YouTube Fame Leads Tallahassee Couple To L.A.
A gay couple from Tallahassee has reached more than 60,000 subscribers on their YouTube channel, where they post “day in the life” videos and offer some insightful social commentary. Ryan Benk sat down with R.J. Aguiar and Will Shepherd to find out how it all got started.
That’s Will Shepherd and R.J. Aguiar explaining the premise behind their daily vlog, or video blog, in an introduction on their You Tube channel’s homepage. The couple has a steady stream of followers and some of their videos have more than 300,000 views. That’s a milestone rarely reached by most video bloggers. R.J. is grateful for the positive reactions, but he never thought he’d find his calling on YouTube.
“People spend their entire lives looking for that way to change the world for the better. We just found it, or I should just say maybe it found us,” Aguiar said.
Aguiar says growing up; kids didn’t tease him for his sexuality so much as for his nerdy appearance. He remembers wearing thick glasses and being a bit of a book worm. He was raised in a fairly conservative household by Cuban immigrants in Tampa and he knew early on that he was gay. But, unlike a lot of gay teens, Aguiar recalls coming out to very supportive parents.
“You know they cried more when I told them I wanted to be a writer and a filmmaker more than when I came out to them,” Aguiar recalled.
Will’s mom was also supportive when he revealed he was gay at the age of 16. But, growing up in rural Crawfordville, Florida, Will was taunted, beaten with rocks and even lit on fire three different times by his peers in school. He described one such encounter he had while riding home on a school bus.
“I got up to move to the front of the bus because we were getting closer to my stop and when I stood up the bus driver saw that I stood up and she slammed on the brakes. And when she did I hit the floor and I slid down the aisle and a kid stuck his shoe out while I was sliding and it cut my face open. And everyone was laughing at me and I had a cut on my face and I was bleeding and I ran off the bus crying,” Shepherd remembered.
Will said because he didn’t have any confidants in school, he turned to YouTube, to find kindred spirits. He began by posting PSAs on bullying and sexuality and gained a small, but loyal following. He met R.J. at Florida State University and the two began dating and collaborating on videos. By the time the couple met, Will had reached more than 7,000 subscribers, but producing a couple videos a week wasn’t enough. Their audience wanted to see them daily. The couple’s vlog now has a steady flow of followers, more than 60,000. They said by showing people their lives; they’re trying to dispel stereotypes about gay relationships. They want folks to know they shop, eat and work just like everyone else. In one video R.J. talked about going to the gym and running into a friendly subscriber.
“So I’m back from the gym and I would just like to say a quick shout out: a first today, first subscriber run-in at the gym. What was funny is he started the conversation with I don’t mean to sound like a stalker or anything, which I was like oh god what? And then he goes I watch you and your boyfriend on You Tube and I was like oh, awesome! But, yeah just let that serve as an example. Any time you see us in public just come say hey,” Aguiar said.
They’ve also started a website, notadamandsteve.com. But, because of their activism on gay rights they’ve drawn the ire of some commenters on their You Tube channel, but they’re not apologizing.
“If it were up to gay people to get the rights they deserve; we would have them by now. So, what we need is like the help from the people that sit on the sidelines and watch us battle for them, because we can’t do by ourselves, obviously,” Shepherd said.
“We have to call them out, we have to be like: NO this is your fight too!” Aguiar said.
But, they say most of the feedback is positive and even sometimes hilarious.
“Oh my favorite question is: are they gay? I love that question. You must be new,” Aguiar and Shepherd said.
And they’re ready to take their message to a wider audience. The couple is moving to Los Angeles to be closer to the burgeoning YouTube industry and the video hosting site is giving them funding, equipment and training as part of its Next Up initiative.