Transgender rights under assault: Mr. Beast exposes social rift

The stance taken by the popular YouTuber highlighted a troubling rift in U.S. society.

  • Hyper-popular YouTuber Mr. Beast stood up for transgender colleague.
  • Issue has highlighted rift in U.S., where LGBTQIA+ rights are under assault
  • Many Republican legislators have taken anti-LGBTQIA+ positions

Hyper-popular youtuber Mr. Beast, aka Jimmy Donaldson, went viral (again) in April after standing up for his friend and entourage member Chris Tyson, who had come out as transgender. Tyson’s comments and Donaldson’s support created a social media uproar that made its way into mainstream media and pointed to how much importance people in the U.S. give to an issue that directly affects, at most, 0.6% of the population above the age of 13.

Tyson’s announcement launched a controversial debate on social media over transgender rights, bigotry and the role of celebrity in social issues as well as the right of random strangers with social media accounts to give opinions on the lives of celebrities.

The public controversy also pointed to the changing environment in the U.S. for transgender people, particularly in Republican states. These states have introduced a record number of new laws this year against transgender rights or limiting their ability to access gender affirming health care.

Mr. Beast’s stand

For anyone who has been living under a rock for the last decade, Mr. Beast’s YouTube channel is one of the most successful in history, with more than 146 million subscribers as of April 2023.

Donaldson started the channel in 2012, when he was 13. In the last few years, Donaldson leveraged the channel into an empire that encompasses fast food restaurants, chocolate bars and a video game division, among others.

Tyson is a regular figure in the videos on the channel, which usually involve Mr. Beast doing giveaways of often-expensive items to the winners of stunts or unsuspecting passerby’s. In one instance, he gave away a jet plane.

Tyson’s said in early April that the HRT “saved my life and many others’ lives”. By the time the announcement came out in March, Tyson had been on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for two months.

“The hurdles gnc [gender-nonconforming] people have to jump through to get life-saving gender-affirming healthcare in a 1st world country is wild to me,” Tyson tweeted on 5 April 2023. “Just let people make informed decisions about their own bodies.”

Tyson’s status generated both support and criticism in no small measure.

Not a small number of fans were unhappy with Tyson, with many “blaming” Tyson’s choices on another member of the channel Karl Jacobs, who joined the channel in 2020, much to the dismay of many fans that started referring to the “Karl Effect” and commenting on how much things had changed.

The “Karl Effect” is a perceived shift among the Mr. Beast cast and fans since Jacobs, a shift towards the LGBTQ community, including highlighting their feminine side with things like painted nails or dressing in drag.

Highlighting some of the changing attitudes that the controversy unleashed, one fan said on Twitter: “old Chris would laugh at the new Chris”. That tweet got over 20 million views. Tyson threated to sue.

Tyson also threatened to sue many fans for expressing their opinions on the recent gender situation.

Part of the controversy stemmed from Tyson’s married status and the fact that he has a son, which flamed many fans. Katie Tyson has filed for divorce.

Fans also said that the Mr. Beast members have seemed tired and uncomfortable around Tyson and Jacobs. In one video called “$1 Plane Ticket vs $500 000 Plane Ticket”, cast member Chandler Hallow rubbed his eyes at one point, either showing his impatience or because he was actually tired. Some of the more rabid fans chose the less charitable explanation for that simple gesture.

The Mr. Beast team has not made any announcements of support or anything else, but Donaldson has. He commented on Twitter in April 2023: “Yeah, this is getting absurd. Chris isn’t my ‘nightmare’ he’s my fucken friend and things are fine. All this transphobia is starting to piss me off.”

Social change

The controversy playing out among the Mr. Beast cast and fans is representative of what is happening in the U.S. at large.

Many Republican legislators in the U.S. have taken steps and positions against gender affirming health care, including HRT. Florida government and likely presidential candidate Ron DeSantis signed legislation banning such care for teenager in early May. So far this year, at least 417 anti-LGBTQ pieces of legislation have been introduced at the state level in the U.S., CNN reported. That is a record, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

There are not a lot of detailed statistics about the number of people that use unprescribed hormones, but one study in the Annals of Family Medicine estimates that there are 1.4 million transgender adults in the U.S. and, according to another 2016 study, almost 10% use unprescribed hormones.

Judging what is happening in the U.S. by the headlines would suggest that public opinion favors deporting all transgender people to Canada or Iceland. The reality is more complex.

Data by the Pew Research Center from 2022 notes 64% of people favor or strongly favor “protecting trans people from discrimination” and only 10% oppose. At the same time, 60% say gender is determined at birth (up from 54% in 2017). According to the data, Democrats are much more supportive than Republicans.

Around the world, the data varies enormously. A 2018 international survey by Ipsos found that about 60% of people around the world “would like their country to do more to support and protect transgender people”.

Spain and Argentina were the most supportive among the countries surveyed. Poland, Hungary and Japan were at the bottom. The U.S. and France had very slim majorities but were essentially split down the middle.

Interestingly, it is people in the U.S. who “are the most likely to say that society has gone too far in allowing people to dress and live as one sex even though they were born another”. A little more than a third of Americans stood by that statement, the highest in the world. About a third of Americans think transgender people are committing a sin.