The only openly gay member among The Try Guys, Yang helped create LGBTQ-themed videos such as Season 1 Episode 3, “The Try Guys Try Drag for the First Time,” and he executively produced and hosted BuzzFeed’s “Queer Prom” five-part video series that documented the journey of eight high school seniors who attended the company’s first LGBTQ-themed prom together with other students. He also works with various human rights and LGBTQ advocacy charities like The Trevor Project. In October 2019, he was awarded the Human Rights Campaign’s Visibility Award.
However, nothing will ever be like this past June when Yang officially opened up about his sexual identity and explicitly came out a gay in a music video that instantly went viral. Garnering millions of views, the video made a tremendous impact and is still circulating across the internet today.
OUT FRONT had the opportunity to chat more with Yang about the video, his time with The Try Guys, and what we can expect in the future.
I would like to begin by talking more about the coming-out video you released last June. For millions, this video made an incredible impact and continues to do so today. Why did you want to come out this way?
This is a very complex question [laughs]. When I started working online, I was struggling with the idea of racing the audience very quickly, expanding knowledge of my personal life. Like, would I be able to come out to my family before the audience knew? At the same time, some of my work is dedicated to trying to elevate the queer community, so it was very difficult, especially when I was thrust into this ‘viral stardom.’ You are essentially selling yourself and giving your life to the cameras.
When I was working at my previous job at BuzzFeed, I was explicitly queer and open. I came out as LGBTQ, but I wasn’t very particular. That was also because people in my family are Asian, and they don’t know what queer or LGBTQ is. They thought queer meant happy. I created BuzzFeed’s first queer prom, and some of the older people in my family were like, ‘Oh, so they’re like weird kids.’ That was kind of why, on the personal side, I was struggling with this. It came down to when it dawned on me that I had some sort of impact with my position as an online creator, which I was always unaware of.
So many kids were clearly following me and watching all the things I produced, and many of them who were identifying as questioning or LGBTQ would talk to me and say how they came out because of XYZ video I did. This was prior to the coming-out video. I had no one growing up to give me that shred of confidence or open that dialogue in my life. I was giving these kids a conditioned version of myself, and to see that I had an iota of influence because of what I have done online was the pivotal point for me. I always had this project in the back of my head, and when I realized my position as an internet creator with a huge, international audience, I needed to exercise that proclamation now.
With the number of eyes paying attention, I wanted to give that 1,000 percent without conditioning. And this video wasn’t just for the public to know, but there were some people in my personal circles who didn’t know, and I didn’t tell them until that video came out. It was a huge shift for me. As much as I live openly in my West Hollywood community, it is very different when I go home to Texas or Korea. It was a big moment to open the dialogue with my family and have conversations with my viewers and fans. They are using that video not only to speak with themselves about their identities, but also with their families. It has been overwhelming, but it feels like an enormous amount of pressure has been lifted off my shoulders.
I bet. How did your parents and family react after seeing the video?
I always say, for many people, there’s not just a switch. There’s not an on/off button. Many parents who come from different backgrounds or have more conservative views are growing and learning alongside you. Sometimes, if they are not at all on the same path, that is when you can start considering that these people are toxic in your life. Those trying to understand the path, you are often the only source of information for them. I have kind of constantly been at this sort of struggle on how to educate and inform my family without them feeling offended or disheartened.
So, I am happy that everything is good on the family side. I would also say this isn’t a topic of conversation when we see each other, but it certainly means something. My mother came to our San Francisco Bay/San Jose area show, and I didn’t tell her anything I was doing in the show. My entire section and solo number were essentially a celebration of LGBT through culture. Baby drag, lip sync, queer history filled with dance. I am tucked, got a bra on, everything, and she had no idea what to expect.
The thing she told me afterwards is that I looked pretty. For me, that was the [best] covert, around-the-bush response I could get from someone of her background. That fulfilled me. I know she will never set foot in a gay bar or go to an actual drag show with me, but the fact that she said I looked pretty was enormous. That was a triumph.
The Try Guys brand is being open to other identities and races, and they are just the nicest, most open-minded guys you could ever meet.
What about Keith, Ned, and Zach? How did they react to the video?
They have always been supportive. The thing is, we also function as a production company. I was ready to produce this video on my own, but they immediately stepped in to help. They have been privy to my identity and life since we first met, and they have always been huge champions.
The Try Guys brand is being open to other identities and races, and they are just the nicest, most open-minded guys you could ever meet. I always joke, they’re cool for cis, white, straight men [laughs]. They have been behind me 1,000 percent, and I think they were just as surprised about the response. I didn’t know if the video would do well, and I didn’t know if anyone would respond, but the response was wonderful.
What kind of advice would you give to someone who is afraid to come out or accept their true self?
Hmm, that’s a tough one. I think the big thing is, young people today are growing up surrounded by social media, and they have this idea that their coming-out experience should somehow be on a timeline. They don’t necessarily feel like they are celebrating themselves like the icons they follow.
There was a huge period of my time as a rising, digital star where I felt beholden to present the most untarnished version of myself. Like, I needed to be this beacon of something, slaying the game. I came to a point where I’m like, that’s not my story. Embrace your flaws. The core of my video was me coming to terms with myself. I am a gay, Asian man, and I’m 33 years old. There is no timeline or limit for you to come out and accept yourself. I want to emphasize that everyone is on their own journeys, and I hope with more education and exposure to what else is out there, they can start crafting their own destinies in their own way.
Are you are currently involved with someone?
I am! I don’t like to talk about him or our relationship much to the media, but I do have a significant other, and I am very happy and content with that relationship, contrary to the popular belief that I am undateable, which was very true for the majority of my life. I do not denounce that assumption.
I would now like to ask you a couple questions related to The Try Guys. You did your first nationwide tour last year. How did that go?
It went well! We had a lot of wonderful experiences being able to see people who have been following us for years. I didn’t understand quite what the nature of touring would be, but we put together a fantastic show. It was like this glam rock extravaganza mixed with comedy, dance, and improv. We would do something unique in every city, and we take audience suggestions.
The biggest thing I was most surprised by is that we have such a diverse group of fans, especially a large group of young, female fans. A lot of people don’t know this, but 80 percent of our followers are female. We were told that we are wonderful examples of non-toxic masculinity. The far right would describe us as beta-males or something like that. We were called everything under the sun, and one of our biggest surprises was that we have been used in Russian propaganda videos about feminization of the Western male or some bullsh*t like that. We take pride in that!
When The Try Guys first began, did you ever think you all would become such a phenomenon?
No, not at all [laughs]. I had no idea. We were also full-time producers at Buzzfeed and some of the first video producers there. We shaped that department at the time. If you remember YouTube in 2014 and 2015, there really weren’t shows.
We recognized storytelling and characters are eternal, and people responded well to that. So, we just followed what the audience wanted. They wanted to see the four of us together. It was never an egotistical thing, never a Hollywood’s calling type of thing. The audience liked our rapport, so we essentially not only became best friends, but we became best friends and colleagues on camera while working with each other. I never would have expected to become best friends with those three. Throw us in a room together, and we would be in completely different social circles. There is a kind of beauty in that. We never thought it would become what it is today.
What has been one of your favorite Try Guys segments?
Oh my goodness. You know, I am particular to series that we do that are more education-oriented. We like to call it edutainment. Essentially, we have done multiple series, like miniseries, that focus on a topic where we slide in education underneath the comedy. Like, we did a series on old age. We tried on old-age simulation suits. Prior to that, we did a drunk driving series where we did a closed course, and we tested driving drunk versus driving high or texting.
And those are interesting because the impact those videos have, oftentimes, they are shown by teachers to their students. A lot of these different series are shown in a lot of different courses in high school and middle school. Well, hopefully just high school because we do curse a lot [laughs]. We do a ton of research for those videos, and at our cores, we are academic nerds. It is very fulfilling for me as a producer who is trying to do a little more than just simply going for the laugh.
Having people learn is wonderful, and one thing we do look forward to over the next couple years is doing an environmental series. We are also interested in doing something that will point towards the 2020 election. Think of The Try Guys taking over Capitol Hill!