For women on Twitch, appearing single has become a minefieldAugust 8, 2018
With rumpled bed sheets filling the frame behind him, a YouTuber unearths a digital trail of photographs, old forum posts, and messages. He is here to tell his audience about a transgression by a Twitch personality who, in his estimation, is taking advantage of her audience. It is a story as old as time: here is a woman, once again using her feminine wiles to trick men, and the men, fools that they are, can’t help but fall for it. Luckily, he is here to expose her deceit.
The video, which accuses Twitch streamer Amouranth of supposedly hiding her marital status to entice hopeful viewers into donating thousands of dollars to her, has been watched nearly 250,000 times, discussed and picked apart on social media, and inspired a bevy of news articles.
While Amouranth’s situation may seem like a bizarre isolated incident, many women on Twitch say that being on the platform means navigating complicated expectations from viewers, especially when it comes to relationships. Some viewers expect romantic availability from women streamers, or demand to know their relationship status before investing in them. Other times, viewers can cross a line and become possessive or entitled toward the women they watch on Twitch. Streamers, in turn, have to make tough decisions about how they present to their audience, and how much they decide to share when both concealing or disclosing their romantic relationship can come with a cost.
Amouranth, a streamer with 39 million views who is known for broadcasting in cosplay attire, denies that she is hiding anything from her audience. “People don’t donate to me because they think it improves their chances with me in some romantic way anymore than do people donate to large male streamers because they fantasize about a romantic engagement with Soda, Lirik or Ninja,” she tells The Verge.
Since the video has been released, Amourath says there’s been some fallout. “I have had seven unsolicited food deliveries (a popular way to harass streamers) and two unidentified people snooping around my residence after dark,” she continues. “I think the video creator should be held accountable for putting me in real physical danger.”
The YouTuber who put the first video up disputes that he is directly responsible for any of these violations, but also says that viewers have offered him all sorts of personal information on Amouranth — ranging from addresses to recorded phone conversations with family members — so it’s clear that people are digging into her private life in the aftermath of the video, even if not explicitly directed to do so.
Amourath’s woes are hardly unique within the context of fame. Audience obsession over the romantic lives of celebrities spans across popular media, whether there’s gossip about Drake’s latest fling or forensic investigations of the latest Taylor Swift album for evidence of new flames. Appearing sexually available is particularly important for some music idols abroad, who sometimes have contracts that do not allow them to date anyone for the sake of the fans. The fantasy this relationship ambiguity affords is effective, but it has also built up a type of celebrity fandom that feels entitled to an entertainer. With social media, and the illusion of intimacy it can create, that entitlement has only gotten worse. Social media might have created a new class of celebrity, but influencers still have to grapple with an audience that is hungry to learn more about the romantic lives of their favorite creators — typically without any of the support or riches that traditional celebrity begets.
Recently, Twitch’s biggest broadcaster, Ninja, revealed that he does not play Fortnite with women because he’s afraid that fans will take a small interaction out of context and start rumors about them dating. When big YouTubers break up, they often have to announce it to their audiences just to make sure nobody gets blamed and harassed for ending the relationship. On the more extreme end, live streamers like Ice Poseidon have even let viewers dictate who they’re romantically involved with, turning their personal lives into an interactive game.
Based on conversations with dozens of streamers, women in particular often struggle with how to present their romantic availability to viewers who expect a more intimate relationship than they would from Hollywood personalities. Twitch streamers, after all, invite fans into their bedrooms, banter with their audiences for hours on end, and often share details about their day-to-day lives. Much like women in service roles who have to suffer the advances of men who mistake work hospitality for romantic interest, the relationship between viewer and women streamers can quickly become more personal for a viewer than the broadcaster intends. When a man on Twitch is nice to a viewer, that’s typically that. When a woman is nice to a viewer, it can more often get misinterpreted as romantic interest or availability, which viewers claim leads to more donations.
“As streamers, people get to know us and our personalities as we play games and through our social media,” said variety Twitch streamer Miss Leshkee. “They may feel connected to us on a personal level because they will go and follow all my offline social media and hang out in my Discord. For the people that grow feelings for a streamer, there are some that don’t have the courage to express their feelings, or others that have this impression that our kindness, humor, etc is us sharing feelings back.”
It’s a hard needle to thread, because while many streamers might erect walls between themselves and their viewers, being authentic and letting people in — or at least appearing to do so — is a key part of many brands on Twitch.
One streamer I spoke to, Button Mash Vixen, says she is forthcoming about her sexuality and relationships on Twitch because she hopes that it will help her LGBT+ fans find a safe space to talk about their identities. “That helped me, knowing that I wasn’t the only one fighting a small amount [of people] in society with hate in their soul,” she says. “Seeing someone I admired be so open, was the straw that broke the camel’s back where I couldn’t hide it anymore. In a way, I feel like I’m paying it forward by trying to create a similar instance. Even if it’s just one person, that’s one person fighting one less demon as much.”
While Button Mash Vixen doesn’t think that a streamer is obligated to tell people about their relationship status, she has experienced the occasional viewer who mistakes her frankness for romantic availability.
“They’re the ones that hardly add to the conversation,” Button Mash said. “They’ll do nothing but compliment you ‘You’re so fine.’ ‘What a beautiful smile…’ ‘I’d love to be the one to ruin that lipstick.’” While most female streamers I spoke to stressed that viewers who cross boundaries tend to be in the minority, nearly everyone has grappled with this phenomenon in one way or another, or have heard of people who have.
Their relationship status can either influence how open they are during their streams, or how their viewers interact with them. “I notice that when I’m single, viewers are much more interested in my life and things that are going on with me,” said Twitch streamer Cahlaflour. “You have a lot more people trying to turn it into a dating site. When my community knew that I was going through a break up when I first started streaming my DM’s got ridiculous with people wanting to comfort me and get closer.”
Cahlaflour claims that she later tried keeping her personal life private, but it didn’t actually stop the behavior. She described it as a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation.
“I was getting way more people trying to reach out in DM’s and even had an ex moderator of mine that started trying to dig into my personal life for more information,” she said. “He tried to ‘expose me’ to others because I never talked about my relationship and he seemed to think that was wrong and wanted to out me. After that I decided to make it public that I have a boyfriend to try to discourage the people reaching out and making unwanted advances.”
Occasionally, Twitch streamers find that disclosing their relationship status helps weed out people who are there for the wrong reasons.
“Once I announced I was in a relationship or made it clear that I wasn’t single on social media, the individuals who seemed to have a different agenda don’t stop by anymore, they unsubscribed, and don’t really talk to me anymore,” Miss Leshkee said. “Some have even left my Discord and unfollowed me on social media. I can tell you that none have ever talked to me outside of Twitch and my stream so I can only assume this is the reason they no longer stop by.”
Others find that telling viewers their relationship status doesn’t necessarily stop advances. “More often than not, people will still hit on me even after I tell them I’m not single,” said Twitch streamer Endless Skye. “People that are going to creep will creep regardless of your relationship status, I’ve found.” Endless Sky told The Verge that while most of her viewers are respectful, she generally doesn’t talk about her relationship status on Twitch because she doesn’t consider it “relevant” to her content.
“I don’t hide the fact that I am married (if someone asks then I will say “yes”) I do have a firm boundary between my personal life and my twitch life,” Endless Skye said. “I feel like it’s a slippery slope mixing the two together so I just prefer to keep it separate from business.”
While some casters may begin on Twitch without disclosing their status, experiences on the platform sometimes change their minds. One self-care Twitch streamer I spoke to, Jessica Richey, told me that she initially hid her relationship because seasoned casters advised her to do so, and because early fan interactions scared her.
“I had one viewer, after my fiance (at the time) came home and rubbed my shoulders, ask if that was my partner,” she recounted. “When a few regular, loyal viewers affirmed the question, the first viewer got upset and said I was leading people on by not being upfront about my relationship status (it just didn’t come up when that viewer was in the live chat.) I hid it out of fear afterwards of pushing potential viewers away after that encounter.”
Nowadays, Richey is more upfront about her marriage, and simply bans jerks who go too far in her Twitch chat. “I felt like I was hiding a huge part of my life that I love, and it felt disingenuous to my viewers, and disrespectful of my husband.”
Many streamers described different levels of comfort regarding what they share on stream. Sometimes, being in a relationship presents a content opportunity for couples who don’t mind performing parts of their relationship for the camera. But others fear that being too open could betray the trust of people they care about. Even so, most streamers can’t forego personal details altogether — and some don’t want to.
“Romantic relationships are a huge part of life and I’ve always wanted to introduce boyfriends to my community the same way I’d introduce a new partner to a group of friends,” says Twitch partner Meghan Kaylee. Regardless, she said, “it’s very important to ensure that you have private, intimate moments that exist only between you and your significant other, to keep those elements of the relationship special.”
Still, Kaylee found that after she broke up with a particular boyfriend, she felt she had to put out a statement to her community explaining some of what had happened. That way, she reasoned, she wouldn’t have to explain her ex’s sudden disappearance from the stream. A vocal minority wanted her to share more than she was willing to, which was uncomfortable, but some good still came out of it.
“I had a viewer who went through a hard breakup shortly after I did, and I felt that I was able to give them good advice that they perceived as genuine because they knew I had recently gone through something similar,” Kaylee said. “Sharing the ups and downs of your life shows your audience that you are real and genuine, just as they are. It makes it easier to connect with them on a personal level.”
Others deal with nosy viewers in a lighthearted way, rebuffing advances jokingly while reminding fans of their particular boundaries. One culinary-focused streamer, Cooking For Noobs, actually has a section in her profile that denotes her relationship status.
“New male viewers will join the stream, see my info section where it states, ‘Relationship Status: Happily Married”, and leave after making a comment like, ‘Oh, she’s married. Abort’, or ‘She’s married, I’m leaving!’, As if the fact that I’m married changes my content at all,” she said. “It’s very unlikely even a single streamer is going to have a relationship with a viewer anyway, but it’s almost like they need that possibility to be open for them to enjoy the stream more. For them, it’s no fun to watch a stream of a happily married woman… I knew this would be the case when I first started, that I would likely get less support, but I think in some ways, I’m more supported by people who value and respect solid relationships.”
Whether or not appearing single presents an “unfair” advantage, as anything involving women on Twitch, is subject to much debate. Historically, however, the biggest and most successful streamers on Twitch are men, not women — so statistically speaking, men are the most likely recipients of donations even as women like Amouranth amass donations in the thousands. Twitch does not collect gender stats for any accounts, but ultimately, it’s absurd to critique women over men’s inability to keep their thirst in check.
As a society, the worth of women is constantly conflated with their appearance, but then many become affronted at the idea that women would use this to their advantage: that would be impure, immoral, even when viewers cross the line or demand emotional labor. It seems easier to crucify women for using something in their toolset than to dismantle the superficial culture that puts them in that position in the first place, or to socialize men to realize that a likable woman doing her job is not necessarily looking for romance. While there are undoubtedly women on the platform who believe being single leads to more donations, others end up harassed or uncomfortable regardless of whether or not they disclose their status — or they might forego disclosure for a wider variety of reasons than wanting more money.
It’s been over a month since Amourath was “exposed” for supposedly hiding a marriage, but her stream soldiers on as always. On a July afternoon, there are nearly 2,000 excited fans tuning in, seemingly not dissuaded by any revelations about her so-called motivations. For all the controversy surrounding Amouranth’s provocative nature as a sexy cosplayer on Twitch, not a single person in the chat mentions her appearance while I watch. Before long, the question of whether or not she’s single comes back up. She scoffs, and tells her viewers that any rumors floating around are based on old screenshots that no longer reflect her status. “Fake news!” she laughs into the mic as viewers flood the chat with emotes of Donald Trump. The moment passes, and soon she’s dancing for a cheering audience once more.