Trans Hate Is Big Business. Kids Like Nex Benedict Are Dying as a Result

I have been thinking a lot about Nex Benedict, the 16-year-old transgender student who died on Feb. 8, a day after allegedly being assaulted in the restroom at Owasso High School in Oklahoma. Although Nex’s death is still being investigated, his grandmother has said he had been bullied in the past for his identity. (Though early reporting identified him as gender nonbinary, his close friends have since told NBC News that he identified as trans and preferred he/him pronouns.) His death has also drawn scrutiny to far-right influencers like Chaya Raichik, who runs the vehemently anti-LGBTQ account Libs of TikTok, and was recently appointed to the State Library board in Nex’s home state of Oklahoma. Benedict’s death prompted a city council member in Oklahoma to accuse Raichik and the school board of having “blood on [their] hands.” (On social media, Raichik has repeatedly denied fueling a culture of anti-LGBTQ hate and violence.)

In light of Nex’s death, I’ve been considering how a culture of online hate and conservative influencer culture contribute to a degradation of the safety of people like Nex and myself. As a public and out creator for the past many years on Vine, then Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, I have had a front-row seat for the evolving story of how online bullying culture contributes to offline violence against trans people. I have seen how my own personal life has been upended because of baseless accusations from conservative influencers.  

I am nonbinary, and I have always been gender-nonconforming. As a kid, I faced violence every day at school. As a young person, I remember how I wished my father could beat the queer out of me so that then I would be lovable. I also remember a deep feeling that no place was safe for me.

I have a vivid memory of one day in middle school, I was tripped and called a slur in our school bathroom. I hit the tile floor hard. I recall going down first onto my right kneecap; it stung and throbbed. My soul stung as well. I felt a hollowness in my chest — a deep loneliness. I sensed someone else was in the bathroom, and I looked up, searched the room for help. I locked eyes with my English teacher, who was standing at the sink. He was laughing at the scene in front of him. The hollowed-out feeling in my chest grew a little as I felt the weight of the shameful thought that the bullying was all my fault.

I have devoted my life and activism to making sure no one receives the treatment I did as a kid. I am well known on TikTok, and I have been an out nonbinary public figure for more than 10 years. I have two bestselling books, the second of which was named a Best Book of the Month by Apple Books. In my most viral video, which garnered over 30 million views, I simply said, “I can predict the future, and you’re going to be OK.” I hope to impart comfort and a deep sense of belonging and relief to anyone who was ever told there is something wrong with them. By embracing my queerness, I hope to teach that whatever a person is told to hide can be their gateway to freedom and their greatest contribution to the world. Through this viral message of kindness, I became the first nonbinary person to be interviewed on national TV in 2016.

Almost every right-wing influencer has targeted me. After one particularly cruel post from Libs of TikTok, I received a torrent of abhorrent social media mentions. One woman stitched my video and showed herself listening to me while she loaded a gun. That video received over 300,000 views before TikTok took the video down. I consistently receive death threats, and they are always more intense and more frequent after Raichik posts about me on Libs of TikTok. It all culminated last year, when the police came to my home to search for a bomb. All of this stems from my dual mission to help everyone hate themselves less and accept trans people more.

There is a clear connection between online bullying and offline threats. According to a recent study by the National Institute of Health, LGBTQ youth are more likely to experience anonymous forms of cyberbullying, and the cyberbullying they face is often an extension of offline bullying. But it is only recently that I have come to realize that for some accounts, cyberbullying is big business. With every trans person Raichik targets, her online following increases. Her current following on X is over 2.5 million, and she speaks at conservative events including CPAC in 2023, giving her immense credibility on the right. When she posts about me, I receive violent death threats, while her popularity grows. 

But it doesn’t stop there. Right-wing creators feed off each other in a crushing hate pipeline that churns trans danger into dollars. First, Libs of TikTok posts about me. Then Matt Walsh. Then Praeger U and other online outlets. And finally, if you are very unlucky, as I was in 2020, Fox News will “pick up” your story. Tucker Carlson played my TikTok on air. I needed to take numerous steps to conceal my identity and whereabouts on and offline. I could not sleep for many days, nor leave my home. My husband was supportive, but he also worried about my mental health as he attempted to support me through a truly difficult time. 


These outlets constantly stoke fear and prod their followers into subscribing and clicking on ads and buying their books and sending them donations. Conservative influencers endanger trans lives as their business model. NBC News recently reported that since November 2020, there have been 21 bomb threats at schools, hospitals, and other institutions shortly after one of Libs of TikTok’s posts. (Raichik denies she has had anything to do with these threats, saying in a tweet about the NBC News story, “this ‘b*mb threat’ narrative is really getting old.”) The violence that leads to the deaths of trans and nonbinary children like Nex Benedict happens while influencers like Raichik cash checks.

The business of trans hatred has affected me and my mission. And, of course, online conservative discourse contributes to trans people’s dehumanization, which in turn spurs violence against us. I can’t help but wonder if Nex would still be here, vibrant and alive, if conservative “influencers” didn’t paint a target on our backs with each attempt to gain more clicks.