Live for Yourself
An Interview with kat blaque
Interviewed by Mandy Grathwohl
Kat Blaque is a YouTuber, children's illustrator, social rights educator, and host of the podcast JSYK W/ Kat Blaque. Blaque has been a YouTuber for nearly ten years, focusing on social justice issues such as race and gender. She has contributed to sites such as Everyday Feminism and the Huffington Post's Black Voices section, and was featured in Bustle's "7 Young Trans* Activists You Should Know About This Year." She can be found on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Patreon.
TMR: The Matador Review has interviewed adult film actors, writers, musicians—but we've never interviewed someone whose most major artform is YouTube. Can you walk us through your creative process of a video, from idea/inception to final execution?
KB: Every video is different, but most of the times I create videos that are either inspired by or a response to things that happen in my daily life. My "True Tea" series is largely me self reflecting on my own personal experiences. Those videos are fairly easy to film and edit, but they are slightly more polished versions of things I've said before, but now with a bit more clarity. My longer more educational videos usually come from a place of wanting to fill gaps in conversations. So, for example, when I saw people misunderstanding Black Face, I made a video about the history of blackface.
TMR: One of your more recent videos focuses on the rebranding of white nationalism on social media. Tell us about your process in creating a video on such a topic. What was the research like? Why did you decide that particular narrative for the video?
KB: I started writing that particular script years ago, but it became more relevant around the time it was posted after Christchurch. Most of my research is me reading through things other people have cited and trying to dive deeper and deeper for coherence. Fortunately (unfortunately) when it came to this topic, YouTube has been pretty great at cataloging content that discusses White Nationalism. Much like my interviews, it's mostly just about listening and connecting the dots.
it's mostly just about listening and connecting the dots.
TMR: You've mentioned on Twitter that you aim to make two more parts to this topic. What will you be focusing on in these?
KB: As of now, part 2 focuses mostly on demonetization and the rules YouTube has created that tie into the rebranding of white nationalism. It's a series that was inspired by, what I've observed on the platform—people intentionally softening their message in order to ensure that their content wouldn't be demonetized. Part 3 will go a bit more into the specifics of what White Nationalist ideology is, who exactly discusses it on YouTube and how they get away with doing so.
TMR: In this video on white nationalism, you mentioned that you began exploring social activism following the shooting of Trayvon Martin. What helped inform you on your views as you were learning? What about those sources did you value?
KB: Being a black person gives me a good foundation for understanding racism in America. There are things you are, perhaps, discouraged from seeing when it comes to white supremacy, but, as stated in my video, the attitudes of my white peers surprised me and helped me become more aware of the fact that racism is very much alive in this society. That's driven me to create the content that I do and fortunately the internet is an endless resource. I can't particularly point to one off the top of my head. I value the voices of those who have experienced racism and believe the internet empowers people speak more candidly about racism than we were able to during my "we are the world" 90s upbringing that intentionally subverted the reality of racism.
TMR: For young people who notice a lack of proper representation in the media, who are some creators, forms of media, etc, that you might recommend for someone to find a community within?
KB: It would truly depend on what exactly they're seeking. Again, YouTube is a pretty great resource and you can find most sorts of people there. Because I don't really know the specifics of what someone's seeking, it's hard for me to direct people to specific people. I think I'm pretty cool though.
TMR: In a 2016 interview with The Tempest regarding your visual art, you said that by putting a black face on your illustration, "it allows for many people, children and adults alike, to see themselves reflected." What was the first time you remember seeing yourself reflected in a work of art? How did it make you feel?
KB: I don't have a specific or particular time I can point to when it comes to art, honestly. I remember being very excited about Fran from Final Fantasy 12, because she was the first dark skinned character I've played in a video game.
TMR: In this interview, you also mentioned that your visual artwork is not usually very political. Three years later, has this changed at all? As in, have politics become more essential to your visual work as they have to your YouTube work?
Black people deserve to have their Harry Potter-esque stories of fanciful escapism.
KB: I see my ability to create art, in the context of YouTube, as a tool. I wouldn't say my art is inherently political because my work tends to focus more on fantasy. I think that when it comes to telling stories of black people, people focus so much on the Civil Rights era and slavery. Black people deserve to have their Harry Potter-esque stories of fanciful escapism. I often don't think of specifically drawing a black character these days. I think about drawing a cool looking, interesting, or beautiful character and at this point, black women are the first that come to mind when I think about this.
TMR: A while back, you wrote a Twitter thread about offensive, transphobic "humor" being used in comedy spaces. Why do you think this is something that some comedians turn to?
KB: Because they lack the talent and wit to be more proficient comedians. Their jokes rely on widespread misunderstandings. They are bad at their job.
TMR: You recently started a new podcast, JSYK with Kat Blaque. What podcasts, if any, kickstarted the idea that you ought to do a podcast?
KB: None. (If you can't tell by now, I am not a terribly referential person. I am someone who has largley relied on their own mind and perspective as inspiration. This has been a creative crutch of mine.)
TMR: Who is someone you'd love to interview on the show?
KB: I would love to interview Jewish people of color, Indigenous folks, Trans people who have families post transition, lots of people I've never seen really represented in an honest and transparent way.
TMR: You're a well-known YouTuber and have just started JSYK. What else is in your future?
KB: Down the line, after I find the bearded pansexual man of my dreams, we will find land, build a large home and start a commune. We will be a safe haven for queer kids and give them the shelter that I didn't have when I was a young queer identified teenager. That's a long term goal of mine.
We will be a safe haven for queer kids and give them the shelter that I didn't have when I was a young queer identified teenager.
Professionally, I'd like to do hosting and I'd like to be able to be more efficient when it comes to getting more work done and handling more projects. I'd like to hire a team of queer/trans/people of color who can help me do what I do, while I help them go off and do similar work.
TMR: You've been open about your gender identity journey in your youth, and documented your transition on your channel. Seeing where you are now, what would you say to a younger Kat about the present?
KB: There are a few things that I'm inspired to say based on the phrasing of that question. It's actually kinda poignant. You say "gender identity journey", when I would say that I am not someone who buys into "identify as" language. I'm not someone who "identifies as" a woman, I am a woman. And for me to have transitioned so long ago, that's a hugely moot point. I'd say I stopped documenting my transition around 21, when I considered my transition to be completed.
The one big thing I'd tell myself is to not try to live your life for cis people's approval or understanding. It is a trap that isn't worth it. While we are always encouraged to assimilate in a way that helps us navigate the world more efficiently, and wanting to do so isn't inherently bad, trying to live in a way where you are defined by cis people's lack of understanding of you is a very bad way to go about living life. Live for yourself, and if you're happy, who cares if they aren't (or are).