For LGBTQ+ streamers on Twitch, it’s imperative to create a safe space for their audience. Beyond games, serious discussion can take place in their channels, but respect is crucial. Streams provide a chance for everyone to learn – both streamer and audience.
That’s a key part of Jeff Brutlag’s streaming community, which stems from his earlier days on YouTube as a vlogger. But Twitch provided a chance to engage more closely with a community – and play games of course!
Since then he’s done cosplay, revels in story-driven games and most recently came out as non-binary. Read on as we chat about that journey.
When and why did you start streaming?
I started streaming around March or April of 2017. It always seemed fun to me because it was so heavily focused on video games, I thought it would be so fun to play them for an audience. I was always into content creation in general and before I was streaming I was making YouTube videos. That’s when everybody was making YouTube videos and I noticed I wasn’t getting that community interaction I was hoping for. So I gave Twitch a try one day. I had a friend who was into Twitch since it started, she was watching and was like “you know, if you wanted to keep doing this I think you’d do well”, so from that day I just kept doing it.
Was it important to bring that YouTube vlog style to Twitch?
I think I was willing to have conversations like that if they were to come up. I was warned that if I was to start streaming on Twitch people would be trolling, but I think part of me knew [the LGBT community] was the audience I was going to create. Because I was so new to Twitch streaming, I was still trying to find that balance between gaming plus having conversations like that.
What games do you prefer to stream?
I mostly prefer to stream story-driven games and I also love doing horror games – that’s actually how I started, playing Resident Evil 7. Games that we can take at our own pace, because my favourite part of streaming is getting to interact with the audience directly. So a game where we can stop and have a moment to chat without anything distracting I think is really nice. But also finding that balance of keeping it safe and just delving into whatever game we’re playing and treating it like a safe hangout space for people.
You’ve been playing Dragon Age: Inquisition recently, how did you find it?
Oh I loved Inquisition! It was interesting to me: around that time [of the game’s release] I think we were starting to see bigger casts of queer characters pop up. So I think playing Dragon Age: Inquisition and seeing how well they did representation was great. How well and complex they wrote these characters I thought was so great. Romance is what people get really into. That’s the biggest question I got: who are you romancing? I literally have a command in my chat for it, !bull.
You recently did a cosplay of Labelle from Animal Crossing, will you be doing more cosplay on stream?
There are definitely other characters I’ve considered cosplaying. I’ve been playing a lot of Final Fantasy VII Remake and I’ve gotten a lot of inspiration to potentially do a gender-bend Aerith cosplay, especially since I found her jacket online. I would love to maybe do something like that. It’s been an interesting artform to try, especially because with Labelle I got to be so experimental with makeup. I think because I have that skill now, it could be fun to see what else is out there.
What makes your stream unique?
I have a streamer friend who once described their stream as “safe but accountable”. And I would say that I definitely have something similar. I really emphasise my stream as being more of a space for conversations and just being, existing, without really worrying about too many stressors of the outside world. I always put community first. I think it’s really important to have that kind of space where we’re all learning from each other and making sure that we’re doing it in a really safe way. There really aren’t many spaces like that for the queer community who play video games.
You recently came out as non-binary. Was it important to share that journey on stream?
It felt natural to share it because, looking back, it always seemed like something that was there. I didn’t know that it necessarily fell under a label. So I never really thought about it that way, until I did think about it that way. I felt that it was important to share for my community because I don’t know how many people in the community feel the same way. I think being that piece of representation can help so many people figure out who they are too.
How do you find being an out LGBTQ+ streamer?
At first I was expecting mostly negativity because it’s a heavily gaming inspired space. I was expecting mostly trolls, mostly people being gross. But as I’m growing I’m noticing how much more of a queer space Twitch has. It’s always surprising to me when people say they look up to me or find me an inspiration, because never in my wildest content creation dreams did I ever think someone would say I was an inspiration for them. I think having that kind of positive feedback really keeps me going and feels like I’m doing something good for the community.
What’s your main goal as a streamer for the future?
I think my main goal is to continue uplifting marginalised voices. I think something that’s so powerful with Twitch is if you are a queer person streaming, you’re literally becoming representation, you’re representing yourself on a platform that’s heavily dominated by cis straight people. So to be that space, and to be a home on the internet for young queer people, I think is so powerful. No matter how small you are, no matter how you start, you’re doing something amazing by doing that.
What’s the best thing about being a streamer?
This is definitely the mode of content creation where I have felt the biggest connection to a community, whether it’s my own or streamers I connect with, and then their communities that I connect with. It almost feels like I’m jumping around a bunch of different parties with groups of friends that already know each other so well and they’re inviting you in and you’re having a drink with them. The sense of closeness that you feel with everybody just feels so different to something like YouTube or really any other platform I’ve been on.
What advice would you give to gaymers wanting to start streaming?
Know your boundaries and definitely stick with them because how you set your standards when you start streaming is going to set the framework for how you grow. A lot of people will take advantage of the fact they know that you’re new and will try to push the boundaries of how you should be as a queer streamer and how you should interact with your audience. When I started there were definitely a lot of people I didn’t recognise were trolling, who were coming in under the guise of being grossly flirty and I thought I just had to play along, [that] this is maybe what being queer on Twitch means. Figure out what you want your stream to be, set that framework and go from there. If you start doing that early, you’re going to get the community that you want.
You’re a big Sailor Moon fan. What does the show mean to you?
I was watching Sailor Moon when I was really young and it stayed with me for a long time. Then I recently watched the whole series and I think it resonated with me so much because of how it’s that tale of an ordinary person who everybody underestimates and nobody thinks is all that capable and yet she’s out here kicking ass and saving the world from extra terrestrial magical aliens! There’s just a sense of inner strength and a sense of growth that she exudes that I think you so rarely see in a lot of stories. It’s almost a tale of finding your own way, people telling you what you should do and how you should solve things and her finding ways to be like “no, this is how I’m going to do it”. It’s a hero’s tale in a way I think is empowering for so many different people.
What’s the game that defined your childhood, or that got you into gaming?
The very first games I can remember are the Pokémon games and the Final Fantasy games. I definitely remember having friends that were playing Pokémon and that got me really interested in it. And just the campiness and how extra and beautiful the Final Fantasy games are really pulled me into that world of JRPGs. Honestly the Final Fantasy series is still one that tugs on my heartstrings every time I see news of a game.
Which is your favourite?
It’s a hard tossup between IX and X. I think both of them had really relatable struggles. No matter what the genre is of the game, I really look for whether or not they tell stories I and others can resonate with. And I think IX and X did a really good job of exploring aspects of identity and following your own destiny.
What’s your game of the year so far?
I think I’ll say Final Fantasy VII Remake. They did such a good job of making it accessible for people who have never played a Final Fantasy game while appealing to people who have that nostalgia for it. I think they’ve brought the game to life even more so than the original. If you’ve never played a Final Fantasy game this is a really good one to start with because of that battle system, but also it has all the elements of Final Fantasy games still: it’s extra, it’s got that grandiose storytelling, it’s anime as heck! It’s just a fun game. Maybe that’s why so many LGBT people drift to Final Fantasy games, they’re all campy as hell!
To find out more about Jeff Brutlag, catch him streaming on his Twitch channel.
Don’t forget you can vote for your Streamer Of The Year at the Gayming Mag Awards right here!