‘No matter how low you feel, no matter how different you are, you are always valid.’
That is the message that YouTube star 16-year-old Matthew Tranconi is keen to spread, and he and his mum Joanne are living proof of it.
Matthew’s YouTube channel Clawdeena9 has amassed 110 million views since its launch four years ago. Fans love Matthew’s drag alter-ego, Clawdeena, and her make-up tutorials.
‘People say make-up is a superficial, fake type thing, but I feel like make-up is something that can be used to make you feel more comfortable with yourself… When I do drag, it’s an art. It’s me expressing a part of myself.’
Having realised he was gay at the age of 11, Matthew, from Florida, explains how he struggled to fit in. ‘My best friend was very, very masculine and would play football, play soccer, and I always felt like I had to compete with that. I tried to force myself to play basketball and play soccer and I just never liked it. It made me feel like I’m not good enough…and that made me really depressed.
‘I knew I was gay and accepted it, but my self-esteem was way down and it got to the point where I didn’t want to live any more.’
Having been dumped by a boyfriend, Matthew began self-harming, and attempted an overdose at 14. It was while in recovery that he learnt coping mechanisms to deal with anxiety and depression, and that he met his current boyfriend Bailey.
His YouTube fans have been the biggest boost to Matthew’s confidence. ‘It made me feel like I have a purpose – to help other people. To entertain people, to put a smile on their face even when they are down.’
And one of the people who Matthew has helped most is his own mum Joanne. Born with a birthmark covering one side of her face, when Joanne was 40 she slipped on ice and ended up with swelling on her face. It didn’t go down and she was finally diagnosed with Klippel-Trenaunay syndrome, which explains the abnormal tissue growth and birthmark.
‘Matthew and I are both different,’ says Joanne, ‘and yet we’re actually both the same.
‘When you’re out in the world and you don’t fit the mould – the Barbie cookie-cutter look people think you’re supposed to – you’re kind of ostracised. You’re not understood, you’re made to feel like you are not good enough.’
But with Matthew’s support, Joanne has faced her insecurities and appeared in his make-up videos.
Matthew hopes to go to beauty school and perform his own drag shows. ‘When I do drag, it’s still me but it’s a me that can be sassy and bitchy and rude,’ he says. ‘Honestly I feel very pretty and I feel like I can essentially do anything. When I do this, I get to really be whatever I want to be.’