Categories
Episodes

Episode 17: An Interview with TJ Konesky

Poised for a comeback, TJ Konesky reflects on the past couple years. TJ’s public life is not about sex, but this interview uncovers how gender and sexuality norms can influence all parts of life.

TJ Konesky is about to make a comeback in 2022. In this interview we talk about some of the challenges he has experienced in his life recently, and how he has learned and grown over the past couple years.

This episode is not explicitly about sex, but it explores ways that gender and sexual norms can influence all aspects of life. TJ talks about online harassment, coming out, and finding meaningful connections in the face of ostracism and exclusion.

You can find out more about TJ Konesky on his personal website, his main YouTube channel or by exploring his other socials and channels.

(Transcript)

My interview today is not explicitly about sex, but I’m going to be talking with a young man who has experienced harassment, issues with identity, masculinity, sexuality, in the context of other parts of his life. So I encourage you to pay attention, obviously to what’s going on in the interview, but also the subtones. The areas where sexuality, gender, and identity sort of play into the larger picture of identity and of life in general.

So, the interview today is with TJ Konesky, who is a sport stacker, training for American Ninja Warrior, has quite a few YouTube channels, but I’ll let him get into all the details. So without further ado, here is TJ.

Thank you for having me here. Anyway, for those who don’t know, my name is TJ Konesky. I’m 20 years old, I’m currently working as a bagger at a grocery store, and also, I’m from Fairfield, Ohio. I was born in Detroit, Michigan, from 2001 to 2007, but moved to Fairfield, Ohio, from 2008 to current, 2021.

I’m also a YouTuber who does sport stacking, gaming, covers, reviews, Tik Tok videos, reaction videos, Creative Mario Brothers and Friends channel which is plush videos, and Ninja Warrior training videos. And I also have goals to achieve, and my dreams to achieve those dreams, for 2022.

TJ

So I first learned about you from your sport stacking work, a number of years ago. And you started that when you were pretty young, right? I don’t remember exactly how old you were, but, you got a lot of exposure—publicity—as a younger person. What was that like?

Kenneth

I remember doing those videos at a very young age. It’s such a nostalgia for how long I’ve been doing videos, and think I’ve kept it going in my head, and I’ve let it go. I would basically do something different. I’m still a YouTuber to this very day. And here I am, I’m still doing it.

TJ

Yeah, so, what was that like?

Kenneth

Um, I was not completely nervous. I knew what I had in mind. I was super into it. Like if you’re super into acting, you get into acting. You start taking acting classes. You need to get noticed. If you’re a voice actor, you need to do it. You need to read those lines slowly and carefully and do it perfectly, and you may get the role—be the character you want to achieve.

But I never get nervous, but some of the time I have to take deep breaths and go slowly and make sure I do not mess up and make sure I do not, basically, f up the whole stacking…. I would basically slow down and do two warmups and be patient and keep an eye on my hand-eye coordination, and basically add to a different rhythm or a different ability to do what I wanted to do.

TJ

One thing that I remember from one of the first times I saw you performing—stacking—was that one of the announcers introduced you and totally messed up your name. A was thinking, if that were me—I was imagining, because people have messed up my name too—if I were in that position that would be so embarrassing to me. Do you remember that happening? It’s probably happened more than once.

Kenneth

This is what people get really—this is what people get confused about how people always say my name. If they mess up my name, I would just remind them, “it’s TJ Konesky, K-o-n-e-s-k-y.” But I remember, at that time in Dallas, 2016, I was a model at the time, trying to get to The Walking Dead. It was, um, I was doing my thing, and the announcer said TJ Cone-sky or Ty Cone-sky… or TJ Konesky. I don’t let that affect me because if people want to read my name or say my name in a polite way or in a right way, I would just let them know about what my name is in the right way. I would basically say “TJ Konesky, K-o-n-e-s-k-y” and that way they would know my name. But I would not let that affect me every time. If I heard people say my name the wrong way, I would say, “oh man,” in my head, but not directly at them. No way.

TJ

Yeah, he didn’t even ask to learn what your name. I guess it’s his fault if he didn’t get it right, but, I…

Kenneth

[laughs] It’s not his fault.

TJ

It’s—yeah. I don’t know. I think the way you handled it, just by sort of ignoring it and not letting it bother you, that would be kind of the same thing that I would have done. But at the same time, you know, on the inside, I definitely would have felt like, “oh, that’s super embarrassing.” I wish—

Kenneth

Yeah, right.

I would say your name is “Kenneth.”

TJ

Yeah, just skip the last name. Then you don’t have to worry about how to pronounce it. [laughs]

Anyway, you mentioned a lot of the stuff you’re doing on social media, too: the YouTube, and gaming, voice acting channels, and covers. Um, Brony videos, American Ninja Warrior, um … it seems like you must be really busy doing all this work. What motivates you to spend so much time to do stuff that’s sort of public? Where people are watching you?

Kenneth

Um, it’s basically because I just want to expand different channels. If I want to do sport stacking on my main channel, I want to do that. If I were to do gaming videos, I want to do gaming. Voice acting, on my voice acting channel. Covers, or maybe lip sync covers and or mashups on my fourth channel, I would do it. And I would do it just to expand different editing and different vocal and different singing—basically add different elements to the channels. That way I would be a different YouTuber.

I’m still a sport stacker, don’t get me wrong. Sport stacking has been a good sport. It’s been a sport to my heart, to my head. But I wanted to do something very different. And my motivation for me expanding into ten different channels, is basically to edit, upload, and move to the next. That’s the mantra, if that makes sense.

TJ

So, are you doing it more for yourself, because you just like doing it? Or is it the things you are able to do for other people? Or is it the maybe the feedback you get from people, the comments? What’s the best part about doing all this work?

Kenneth

I think reading the comments—the positive comments to be exact—really brings a lot of feedback because they wanted to see me do better. They wanted me to improve. They wanted me to see how fast I am with sport stacking; they wanted to see how improved I was with my gaming, voice acting, covers, etc.

TJ

This is totally off subject, but… I just wanted to show you this. So I am pretending to be all nice, but it is still Pandemic here, so we’ve got fluffy kitty and gray sweatpants. So…

Kenneth

[laughs] I saw that kitty there. I saw that kitty!

TJ
a fluffy cat perched on a carpeted platform, looking pensively out the window.

[laughs] You saw the kitty! So, anyway, we’re still being professional even if we’re at home with the cats.

Um, so, yeah, you like the comments, you like the feedback. And there’s a lot of people out there who support you. Um, not all positive though. You’ve gotten some haters, some negative comments. And that can be frustrating. Tell me how that’s been, especially recently, over the past year or two.

Kenneth

Um. I would say those negative comments were not as good as I thought it would be. Because, it just drains me down so much. Like, physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. I did not know if that was directed at me, but I do know that a lot of people who are not interested in what I do because—people are going to keep bringing up stuff that I did from the years that I caused. And people will always say “your videos suck and your videos trash. You need to stop uploading and get a life.” In reality I do have a job, I do have a job that comes with actual money. And I just want to do something for the positive people who are really interested in my videos, interested in my content, and what I really wanted to do. But if people are just going to say “your videos suck” that would basically—I’m not really good with the negative, with the hate and the doubts. Because it’s really hard to ignore it when it keeps on happening and keeps on happening. It’s like a carbonara effect. It keeps going over and over again, repeating itself like an endless loop. And I never understood how much those negative comments kept going.

But like what Michael Green (Kid Behind a Camera) says, if you’re to get a start on YouTube, you’re going to deal with some haters. And there’s going to be different types of haters. There’s going to be people just not liking the video and commenting on it, or people that don’t like you and just post negatively about you and want you to fail and suffer and not have a happy life. Or basically make a channel or a different social media platform and basically make a profit off of someone’s hard work. If you get what I mean.

TJ

Yeah. So, part of what you do that you mentioned is with the Brony community, with the—you make videos about that, and you react to other videos, stuff like that. And I’m wondering, to me it seems that being part of that community is sort of like being queer. Because it’s something that’s not—not something that’s common for a guy to be involved in. It seems more either a girl thing or, just a, you know…. Am I on track? Do you get people thinking you’re weird for being involved in that?

Kenneth

Uh, I get that maybe a little bit, at that time when I kinda got involved with the show, ever since that video of total drama action in MLP where the diamond dogs made rarity cry and—the character from total drama action. Um, then I went to watch different Brony videos and plush videos. I ended up watching dewilsonator’s videos and lightning fox and key frame and so forth and so on.

I just already had that thought in my head that I wanted to be with them, and I wanted to be just like them. But now with this year coming to an end, 2021, I always get people saying that I’m weird or I’m just being too cringey or just acting like I’m all over the place. It’s really hard to explain, and it’s hard to think when you’re having that much idea. Or if you’re basically into that idea. When you bring that idea to someone else, when they don’t know what that idea is, then I have to explain it, when again it’s really hard to explain it and think about that idea, [even] when I came up with it in my head.

But being a Brony is not something that people always wanted to be in. And of course, people wanted to say, “if you’re a Brony you need to stop being a man-child.” That’s what people always say. But if I were them, I would basically ignore it. Like that one announcer guy who misspelled my name. I would ignore it. But if someone said, “if you’re a Brony you’re a man-child,” I would ignore it. But when people say that directly at me, I would ignore it in my head, but it would make me be like, “why would someone have to be so cruel? So crude?” If you get what I mean.

TJ

Yeah, ok.

So, there might be some confusion that the people that are part of this community, and especially with the pony artwork, there might be some overlap with the furry community. Um, which is often more sexualized. And so I’m wondering, what’s the difference between the two, and to what extent does that sexualization actually come into it?

Kenneth

I think it’s a big difference. The only thing that the Brony fandom and the furry fandom have in common is that they have all the hobbies. They do gaming. They do voice acting. They do artwork, music, animations, and they interact with other people in the world. But from what I’m guessing, I’m not really sure if the furries would basically, um, be—I’m trying to get that word out. The furry fandom would basically grow? Same with the Brony fandom. These would grown like what they used to before, the grow more compared to what they are now.

TJ

You mean just get bigger, like more popular, more people?

Kenneth

I think so? A little bit? In my head? A little bit.

TJ

Maybe just more people aware and understanding what they’re really about, that it’s not just about sex or doing sexual things while you’re dressed up in an animal costume.

Kenneth

It’s not basically all about that.

TJ

Right. Um, have you personally ever experienced any harassment, or have you ever been picked on, about being involved in these communities?

Kenneth

Um, I’ve been picked on numerous times. That was back in 2019 in April. That is something I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life, about how that one guy all the way from England decided to make a 15 minute long bullying video about me and how I act and behave, about how I do my videos. And many people, when they saw that video, they immediately disliked the video. And they even commented on the video, telling the guy in question—who I’m not about to mention, because he’s gotten himself into some trouble—but anyways, they were commenting on his video about how it was wrong, how they should not pick on an individual like me, about how I do things differently, about how I act differently, and about how I talk differently.

I didn’t know at that time how to handle criticism. It was something that basically in my mind, I don’t know if it was positive or negative. When someone made that video about me, I would get upset. Like anyone would. And when the person who made that video, at the end, said, “If you make a respons video, then I might or maybe would consider taking this video down.” And I knew that if I was to do it, I thought it would be the end. I thought he would just take that video down and everything would be honky dory. Like it would be over. But no, it’s still there. The video is there to this very day.

TJ

You kind of responded by—in the same way that he did, right? You were sort of bantering with him. I don’t want to say you were picking on him, but you sort of gave it to him the way he was giving it to you, right?

Kenneth

It turned out that I did not know at the time, but I learned now that it was bait by that guy who made the video on me and his friends at that time. It was bait for me to make a video on him. And I should not have listened to him, and I should not have made that video in the first place. The video now has been deleted, so it does not have to go through all that amount of detail. But that whole banter between that guy and me went on for like three months. Three months into 2021. First when he made the video on me, I made the video back on him, I went on with my life. Even went to American Ninja Warrior 2019, in Cincinnati. But that whole trip, he made that video referencing me. And everyone in the stacking community who were defending me at that time, and even the YouTuber who went by the name ny tie dye made a commentary video on my response video on that guy.

That was back when me and my dad were in the tattoo shop with my dad getting the eternity knot tattoo on my shoulder. He had to add some detail in the smoke. And while I was in that process, I was notified that ny tie dye made a video about my response video I made about that guy. And i thought it was the second worst month of my life throughout 2019.

Then June went on, and I stupidly predicted that I wanted June to be a better month than the last two months. The guy made a third, final video about me. And he went debunking me about everything I said in that video. And I knew right then and there that I thought my life was completely over. Like I was going to deal with so much hate and negative feedback, that I wanted a break. And that was my first official break, for a week, and I already made my apology video to everyone about how I acted and how I handled that situation, how I handled the incident in May and June of 2019.

People are still going to talk about that to this very day, bringing up the whole incident. If they’re going to keep on doing it, that’s their motto.

TJ

One of the things you did this year more recently was you decided to announce that you’re bisexual. And I’m wondering, um, first of all, how did that come about? Why did you decide to do that?

Kenneth

Uh, I think I knew what my sexuality was. I knew that I still had a crush on girls, but, embarrassingly enough to say it, I had a crush on guys.

Like, there’s a huge difference between guys who are attractive, different weight, different size… and there’s difference with girls with their weight, and their dress, and about what their interests are. Same with guys. I was really afraid of coming out at that time because I did not know who I was about my sexuality, I did not know who I am. I knew that I had to come out to my parents about it. And I did just that.

They were confused about it at first, but they support it. They want me to be happy. After they said that they want me to be happy, that made me feel good inside and on the outside. I knew how much of a different person I was compared to when I was straight. At that time.

But now I still have someone I have been dating with. Her name is Lily. She’s 25, all the way from Illinois. We are still in good conversations. We are still wanting to meet each other one day, and hopefully being here in Ohio. Basically her staying here with me. And I say being here with me, like if you get what I mean.

TJ

Um, can you imagine with me, what would that be like? What would be the ideal outcome when that actually happens?

Kenneth

If Lily was ever to come all the way from Illinois to Ohio, then it would be life-changing. She would be there with me through all the darkest times of my life. Back when I made my apology video to everyone, I was worried about telling Lily about what I had done because if I told her she’d cut contact with me, and block me, and basically not talk to me ever again. That would affect my future relationship with Lily because we were friends at that time. I feared if I did tell her it would affect our future relationship in a negative way.

After I told her about my downfall, I felt then and there that that was it. I thought that she would cut contact with me and not be there with me this year. I don’t know what I would be without her. And I’m so happy it never came to that. Because she has been my rock this entire time. I genuinely needed Lily more than anyone else.

TJ

2021 was a difficult year for all of us, obviously.

Kenneth

Um, like this year was really crap. In 2020 we dealt with a lot of crap that happened over 365 days of 2020. I felt there’s no way 2021 could top that. I had already planned on my comeback, and there was no way things could get worse than they already were. I entered 2021 really optimistically. I really thought it was going to be my year. But realized—2021 was filled with depression and anxiety. Things really took a turn for the worse for me. I was becoming a different person that I wasn’t even aware of.

To everyone outside of social media, I give them credit, they were worried about me and they saw the change. They were hoping that I could bounce back. I wasn’t seeing it. I thought they were wrong, so I listened to their advice a little bit but catapulted back into a deep depression, like I was dealing with so much negativity and so much hate and so much doubt that I had been losing a lot of followers and friends. I lost so many people I cared about to the point where I would have those thoughts of basically not wanting to live anymore. I did not want to live anymore because all I felt was pain and suffering. Even though I had friends, family, and a girlfriend and even people who watch my channel and follow me on social media platforms and loved and cared about me, I just didn’t see any reason to move on in life.

And I was afraid to open up to my mom and my dad about my depression and anxiety, but they knew what I had been dealing with…. I had my moments when I was happy, and moments when I was sad. I tried really hard to hide my emotions as much as I can. Mom and Dad and Lily are the only ones who wanted to see the real me. Sometimes I would turn on my camera and go on social media and say “What is UP my Homies?!” (Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve done that!). “It’s your boy, TJ Konesky, and today is another happy good day!” When, inside, it’s not. Inside I was falling apart. Inside I was not happy.

Inside, I didn’t want people to see me and judge me so harshly, and I would hide it. It felt like I didn’t there was going to be a place for me in social media in 2021, since my comeback turned into a failure. Because, number one, the haters and doubters are still going to keep talking about me. They’re going to want me to fail, they’re going to want me to suffer, they’re going to want me to basically not be happy, want me gone, want me to fail, etc. Number two, I was still dealing with acne and scabs all over my body due to stress and anxiety. Number three, the depression and anxiety battle. Number four, I just didn’t think I was putting out my best effort and I didn’t think I was putting out the best content.

I wasn’t doing as good as I thought I could and I didn’t understand why. And I thought maybe it’s not worth it for me anymore. I made a promise to myself that if I was going to get back to social media that I was going to do better. I’ll always be a YouTuber, and always be a social media influencer, but maybe less of one. And I know that a lot of people are just going to say that my content on social media this year was bad. And I’ll give them credit for that. But there are a lot of videos I do enjoy editing and uploading, looking back it wasn’t the absolute best I can do. Definitely not.

People outside of social media knew that. They cared about me, and I listened to them, but I catapulted back into a deep depression and—right out of the bat, to the people outside of social media, I want to apologize for not taking your advice. I see that I was just have listening, and I was in a different headspace that I can’t even explain.

But viewers, and Kenneth, I want to tell you why I’m no longer in that headspace. Because something really good happened on December 26. And I know what you’re thinking, December 26? That is the year anniversary of Luke Harper’s death. You’re right. I was laying in bed having a dream about how we lost Luke Harper last year, 2020.

For those of you who don’t know, Luke Harper [AKA Brodie Lee] is a former WWE and AEW superstar who lost his life to a non-COVID-related lung issue during the prime of his career in AEW. I can’t even imagine the pain and struggle that Amanda and the boys are going through right now without their husband. Brodie was so beloved and so caring and loving for everyone who worked with or were friends with him. RIP Brodie.

Then, suddenly, a light bulb went off. I don’t know what caused it or what made me decide to wake up. But I had that dream in my head, where Brodie was in my head. Or Joanie—Joan Marie “Chyna” Laurer, or Shad Gaspard in my head, by the way two who passed away—Shad Gaspard in May, a hero who saved his son from a current on the beach; and then Luke Harper; and then someone above Joan Marie “Chyna” Laurer, who also passed away in 2016. RIP Joanie. [They] said to me, “TJ, you cannot afford to fall apart right now. You cannot do this. You’re falling apart right now, and everyone will be so unhappy with you.”

Then I started listening to a song by Michael Green (KidBehindACamera, or Pickleboy, whatever name he goes by). He made a song called Comeback featuring Juliette Reilly. And that song was like “you cannot afford to fall apart. You cannot do this to yourself. Look at you. You are the shell of the person you used to be. You need to get up and rise from the ashes, because right now it is depressing to look at you. You are not the same person you were.”

It rang so true. Then, and now that I’m in this podcast, I feel like I have a spark in me, that I never had in a long time. Finally it was hope. Hope that I never thought I would have back. That light that I thought I would never have back.

That is something I want to cherish and live with in my head for the rest of my life. Joanie, Brodie, and Shad, if you’re up there, or in my head, let me know. I need that light back.

TJ

So you’ve gone through, over the past year, all this pain, suffering, depression, anxiety, some of it external and some of it internal. And then through taking a break, maybe spending some time reflecting on yourself, thinking about who you are, what’s really important, and now you’ve had this epiphany. Um, and it sounds like you’re really motivated to do something different going forward. What’s going to be different?

Kenneth

If I was going to get back to social media in 2022, and start over fresh, this time, I said to myself, this time, if I was going to do it all over, I’m going to do it better. Because 2022 could be my very last. 2022 could be my final year to make my comeback better than 2021.

If I succeed and show everyone what I am capable of and show them that I’ve changed and grown since who I was from my downfall, then they would see it differently and say, “wow, TJ’s comeback is really starting to take off. I will give him a second chance. He needs it, he definitely deserves it.” However, if I mess up that comeback one last time, and if I stay on that loser side, if I mess up one more time, then I’m done. I would take that comeback and tuck my toes between my legs and kiss my butt goodbye.

If I cannot use my final opportunity to make that year better, then there’s no reason to go on. But now, since I’ve got that motivation by the late great Chyna, Joanie Marie Laurer (professional wrestler); Brodie Lee, Luke Harper; Shad Gaspard—again, if you’re up there, I need that light. The year is going to be a better year for me. That’s what’s going to be different.

TJ

I was going to ask you about your role models, who you look up to. You just mentioned a few names of people that are important to you right now. Do you want to say anything else about them, or are there anyone else that comes to mind?

Kenneth

I already mentioned Brodie Lee, Shad Gaspard, and Joan Marie Laurer. Joanie is someone I personally met back in 2016 in March, thought the weekend at a convention center in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is someone that I met and thought it would be someone I would listen to and talk to and basically be around with each other. But since she passed away, in 2016, I felt that she’s gone, but I know she’ll never be forgotten.

I already talked about Luke Harper and Shad Gaspard. But my role models are Rey Mysterio, Matt Hardy, and Jeff Hardy. And Joan Marie Laurer. Those are the role models that I grew up with.

TJ

We have a mutual friend, Flip Rodriguez, who’s been on American Ninja Warrior for a long time. I know he’s been working really hard to—I’ve got to give him a lot of respect for the work that he’s done to help people just stay positive and to see that even when life is challenging, that there’s value to it. How has he influenced you recently?

Kenneth

Yeah, Flip has basically been someone that I thought would be the best way for me—to help me move forward and stay positive and make my dreams into reality and make those goals, dreams, and passions come true. Even my video in December, 2020, when I asked Flip if he would help me, he told me he would basically do every ounce in his power to help me out. There’s one thing that won’t change—basically that mentality that’s going to be passing over time. And I know about that from now on. And right now I haven’t even talked to Flip Rodriguez in a year. But with 2022 coming closer I have got to get back to talking to Flip. I have to talk to Flip more, and be around Flip, and be with Flip, if we’re ever going to do Ninja Warrior, for training, I have to be with Flip Rodriguez so he will help me improve with my training resume.

TJ

I really love those moments on your channels when you’re honest and you’re sort of—when you let your true self show a little bit. And I think it’s really useful. It helps people watching to know that there’s a real person there. So what is it, when you’re not in the public eye, what is it that you like to focus on? Or do you have any hobbies you do when you’re not acting or not on camera?

Kenneth

What I would do if I’m not in the public eye is I would just be playing video games, or voice acting as different characters—as not on camera [laughs]. But I know it sounds crazy, that people are going to think, “TJ, why are you talking to yourself? That’s you going crazy, that’s you having multiple personality disorders!” Right out of the bat, no! I’m not doing that! But if I was to do it on camera with voice acting, with different characters, it’s different.

But again when I’m not in the public eye, I would just play video games, or just go shopping. Grocery shopping for food.

TJ

I guess that’s it for the questions I’ve got. I want to give you a chance to tell the people out there what to look forward to, coming from you, and we can put the details in the show notes too, but is there any final comments you want to give?

Kenneth

I think, for the outcome in 2022, is I want 2022 to be better. I want the pandemic to end. And I want people to see my full and better comeback, and they’ll see it differently. They’ll say “wow! TJ’s comeback is doing very better! You know what, I’ll give him a second chance, he needs it.” And I’ll have that back in my life ,and have that dream of being a professional wrestler, American Ninja Warrior, hairdresser, and musician. And I want to basically move forward. I’m not going to look back. If I’m going to do this all over, making videos, editing, doing better, I will get 2022 to the rise.

From the downfall, the fall, to the re-rise.

TJ

By Kenneth

Kenneth is a graduate student at Wayne State University studying sociology. He is also the host/producer of The Unspeakable Vice Podcast and author of "Lessons Learned: Life-Altering Experiences of Incarceration."

One reply on “Episode 17: An Interview with TJ Konesky”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.