We interviewed YouTuber Riyadh Khalaf about his experiences with bullying, his new TV series and what it was like coming out to his parents
DtL: Hi Riyadh! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Riyadh: Hey, I’m Riyadh. I’m an Irish guy who moved to London earlier this year to focus on my career and personal growth. I’m a YouTube content creator and Documentary filmmaker with BBC.
DtL: Have you ever experienced bullying?
Riyadh: As a kid, I experienced a lot of bullying, both on and offline. The first experiences of this were on the school playground where I was called a whole list of cruel names and it made feel like an outcast.
The trolling online began when I decided to set up my YouTube channel at the age of 16. I was making videos for about nine months when I began receiving daily death threats and multiple abusive comments about my mannerisms, voice and appearance. I went to the police to make a statement but they just told me to stop making videos and the comments would stop. I went offline for seven years and then decided about 18 months ago to make a return to the site that I loved so much.
“I began receiving daily death threats and multiple abusive comments”
Since my return, I have seen an unbelievable wave of love and support that overshadows any trolling I get. The reason I came back to YouTube is because with age and wisdom through my teenage years I grew a tough skin and the ability to not care anymore. The most important thing to me is my happiness and if I am not creating content then I am not happy. I began to flip the negative comments into a positive by using them for funny ‘Reading Mean Comments’ videos which my viewers love. I take the cruel and uncalled for hate and make fun of it, I troll the troll or make frivolous remarks about the comment which in turn takes the power and sting away from the hateful words. I do it for fun but also to empower others to see that these words can be dangerous and incredibly hurtful but if you have the right believe in yourself and self-loving attitude, then you can tackle them.
“I take the cruel and uncalled for hate and make fun of it”
In school, I just battled through my bullying on my own. I had little or no support from friends or teachers when it was at its worst. I didn’t realise just how anxious, sad and lost I was at the time because those feelings just became my new normal. I found happiness and a safe space in my own home with my parents who became my best friends.
DtL: What advice would you give to those that are being bullied?
Riyadh: Speak up if you’re being harassed or bullied. Ask the person why they are doing it, tell them the effect it is having on you and if they still don’t stop then seek help from a person in power – A teacher, parent, someone who you trust. Suffering in silence and just ‘putting up’ with it as I did is never a good thing. It will eventually make you afraid of the world and worried about every person you speak to.
What you need to realise is that there are millions of people in this country and all over the world who are silently supporting you and on your side. You are never alone. It’s just about reaching out and finding one of those people who can help you take some steps to stopping the bullying.
Sometimes all it takes is a dose of reality for those that bully to understand the impact of their actions and therefore stop. Some cannot be spoken to and that’s just a reality of life but once again, this is not a battle you have to fight alone or should feel embarrassed asking for help in. Teachers and elders are there to assist you but they can’t help unless they know what is going on.
DtL: Do you have a coming out story? If so can you share it with us?
Riyadh: My coming out story began with me coming out to myself and being comfortable with my sexuality.
It took me about four years to build up the courage to begin telling friends and family. My mother was great about it and supported me. She was mainly upset that I had been holding it in for so long.
I came out to my dad nine months after my mother and initially he was fine but the following days he broke down and was incredibly upset. He is Iraqi and although not a practicing Muslim he had a lot of worries about what other people would think. He was having a lot of difficulties coming to terms with it. My dad recently admitted that he was considering suicide the night after I came out. It was heartbreaking to hear as you can imagine.
“My dad recently admitted that he was considering suicide the night after I came out. It was heartbreaking to hear as you can imagine”
In the months following this household drama my father began to relax and take time to learn what being gay means. We worked hard as a family to repair the broken relationships and learn to love again. My dad came with me to Pride and I can vividly remember seeing him have an ‘ah ha!’ moment. He saw how beautiful, open and loving our community was and he felt proud that his son was part of it. He embraced me and told me he loved me. Since then both my parents have been to multiple Pride events, have marched in marriage equality rallies and have appeared in multiple TV documentaries about the LGBTQ+ community. I am incredibly lucky to have them!
DtL: What are the best and worst things about being a YouTube sensation?
Riyadh: Hahaha I would use the term sensation lightly!
I love being my own boss and having 100% creative freedom in all that I do. I don’t have to run any ideas or concepts past anyone – I can just make it! I get the joy of travelling the world for work and making friends in every new location I land. I really couldn’t ask for a better job.
On the downside, it can have an impact on your mental health and anxiety as you worry about the performance of your channel and videos wondering if it is dying and if you need to change things constantly. This is why I make sure to step away from the computer and phone a lot and give myself some digital breathing space.
DtL: If you could go back in time, what one thing would you tell your younger self?
Riyadh: “Riyadh, it’s all going to be ok in the end” or “Work hard, love hard, surround yourself with great people and never let anyone tell you something is impossible”.
DtL: What has been your proudest moment so far?
Riyadh: My proudest moment was getting the chance to publicly campaign for equal marriage in Ireland. I was one of the faces of young Ireland and the ‘Yes’ vote. I worked for months campaigning on national and international media including BBC, CNN and MSNBC then standing with thousands of Irish LGBT’s at Dublin Castle as the result was read out. It was the most amazing experience of my life.
Riyadh on sexuality: “You are not sick, you are not shameful, you are just human”
DtL: What does the future hold for Riyadh?
Riyadh: I’m working on a BBC Three documentary series about LGBTQ culture and issues in the UK including homelessness, racism, body image, femme shaming, porn and more. It’s a dream come true to be making documentaries with BBC and something I’ve wanted to do for countless years.
Beyond this I hope to continue growing my channel, begin working more in entertainment TV and eventually, one day have my own talk show! I have hope! 🙂
DtL: What advice would you give to those who may be struggling to come to terms with their sexuality?
Riyadh: Look into yourself and take away all of the societal, media and family ‘norms’ and expectations. When you have removed all of those external pressures, what do you feel? Who are you drawn to? What is your heart saying?
You are not sick, you are not shameful, you are just human. Go online and find others like you. Speak to like-minded people and begin to truly love yourself and your identity. Then and only then should you consider telling the people around you in my opinion. Your future is bright but it is brighter when you are free!