What’s not to like about a man who calls himself Gregory Gorgeous?
The androgynous 20-year-old Canadian, who really is quite pretty, has racked up 47 million YouTube views and 345,000 followers with kitschy makeup and fashion tutorials, product reviews, and stream-of-consciousness rants. For the past year, he’s been the star of The Avenue, a gossipy YouTube-distributed reality show in which a group of young fashion upstarts party, bicker, and reconcile with the predictable and soothing undulations of a generation reared on The Hills. Picture Whitney Port in Toronto, with a smaller budget and a looser grasp on reality. Oh, and the protagonist in the sequin dress is actually a boy.
Buoyed by Gorgeous’s online following, The Avenue is in the middle of a revamped and expanded Season 2, and the increased exposure has him itching to make the leap from Toronto to New York and L.A.
But YouTube stardom, however vast, has barely registered in the real world. The mainstream fashion world has so far paid Gorgeous little notice, though he says he’s actively seeking product deals. Even among the LGBT community, he can’t seem to catch a break. “How many gay Canadian YouTube gurus is too many?” one prominent gay writer wondered aloud on Twitter recently. Willam Belli, a breakout star of RuPaul’s Drag Race, chose Gorgeous as the subject one of his YouTube “beatdowns” last week, mocking Gorgeous’s femininity with a biting harshness. Your father “is not proud,” Belli tells him.
It’s not difficult to see why Gorgeous is polarizing outside the enclave of his video subscriber base. But it’s The Avenue, especially, that has managed to turn his most magnetic asset into a point of contention.
On one hand, the show deals with Gorgeous’s androgyny in a refreshingly matter-of-fact way, which is to say hardly at all. Scott Fisher, who recruited Gorgeous for The Avenue at a Toronto house party (he had become something of a local celeb) and now serves as both his manager and the CEO of Foreground, the show’s production company, says the decision was a conscious one. “The way we address it is that we don’t address it. This is 2013.”
At the same time, the series’ most transparently staged—and frankly, cringe-worthy—moments have to do with its stilted efforts to deal with its star’s queerness. Take, for example, the most dramatic plot point of the current season, one that was endlessly hyped in promotional packages. Gorgeous is left alone at a downtown Toronto nightclub after getting into a typically absurd fight—something to do with one of his friends’ guests, a sloppy drunk named Carina, calling costar Arta Ghanbari a lesbian. In a dubious camera sequence, Gorgeous is seen leaving the club, walking down a sidewalk in gold sequins. Then the camera drops, we hear sirens, and later find out that Gorgeous was the victim of an assault at the hands of multiple attackers.
A typical Gregory Gorgeous rant.
All parties confirm that the attack was real, and that Gorgeous was left with bruises on his face—the implication being that it was a hate crime. But the shows deals with the incident only in the context of the season’s petty drama, choosing to highlight the fact that one of Gorgeous’s friends takes a whole week to visit her coalescing costar. When she does go to see him, she (gasp!) brings him a gift he already owns.
Gorgeous, who is credited as a co-executive producer on the show, admits in hindsight that the editing of that scene was handled poorly. “I think that the cameras totally blew that out of proportion,” he says. “I did get injured, but — no, I feel like they really, really did just blow that up. When someone gets assaulted, it’s not really anything to make fun of.”
Separately, Fisher agrees. “Looking back on it, we tried to hype it up a little. We tried to make it more of a storyline than an incident.” He says he wanted to show that Gorgeous’s life “isn’t all going out for drinks and bitching about people over coffee.”
The result, though, was puzzling: first overdramatizing, then trivializing, what a more mature production could have turned into a real source of drama. This is, after all, supposed to be a reality show. Instead, Gorgeous only alludes to the dialogue of acceptance that he thinks the event should foster. “I could have hid it. But it happened to me, and I just want to be an advocate for that.”
Ironically, the one person on the show who manages to break through the veil of euphemism is Gorgeous’s on-screen boyfriend, Jay, who is so hapless in front of the cameras that his authenticity is never in doubt. You were “bashed,” he reminds Gorgeous in one of their more awkward scenes.
“If we really want to get into honesty, though, we can talk about being honest,” Gorgeous counters. He has just been interrupted gardening in a leopard-print headscarf. “Why don’t you come out?”
“Why don’t I come out?” Jay replies. “It’s because I’m scared. That’s why...Maybe I’m just scared.”
Gorgeous admits that his scenes with Jay are some of the show’s most forced. “Jay was in the closet throughout the filming, so his first moments on camera were very, very awkward,” he says. “The producers gave him a script. I was like, 'OK, Jay, you agreed to this before, you can’t back out now.' ”
Outside of The Avenue, meanwhile, to judge from comments on his beauty videos, Gorgeous’s inhibition is what his followers love most, and some of his most-watched videos are the ones that address his gender-bending. And like stars Chris Crocker and Grayson Chance, who have enjoyed acceptance of their homosexuality in supportive online communities, Gorgeous has never been anything but honest and open.
The latest episode of ‘The Avenue.’ Gregory and Jay’s confrontation starts near the 20-minute mark.
“I knew I was gay from the second I was in my mother’s womb,” says Gorgeous, who grew up in Mississauga, a Toronto suburb. “I always gravitated toward the girly things. My favorite movie was The Little Mermaid. I really, really liked playing with the girls at recess. I was the leader of the group. I’d be like, “Girls, we’re skipping rope this recess.’”
Wearing women’s clothes and makeup came later, he says, but happened just as organically.
“I used to test wearing makeup at night, really experimenting with my face and colors and shape and texture and just really getting into the artistry of it. And then I was like, you know, I really want to wear this every day. This is something that I really want to do. So I started wearing a little bit of foundation powder, a little bit of eye shadow, a little bit of mascara.”
The resulting look is something that Fisher, his manager, says will ultimately lend strength to the Gregory Gorgeous brand. (Gorgeous aspires to have his own designer label some day, but is starting out in cosmetics given his background in makeup.)
Fisher represents other LGBT clients such as Joseph Birdsong, another YouTube phenom, but he says Gorgeous stands out from the pack. He’s “the farthest you can get,” Fisher says, “the most unique on the roster. I’ve found that companies will gravitate toward him out of everyone.”
In a good way, Fisher clarifies. “It’s never been, “Oh, he’s too crazy, or too gay.’ It’s been, ‘He doesn’t look like our girls.’ But, you know, you get that with a blond client, if they’re looking for a brunette.”
Gorgeous, meanwhile, is keeping busy traveling, chasing product-development deals, and trying to start a lifestyle brand. “You can call me tacky,” he says. “But my shoes still cost $1,000, so I don’t get it.”