Connor Franta is tailor-made for success. With 5.5 million subscribers on YouTube, a New York Times bestselling memoir, a line of premium coffee, and a music label, the award-winning entrepreneur seems to have it all figured out. He has a killer eye for design — his favorite Instagram accounts of the moment belong to Vika Petlakh, Cole Sprouse, and Henrik Aa. Uldalen (all artists) — and his lifestyle brand Common Culture dropped a new clothing collection less than a week ago. It’s already selling out. He’s also charming. Like, really, really charming.
We caught up with Connor to talk about bullies, struggling to label his identity, and experiencing his very first Pride celebration, which was tragically marked by the horrific murders of 49 LGBTQ people and their loved ones at Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
Teen Vogue: First of all, how are you?
Connor Franta: This is my first Pride that I have ever gone to this weekend, so I was there Friday and Saturday, and then Sunday morning I found out about [the shooting in Orlando]. I planned on going to the parade, and going back to Pride. [The Orlando shooting] just immediately set the tone for the day. I didn’t know what to do with myself, let alone where I should go, if I should go, if it was safe to go anywhere.
I eventually did end up going to the parade because I felt it was important to be present and to show that love is greater than fear. It was really, really difficult. I found myself wanting to cry even though nothing bad was happening to me. I was sad and had to leave halfway through to go home.
TV: Do you think what happened at Pulse in Orlando has made it even more important to celebrate Pride?
CF: I don’t necessarily think that it made it more important. I hate saying it reminds us of why it’s important but it kind of does remind us of the importance of community and the importance of progression and it kind of highlights that there is still so much ignorance in the world and there is still so much of the battle left to win. Although it seems like we’ve done so much and we have, but there’s still so much left and there is so much ignorance to combat.
I think it does shed a light on why weekends like this are important and why conversations like this are important to talk to, to anyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re part of the LGBTQ community. You can talk to straight people and hopefully straight allies and just inform them of it. It’s one of those things that they don’t think about or they turn to the left and ignore it in a way.
TV: So, I did read your memoir.
CF: Thank you.
TV: It seems like you are extremely well-liked. Do you ever deal with cyberbullying?
CF: I think no matter how well-liked you are, you still have someone who doesn’t like you if you are in a position of popularity. I wouldn’t say I get cyberbullied necessarily, and I think that’s just purely because of the nature of the comments, now. You just flow through and you don’t necessarily see them unless you are looking really hard. On things like Twitter, or Instagram there’s the occasional hateful comment, like daily, and it’s hard sometimes to just look away. I think it’s just human nature to want to be liked by people. If you find something someone doesn’t like about you, you definitely wonder why they didn’t like it
TV: Do you have any advice for kids whose bullies are people they know, so they can’t really get away?.
CF: It’s a really hard thing because it does really, really hurt. I think first and foremost, if you’re being bullied by someone, block, mute, don’t interact. That is always the first step to it is to completely try and erase them from being able to bully you. Also, it’s important to talk about those things, because when you kind of hear negative things about yourself, you can really internalize them and almost make them a reality even if they aren’t true. You can really beat yourself up about it, so talk about these experiences get reassurance that you are the great person that you are. I know everybody says this, but it’s usually sad people trying to bring other people down to their level of sadness.
TV: There’s actually a new study that just came out saying that your bully is more likely to be depressed than you are, unless you are also a bully.
CF: I was thinking about this the other day. I just can’t imagine dedicating a part of my life or a portion of my day to being mean to someone else on a regular basis. But I also want to point out that it’s such a trend on the internet for people to be mean and drag people for fun on a daily basis. I hate it so much because it creates a culture that promotes the idea that it’s okay to be mean to people.
Even if it’s funny, or, in some way, lighthearted, you can’t really get much emotion across via text. I would really like to encourage your readers to not fall into that. I hate seeing it on my timeline, and people think they’re being funny. But you know, that’s not the point. It’s still a hurtful comment, even if it’s meant to be funny.
TV: In your book, you talk about your struggle to say “no” to people, because you want to make everyone happy. Is it still hard for you to prioritize yourself over what you think others expect from you?
CF: [laughing] I was literally coming out while writing this book and I think it was just a very frustrating time for me. I was changing labels, and it was a frustrating time that I had to even be labeled or something, initially. I was over the fact that I had establishes these labels and none of them were even true.
Obviously, there are certain labels that ware great to be a part of. I love being labeled gay. I love being part of the LGBTQ community and that’s a label that I wear with pride.
TV: There are a lot of people who feel liberated by not identifying with any sort of label these days. What do you think of that?
CF: Wasn’t there a study published recently that said something like 50% of youth do not identify with being straight?
TV: Yes! People are starting to explore and embrace their identities.
CF: I was going to say that I think it’s a testament to the times that people are more and more open to being something other than what society tells them they have to be. Everyone is on their own journey and can identify with whatever they identify with. The fact that people are identifying with new or no labels just shows that we aren’t all the same and that we all are even more different than we realize. I think it’s beautiful.
TV: People want to celebrate their differences — you can see it in the body positivity movement. It really seems like people are just so sick of being uncomfortable with themselves. We’ve all been taught to disassociate ourselves from our identities and our bodies.
CF: I know, and I think that part of that is because of how sex is taught in America. I think the sexual education system in America is very dated and I think it needs to be updated. People are very afraid of sex, nudity, anything, it’s just like a scary, weird thing. When you confront them with something like a bunch of different body types, you realize that we’re all the same. We all have the same things there. We might look different, but we all are the same at the core. That’s what matters.
TV: When you talk about your coming out experience in your memoir, you mentioned that you were struggling to admit it even to yourself, at first, but now you are so proud to be gay. It’s like a heavy weight has been lifted off of your shoulders. What was the process like for you—from getting ready to talk about your sexuality publicly to being so proud of your community and celebrating Pride for the first time?
CF: It was a really long journey for me. I had thought about [my sexuality] at the very least since I was 12 or 13, and once I realized it, it was like realizing I had fingers. You see your fingers every day. I had seen that part of myself everyday without realizing it. When I finally did, and I immediately tried to hide it and put it in the back of my mind and not think about it.
I didn’t want it to be true at the time. I know that’s such a bad thing to say, but your environment really matters. Once I moved to Los Angeles, and I was exposed to the LGBTQ community — there’s a large LGBTQ community here in Los Angeles. I realized it wasn’t a bad thing to be a part of it, and people in the community are very happy and living very happy lives.
That exposure really, really helped me move forward. One night, I was looking in the mirror, and I couldn’t say it, but I knew that I was [gay]. I had known that I was for years, and for all this time I wasn’t able to say it and I wasn’t able to accept it. When I finally said it to myself, I started crying. Then, I felt great. Then, I felt weird, and I was like, “hey, it’s real. I put it out to the world and did this for myself, it’s real.”
Then I told a person, and I told more people, and it got easier and easier and easier to the point where I was like, “this isn’t a bad thing. This doesn’t change anything. I’m still the same person, but I can just be a more authentic me than I was before.” Yeah.