As the camera pans back and the screen fades from black, Eugene Lee Yang opens his eyes to the heartbeat-thrum of “A Moment Apart” by electronic duo Odesza. Then he starts to dance, arms open and above his head, his back arched and lips pursed. This, in its five minutes of glory and choreography, is Yang’s coming out: he’s gay.
A visual artist and member of the offbeat, do-anything YouTube quartet the Try Guys, Yang has a lot to say about his life since the launch of the video that he wrote, choreographed, directed and starred in to tell the world about his identity.
We caught up with Yang ahead of the Try Guys’ book tour to talk about the response, the process and what advice he now has for those who are thinking about using digital media to come out.
What was the impetus for the video, “I’m Gay”?
I think that the proclamation with which I titled and framed the video — explicitly coming out as gay — was fascinating because I think a lot of the general public had already assumed that I was gay. So it was a personal proclamation, particularly for my family and those relationships. It was sort of my own strange creative tool with which to confront familial issues, using it as a way to have a discussion with my close circles.
It has been more than a week since the launch of the video — it’s been viewed more than 11 million times. Can you talk about some of the ways your life has changed since its release?
I’m currently promoting my new book [with the Try Guys] and I’ve had several meet-and-greets across New York and LA. After the video launched, I was getting an overwhelming number of in-person discussions and admissions from these young kids who were saying that they or their siblings were using the video as a tool to express themselves to their parents and their families. It’s changed my view on my impact. It has changed a lot of the ways in which I view my current position — considering I am now able to be 100 percent myself in saying that I’m gay and that I am able to be more direct with my storytelling and connect with this untapped goldmine or wealth of creative expression while feeling free to be able to express myself on this level.
People are intrigued by the process through which you decided to come out. Why video, and how did you go about selecting who got to be apart of the overall process?
Someone in the comment section of the video joked that this wasn’t me just coming out as gay, but that it was me, Eugene, coming out as 100 percent myself. I think that was a sobering thing to see; for many queer people, our identity is so intrinsically tied into who we are as people. I knew that the strongest message I could ever convey was being truthful in the way I felt best expressing that concept.
I think the best way to say it is that some people are better speakers, and that’s how they’ll get the message across. For me, it’s always been through this type of filmmaking. And I hope that this serves as a marker for the type of work that I’m looking forward to producing and making in the future.
For the video, I made sure that I was tapping into my own LGBTQ2 circle, and I wanted most of the cast to be from queer organizations. I even featured some my drag family and queer friends I made along the way here in LA. It was reflective of this moment of truth.
What would it have meant for you to see a video like this when you were growing up?
It would have meant a lot. Being Asian and seeing myself as the protagonist within the story in the video would have been the most impactful. And that is what I tried to convey in the video — this sort of universal story. It’s been very moving and humbling to see that the sort of specificity in which I wanted to interpret moments of my life. I’ve spoken to people about how they’ve experienced their own queerness, and I can only imagine that as a child. I was a quiet, shy kid and I was very artsy, and this I think would have helped fill the void. The only queer Asian person I knew then was Margaret Cho. So I am finding that I’ve been able to use this video as a way to help all people benefit in their own lives, specifically LGBTQ2 people going through coming out journey.
What advice do you have for other queer Asian Pacific Islander individuals in their journey to come out?
The best advice I can give is that safety is always the utmost concern. I always want to tell kids, especially those from Asian backgrounds, that any little way that they can express themselves safely, as something different from what they’re expected to be, is a step forward in the right direction. That opening shot was the first vision I had: a family portrait where I felt confined without some way to express feeling different, and then pulling back and finding that there’s this open space outside of that.
As an Asian-American, as someone who grew up in the south, I was often confronted with this feeling of being the other. Even in my own otherness, otherness in that sense of, ‘Okay, I’m kind of Asian in the town of non-Asians and then I’m gay in a family of non-gays,’ it’s a difficult thing.
I think that when you’re in something like a traditional Asian family, sometimes just being yourself is the hardest thing to do. So yeah, everything will be fine as long as you feel secure do what you need to do, for you.