Tyler Oakley on ‘Chosen Family,’ Queer Brunch, and Raymond Braun

YouTube personality Tyler Oakley is back with the second season of his series Chosen Family, which delves deeper into queer experiences around the world. Today’s premiere has Oakley going to a Wichita, Kansas high school where students are having trouble finding administration support for creating a GSA. 

In addition to all-new episodes, Chosen Family will also offer corresponding pins, created by queer artist Adam Kurtz, with proceeds benefitting paired non-profits. (This first one is in partnership with GLSEN.)

INTO spoke with Oakley about Season 2 and why the idea of chosen family is so integral to self-acceptance.

The first season of your Chosen Family series was a very emotional ride for many viewers. For you, what was the most shocking, emotional, or profound experience from Season 1?

I never knew the realities of LGBTQ+ refugees, and creating that episode in the first season was powerful. Being LGBTQ+ in the United States can definitely be difficult, but in some countries around the world, you can go to jail or even be killed if you are out of the closet. I met two resilient members of our community, Shadi from Syria and Sharifa from Uganda who went to incredible lengths to flee their home countries to avoid persecution. Stories like these bring humanity to the refugee crisis that has been surrounded by xenophobia in our country and prove that we have to stick together for all members of our (even international) chosen family.

How did those experiences impact the way you approached the making of Season 2?

While making Season 2, I needed to always remind myself: who needs my microphone right now? I’m so privileged with a platform where I’m able to tell my own story, but so many people, for so many reasons, are not. Whether it’s queer refugees, LGBTQ+ homeless youth, queer elders — there are so many stories that aren’t often highlighted. If I can give them my YouTube channel to expand people’s minds of what the queer experience includes, then I’m doing my job.

You yourself act as a proverbial big brother to many within the LGBTQ community. Was there a moment in your life when you wished you would have had someone to look up to? 

Whenever I’m asked who I looked up to in the queer community growing up, I can’t really think of anyone. I wasn’t able to go YouTube and search “coming out story” to find a YouTuber to relate to as that didn’t exist yet. If it had, I can only imagine how much easier it would have made figuring out my identity. I don’t remember TV shows or movies where gay characters were the lead, living their best lives, as opposed to sidekicks that amplified often problematic stereotypes written by straight people. Had I seen myself represented in media, it could have meant fewer nights of doubt of who I was or what my life could be as a gay man.

How would a series such as Chosen Family have helped you while growing up and coming into yourself?

Just because you’re part of the queer community doesn’t mean you understand or even accept other people within the same queer umbrella. Chosen Family would have exposed me to so many different identities that as someone growing up in the midwest, I had misconceptions about. I think about the queer brunch roundtable videos and how I just didn’t know people like many of the participants. I make videos like that to introduce those people and their perspectives to kids (and adults) in my high school self’s shoes — open to learning, but simply don’t have people with those backgrounds and experiences around them. It’s almost a, “Here, you should know people like this. These people are wonderful and will entertain you and teach you things. You’ll love them on your timeline.” 

Can you tell us a little about your own chosen family — who they are and what do they mean to you?

Growing up, queer people don’t usually see themselves reflected in their birth or given families. They’re often the only ones dealing with sexuality or gender identity issues in their homes. When I first moved to California and met my community of queer people, it felt like I finally found my tribe. My chosen family are my safety net when life is a cluster. Life is a doozy and they’re there for me both when it’s good and when it’s challenging. There are so many ways to be queer and while the many queer people in my chosen family have very different backgrounds, we all have a deep level of empathy for the queer experience – of feeling other, until we find each other.

Who are your biggest influences — both past and present — who have helped you to see yourself and find yourself? 

People like Raymond Braun, one of my favorite activists, friends, and humans. He pushes me to hear different perspectives, to look introspectively and grow, to honor and love myself. He’s really there for me and has been a queer big brother (despite me being older than him) that I can always go to. We have shared so many experiences — we traveled to Orlando for the Pulse episode in the first season of the series, he participated in the “Intergenerational Ice Cream Social” episode of the second season, and probably our silliest experience together: we were both in the makeover episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 10. He’s someone I know I can count on, who I can trust, and who will always push me to be a better person. I love that I get to choose him as a member of my family and that he chose me. We get each other! 

For someone struggling to find community and having not yet found that community or chosen family yet, what advice would you give to them to get through?

The Internet is a beautiful thing. The friendships I’ve made with people on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube are deeper than some of the friendships I’ve made in person. It’s a place where you can really dive deep and find people just like you — to reach out to them directly, to follow their journey and feel less alone. For people in small towns or in communities with small minds, being able to go online and find role models or possibility models can often be the reminder that they’re not truly alone.

What’s the most unexpected part of season 2 everyone can look forward to?

One of my favorite moments of this season of Chosen Family was traveling to Cheney, Kansas. I heard the story of Aaron Mounts attempting to make a safe space in his community for queer people and meeting resistance from his high school administration. I decided to fly to Kansas and see what I could do to help. It was unlike anything I’d ever done because I truly had no clue what would happen. I just knew that if I could help, I needed to go.

Image via Getty

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