Type the word “gay” into YouTube and user MarkE Miller’s video “Asking Guys if I’m Gay” is the second video with more than 240,000 views. Type in the word “kissing,” and his video “Awkward Kissing” is the fifth video with more than 660,000 views.
Mark Miller, a Ball State senior telecommunications major, has gained more than 80,000 subscribers since he posted “Awkward Kissing” in August.
Sitting behind the corner desk in his bedroom, the YouTube user holds up his Canon PowerShot outstretched in front of him and presses record.
“Good morning, everybody,” he said quickly to the camera. “It’s going be a great day and do you know why?
“Because every day is a great day.”
He was recording the intro to his 45th YouTube video titled “My BestFriend,” a video that gained more than 51,000 views in five days.
Miller posted his first YouTube video Nov. 15, 2012, called “My Coming Out Story.” In the video, he shared one of the most intimate times of his life with the Internet. Almost instantly, he became obsessed.
“I didn’t think I was going to make videos after that,” he said. “I watched other coming out stories on YouTube, and it normalized homosexuality for me. So once I had a story to share, I posted it to share with people who it might help.”
After that, he started posting videos weekly — vlogs, or video blogs. This is a type of video where people document their day-to-day lives through videos, sharing funny, sad or even boring moments with viewers.
Miller decided early on that simply sitting in front of the camera and talking wasn’t enough for him. He wanted to show people what he was doing, rather than just telling them. With his GoPro camera, he gives viewers an inside look into the life of a Ball State student.
For the first nine months, he would gain a few followers here and there, but he continued to post videos even when doubts crept into his mind. Six months ago, he considered stopping.
“I think that artists think that their work doesn’t get the recognition they think it deserves because of the time and effort they put into it, and I felt the same with my videos,” Miller said. “They are my babies, and I wanted to show my work to new people. Luckily, I didn’t stop.”
After Miller posted the video “Awkward Kissing” with his boyfriend Ethan Hethcote, an Indiana University student, his YouTube account blew up. He gained more than 80,000 subscribers and thousands of views on every video.
Viewers see the couple kiss each other and swap food from mouth to mouth, yawning and laughing. Almost instantly, the video made its way to Tumblr and his fan base grew.
“It’s weird seeing gifs of me and Ethan kissing on Tumblr,” Miller said. “It’s cool and flattering, but I’m still not used to it.”
When his subscribers and views began to shoot up, he opted to sign up to start making money from his videos. YouTube’s monetary system is set up so the number of views will determine the pay out. For example, 1,550 views will generate $1.50.
A few weeks ago, a fan from Brazil who was visiting North Carolina drove roughly nine hours to hang out with Miller in Bracken Library for a couple of hours. It was the first time someone drove out of their way to see him, but not the first time he has been approached on campus by fans.
Ross Hilleary, a senior urban planning and development major, saw the gifs of Miller on Tumblr and searched him out. Now, he said he watches his weekly videos almost religiously.
“He’s relatable,” Hilleary said. “He’s from Indiana, he’s our age, he goes to our school and he’s a positive influence on showing what it’s like to be gay, in college and in love. It’s great seeing him and his boyfriend grow.”
When Miller started dating Hethcote at the end of last semester, he quickly introduced him to his YouTube viewers in the video “The Perks of Being a Facebook Stalker.” He said he realized his videos get more views when they feature Hethcote.
His videos have documented the relationship from its earliest stages and continue to show how it develops over time. Lucky for Miller, his boyfriend doesn’t have a problem with having a very public relationship.
“We make sure that we put out there what we want people to see, but we still keep the more intimate parts to ourselves,” Hethcote said. “It hasn’t caused any problems between us. It’s just a part of him and I’ve accepted it.”
Miller plans to graduate in May and to move to Bloomington, Ind., to be closer to Hethcote. He said he has no plans to stop making videos, and he hopes to continue making money. He eventually wants it to be his main source of income.
“I don’t do it for the money, it’s just an added bonus,” Miller said. “I want to share my story with those who need someone to look up to. Being gay and young is hard, and I want to show people that it doesn’t have to be.”