YouTube has allowed creators of marginalised identities to tell their stories and find an audience. Blake West, who also goes by the username TransBlake, has started cultivating an audience on YouTube, TikTok and Instagram with her videos that document her experience as a trans woman. The first thing that you will notice about Blake in her videos is her look- she is always put together, with hair and makeup perfect, even in our Zoom interview. The setup in her videos may be simple, with her filming videos in her kitchen or bedroom, but Blake is always dressed for the occasion.
Blake didn’t realise that she was a woman until just over a year ago. “I guess for me it was kind of a surprise discovery.” She explains, “I’d gotten out of a really long relationship, a bit of turbulence in there as well, as always, and during my sort of journey of rediscovery, I thought it best to seek therapy. And it’s only when I started speaking to therapists that I was talking about how I view myself and my position within a relationship and, you know, where I fit into a relationship and how I view myself in my day-to-day life, that actually we started picking apart the scab that- we were like ‘uh… do you see yourself as feminine or do you see yourself as a woman?’ and I was like, well… [laughs], I was like actually, come to think about it, I always dream of myself, in my dreams, as a woman. I always hear myself, when I speak, as a woman.”
“And then I realised like, oh my God, that’s actually quite, quite dysphoric.”
Talking about her earlier life, she says, “There was a lot of reflection to be had, when I started the journey, and I looked back and I was like, oh my God, those times when I used to look in the mirror and kind of say, oh I’m so skinny, I’m so petite, blah blah, those are really good qualities, but not for a guy! And then I would just be like, oh, shame I’m not a woman, and just kind of shrug it off and get on with my life, and it’s only when I started picking it apart, I was like, wow, you actually do want to be a woman.”
Blake’s videos are informal and off-the-cuff. They feel very natural, as if she is talking to you about her experiences over a cup of tea. The creative process behind her videos is similarly spontaneous. “I tend to- because they’re always spaced roughly a week apart at the moment, so I tend to give myself the week to kind of digest and say ‘what topics have I already mentioned? Is the ground getting thin with topics to include?’”
She continues, “It’s almost like therapy, it’s like having a therapist and they’re like, ‘next week, think about what you might like to discuss that we haven’t covered yet,’ so I kind of make sure that I’m speaking to myself in that manner, what is it that you haven’t covered that bugs you, or that grinds your gears, or that you think is going to benefit, and sometimes it’s stuff that you discover throughout the week break, like I will get a phone call from the GP about something and then I’ll be like, ooh! This is awesome, this is something I can share, so I will. It’s quite ad-hoc.
However, as my channel grows, I’ve had quite a few people message me with comments, and direct messages, saying ‘oh you should talk about this, you should talk about that,’ So thankfully, due to the amazing support, I’ve actually now got quite a bank of topics that I’m planning to discuss moving forward. Again, that’s just the most amazing thing. [laughs] Especially when you feel like you’ve covered a lot already, you’re like, OK! Cool! This is giving me new avenues!”
Once Blake has an idea in mind, she then finds time to film the video. To keep the tone of her videos casual and conversational, Blake doesn’t follow a script. “Once I’ve got a topic in mind, I will kind of think, OK, make sure to talk about this, make sure to talk about that, make sure to talk about this, and then I’ll be like oh, OK, OK, swing this this way, then include this, and then by the time I’m sat down ready to record I kind of have a vague idea of, like, journey of conversation? However, as I say, I’ll often forget things because I’ll waffle on and I’ll be like, oh this is more important to talk about now and then, looking back, I’m like, oh, I didn’t actually include what I wanted to. So, it might, moving forward, it might prove useful to maybe bullet-point a few little points and stuff for myself.”
“But I like the fact that it feels like a natural discussion, like, I’m just talking to a camera.”
There is a small but growing number of queer YouTubers and social media personalities like Blake, and I was curious to know if she looked to anyone as an inspiration. She cited Trixie and Katya, two RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants with a YouTube channel, and the former Drag Race contestant and now social media personality Carmen Carrera. “[Trixie and Katya’s channel] really inspired me because it’s very casual, they talk about whatever they want to talk about, and that’s kind of what inspired me in my platform and my take on it was to just talk about what I want to talk about without worrying about filters and stuff, or offence, because some things are going to offend, but that’s the way we get real discussion.” Blake especially admires Carmen Carrera for being an ambassador for the trans community. “I don’t know if you’ve seen Carmen lately,” Blake told me, “but she’s absolutely gorgeous and she’s not for one moment sat back and thought, ‘Well, I’m done now, OK bye!’ She’s used herself as a brand, as a marketing tool for the queer community, and she’s constantly uploading stories to her social media of her working out at the gym or her buying a new top and I’m like, that’s what we need. We need a trans woman doing things that are normal, human, womanly things to do, and be like, hey, she may be trans, but she’s a woman, look at her. She’s fucking stomping it and living her best life. She’s doing catwalks, runway shows, and I’m like, that is the goal. That is something to strive towards, in my opinion.”
It is still very early days for Blake’s YouTube channel, but she is quickly picking up steam. She has already received comments and messages praising her content. “I actually had a single straight, cis female mother open up to me that she views my videos,” Blake says. “She’s from the town where I live and she opened up to me and said ‘Actually, I view your videos, I don’t know much about the trans world, or the queer world, but I have a son and I want to raise him open-minded and I feel like your videos are really full and rich with information and they’re not scary, it’s something casual and intimate that you can just watch and gain something from’, she kind of reached out just to thank me, because she can now teach her son about this world that he’s no doubt going to face in his later life, and be less alien to him.”
I was initially quite shocked that a trans person would want to publicly broadcast their transition from the start. For many trans people, their transition is considered to be quite a private thing. On the other hand, Blake feels as though this is an opportunity to help inform people about the trans experience. “I based my channel on the idea of being super honest and unapologetic, so I know there’s a lot of media out there that does cover the trans world, but I felt a lot of it was very, without meaning to sound harsh, very superficial, very surface-based, like surgery based, meds based, aesthetics and that’s that. And I just wanted a journey that’s really frequent, weekly basis, checking in, no matter if there’s nothing gone on in the week, or the opposite, I just want to document it and say, ‘this is the daily life of someone on that journey.’”
One of Blake’s many goals with her growing platform is to use it to provide comfort and advice to the LGBT+ community. “I’ve noticed my- by a long shot, my most popular video is my coming out story, which actually, I recorded it, and to this day I need to do a part 2, because I looked back on the recording after it was published, and I was like, I didn’t actually share my coming out story, I just kind of gave advice on coming out the whole time!”, Blake laughs.
“I view my channel not only as a way of providing support and a bit of a hug to the trans community, or LGBT community at large really, [but] also a platform where people can advise me as there are so many people out there with so many tips and tricks,” she explains. “You’d be surprised. I’ve had so many comments, especially recently, with real, real good chunks of information that I can leave on the platform and, not only myself, but my viewers can draw from and kind of get a head start in terms of knowing where to go and what to do.”
“I realise that if I’m doing this big thing in my life, like this is huge, it makes sense to document it and if I’m documenting it, why not share it?”
Unapologetic would be the most appropriate word to describe Blake. She is all about speaking her mind, while still being compassionate and understanding. As Blake herself puts it: “I guess I’m a little bit of a ballsy person by nature.”
For Blake, one of her most important goals is to normalise the trans experience. She feels that trans people are often misunderstood and, as a result, perceived as strange and alien. “I’m still human!” Blake laughs. “I was born by my mother and- I’m not an alien! So, to kind of put videos out there of me just living a normal life with friends, having a laugh, kind of humanises me.”
“I kind of also hope that, within my viewership there are people out there that are exploring their sexuality, and that may be looking to explore a relationship with a trans person, but are scared, because I know obviously there’s transgender people, but there’s also people in love with transgender people, and a lot of them unfortunately still live in the darkness, still discreet because it’s regarded as taboo, it’s- whatever, and again I hope that my videos reach out to these sorts of people and shows them there’s actually nothing wrong with us. You can choose bravery, choose your own happiness, and live your life with someone like myself, you know?”
Although Blake has many goals for her channel, she doesn’t have a single audience in mind. She feels that her videos should be beneficial for everyone, from trans people looking for support, to the wider queer community, to people who are not LGBT but are simply looking for accessible information. Her videos cover topics that you may have been curious about but unsure how to ask – how does a person come out? How does a trans woman go about presenting as female? Her videos are in-depth enough for people already well-versed in the trans community but casual and non-judgemental in a way that caters to those trying to find out more about the trans experience. It will be a real treat to see Blake’s channel grow and to watch her hone her skills as a video creator.