Gaby Dunn: On YouTube, Queerness, and Premiering at Frameline

Sometimes comedy is the best medium to talk about important topics, like gender and sexuality.

For so many, identity can be a rather serious topic; but Gaby Dunn is using humor to educate and expand our ideas of what queerness can look like. She first gained fame from her YouTube skits and second channel co-hosted with her best friend Allison Raskin, where fans loved her hilarious takes on gender, social media, and relationships. But since launching her channel in 2010, her career has expanded: she has written a book with Raskin, I Hate Everyone But You and hosts a podcast, Bad With Money, which will have a book by the same name publishing in 2019. But her latest role has been co-writer and co-star (alongside Emma Myles, who plays Leanne Taylor on Orange Is The New Black) the short film, Dick Sisters, which tells the story of two estranged friends who reconnect (and come to terms with their feelings for each other) when a man they’ve both dated is accidentally killed.

With a short of the film premiering at Frameline, the oldest LGBTQ film festival in the country, Dick Sisters hopes to merge humor with commentary on the state of queer media.

Dunn spoke to NewNowNext about how Dick Sisters came to be, the struggles of being a YouTube content creator, and what’s next for this openly bisexual comedian and writer.

How did Dick Sisters come about?

I was always a writer. And I was always writing stories and I worked in journalism for a long time. And then I was writing scripts and writing for TV. And I [thought] an expansion of that would be to write a feature film. So I had a three-day span where I had this idea and I just wrote, like, sixty pages of it and then sent it to my friend who is a director and was like, “Is this anything?” [Laughs] And she was like, “This is good. Here, let me fill in this, this, and this.” I took it as expanding on the writing that I was already doing…You write a short story, and then you get inspired by someone you interviewed for an article, and then you make a YouTube video. It doesn’t matter what the medium is, it’s all storytelling. I’m working on a documentary now, too, and it’s just like, What’s the best way to tell this? And I went through phases. I was like, I like this story, should I fictionalize it? No? OK, let’s make the documentary.

That’s really incredible. And representation is really important, especially for films like this.

That’s the thing. I watch all these movies—especially with two female leads—and it’s like…I get it, I understand that friendship exists, but it’s this thing where it’s like, “Well, they’re not gay. They dated this guy, they’re not gay.” But, like…why not? [Laughs] You know what I mean? It’s not that outlandish.

And also I think triangulation is a huge thing. The whole point of the movie is to talk about the triangulation that happens. And for me, especially as a bisexual, there were a lot of times where I dated guys, then looking back I [realized] I only dated that guy to get close to a female friend of his, or an ex of his, or I liked a girl he had dated. But you don’t realize that really because heteronormativity is so ingrained that you’re like, Oh, I’m interested in this guy because I must be interested in this guy, and I just think his friends are cool. This movie is based on a true story—not the murder—but it’s based on a true situation where a girl and I were friends and then she dated my ex right after me. So there was this tension between the two of us. And then she identified as straight, and so I kind of left it alone. And then much later she was identifying as queer, and I was like, Yeah, right, I felt that. But there was this thing where I was like, Is this the most fucked up thing that could happen? But the line that Ali says, “When I was dating him, I should have just been dating you,” it came from something that she said to me. And that’s so relatable, I think.

But that representation is so important.

Yeah, even watching Thelma & Louise, it’s so clear that they love each other, at least to me or maybe we’ll put a queer lens on things. But then often the movie would throw in a random guy love interest just to be like, “Just in case you thought these women had too much chemistry!” You know what I mean? And I hate that. Also, it was my friend—the director, Lauren Garroni—it was her idea…when I sent her the original 60 pages of the feature, … it was basically a road trip movie with these two girls hashing out this thing and then falling in love. And she said, “Well, they spend 30 pages talking about this guy, and he’s in the way. They should kill him.” And I was like, “Oh. My. God.” Because she was like, “Isn’t the metaphor that without him, without this symbol of heteronormativity, they would just dated and everything would have been fine?” And I was like, “Right!” So she was like, “Then let’s have them get rid of him. Literally.” And I was like, “Uh, yes. Absolutely.”

This plays also into your own identity as someone who is bisexual and polyamorous.

There definitely is a judgment of, “Well, it’s easy for you to be poly, of course—you’re bi. Bi people are poly.” Which, they’re two separate identities to me. There are lots of monogamous bisexuals. There are a lot of straight poly people. So, I think they inform each other, but I think the mistake that people make is that they are because of each other.

I have the luxury of being open [of both being polyamorous and bisexual], right? Nothing in my life is going to affected negatively, my parents know, everybody knows. My manager is like, “Sure, whatever.” So if I have the luxury of being open, I may as well use that privilege to do the things that other people in maybe smaller towns or who have to present a certain way wouldn’t be able to do. And also, I have the privilege of making stuff. If I get a little money from a brand deal. When we’ve been pitching this movie, there have been instances of male financiers have said, “Queer movies don’t sell,” which is nuts. So Lauren and I funded the short ourselves and have looked into making the movie ourselves, although we would fucking love financing. We have queer actresses on board and we have people that are attached to the film that want to make it, but it’s just a matter of money. Lauren and I, together we spent, I think it was like $9,000 on the short? And we just paid for it. If I have the luxury of doing that and I am able to make something to represent the community, then I should.

There’s been a lot going on in regards to YouTube censoring and blacklisting queer creators. Has being open about your sexuality and relationship style impacted your content creation, particularly on YouTube?

…A while back Alison and I sort of stepped a little bit back from YouTube—because we were doing, like, two videos a week, we were doing sketches. We were busy, but also because it’s not incentivized. If we put anything about my sexuality in the title, it’s going to get demonetized. We were using the money we made from YouTube to pay our crew and make sure we were being fair to everyone who works for us. It was just getting less and less. It didn’t make me want to stay, to see that they were running anti-LGBTQ ads. My audience are teenagers. They are very vulnerable. If you’re watching my videos, you might be closeted, you might be looking for help. It’s a very, very vulnerable segment of the population and to expose them to that while discentivizing queer creators is evil. It’s pretty evil. And then [for YouTube] to put your little pride button on… go fuck yourself.

I don’t have to be there. It sucks, because I do want the kids to have access to stuff, but lately I just post a lot of stuff to Instagram story, or photos of my girlfriend on Instagram, because that’ll get a good reaction and people like it. It makes people happy and I can do that without having to worry that right before the photo there’s gonna be an ad that’s like, “By the way, kill yourself. Anyway, here’s some gay content!”

Dick Sisters will premiere June 16 at Frameline.

Follow Dunn on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

Writer for NewNowNext, Refinery29, Wear Your Voice, BitchMedia, etc. Budding sex educator. @NerdsOfPreycast cohort. She/Her.