Streamer Faces The Challenges Of Coming Out As Transgender On Twitch

When DistractedElf decided to transition, she worried that it could be the end of her stream. It was a big change, and she figured a lot of her audience would be pissed. But she couldn't deny who she was. "I can't pretend I'm not trans," she said.

DistractedElf first started streaming on Twitch after she returned from teaching English in China. When she returned to Canada, where she's from, she didn't really know what to do with herself. She decided to post a video a day to YouTube — then she heard about Twitch.

"The reason my name is DistractedElf is because I used wear elf ears and a blonde wig when I streamed," she told me during an interview. "I'd do the Legend of Zelda-style thing. That was my gimmick."

At the time, DistractedElf was, in her words, "a straight white guy streamer" just playing League of Legends with friends. By the end of her first year, she only had around 1,000 followers. Eventually, though, she struck gold in the form of EA's now-defunct MOBA Dawngate. She started streaming the game almost exclusively and became one of EA's streaming partners. Soon, she was regularly pulling hundreds of viewers per stream while also receiving insider info and goodies from EA.

But Dawngate was fighting an impossible battle. It struggled to find anything more than a dedicated niche against the likes of League of Legends and DOTA 2. The axe was looming, but the uncertainty gave DistractedElf a chance to reflect.

She realised she'd been debilitatingly depressed for a couple years, but she didn't know why. "I was a horrible person," she told me. "I was a sad person. While that may not have come through on camera all the time, there were some pretty nasty times. Like, kill myself times. Two attempts over the course of those years. I didn't know what was wrong. I was just depressed."

She didn't feel right with herself, and it was killing her. She began to think she might be trans. One day while streaming, she put the pieces together.

"There was this moment where I was [doing a promotion] that was like, 'We're going to do crazy shit for viewer goals, so if we get to 250 people I'll do this thing or whatever,'" she said. "I ended up in a costume. As I was getting kitted up I was like, 'I want to do this all the time. This is way better. Oh god, I'm realising things about myself.'"

At first, she worried about the potential career ramifications of transitioning. She'd attracted a sizable audience, but she knew they were mostly straight dudes, so she played things like wearing women's clothes as a joke. "I was like, 'This is going to influence the stream, which will be problematic for my career.'" After some deliberation, though, she realised she didn't really have a choice. She couldn't just not be herself.

DistractedElf began transitioning toward the end of her Dawngate days. The game's development team was very supportive, as were her most vocal viewers. But after she made it public that she was trans, subscriber numbers dropped. She expected anger and incredulity, but instead, many viewers just let without a peep.

"It's amazing how much that number goes down," she said, "and people disappear without saying anything at all… Nobody was caps-lock raving. That's not the thing. It's just that, if you're on Twitch, you're going to watch someone who makes you feel comfortable. You're going to watch someone who you can just laugh with or enjoy their game play or whatever. If you're not comfortable with that person, you're not going to be able to do that, and so you go watch something else."

"There are so many choices," she added. "I don't begrudge those people the choices they made, but I would like to talk to them about why they made it. That's just the world we live in."

Those early days were painful. Twitch chat started asking a lot of questions DistractedElf wasn't fully prepared to answer. Her stream got raided by 4chan. They wanted to make her cry. Meanwhile, DistractedElf went through what she called an "awkward puberty." She didn't have a map or a sagely advice-giver on call. She had to go it mostly alone.

"It was a rough time," she said. "I wanted to start my transition, but I didn't know anything that I needed to know to do that. I didn't know how I should have been acting. My voice was all wrong, my look was all wrong."

It wasn't all bad, though. She began to see a change in her community. Core members became sensitive to what DistractedElf was going through. The vibe of chat changed. Unfortunately, not everybody was on board with that.

"One of my lead moderators from before I transitioned, he was my best friend and we started the stream together," said DistractedElf. "Then it got to this point where he went, 'I don't like your chat anymore.' I went, 'Why?' He was like, 'They're all so sensitive about all these things.' I'm like, 'Whatever. They have a right to be sensitive. I'm sensitive about things I wasn't before. I understand things a lot more. I'm not this arsehole guy anymore.'"

DistractedElf and her old best friend don't talk anymore. It's a sad situation, but she's accepted it. Overall, she's in a much better place than she was before, and she's trying to give back. Her community had her back even when things were at their darkest, and she wants to create an environment like that for other people who are where she was when started out: confused and lonely, faced with hundreds of forking paths.

"I always let people know that if they have problems or they want to ask questions, I am totally open about this stuff," DistractedElf said. "You ask me personal questions about, 'How was this aspect of whatever?' I'll be like, 'Yeah, actually it was like this.' I just do that on stream occasionally. We've had some really deep conversations in my chat while I'm playing games. Definitely there are some people who are coming in being like, 'I think I'm trans, what do I do? How do I start?' I try to refer them to the right places to be and the right stuff to do because I did it the one time. I know how awkward and how horrible it can feel when you don't feel right."

While it was difficult for DistractedElf when she began her transition, she's happy she streamed through it all. She has a record of the whole process, something she can show people who don't understand, or who might need guidance.

"There are definitely some trans people who don't want to look back at who they were and just want to deal with where they are now," said DistractedElf. "I get that. But for me, it's really useful having my Twitch archive. Plenty of people can show you before and after photos, but I don't know anyone who can say, 'Here's the 365 days in between those two pictures in video.'"

DistractedElf acknowledges, however, that everybody takes their own path, and her advice is hardly gospel. "I am decisively female," she said. "I fight very hard to get that classification, so to speak. There are some people who don't want to be defined or limited like that, though. That's also totally cool."

Still, she hopes that, if nothing else, she can help inform people who might not otherwise have a clue about what it's like to be trans. She said on bad days, she's gotten the same basic or offensive questions 20 times in less than 24 hours. Most of the time, her moderators and community zap the worst offenders, but she tries to be patient, because she knows that not everybody has the bandwidth to sit down and repeatedly explain things to people who can come off as wilfully ignorant.

"The internet breaks down boundaries of politeness, I think," DistractedElf said. "A lot of my goal is to bring that back into the discussion and make sure that whoever is asking doesn't ask that to the next person who will not take it as calmly as I do, and maybe it will hurt them or ruin their day. For me it's just, 'LOL. OK, pat on the head, let's sit down and have a conversation about why that was wrong.'"

DistratedElf recognises that she's fortunate to be able to do that, but she still maintains a single, cardinal rule in her streams: don't be a jerk.

"There is a level of shithead that I'm OK with just dismissing offhand if they get too bad," she said. "Nobody is too valuable. At least, nobody is too valuable to let myself be abused."


    Must be crazy to be all "oh shit, I'm trans!".
    That would certainly be a surprise.

    If the people I watched, let's say Jim Sterling, RazörFist, and TotalBiscuit suddenly became trans, then I wouldn't care because it's still the same person playing/reviewing/ranting for my entertainment pleasure. As long as they stayed on subject, then it's all good. The fact that DistractedElf lost subscribers doesn't make sense to me.

      I think there was a small reference in the article where she said that she "wasn't this asshole guy anymore" so maybe the change of tone or attitude was something some of the subs weren't interested in?

      She also mentioned that she would sometimes have in depth discussions about what to do if you want to transition in chat and I can see some people not being interested in that.

      Both of those combined with people who just feel uncomfortable seeing someone they know change could easily lead to a drop in numbers.

        Yea, you change. I'm a (in my modest opinion) quite loving and affectionate person. Sure, I'm sarcastic and like to tease, and have my snarky/bitchy moments like everyone who has a bad day, but I go out of my way to let people know they're cared for. Back when i was hiding/trapped i had to disguise myself for safety - what better way than to be the exact opposite of my real self? I was.. well let's say a turd.

        Dysphoria is a killer, and depression is it's weapon. It's not like normal depression, because you know what's wrong, know the treatment, know all of it, but you aren't 'allowed' because social pressure. You can sit there and say 'it's okay' or 'nobody is stopping you', but society is set up in such a way that it makes it impossible. We're used as gag characters, not recognized by many institutions (inc government - my name change was knocked back because 'not a real reason' once), and then the looks you get. Doesn't matter how good you look, everyone is going to at least raise an eyebrow, and it makes you feel very much like a zoo exhibit.

        All of it adds up into feeling attacked (which explains a lot of the sjw victim mentality - in their minds, they're essentially backed into a corner and fighting for freedom. The rest of it can be explained by poorly understanding new research and idiots). The only 'possible' way out is suicide. Once you're free, a lot of that bitterness and depression lifts (for most of us). That, new hormone balance, and a brain that's isn't being forced to accept a body that doesn't match the signals being sent out all ends up mellowing you. You're less on edge, happier, and just generally nicer.

        I'm rambling, but point is it's super complicated and does your head in. Your pretransition self is not your true self. It's easy to say you won't change but truth is, you will. How much will vary from person to person, but to say tb now and tb post transition are the same person is wrong. they'll be similar, and you probably won't be surprised too much by the differences, but I can see people not finding the content they want there. Of course 99% of them left because they aren't strong enough to deal with a challenged world view but y'know, in theory I can understand.

          Thanks for the well thought out response, it was an interesting read and gives me something to think about.

          Hopefully more people can read it before this article goes to the bottom!

    EH, fuck em. twitch is all about watching people play games, and if some of those people left because you come out as trans, they likely would of left if you came out as gay or a republican, or a trump supporter or a clinton supporter

    I imagine it would be a pretty daunting thing to try and wrestle with in private with your own family and friends, let alone thousands of internet subscribers. It's cool that she is happy to help those who legitimately feel that way themselves too, no doubt having someone who's been through a similar experience to ask questions to would be a lifesaver.

    what a fantastic story. It is quite interesting how this gen Y/millenial crowd who have more or less embraced social media are a whole lot more comfortable with who they are and are fine with the world having the ability to see into their lives on many different facets. It truly does help that people are able to publicise their lives like this and i hope that one day it normalises the the roads that some of us have to take to be true to our selves without prejudice or judgment from outsiders. Ask questions, educate yourselves, most of us are willing to sit down and talk as the flip side usually happens where others feel it is too taboo to talk about and this in turn can alienate and segregate us (however if your question starts with "don't be offended but", it is most likely offensive, and we don't ask about your genitalia so please don't ask about ours, it is completely irrelevant to the person). At the end of the day the person inside has never changed, it is just the presentation that now better aligns to that person.
    Good on you DistractedElf, one day society will get past the superficial and embrace the person.

    Last edited 25/12/16 11:07 am

    I think anyone who spends all day everyday playing video games in isolation is bound to have mental health issues.

      Yeah sure, it's the playing video games rather than the not feeling comfortable in her own body.

        Um the article said she has depression... and she obviously has gender dysphoria too given that it's the topic of the article... both of these are mental illnesses and I don't think it's unreasonable to suggest that social isolation compounds mental health issues.

        Maybe you people should educate yourselves before applying your own ignorance to my statements.

          Um, somehow I think it might be the "I feel like I was born as the wrong gender" that might play with her mental health more than the social isolation.

          Maybe you should educate yourself before applying your own ignorance to your statements.

            Wow. Talk about a total lack of empathy!

            Yes. Feeling that one is the wrong gender is detrimental to one's mental health. Couple gender dysphoria with depression and social isolation and you have a situation which can lead to chronic mental illness. What's your point?

            And it's really sad that you would suggest that acknowledging the truth of a situation is "ignorant"... so having compassion and caring for the plight of others is ignorance now?

            So again you should go and educate yourself about gender dysphoria, other mental illness... and maybe humanity at large so you can at least pretend to care for other people in the future...

              umm just to clarify with zero intention of poking sticks but to simply provide some topical information, gender dysphoria is not a mental illness. under the DSM-5 (the latest publication of the manual for mental disorders) it is classified as not a mental illness as such but is still left in then manual to provide a support avenue for gender variant people to seek medical support (well that's what the professionals say anyway).
              People who are gender dysphoric do have a MUCH higher incidence of mental health issues, it mostly stems from a society whereby so much emphasis of a person is placed on their birth gender and those expectations that that marker places upon them (perceived or not). Challenging that norm by oneself is always going to be taxing, and this is only exacerbated by a support system that is frankly atrocious (although now i am standing on a soapbox and going off topic but it is also a driving factor in mental health also).

      There is always one. Congratulations jaded you're the winner.

      Last edited 25/12/16 5:56 pm

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