Photos courtesy of Gigi Gorgeous / YouTube Red
With her new documentary about her transition, the trans YouTube sensation hopes to break into the mainstream.
A few weeks ago at the Sundance Film Festival, YouTube sensation and trans icon Gigi Gorgeous received a text from her friend: "You're on the side of the W Hollywood [Hotel]." YouTube, which Gorgeous used as a teenager to become a national celebrity, had plastered billboards of her across Los Angeles. When Gorgeous returned to California from Utah, she took an Uber straight from LAX to the Grove. Before she even dropped off her bags, she needed to see her face amplified several feet high on the outdoor mall's billboard.
"It's like a dream come true," Gorgeous says. "I've wanted my face on a billboard forever."
In the photo, Gorgeous is emerging from a pool and looking to the sky. It's a promotion for a new documentary, This Is Everything, that charts the 24-year-old's transition, going back to her birth and ending with her move to California. This week, the film premieres on YouTube Red, the video platform's new paid premium content service, and it coincides with Revlon's announcement that it will add Gorgeous to its influencer program. But as Gorgeous's managers, Scott Fisher and Adam Wescott, tell her in the documentary, there's no road map for a YouTuber's career, and no assurance it'll last forever.
For her part, Gorgeous seems to be enjoying her rising profile. "I love how YouTubers, or 'influencers' as they like to call us, are transitioning into mainstream pop culture," Gorgeous says. "I think it's our time."
Over lunch with her publicist at the West Hollywood restaurant Cecconi's, Gorgeous looks like a culture vulture ready to steal both A-list actors' and reality stars' lunch. She wears a very expensive pink jacket over a lace top reminiscent of something Jenna Jameson would have worn in the early 2000s (in a good way). Her eyebrows dash around her face, and her blue eyes shine. They look plastic. (It's a cliché to say someone looks like Barbie, but Gigi Gorgeous literally looks like the doll.)
Right now, Gorgeous is in love with her first girlfriend, Natalia Getty. "It's really crazy, the whole dating scene," Gorgeous gushes. "But everyone should try it!" She recently realized she prefers women after meeting Natalia at Paris Fashion Week; they were both at a runway show for Natalia's brother, August Getty, and his clothing line. (Both Natalia and August are heirs to the Getty oil fortune.)
This Is Everything takes place far away from California in Toronto, where Gorgeous lived with her two brothers, mother, and father. Gorgeous started shooting footage for the film six years ago, when she began transitioning near the end of high school, and kept the footage in a space in her room she refers to as "the vault." "I know my way around a hard drive or two," Gorgeous says.
Two years ago, after she signed the YouTube Red deal, Gorgeous chose Barbara Kopple to take over as director. Though Kopple, who has won Oscars for Harlan County USA and American Dream, documentaries about labor strikes in rural America, may not seem like the first choice for a film about a trans YouTuber, Gorgeous said Kopple's previous work gave her the tools necessary to tell the story of Gorgeous's transition.
"She really cares," Gorgeous says. "She puts [in] a lot of emotion, sympathy, and empathy."
In conversation, Gorgeous is careful about what she says. She delivers one- or two-sentence answers. Multiple times, she describes herself as "family"-oriented. YouTube, the company, is her "family." Her friends in Los Angeles are her "family here." And her fans are also her family. ("I call them my family online, my subscribers.") At one point, she pinches her publicist's leg when she delivers a planned remark.
The artificiality of our conversation contrasts the tone of the film. Kopple mixes footage she shot of Gorgeous in Los Angeles with Gorgeous's webcam videos and her father, David's, home videos. As a little boy named Gregory, Gorgeous earned a reputation for precociousness and high energy, and her dad's videos show her dancing throughout the house; David remarks that they belong on America's Funniest Home Videos.
Much of the film documents how David handles Gorgeous's transition. In one scene, he worries he will lose his child, but he realizes his trans daughter isn't having surgery on her heart or soul and accompanies Gorgeous for a forehead feminization surgery. It's an honest portrait of the father of a trans girl, a pleasant surprise considering YouTubers are more known for forced, chipper attitudes than authenticity. Gorgeous is right when she says, "It's ultimately a movie about family—the growth and acceptance a family has to go through when someone [in it] is trans."
After years of filming and editing her own YouTube videos, she granted Kopple full control of This Is Everything. (Though her managers also had final say.) Gorgeous didn't see the movie until it debuted at Sundance. She sat next to her father, holding his hand and crying. It was the antithesis of a short, fast-paced, self-aware YouTube video; it's the tone that could carry Gorgeous into the mainstream. Nevertheless, the process freaked Gorgeous out. "It was stressful," she says. "I'm a control freak! I'm a content creator."
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