Eugene Lee Yang first rose to prominence with his YouTube troupe, The Try Guys, four young actors, comedians, and filmmakers: Yang, Keith Habersberger, Ned Fulmer, and Zach Kornfeld.
Initially on Buzzfeed, The Try Guys started their online endeavor with the simple goal of trying new things outside of their comfort zone and encouraging others to do the same. Since then, they've launched their own production company (2nd Try); amassed nearly six million YouTube subscribers; published a book, The Hidden Power of F*cking Up; started their own weekly podcast; and are hitting the road on their first national tour.
Though Yang has quietly identified as queer for some time now, he recently came out as a gay man in an exclusive interview with The Advocate.
Queer versus gay -- what's the diff? Yang explains: "I think that there's a lot of different factors that played into the coming out process I've had with the public. You know, it's always gradual and very individual for each queer person."
The Korean-American points to his experiences with racism as a child pushing him into the closet -- and to internalized homophobia as keeping him there. "Growing up in Texas, I was already dealing with the fact that I didn't even know I was Asian until a certain age," confesses Yang seriously. "I just was informed about it in a somewhat negative way by my peers. And that immediately put me into that mindset where I felt very othered. My safety always felt like it wasn't something that I could consider a given."
"I already had seen the way some other openly gay kids were treated in my school -- and it was really, really terrible," he continues. "There were a lot of elements in society that were kind of pointing me in the direction of being very careful. For some people of color, for some people with conservative or religious backgrounds, you know, we're constantly sort of looking over our shoulder."
"It's funny," Yang says, reflecting on how that early messaging followed him into adulthood, "because when I used to work at Buzzfeed, I was able to slip in things that were very explicitly queer and gay, but because of some personal issues I had with things back home... I never was comfortable about saying that I was gay on camera." Still, why come out now, when he is already an accepted part of the queer community with a career that is already skyrocketing? For Yang, it was deeply personal. He explains it was a matter of being able to move forward in his own life -- free of shame, guilt, stigma, or fear -- and in full pride of who he is as a gay man.
"Even if it's just the smallest thing, like what label I go by, I think it's important to find the truth and express it with full confidence," Yang says. "I'm just announcing that I'm a gay filmmaker, actor, producer, viral video maker, whatever you want to call me -- but I'm gay, and that's the perspective I'm coming from."
Already known as the "fashionista" of the group, another wonderful development in Yang's journey has been his more recent foray into genderfluid fashion, even donning drag in his poignet and artistic coming out video (alongside some well-known drag queens).
"I've always presented as a very cisgender male and that was part of the reason I was able to cover so easily.... I was always in such a strictly binary environment growing up. I was never given an opportunity to sort of play into more genderqueer fashion," Yang explains. "So that is something that I have found recently has been evolving, and I've been able to express way more in places like red carpets."
Yang adds that, though living his own personal truth was a big factor in coming out, so was realizing the incredible impact he's able to have on queer and questioning youth. Now he's using his coming out video as a fundraising tool for the Trevor Project.
Ultimately, Yang sees in his coming out journey as expressing the same message The Try Guys want to share with the world: Let go of fear.
"You know, it is all such a process," he concludes. "It's like a shedding of the fears and those worries about what other people think -- and it's such a great place to get to. When you finally kind of move that last rock out of the way and say, 'You know what, this is me.'"