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Heart to heart with Laci Green

My coffee meeting with the millennial YouTube star, sex ed celebrity, and social justice warrior

Heart to heart with Laci Green

(lacigreen.tv/youtube)

An agnostic, liberal YouTube celebrity and a conservative evangelical journalist walked into a Mexican coffee shop in Los Angeles and did the seemingly impossible: They sat down and had a two-hour, civilized discussion about religion, politics, and sex.

I (the journalist) had asked Laci Green (the YouTuber) out for an interview, but I warned her that my publication is Christian. The meeting would be more like a casual conversation, I told her—one that I hoped would challenge perspectives.

“Great!” she chirped. “We have that in common.”

By the time we met in person, I had watched a dozen of her YouTube videos, so I recognized her at once—the wavy dark-blond hair, the heart-shaped face, the black-rimmed glasses, the bright lipstick. She was as perky and self-assured as she is in her videos, with gleaming smiles and vivid facial expressions made to be on camera.

As a kid, Green was fascinated by the miracle of life. She decorated her room with diagrams of human cells and plastic models of human anatomy. At 8 years old, she sat in the corner of the public library, pretending to read children’s books while instead reading all she could about how babies were created.

Now 29, Green has made a career out of satisfying her curiosities about human sexuality: Her YouTube channel, in which she discusses all things sex from hymens to BDSM to sexual assault, has almost 1.5 million subscribers. She has worked with MTV, Discovery Channel, and Planned Parenthood to provide “sex positive” sex education via web series, panels, and lectures on college campuses. In 2016, Time named her one of the 30 most influential people on the internet and called her a “millennial Dr. Ruth.”

Clearly, Green sees the world differently from most conservative Christians. She’s a pro-abortion, pro-LGBT feminist who identifies as bisexual and believes sexuality is “diverse, expansive, and worth celebrating.” I, on the other hand, believe that women are equal to men but have complementary gender roles, that abortion is morally wrong, and that sex should be reserved for marriage, a sacred covenant between a man and a woman.

lacigreen.tv/youtube

(lacigreen.tv/youtube)

But we also have similarities: We’re both nerdy millennial women who were raised in religious households, and we’re both willing to hear opposing views. During our conversation over coffee, it became clear that we shared a common desire for community, purpose, and goodness—yet somehow we ended up on divergent paths.

Green grew up in a devout Mormon family in Portland, Ore., and Sacramento, Calif. Her father, an immigrant from Iran, was a Muslim before he converted to Mormonism and married the Mormon woman who became Green’s mother. Some of Green’s fondest childhood memories revolve around the Mormon religion: She remembers fun activities and Book of Mormon stories every Sunday and Wednesday night; arts, crafts, and archery classes at summer camp; and close friendships with other families in her ward.

Her views about Mormonism shifted once she turned 12: Suddenly, girls and boys weren’t allowed to be in the same classes anymore. While boys held leadership positions in the congregation and prepared for priesthood, girls learned to babysit, cook, and sew. Green also began doubting Mormon teachings, such as the stories about Joseph Smith and his golden plates and the angel Moroni. She couldn’t reconcile the supernatural elements with the science and history classes at school. She was also developing crushes on both boys and girls, which confused her, and she blamed her Mormon congregation’s emphasis on sexual purity for creating shame and hate toward her body and sexual desires. When her mother tried to talk to her about sex, Green felt so ashamed that she verbally lashed out and kicked her mother out of her room. 

Of course, such internal conflict is common among many young adults, not just Mormons. I had my own struggles as a missionary’s kid who was expected at a young age to meet certain spiritual and moral standards. In my case, I turned inward to a prison of self-criticism. Green turned to YouTube.

Though she didn’t feel safe sharing her skepticism with her real-life community, Green felt comfortable turning on the webcam and rambling her thoughts and feelings to a virtual community. Her first video was about Westboro Baptist Church and its anti-gay protests: If God is all-loving, how can believers do such a hateful thing? To her surprise, people watched her videos and agreed with her. 

“I finally found people who made me feel like I’m not crazy,” Green told me. “For a long time, I had wondered if there was something everyone was seeing that I wasn’t seeing.”

That was 2008, when Green was 18. People were still carrying Motorola flip phones and Blackberries without shame. YouTube wasn’t yet the huge, money-generating platform it is now, on which kids as young as 7 make millions of dollars creating endless video content. Green never intended to become an internet celebrity. She began video blogging simply because she desired a safe community where she could process her falling-out-of-faith journey.

2008 was also the year I discovered blogging as a 21-year-old college dropout recovering from anorexia. I first logged on desperately seeking a community that understood my personal demons. Like Green, I used the online platform to digest the faith I grew up swallowing: If God is all-loving, why does He allow me to suffer? If God is all-powerful, why doesn’t He heal me instantly? I knew what my parents taught me about God—but who was this God to me?

Both Green and I had intellectual and theological questions, but the emotions that drove us to those questions were deeply personal, tinged with loneliness and isolation. For whatever reason, we landed at opposite conclusions: She decided God didn’t exist and that organized religion is oppressive, judgmental, and hypocritical. I decided that though doctors could treat my body and therapists could treat my mind, I had no power even to desire treatment without the grace of God.

Laci Green had embraced left-wing activists thinking they were tolerant, open-minded folks. Instead, she witnessed the same qualities for which she had fled Mormonism: ‘I can’t help but see this as another religious zealotry.’

For better or worse, we found an audience willing to listen. Green began attracting up to 50,000 views per video. She used her burgeoning platform to champion issues such as transgender rights, abortion, and sexism, solidifying her identity as an atheist, feminist, social justice warrior (SJW). Sometimes she missed the close-knit Mormon community (“There was always a sense that you’ll be taken care of if things went off the rails”), but she enjoyed having a community of people who shared her worldview.

While a student at the University of California, Berkeley, Green shifted to vlogging about sex education. Rather than promoting abstinence, her idea was to make sex ed fun, approachable, and “sex positive.” At the time, nobody else online was talking seriously about topics such as body image, sexual identity, and female pleasures. Her videos drew intimate emails from young viewers: Is it normal that my body does this? How do I come out to my parents? Some emails alluded to abusive relationships: Is it normal for my boyfriend to treat me like this? Green says she always pointed the girls to professional resources.

My blog had its own loyal (but smaller) following. Unsurprisingly, the majority of my readers were fellow young women struggling with eating disorders. Some sent me essay-length emails, and one teenage girl began calling me unni—an endearing Korean term for “older sister.” 

I found these interactions to be exhilarating at first. Suddenly, my meaningless suffering had a purpose: to encourage others in the same struggles. But over time, I felt more helpless than empowered. I was just another broken girl, leaning on God to pick up my pieces, and it made me uncomfortable that these young girls were looking to me as their savior.

Meanwhile, Green was at the peak of her YouTube career, making enough money to help pay her college tuition. She was also depressed and miserable. After graduation, she was on the road most days of the year, touring from school to school giving lectures, posting videos once a week, and dealing with constant criticism. The more popular she became, the more internet trolls she attracted—mostly angry men who called her sexually degrading names or sent her threats.

In 2012, with the online outrage culture in full bloom, people sent Green death threats and images of her home for using the word “tranny” in one of her older videos. During her speaking engagements, people occasionally threw objects at her or surrounded her to berate her. She was a favorite target of anti-SJW YouTubers who encouraged millions of followers to mock her, but oftentimes the outrage came from fellow liberal feminists. Gone were the days when she could semi-improvise her videos—now she was preparing a script and obsessing over every potentially offensive word. Gradually, Green retreated: She still posted videos but no longer was as vulnerable or open, and she dreaded logging on to YouTube. The internet was no longer her safe space. 

Over time, Green says, she realized, “This is not what I signed up for. This is not fun anymore.” In 2017, as she considered quitting social media, Green decided she needed to do one last thing, something she hoped would allow her to forgive her detractors and move on: She contacted the right-wing critics who had made her life miserable and asked to meet up. They all said yes.

Kimberly White/Getty Images

Green at a 2015 event, sponsored by Trojan, that encouraged UC Berkeley students to take a pledge to support sexual consent on campus. (Kimberly White/Getty Images)

In March 2017, Green appeared in a livestream video with Blaire White—a right-wing, Trump-supporting, transgender activist—to talk about feminism and trans issues. Two weeks later, Green posted a video announcing she’d been engaging with people who held alternate opinions and that she was willing to adjust her beliefs as she considered new viewpoints. She also began dating Chris Ray Gun, an anti-feminist YouTuber who had criticized Green in the past.

To the SJW crowd, she might as well be frolicking with the devil. Incensed left-wingers accused Green of embracing anti-feminism and of betraying her marginalized allies. Green soon lost many friends—real-life friends who had traveled with her and taken selfies with her at conferences. They unfriended her on Facebook, sent her vulgar text messages, and publicly disavowed her on social media. 

It was an immensely painful experience, one that made Green realize she might not want to identify with left-wing activists anymore. She had embraced that group thinking they were tolerant, open-minded folks. Instead, she witnessed the same qualities for which she had fled Mormonism. “I can’t help but see this as another religious zealotry,” she said.

“I think you got a glimpse of human nature,” I suggested as we sat over coffee.

Green tilted her head and pondered. “Hmm … perhaps, maybe, maybe. What do you mean?”

I explained that self-glorification and self-righteousness are inherently parts of human nature. It doesn’t matter whether we’re in church or not, we can’t escape our own human nature.

Green nodded: “OK, fair point. I agree with you. And I’d add that social media cranks that up.”

I had noticed the toxicity of social media in my five years of blogging as well. I was part of the food blogging community, but even there, I witnessed vicious gossiping, jealousy, and pettiness—and participated in some ways that I now regret. Also, my blog had become a form of idolatry for me: I was spending an extraordinary amount of time on it, and the page views I scored and the comments I received stoked both my pride and my insecurities. 

So in 2013, I deleted my blog. It had served its purpose, helping me recover from anorexia and giving me a public space to remember God’s grace during the hardest period of my life. But God was calling me into the real world.

Green says she’s ready for the real world as well. Currently, she’s back in school to become an advanced practice clinician. She hasn’t posted a video on YouTube in six months, or tweeted in four months, and says she has softened her once-militant positions on many issues: “I’ve just accepted that our world is too complex, and some problems just don’t have obvious solutions.”

I asked if her views on God have also shifted. Green said she’s still not religious, but no longer describes herself as an atheist: “I guess technically, I’m agnostic, because I don’t think I can know everything.”

I then asked if she knows Christians who pray for her. 

Green hesitated: “Some people do say they pray for me, and I used to think it was so condescending. I guess it depends on what they’re praying for.”

“What if they’re genuinely praying for your soul?” I asked.

She smiled: “Well, then I find that sweet, and I accept that as a gesture of love and compassion.”

Sophia Lee

Sophia Lee

Sophia is a features reporter for WORLD Magazine. She graduated from the University of Southern California with degrees in print journalism and East Asian language and culture. She lives in Los Angeles with her cat, Shalom. Follow Sophia on Twitter @SophiaLeeHyun.

Comments

  •  West Coast Gramma's picture
    West Coast Gramma
    Posted: Wed, 05/22/2019 01:24 pm

    Re: Coffee with Laci Green

    Sophia, this article is so awesome! Your approach exemplifies the attitudes a loving, mature conservative Christian should always display. Number one: you were able to TALK with the so-called "enemy" in a kind, rational, vulnerable, explorative, and nonjudgmental way that uncovered a common humanity and similar experiences. You were able to search for the human Christ died for without resorting to ugly, highly charged rhetoric. And in your article you commended Staci for approaching her conversation with you in the same manner that you approached yours with her. It doesn't sound like either of you were out to score "points" over the other, nor were you aiming to tear down or win the other over. How I so wish that reader comments expressed in World's Comments section  would reflect to a higher degree the model of conversation that you just deomonstrated. If only our politicians could meet the other party in the same way as well. Thanks!

  • sllange0126
    Posted: Wed, 05/22/2019 04:17 pm

    Thank you so much for modeling in this article the kind of respectful engagement with our neighbor that we Christians need to be willing to do. Without compromising the truth of Scripture, you showed genuine interest in someone whose beliefs are very different, even diametrically opposed to yours. You didn't view her as a "project." You saw her as your neighbor and loved her as such. My appreciation also goes to Laci for her respectful engagement with you and her willingness to listen, even as you were willing to listen to her. Especially in today's cultural environment, when so many people have bought in to the lie that to disagree is to be hateful, we need more examples of this. Thank you both!

  • Rick
    Posted: Thu, 05/23/2019 01:38 am

    Sophia, you rock!  I love your transparency and your willingness to get out of your comfort zone to learn, explore and report.  Keep it up!

  • TY
    Posted: Sun, 05/26/2019 08:21 am

    This is the kind of civility that respects those who hold different views by face to face, treat-others-like-humans, that our country needs to hear more reporting on! May this one go viral for all the best reasons! 

  • Susan Soesbe
    Posted: Mon, 05/27/2019 12:59 pm

    Two thumbs up for respectful, civil... dare I say, loving? ...dialogue!

    Thank you, Sophia.

  • Kingdomnetworker's picture
    Kingdomnetworker
    Posted: Thu, 05/30/2019 09:54 pm

    Who will join Sophia in praying for Laci Green and others like her?

  • Scot
    Posted: Tue, 06/04/2019 06:34 pm

    Great story.  We need more listening and understanding while standing firm on the truth.  

    Good stuff Sophia.