, Dan found that kids were regularly forcing this word onto his identity, even before he understood what the word meant. In pop culture at the time, and in society in general, ‘gay’ and “f****t” were often insults. Add in the self-realization that he may actually be gay and you’ve created the perfect concoction for brewing internalized homophobia and self-hatred.
After the demise of his preferred friend group, some extremely physical bullying, and a summer away, Daniel decided to re-align and find friends elsewhere within the school. This was hope for a new beginning and a more tolerable year, but unfortunately kids aren’t keen to forgetting so easily. The abuse surrounding his sexuality continued and now even his
friends were participating. All the while, he was trying to convince himself that he was straight and absolutely could not be ‘gay’.
‘Harmless’ bullying and ‘boys will be boys’ turned into actual threats against Dan‘s life and well-being. The experience was terrifyingly isolating and sent him spiraling into the lowest, darkest point of his life. It’s at this point in the video (TW), that the twenty-seven year old reveals he attempted to take his own life. It’s a moment, a secret, no one around him has ever been privy to prior to now. Naturally then, he jumps in and jokes that, spoiler. Everything obviously turned out okay!
“[…] I thought I was trapped in a situation forever. When, in reality, the entire world I lived in and my life changed completely. I thought it was hopeless. When, in reality, there was so much to hope for and that’s it. Time changes everything.”
A decent chunk of the remaining twenty-five minutes sheds light on how grateful Dan is to have failed in his attempt, before launching into his YouTube career.
For years, fans of danisnotonfire have inquired about his relationship with best friend and flatmate, Phil. Briefly, Dan entertains the subject as a means to say, yes, something is there, but that part of their lives is private and just for them. Which is their prerogative. As well as to take time to discuss that the speculation and forcing of labels over the years has been not-so-great.
You never know what someone else in life is going though, public figure or not. Whether someone chooses to publicly share and post about their sexuality is not for you or anyone else to decide. There’s a multitude of reasons why someone may not be out, loud, and proud about their sexuality. Some of which may include life-threatening situations.
Forcing a label onto someone who is not ready to identify as such can be dangerous. It can be damaging. At the very least, aggressively speculating is prejudice and perpetuating stereotypes and harassment. None of which are acceptable ways to treat someone. For Dan, this speculation made him feel threatened and sent him back to that dark place from his school yard days. It triggered PTSD and anxiety within him. As a result, there was almost a relapse in acceptance of himself.
Everyone on this planet has the right to say what labels they choose to identify themselves with. If they choose to do without labels, that’s okay too. It’s their place, and only theirs, to decide what they are comfortable with and when they’re ready to tell the world. No matter their label, it doesn’t determine their worth as a person or part of the community.
“We can’t ask people to just put their lives on hold to address their sexuality first.”
“It’s our society’s fault that these people are scared to say who they are.”
The YouTuber’s intention was to be helpful to people who feel as he did growing up. It’s to bring attention and representation to people who, even at their best, are still majorly fighting for equality and safety. He discusses his distaste towards ‘knew it’ reactions to coming out stories. There’s a lack of empathy in these reactions. It’s taking someone’s life, their story, and their struggles and making it entirely about you. Someone else’s sexuality and coming out are not there for you to prove a point. It’s not gossip.
Rounding out his story, Daniel Howell creates a call to action. Everyone, all genders and races and religions and sexualities and ages, need to stand up for equality and social justice. Stand up and fight for the voices who have been silenced. No one bothered to stand up for him and it almost cost him his life. If you see something, say something. To the victim, your silence is perceived as intolerance towards them and acceptance of hate.
Along the way, Dan banters and jokes about knowing the public would prefer a label for who he is. He bounces back and forth, contemplating what label he feels comfortable using, then settles on ‘queer,’ announcing it’s famously a slur but that it’s time for some reclamation. “It’s like recycling!”
In a brief, raw moment, the audience gets to watch as Dan admits that the word ‘gay’ still scares him. Time to confront and accept what he’s been running from all these years. Deep breath.
As a perfect end to this long tale, the newest member of the LGBTQ+ community exclaims, “Yup. I’m here, I’m queer, and don’t worry, I’m still filled with existential fear!”
Words: Kaiti Fleeger | Photos: Shitty Watercolor, Dan’s Twitter, and Young Minds.