Storytelling | Churning the Covered Pot on the Back-burner

My name is Donny Winter and welcome to my official website and blog. I have finally done it. I have finally created a website and blog that will act as a conduit connecting my YouTube channels to my writing, activism, and music. Regardless what expressive medium I use, activism is the blood that flows through each. It’s the sustenance that inspires my storytelling, the quiet, yet powerful undertow ebbing and flowing through each message.

I have always enjoyed blogging, ever since I was an angsty teenager diligently typing at 2:00 a.m. every morning on LiveJournal. A decade ago, I was finishing high school and transitioning out of one of the most difficult points in my life. Being bullied, for me, became as commonplace as brushing my teeth in the morning. The difference back then was that I chose to reflect on my bullying experiences through the privacy of my closed LiveJournal, not publicly here or on YouTube.

Around 2009, when I was midway through my undergraduate college career, I began to look back with a critical eye on my experiences in both high school and college. I never fully grasped the extent of my story until an individual organizing Pride Week asked me to tell my coming out story in a public setting. I ended up telling it and found that sharing my experiences helped me resolve some unacknowledged pain. This was the first event that lead me to eventually creating my YouTube channel in 2011, where I began my storytelling journey.

Before transitioning into speaking publicly on YouTube, I was an extremely shy, insecure individual who feared speaking out. A lot of this had to do with my high school bullying experiences which centered around the softness of my voice, and how it emasculated me. The severity of this emasculation-fueled bullying ranged from being shoved into walls to being hit in the locker-room, among other things. The insecurity still sticks with me today and it has drastically interfered with my ability to speak. Thankfully, that changed when I subscribed to the YouTube channel Drstrangelove17, which happens to belong to my dear friend, R.E. She introduced me to v-logging, and weekly, I’d watch her bravely discuss sensitive subjects. I’d watch her confront her insecurities, respond to controversy, and philosophically reflect on life’s nuances. Immediately, I recognized how courageous she was for telling her stories and I realized that I had the power to do it as well.

Reflecting back on 2007, I created a YouTube channel but it never lifted off the ground. It was a smattering of disjointed funny videos and profane rants. It wasn’t until I found Chris Crocker’s YouTube channel that I understood how important it was to discuss more serious issues – like LGBTQ rights. Chris was (and still is) an individual I look up to as one of the foundation-layers of what I now call social justice education on YouTube. Over the years, he and I eventually spoke on numerous occasions, which inspired further confidence in my speaking ability. With both R.E. and Chris Crocker’s examples churning my inspiration, I knew it was almost time to set out on my biggest adventure.

Some time later, in 2011, I mustered the gumption to create a channel that allowed me to be funny, but also reflective. That was the moment when I realized that storytelling was easier than I originally believed. The seed R.E. planted eventually sprouted when I recognized the bravery of other friends telling their stories across different social networking sites and message boards. My friends Cyndi (streamofawareness) and Tiffany Gray (Tiffany Gray Music) also played pivotal roles in building my speaking confidence. They encouraged me to be myself and were some of the first who embraced me as an openly gay man. Now, together, all three of us have become storytelling activists. We strive to help bullying victims become survivors through the Affirmations For Bullying Victims movement and we create awareness about other topics many never discuss. Also, thanks to their musical prowess and encouragement, I’ve been empowered to create a YouTube channel dedicated to my own poetic and musical passions. (Donny Winter Music)

Despite YouTube becoming my outlet, I never recognized myself as an activist until I met actor, activist, and musician, Ace Lundon. After having watched some of my videos, he eventually approached me to be a guest co-host on his show, Lundon Calling. This lead to a friendship I deeply cherished. Over the years he would always tell me, “Donny, you are who you’ve been becoming,” a signal that I’m always shifting, growing, becoming something more. I kept his words close to my heart as I continued to speak out with greater intensity. Eventually, our friendship led to him asking Sean Chandler and myself to be a co-hosts on the The Lundon Bridge talk show, where we bridge the gaps between three generations of gay men through discussing current events. Recently, Ace passed on, but his words and his impression of my ability to speak out will always resonate throughout my life.

In 2014, I made the choice to return to school for my M.A. in English. During that time, my mentor and friend, Dr. Rose Gubele, helped me reclaim my creative voice, which helped me find the confidence to discuss even deeper subjects on YouTube that I would have originally feared to address. She helped show me that there is one thing more important than being a social justice warrior, that is being a social justice educator. With the experience of college-level teaching under my belt, I realized that activism and social justice on YouTube are even more powerful when they are complimented by the passion to educate. That passion made me realize that teaching in the classroom and on YouTube is not just about speaking out, but also about listening.

Overall, I am moved by the incredible opportunities and strengths YouTube has given me. One simple act of storytelling opened me up to so much more. In late 2012, two of my videos went viral after I chose to publicly stand up for my friend, Whitney Kropp, who was being bullied at the high school I once attended. In 2015, I branched out further and started the Universal Journeys show with my beloved mentor and friend, Dr. Brenda L. Bates, who helped me find the confidence to explore activism and its connection to spirituality. Eventually, also in 2016, I was asked to partner with Outspeak, a YouTube network that would give me further opportunities to speak out on specific subjects centered around politics, depression, bullying, and LGBTQ issues. Shortly after that, my choice to reveal my survival of sexual assault on YouTube allowed me the opportunity to present at a national conference in Houston, TX themed around social justice. Most baffling of all, I was told upon meeting one of my biggest celebrity inspirations (Adam Lambert) that he recognized me from my videos. That showed me that what I say really does get out there. Now that I look back on how far I’ve come, I realize that the small choice of telling a story helped me heal in ways I would have never imagined. It helped me reclaim the voice I was robbed of in high school. It has revealed to me that I can take all of that pain and transform it into something more powerful: storytelling.

Storytelling isn’t always sitting around campfires reflecting on good times. Sometimes, it’s dumping a bucket of ice-cold water over ourselves. It puts out those old embers that burned in us for years and allows us to feel the refreshing chill of acceptance. I cannot begin to explain how much my family, friends, teachers, and followers have empowered me on this journey. All I can say is that I’ll continue to do this. I’ll continue to listen, speak out, share stories, and show people that even the most quiet, insecure, bullying survivor can find the voice he thought he never had.