YouTube LGBTQ advocate and poet Connor Franta talks about sharing your personal story online
Welcome to Small Talk, a series where we catch up with the internet’s favorite individuals offline, extremely online.
It’s hard to define Connor Franta.
We can try anyway. He has done a lot, accomplished more, and made the Internet see it all. Franta began her YouTube career in 2010 at the age of 17 in her hometown of Minnesota. He’s a veteran of the YouTube scene, but he’s found real followers and a community with his coming out video.
In 2014, Franta took advantage of his channel to be gay to his large number of subscribers, who had followed his course for four years already. The six-and-a-half-minute video has garnered over 12 million views. He’s still heavily watched and mentioned, way beyond the headlines he made when the video was first posted seven years ago.
But his career extends far beyond YouTube. Franta photographed Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo, released a limited edition clothing collection and her own coffee line for Common Culture, and launched an influential record label Heard Well.
Franta won the “Favorite YouTube Star” at the 42nd Annual People’s Choice Awards, was honored as YouTube’s Creator for Change in 2019 and (to top it off) won the Governor’s Award in 2015 for her fundraising efforts Fund for Project Thirst, a nonprofit organization ending the global water crisis by building freshwater wells in developing communities. These various distinctions do not even affect his writing: no less than three books. House fires, the last of its wealth of books has just been published this month.
Like its social media content, the book is a mishmash of dreamy photographs, reflections on the trials and tribulations of modern life, and a glimpse into the queer community in North America. His essence, just like on his YouTube channel, is so conversational and friendly that you feel like you are sitting across from him, sharing a cup of tea. Here is an indicator:
“The past can eat up shit compared to the promise the future holds for LGBTQIA + people. It’s nowhere but from here. And thankfully, since we still have a lot to do (being elected president of USA being an astronaut standing on the moon wins an Olympic gold medal in solo synchronized swimming … well, just kidding, we all know ONLY gays have won this … off topic) the world is our oyster! “
Connor Franta’s “House Fires”
Credit: Mashable composite / Simon and Schuster
It was this moving presence of Franta, imbued with humor but also an underlying push for a more inclusive future, that caught the attention of his millions of followers. Twitter: 8.8 million, Instagram: 4 million, YouTube: 4.98 million subscribers and it’s not over. It’s safe to say he’s a very online individual, but one who has used that impact to advocate for equality, talk about mental health, and encourage transparency.
I spoke to Franta to learn more about how he balances the immense responsibility of such a dedicated audience, as well as his career as an online activist and human.
Mashable: You found a lot of support and traction in your coming out video, posted in 2014. What legacy do you hope this will leave?
Connor Franta: Giving yourself to the world should be a joy, not a fear. Hope this video will continue to enlighten and remind people that there is no other way.
Can you tell me a bit about your new book?
House fires is a collection of personal stories, bleeding poetry, and vibrant film photographs of the last years of my life. The pages describe the emotional war with my past, the daze that accompanies wandering in modern times in search of a goal, and the electricity of tomorrow’s potential.
Each of your books is very personal and poignantly illustrates parts of your life. How do you find sharing this part of yourself with such a large audience?
Writing it down is often relieving, but giving it to a stranger can be downright petrifying. It is strewn with deeply vulnerable pieces; things that some of my closest friends don’t even fully know. Sometimes I feel almost naked even when I am fully clothed.
How has your writing evolved over time?
I like to think that I have found a way to blend pain and humor more effectively. Just when you think I’m going to slip steel into your heart again, I’m going to throw a pop culture niche reference right between your two front teeth. You know, just to ease the tension.
You have a great online presence. How do you deal with the inevitable negativity online?
Hate is a single drop in an ocean of love. I try to remember it and stay grounded in who I know I am. Plus, anyone who willfully lashes out at a stranger in a Twitter reply on a Tuesday morning clearly needs a hobby. Try cooking, it’s peaceful.
On a more positive note, how has social media shaped your career and your writing?
I wouldn’t be here today without the social media and the millions of people who have logged in to the art I’ve shared on it. From cultural insight to creative inspiration to access to information, it has shaped every aspect of who I am as a person today. And for that, I am indescribably grateful.
What are some of your favorite things to share online?
Poetry and photographs. It’s almost like they bring color to my day. After I complete the process for one of them, I feel dizzy with the accomplishment.