When Kevin Ninh first set up his YouTube channel, he thought he’d call it Fearless Kevin—an apt name for a teen who, despite backlash both at home and school, insisted on expressing himself as he saw fit. “Fearless Kevin,” however, was taken. So the Seattle-area native moved on to FlawlessKevin and started posting videos covering beauty tips, high school bullies, and the perils of teaching his sister to drive (“Plot twist: We lived”). His weekly posts have attracted more than 250,000 subscribers and are an oft-cited comfort for kids struggling with identity issues. After losing his mother to cancer last year, Ninh, a University of Washington graduate, took a short break, but he’s now back in front of the camera with newfound focus. —JV
I started wearing makeup in high school—simple things like concealer and lip gloss. It didn’t get to the full glam stage until years later. But I had to start somewhere.
I remember buying my first piece of clothing from the girls’ section, and it was really liberating because for me, male clothing just felt restricting.
There are days where I feel masculine, and there are days where I feel feminine. But I feel consistently outside the box. I feel always just me.
Initially my family wasn’t accepting. They were like, You’re a boy, you shouldn’t be wearing this stuff.
[My mother] had to grow up with me. I was struggling with my identity, and so was she with accepting it. I remember how grueling it was to deal with the things she had to say.
Eventually we started doing makeup together and shopping together. And so it was really nice to see the learning process and how she has grown, and how she loved me for who I am.
My very first video was because I was bullied in high school. It was spirit week, and “What Not to Wear Day,” and I decided to wear stuffed animal cats on my body, because that’s, like, totally a fashion disaster. My friend brought me a tweet [from] another classmate that said: “Gay guys who wear cats should go to hell, hashtag fags.”
I decided to film my experience and posted it on Facebook. A lot of people were saying they loved my advice and my story, so I uploaded a few more. Eventually someone was like, Why won’t you just upload these videos on YouTube?
I’ll get messages from people that are my parents’ age. It really means a lot to see an adult accepting their kids and saying how I helped.
I just say: “Allow them to express themselves as long as they are safe—find that balance and allow them to slowly find who they are.”
Your inner happiness is important, but I think safety is number one.
After my mother’s passing, I took a month off. And I’ve never in my entire YouTube career missed a single week. I took time to reflect on what I really want to do with my life.
I want to share more about myself and my identity—my gender identity, my sexuality, my Vietnamese identity—in hopes of helping people figure out theirs.
And maybe [create] a gender-neutral clothing line? That’d be really cool.
To be flawless isn’t the absence of flaws. It’s having those flaws, but not listening to society’s social norms and standards. And to be flawless, I say at the end of every video, is to be yourself.