The young Irish trans influencer who came out on social media before telling his family

Jacob Donegan documented his transition online to help others and has received an ‘extremely positive’ response

“It was my online platform that I first came out on, before I even came out to my family,” says 21-year-old Jacob Donegan.

The Meath-based social media influencer started making videos in 2015 on – before it merged with the now widely used app TikTok. He has accumulated 1.2 million followers on the platform by posting 15- to 180-second videos, which are a combination of funny acting clips and a thorough documentation of his transition from female to male (which he first announced on TikTok in his mid-teens).

“I felt such safety and security with people that I’ve never met before,” says the young trans influencer, “and with coming out, there was obviously a fear that there would be backlash, because not everybody agrees with everything you do. But there was just overwhelming positivity and it was probably the biggest step I could have taken by going on the platform [TikTok] because that made me actually stronger and push forward in my own life.

“Strangers just accepted me and made me feel like being me wasn’t wrong and I was living the life right. Honestly, I couldn’t be more blessed for that kind of platform or that kind of support.”


While the TikToker says he first started making videos “out of fun”, it quickly evolved into a career in 2017, when one of his videos received more than 100,000 likes. Since then, he has taken a more strategic approach to posting, and says sharing videos “every single day” quickly shot him to fame. “I just kept posting and then I found out my algorithm,” he explains, “so considering that I have followers based mostly from the United States, Ireland and the UK, I have to go around the time zones of not just Ireland and the UK, but other countries like America itself and the time difference, so I had to sort out my time”.


My face pure shocked 😳😂#fyp

♬ original sound - Ian Asher

The Irish influencer, who also works as a life coach and part-time barber, recently started Real Talk with Jacob, a TikTok series about his gender transition journey to inform people who might be curious about the gender transition process but shy about asking questions. “I started the Real Talk with Jacob on TikTok because I get so many DMs [direct messages] daily of people asking me questions, and some more personal than others,” says Donegan.

“But I sat there and I was replying to the same thing over and over so just to give some people a chance – people that can’t just come forward because they feel stigma around it or they feel a bit of fear to ask – I want to answer the questions that people have the fear to ask because I have the confidence to do that, and if people just want to learn, then I’m here to educate.”

Donegan, who has almost 100 million likes from his TikTok videos combined, says the response to his new series has been extremely positive, which he found somewhat surprising. “I haven’t gotten any negativity, which is rare,” he says. “Usually, I get the odd bit of negativity, but I actually haven’t gotten any negative comments or negative vibes towards the videos that I’ve uploaded so far.

“I actually have gotten some DMs from people [going through transition] and they find it so helpful and are giving me actual ideas to go forward with my videos. So this is not just me making a series any more, this is actually me connecting with supporters and bringing them into the videos.”

On why it’s important to discuss the struggles faced by people in the trans community on a public social media platform, Donegan says it’s important to show that “we’re not all strong” and everyone has weaknesses. “I feel like a lot of people are trying to keep a brave face these days on the internet, but it’s always good to get that balance and show that we’re all human, we all feel emotions, and that no matter what, we’re going to feel angry or sad and happiness at all different times,” he says.

The young influencer, whose biggest career goal at present is to work with fashion retailer JD Sports, says there can be a lot of backlash on social media, and being a content creator can make a person more susceptible to negativity because “it comes with the job”. But based on the encouraging responses to his TikTok videos, the positive reaction he gets far outweighs any negative comments.

“I think every day, I get different DMs from different people, especially people going through transition. I get messages from them as they’ve been following me since the beginning,” he says. “They followed my journey and they find such inspiration and such empowerment from me standing in my power, so there’s no specific moment because every day I get messages.”

The TikTok influencer, whose audience is predominantly in the 18-30 age group, will be a keynote speaker at the Digital Hustle Summer School event – a free online workshop targeted for secondary school pupils who are looking to develop their social media presence.

Hosted by South East Technological University Carlow campus and taking place from June 27th until July 1st, the workshop allows virtual attendees to get the opportunity to meet other influencers such as TikTok‘s Lauren Whelan who is another young influencer taking the video-sharing app by storm.

Donegan, who says the most rewarding aspect of his TikTok career is that “people genuinely want to see you succeed”, imparts some words of wisdom for those who want to follow suit. “There’s risk with everything,” he says, “so once you’re putting content out there, of course everybody is going to have that option of an opinion. But try not to attach to the opinion but know that it’s just words and until you take that and manifest it into something big, that’s all it’s going to remain: a word.”

Filomena Kaguako

Filomena Kaguako is a contributor to The Irish Times