How VTubing helps trans creators explore gender identity safely

Andrew Amos
VTubers Captain Dandyfloss and Minty YukimeTwitch: Dandyfloss / Twitch: Minty Yukime

VTubing is a way to express one’s self online, but for trans creators, it’s more than a play thing. The virtual world is a real tool to help with gender identity, exploration, and affirming their sense of self.

When asked about her exploration of her gender identity, Minty Yukime called it a “funny experience”. 

The fox VTuber started her journey in 2016 like most other transgender people ⁠— trying to figure things out, categorize their experiences into distinct ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ boxes, and taking it step by step. She described her father, who she lived with at the time, as a “transphobe”. But once she found safety physically, she was able to explore solace within her.

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She was able to change out her wardrobe, and then get into a viable position to medically transition a few years down the line. Instead of “stealthing” though, the fair practice of transitioning and then trying to blend back into the background without drawing attention, Minty decided to be very public with her journey.

A video of her detailing her voice feminization surgery, and the changes that brought, went viral. She celebrated with her community after getting approved for ‘bottom surgery’, a type of gender-affirming care. 

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With tens of thousands of followers on social media, and limited trans resources out there, Minty saw her platform as a chance to address the questions she wanted answered when she was diving into the deep end.

“The nice thing about documenting this process is there are a decent amount of documented cases of trans people… but there aren’t that many examples of trans people who are open in public about their types of journeys,” she told Dexerto.

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However she only truly felt the comfort and freedom to really speak up about this thanks to VTubing. Previously just a run of the mill streamer, Minty just started creating content because she loved games and “wanted to be able to incorporate that into my livelihood and my hobbies and my life at large.

“I already knew I was trans, but VTubing was still really helpful for me because it gave me the opportunity to have this perfect anime girl avatar and start to feel better about myself, then start to work on my voice more, then I could think about my mannerisms and my behavior,” she said.

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“Instead of being so worried or defeatist about my looks, not thinking I ‘passed’, I could instead focus on being who I want to be. That’s really helped me a lot in becoming who I am today and learning to grow as a person, as a streamer, as a woman.”

Minty’s story is not unique. Dexerto spoke to more than a dozen trans VTubers with different lived experiences ⁠— transmasculine, transfeminine, genderfluid, or otherwise. While every journey is varied, all of them shared one point: VTubing liberated them, and gave them the freedom to truly express who they were.

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Exploring gender identity virtually

Many of the trans VTubers Dexerto spoke to started their gender exploration well before the medium came into prevalence. Usually there’s questions asked at a younger age about interests being ‘different’ from the gendered norms, but don’t really get analyzed until the teenage years. 

It can be daunting, if not dangerous, to explore these notions in real life. Some can be surrounded by households or cultures that aren’t accepting of trans identities. For many, there’s plenty of restrictions that make transitioning beyond something ‘superficial’ like changing how you dress nearly impossible.

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For someone like Cambionkami, a transmasc VTuber from Australia, it was easier to “ignore” his trans identity than try to tackle it: “For two to three years, I was basically in full denial because I was afraid,” he told Dexerto.

An avid VRChat player since 2017, virtual reality more broadly opened up that door ⁠— not just VTubing ⁠— and he could finally live out that ideal reality come later years: “One day it started off as a joke of like ‘I know sign, I have models with pens, so I can be a mute’, and my idea was I’d wear the opposite gender model and start it as a joke and see how many people would believe I was a guy. 

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“Through people being like ‘you’re a guy’, I weirdly found mental peace, gender euphoria, in a sense. All the pain and trouble inside my head when I realized I might just be a boy inside a girl’s body, it all made sense. This might be who I’m supposed to be.”

VTubing does open up some avenues to safely and effectively explore gender identity virtually. All the creators we spoke to mentioned how important their avatar design was to being able to feel safe online, and conform to their ideal identity ⁠— no matter the approach.

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“I wanted to take this perfect anime character, this cute girl character who everyone loves and she’s helpful and excitable and cute,” Minty described. “I thought to myself I am going to play that character, and maybe eventually, over time, those will become my mannerisms and speech things. I faked it until I made it, and it integrated into who I am.”

That doesn’t mean your online identity and your offline one have to perfectly align, transmasc VTuber Riyuu stated: “There’s still a world of difference in how I present myself online as a streamer, as well as in real life. It’s not so much that the people around me in real life wouldn’t be accepting, but I don’t want to dive into anything in real life.”

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But visual dysphoria, one of the most prominent sensations felt by trans people whose appearances don’t align with their identity in real life as much as they’d like, can be mostly alleviated.

“VTubing is a useful tool because you can get your personality across, but you don’t have to deal with the visual stuff that comes with it,” transfem VTuber Mira told Dexerto. “People’s dysphoria varies. Some people don’t have it as much, for others it’s more specific [to a sense]. But with this you have something to represent yourself ⁠— no matter whether it’s fantastical or an idealized version. You can represent yourself more accurately and it takes a lot of the anxiety away.”

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For Mavis DeLuna, this feeling was doubled in a sense. Identifying as genderfluid, they use masculine, feminine, and more androgynous designs. Being able to flick between them has helped mitigate dysphoria. Not feeling male at a specific time? They can swap to something more affirming.

“I discovered I don’t like being strictly feminine or masculine,” they said. “Sometimes I feel like I’m neither. Having a model gave me the freedom to express myself the way that I wanted and change on a whim and be like ‘today I’m masculine, today I’m feminine.’ 

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“Even mid-stream, if I felt a flux, I would switch. It was a nice thing to have up my sleeve in case gender dysphoria hit or I felt a need to change. VTubing allows accessibility and flexibility. It’s inherently a trans concept because you can present yourself as whoever you want to be.”

What matters is having a community that is accepting of that journey, and ready to ride along in the passenger seat.

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Captain Dandyfloss, a transfem VTuber widely regarded as one of the leading voices in the space, is very set on her identity. But she’s helped facilitate the journey for others to find the best moniker to represent themselves, in a way that makes them feel comfortable.

“You find something else that is good for you,” she said. “Whether you end up fully transitioning to become a man or a woman, that’s okay. You might be non-binary, or you might like being a feminine man or a masculine woman. There are whole scales of this.

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“It’s wonderful seeing people being able to experiment with these kinds of presentations, and it’s really nice.”

This is something genderfluid content creators like Nethyr are especially cognizant of. While they mostly present as masculine online, they feel pressured to present feminine offline. But that act of “technically switching between forms” can be somewhat affirming. Even though they’ve been exploring their identity for years previously, and two years virtually, the presentation is always changing.

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“I realized if I could be my ideal self online, then I could be my ideal self offline too,” they said. “I’m planning on making changes to myself ⁠— my wardrobe, my hairstyle ⁠— in the future so I can better fit how I feel.

“There’s a stereotype that you have to stick with the gender you came out to be. The thing is, you can transition out of it as well. I can be genderfluid right now, but maybe down the line I’m actually a man because I explored myself more. That’s okay — as long as it makes me happy.”

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Tackling one dysphoric feeling, amplifying another

While VTubing has helped creators with visual dysphoria by aligning more closely with their ideal selves, some other aspects are much harder to come by. Vocal dysphoria was highlighted as a major issue that something the virtual world cannot easily absolve.

To some VTubers, like Larkspur Cygnus, the wider community’s expectation plays a part: “People expect a certain voice or presentation when it comes to VTubers.”

While the high fantasy-style transmasc creator is grateful for their “lower register” to have a more “passing” masculine voice, others have to go through intense vocal training or surgery, like Minty Yukime’s. There are shortcuts with voice changers, but they’re artificial and don’t really solve the problem.

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“This is less in VTubing spaces and more in other online spaces, but I have been asked whether I was a boy or a girl while playing Valorant. I would always dodge the question like Neo in The Matrix like ‘does it matter? As long as you can hear my comms.’”

It is especially amplified in streaming, where someone can leave a remark in chat that can trigger the dysphoria: “If someone is tuning into your stream to relax while doing something, your voice is a major deal,” Mira said. “If you don’t have a voice that they vibe to, they will point it out. It can hurt your confidence a lot and that causes a negative feedback loop.”

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Misgendering is a common problem because of this. Even if creators have their pronouns easily visible, it’s easy to play off of assumptions ⁠— you hear a feminine voice, your automatic assumption is the person is a woman. The reactions to this in the trans community vary: some creators are very strict about people using the right pronouns, but others are more lax.

There’s generally been a societal shift to acceptance though, something transmasc VTuber Xipher is welcoming of: “I understand it’s not the most natural thing to presume my voice matching the male gender. People slip up. As long as people are trying it doesn’t matter. 

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“You want to be seen as [masculine], but you’re held back by this one limitation. You can replace your looks with a VTuber model, but you can never get rid of your voice unless you use things like VoiceMod and then that doesn’t sound natural and also has technology limitations. That’s part of the struggle, but people are understanding thankfully. 

“When I first started transitioning five years ago, it was very hard for people to wrap their head around it. It took some shifting, but I found the VTuber community is amazingly open minded, and a lot of people in the world are shifting towards being more open minded about it too.”

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Beyond this, some creators have taken their voices and empowered them. Vega, a transmasc creator, admits his voice “wasn’t where I wanted it to be because I never had access to testosterone or voice training.” This led to them altering their design to be more androgynous than masculine just to avoid the questioning.

But as time goes on, Vega has realized the struggle itself is a uniting force. It’s a collective thing trans VTubers have to face together, and it adds extra bonding to the sense of community that exists in the space.

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“With the hours and hours I’ve spent streaming, I’ve grown more comfortable with my voice in that it’s not exactly where I want it to be, it is my voice and I’ve been able to use it more,” he said.

“We all get that feeling sometimes where you’re trying to listen to your VODs or any kind of recording and you get a creeping feeling of ‘uh oh, this isn’t how I want to sound’ but it’s a little unifying. It feels better to have that shared experience than to face it alone, which was what was happening in real life.

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“It’s a little cheesy, but listening to my friends who also struggle with how their voices sound… they don’t care if my voice doesn’t exactly sound the way I think it should. It’s the voice of someone they care about, and that’s the most important thing.”

Building a trans-positive community

What can help alleviate those issues, and others trans creators face in the online space disproportionately to their cis counterparts, is having inclusive communities around them. Many of these trans VTubers didn’t just say the community was positive. Some outwardly called the medium, and its many supporters, life savers.

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“VTubing has been really great for my gender identity and my mental health,” Vega said. “Joining the VTuber community was really great for me because it finally gave me a place where I could safely express my gender identity because I could not do that in person.

“Being able to express that online was a lifeline. I don’t know… it’s just so good for my mental health to have somewhere to put that where it’s safe and I don’t have to worry as much about it.”

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Most VTubers Dexerto spoke to have opened up Discord servers and communities with specific resources for fellow trans people to use. Having an open, constructive discourse about gender identity in a safe space lets people freely explore themselves without prejudice. That safe space is so important to many.

Mavis DeLuna started one called Pride Prism. Focusing on trans VTubers, but also more broadly catering to LGBTQIA+ creators, Mavis tries “to uplift everyone equally while being aware of their individual needs based on their gender identity.

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“If we have transfem people who need specific resources, we need to make sure we find those resources. Same goes for transmasc, we cater to their needs. It’s important to keep everything in mind while being aware of individual needs.”

That distinction is important. Within the trans community there are many subsets with different lived experiences, having a community with a similar journey does help. Vega, who is part of all-transmasc VTuber group DREAM*E, attested to that.

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“Being able to see people in various different spots in their VTuber journey was eye opening for me and helped me prepare myself,” he said.

“No matter whether you’re fully transitioned and you’re living as your desired gender identity in real life, or if you’re completely in the closet without any outward support in your real life ⁠— no matter where you are on that spectrum, you’re still welcome there and seen as just as valid as anybody else.”

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It’s not just on this wider community level though. Even for individual creators, just making sure their streams are comfortable and welcoming spaces, and fostering a viewership that pushes out toxicity without prompting, is a must. Transitioning is already hard enough without having to share the experience online, so having that support structure is immensely beneficial.

“There have been a couple of times where I’ve been very defeated by the trans journey because there have been a lot of road bumps and lows,” Minty admitted. “There was a month-long period after I had given up on surgeries a year and a half ago roughly that I tried considering making a side character that would be a femboy because I didn’t want to deal with being a trans woman. 

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“It was through [my community] I was able to come back to terms with it and my avatar as a VTuber, and my identity as a VTuber. People were very kind to me.”

Just having a community that recognizes you, for you who want to be, is enough: “I wouldn’t say I’m particularly feminine in person, but being seen how I want to be seen feels wonderful,” Dandy added.

“It’s something I feel that once people experience it, they really feel that in themselves. I have a lot of friends who say their voices don’t pass… but their communities treat them as such because that’s how they want to be seen. The viewers respect that person enough to say ‘these are your pronouns, this is how you want to be seen, we will treat you as such.’”

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Breaking through cultural barriers

All this internal support doesn’t distract from the fact there are definite cultural barriers stopping full acceptance. The wider anime fandom, which VTubing exists in, has been criticized by some for not being accepting of people from marginalized backgrounds ⁠— trans people included.

This is reflected in how people engage with the content of trans people, VTuber manager Tessa Villaverde, who is also trans, said: “The people who are front and center with their gender identity tend to not do as well as people who have it as a side fact. There is a visibility problem, statistically. You take a trans creator, and you see their numbers dip when they talk about their identity, unless they already have a highly loyal community that hypes them anyways.”

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Tessa was quick to point out trans VTubers are not in a bubble. Much like every other VTuber or content creator, they are just there to entertain. They suffer from the same sets of issues others do ⁠— burnout, disenfranchisement, the oversaturated creator market ⁠— regardless of identity or orientation. 

Where the struggle lies is getting equal opportunity, as well as equal respect for their work, which unfortunately still mirrors how trans people are subconsciously treated in real life.

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“You’re dealing with a lot of implicit biases that are cultural. It comes as it is, and it’s not related to VTubing. It’s just the general societal prejudices. All that snowballs into their daily interactions. That’s all stuff that’s really hard to avoid. They have to work harder to overcome those implicit biases, and have the confidence to plow through them.”

This is not to say the VTubing community is perfect. Every trans creator we spoke to had at least one negative experience to point towards.

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There were hate raids going around a while ago, and that definitely hit a lot of people very hard,” Mira said. “I ended up getting hit by three raids of people shouting out slurs and all that stuff. They go for the tags you use.

“The worst thing you can do is panic when it happens. If you show that when it happens, they smell blood.”

Trans creators feel the need to be extra conscious about their identity online, even if VTubing is treated by some as an anonymous haven: “I’ve had actual nightmares where I wake up, dreaming of being doxxed,” Dandy said. 

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Platforms like Twitch have implemented some safety measures to keep all creators safe. New features like Shield Mode are a huge plus, and have been praised by many minority communities. 

There’s also increased awareness and visibility on the space, especially during Pride Month. But support for the community cannot be isolated to just 30 days of the year. It has to be all year round, and involve the creators who are facing the vitriol and harassment themselves.

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“If you are going to run a platform and preach things like safety and inclusion, you need to stick to those values and enforce those boundaries,” Mavis stated. “I feel like a lot of platforms have a problem with not addressing those boundaries.

“I see trans creators, even non-VTubers, deal with hate raids or mass attacks or disgusting transphobia. Sometimes they’ll get reported but [platforms] won’t follow up on it.”

All the trans creators are accepting of the fact, sadly, this is their existence on the internet. There will always be harassment around the corner. There’s no one right approach to tackling it, but at least online there’s ways of working around it and curating a safer space.

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“It’s honestly just about finding the right audience, and knowing not to accept everything that gets thrown your way,” transfem VTuber Nile Pereira told Dexerto. “There’s bound to be bigots wherever you go. People will be transphobic or homophobic, they won’t like you. 

“Online you have the tools to combat that. You have people who will be supportive. With any online space, it’s about making friends, finding the right people, making connections, and having a general support structure. You can explore gender identity safely in this community, and if anyone gives you some trouble, you have the tools to get around that.”

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Fighting for wider acceptance

The goal of a trans person isn’t to be a ‘trans’ person. They want to transition and become the most ideal version of themselves, whatever gender that is, in whatever way possible.

“The thing about anything that relates to representation is there can be a thing as forced or too much,” Xipher said. “It’s absolutely valuable, but the reason people are transitioning is to be seen as that gender. If you are seeing someone as naturally being that gender, does it really matter if they’re trans or not?”

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“Me, as a trans woman, my goal isn’t to be a trans woman,” Minty added, “it’s to be a woman. Not to say trans women aren’t women, but that’s a very key thing people misunderstand sometimes. They don’t realize a lot of trans women don’t have pride. They aren’t proud of themselves being a trans woman. They just want to be accepted as a woman flatly.”

What VTubing adds to that journey as a trans person is a medium to more accurately represent yourself, safely explore your gender identity, and be okay with experimenting. People are accepting of who you are, for what you want to be known as.

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“You want people to say ‘I’m okay with you being yourself,’” Dandy added. “You don’t need people to know you’re trans. VTubing helps that because regardless of where you are in your transition, it’s what you want people to see you as.”

All of the trans creators Dexerto spoke to are somewhere along this journey. Some are fully medically transitioned, others are only just starting the process. Some can’t access those surgeries. But that doesn’t make one VTuber more valid than another.

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There are still many issues facing trans creators. The level of harassment they face is some of the highest among those online. Even for the bigger creators like Minty and Dandy, there’s a deep down fear of growing a bigger presence online because of the extra eyeballs and comments that come with that.

For trans VTubing, and the creators behind it, to become more accepted, it requires a seismic shift in society akin to one the anime community reckoned with: “Getting VTubing to be more mainstream like anime is what it will take,” Tessa said, “but that comes with all sorts of problems.

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“For trans VTubers to find the spotlight, we would have to be equally front and center with our cis counterparts.”

What matters in the interim is getting positive representation and meaningful visibility, and bridge the gaps in the community. Even something as simple as saying “trans rights are human rights” can mean so much ⁠— and that’s where the wider space can start.

“I’m very pleasantly surprised whenever I see a big creator, even one who is not a VTuber, say something like that,” Minty stated. “That’s how you bridge those gaps. 

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“You have to have responsible creators who are big, willing to accept that and have those opinions and say them out loud, because that’s how you convert your audiences into being trans-accepting people.

“It will come down to a lot of luck, a lot of time, and a lot of people struggling and giving up and not making it or continuing to grind at a wall with their content. But with time it’ll happen.”

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About The Author

Hailing from Perth, Andrew was formerly Dexerto's Australian Managing Editor. They love telling stories across all games and esports, but they have a soft spot for League of Legends and Rainbow Six. Oh, and they're also fascinated by the rise of VTubers.