Carrie Lyell meets the YouTube superstar, Shannon Beveridge
BY CARRIE LYELL, IMAGES BY TALIE EIGELAND
The first time I meet Shannon Beveridge is on the red carpet at the British LGBT Awards. It’s mayhem all around, photographers jostling each other to get the best shots and journalists vying for a minute with the stars, but she’s quiet and looks around anxiously as flash bulbs pop over and over and over again.
The nerves are understandable. The 25-year-old YouTube star is nominated for a gong at these prestigious awards – LGBT+ Celebrity Rising Star – and is up against some formidable opposition. But she needn’t be worried – it’s hers – and Team DIVA watches from the wings as fellow YouTubers and last year’s winners Rose and Rosie present their friend with her award.
In the press room afterwards, a beaming Shannon – clutching her prize tightly to her chest – tells me her heart was “pounding out of control” as she heard her name announced. “I had half a thing prepared. I was just going to say thank you if I was too nervous, then had the second half prepared if I could get it together. Then I made eye contact with Caitlyn Jenner and I was like, ‘I don’t think I can do it!’” she laughs. But she pulled it together, she says, “because it was my one second to say something that’s important and I knew people were watching so I wanted to say it for them”.
That principle of doing it for others is one that runs not just through Shannon’s YouTube channel, Now This Is Living, but through her veins too. Talking on the phone a few weeks after the awards, from her home in LA, she tells me that she started making videos because she needed to talk to the younger version of herself – the same one she dedicated her award to – who was “so scared and lonely”, and four years later, she’s talking not just to that version of herself, but to hundreds of thousands of other young people who are struggling like she was.
Now, she describes being a role model to the LGBT community as “like an addiction”. “I’m so attached to this community and I just want to keep helping as long as I live. I don’t know what that entails or what it will become but I’m going to find a way to do that as long as I can.” She’s the embodiment of that somewhat saccharine phrase It Gets Better, but she’s so genuine and heart- felt when she says she wants people to know that when they are able make those first tentative steps out of the closet that “they have such an amazing community of people who are waiting for them with open arms”.
No wonder she’s so passionate about this stuff. The message she’s spreading is one the Texas native desperately needed when she was younger. Her first experience of someone finding out she was gay – the parents of a girl she liked in high school – had been a “nightmare”, she says, which left a “bad taste in my mouth”. “They actually put a baby monitor in her room, I guess because they were getting suspicious of what our relationship was, and overheard her talking about something. Their reaction was just horrible. Everything you don’t want. I think it tainted my hope and faith in people.”
Terrified the reaction of others would be the same, 16-year-old Shannon climbed back into the closet, locked the door behind her and threw away the key. “I went to the most conservative school I got into, became a finance major (which was probably the most stereotypical straight male environment you could imagine), joined the sorority, did everything I thought I was supposed to do. My whole life revolved around being as straight as I possibly could. All my dreams and aspirations got lost at one point, wrapped up in my stress about who I was. I fully thought I would never come out.”
The change for Shannon came when she “stumbled onto Tumblr”, something she says “changed her entire life” as well as her understanding of “what it was to be gay”. It was an incredibly powerful feeling to see lesbians who looked like her. “Up until that point, the only lesbians I ever knew were my volleyball coach and my PE teacher. I didn’t relate to them so I couldn’t be that. After I found the internet, everything changed.”
The internet played such a pivotal role in Shannon’s self-discovery that she doubts she would ever have come out without it. Tumblr, and later YouTube, connected her for the first time to people across the world like her, something which changed her life profoundly. But it still took a while for her online life and her offline life to coalesce, and she got really good at living a double life. “Even when I graduated I wasn’t fully out. I had two Instagrams, two Twitters… I like to call myself the gay Hannah Montana,” she laughs.
On her “gay Tumblr” – then titled Don’t Wait Live Now – she never used her real name and “was so deep in the closet” she wouldn’t even say where she went to school in case she was discovered. Eventually, having already come out to family and close friends, Shannon found the courage to “make the leap and fully come out”, which she did by posting a coming out video on her “straight Instagram”, inviting her followers to come over to the gay side, adding, “I hope you guys will understand”. It went better than she ever expected. “So many of these kids I went to college with came over and followed my new Instagram and reached out to me on Facebook and text. I was so lucky. I can’t even.”
Shannon’s life today is virtually unrecognisable – “from so straight to so gay, so quick,” – she laughs. Half a million adoring subscribers hang on her every word, her channel has sponsorship deals with top brands, and there’s even a tour in the works. What would that younger version of herself – the one she dedicated her British LGBT Award to – make of her life today? “Oh my gosh, I think she would shit her pants,” she laughs. “There’s no way she would believe it. At all. No way. I think she would think it’s a lie. Just the fact I’m out of the closet alone would make her shook. But the fact that I’m also talking about sexuality and my personal sexuality on the daily? She’d be ‘What the hell are you doing?!’”
But it hasn’t all been sequins and rainbows this side of the closet door, as Shannon discovered last year when she and girlfriend Cammie Scott had to break the news to their followers that they were no longer together, something she describes as “the hardest thing” she’s had to do in her YouTube career. “I wasn’t just dealing with two broken hearts. I was dealing with my broken heart and her broken heart and thousands of other broken hearts. That’s a very bizarre feeling and not something I would ever wish on anyone else.”
What made an already emotional situation all the more difficult was the lack of protocol. YouTube is still relatively new, and those who make a career of it are having to learn on the job how to navigate how much of their lives, and indeed their relationship, to share with their followers – and how to break the bad news if it doesn’t work out. “It’s a challenge I think everyone is struggling with all the time, even if it’s not on your mind right in the front. Like, what do I say, what do I not say? It’s still in the back of your mind always, even when you’re editing a video. There are things that I will say when I’m recording but when I go to edit I’m like, no, they don’t need to know that. And you cut it out. Adding a relationship onto that brings a whole new element into play.”
Reflecting on that relationship, and the subsequent break up, Shannon says she wouldn’t do anything differently. “That relationship gave me so much of the following that I have and that was my life at the time. I shared it. Everything that’s happened to me up until this point has helped make my channel what it is. It wasn’t ideal. At all. But we navigated it.” She admits, though, that it has made her think twice about letting her followers into future romantic relationships. “I never have any intention of lying to my followers ever, ever. But I also don’t have any intention right now of ever sharing another relationship publicly online. I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done – everything happens for a reason – but I don’t want to ever have to deal with everyone else’s broken heart along with mine again. It’s something that you need to just keep to yourself. Some things are private and should be private. That’s a personal decision I’ve made on my own now and I plan to stick with it.”
She’s certainly aware of the responsibility on her shoulders – receiving hundreds of messages every day from fans spelling out exactly how much she means to them – but it’s a weight she’s more than willing to carry. And while she doesn’t have a five-year career plan, Shannon knows the LGBT community will always be at the heart of it. “The number one question any YouTuber gets is ‘what are you gonna do after YouTube?’” she laughs. “It’s everyone’s favourite question to ask a YouTuber, which I find so funny. You wouldn’t ask an accountant, ‘What are you going to do after accounting?’ It’s such a stressful question. Can’t I just live my life right now and worry about that when it comes? All I know is I want to keep impacting and influencing the LGBT community in any way that I can, and if that is through YouTube videos now, great, and if it’s through literally, I don’t know, god knows what. What- ever I can do to keep helping, I will.”
And after meeting this remarkable young woman and seeing the impact she’s had on her fans and followers? I’ve no doubt that’s true.
Shannon is on YouTube at Now This Is Living.
This article first appeared in the July 2017 issue of DIVA – grab your digital copy right here!