Wen Neale Is The Bay Area's Internet Flower Boy + How He's Built An Empire Overnight

Wen Neale inside Kinokuniya at Japantown, Photography by Anthony Rogers

Wen Neale inside Kinokuniya at Japantown, Photography by Anthony Rogers

Wen Neale (commonly known as Wen Wen online) has three very distinct qualities about him. Firstly: young, secondly: kawaii, and thirdly: most of all, Transgender.

I got to meet Wen literally over an Instagram DM, we set up a time and a date to do an interview and it all started with myself waiting for Wen inside the main courtroom of Japantown. I was a mixture of excitement and nervousness. There is this thin wall between "online celebrity" and "real person" that has a hard time co-existing. I stood there figuring out my first words — wanting to make a good impression, not as just a fan, but as an editor covering a story about him. In the distance, I spot him making his way to me and to my surprise, he's shorter than what you'd picture online. "I just have really long legs and you can make yourself look taller on the internet," he tells me. We begin the day just shooting around, getting snapshots of his colorful hair and very porcelain skin against the neon lights strung around Japantown. He's an absolute natural in front of the camera.

A Florida-native, now San Francisco-resident — Wen has gained himself a cult-like following on every social network. Whether it's his snaps on Instagram, his quick wit on Twitter or informative video series on YouTube. Fans and friends agree that Wen is a voice for a generation of Transgender youth. "If I were to sum up the transgender aspect of my life into one sentence, and I know it might come off cliche, I’d have to go with “being able to finally be comfortable in my own skin”, he tells me, as we are prowling around Japantown, getting to know him on a one on one level. His knowledge on memes, Asian beauty, and also his own personal life experiences at such a young age made me wonder why to this particular community? "I find the community huge and diverse here. I moved to San Francisco from Miami, Florida and it almost came as a shock to me to see how open the community is. Where I came from I never met one open trans person, and would only bump into other trans people at the local endocrinologist office I went to. I’m genuinely so happy to see the amount of representation here, I've been living in San Francisco for a little more than 6 months now and I'm still not over it!"

Getting to spend the afternoon with Wen was a treat, seeing his personality come to life in front of his personal interests. His affinity stretches to make-up, skincare, all things lilac and pink, what some would consider non-masculine, he describes as pushing the boundaries of the trans fourth wall, "I’d like to think of myself as someone wanting to push the normalization of being trans and taking down the notion that a trans guy needs to be hyper masculine to be accepted in society, that it’s okay to embrace femininity without jeopardizing your identity," he tells us, "I’ve learned to form a thick skin, but also to remain open-minded in educating those who are ignorant regarding the trans community."

But within Wen's personal journey from woman to man, he's made his rounds on the internet as the flower boy who gives his opinion on Asian skincare and beauty. Everything from make-up tutorials on his favorite looks, a rundown of his night-time skincare routine, or even how to self-inject testosterone, his fans look up to him at a level of serious admiration. "I remember getting messages from all sorts of people thanking me for helping them to figure out that they’re trans just from watching that video. I really wasn’t expecting I’d be of any help to anyone from it but I’m genuinely happy that people would think of me as such a huge contributor to accepting their gender identity."

As we make our way through the rain, my curiosity strikes with the gloom over hanging us — how does someone like Wen deal with the difference of opinion on the Internet. It's a scary and polarizing place, especially when you're unfolding your entire life story onto people's keyboards, "before I had a large following I already accepted the fact that I can’t please everyone, and I think because of that it’s a lot easier to deal with negative comments. I’m too comfortable in my identity to be put down by transphobic comments and frankly I get more satisfaction out of the fact that someone would dedicate the time out of their day to send me a message that won’t ever get attention from me."

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When we asked Wen about his favorite videos to make, he gave us a very enlightening answer, "Surprisingly, while I do have a few unboxing videos that I definitely enjoyed doing, my favorite kind of videos to do is my trans-related ones. Given that I don’t upload videos as much as I would like, when I uploaded my first trans-related video of how I came to know I was trans I got so much amazing feedback from it." His most popular video, "Trans Stuff" has garnered 30K views with comments along the lines of, "you're an inspiration to me." People from all over the world pouring their hearts and souls into his comment section.

Some of his other popular videos, such as, the "RFA Mystic Messenger Unboxing" have garnered nearly 100K views with comments saying, "stumbled upon him and I'm in love." At 19, this must be a shocker to know that people from parts unknown have acquired such a likeness to his image, "I get pretty overwhelmed by it sometimes. I never would've expected my life would turn out as positively as it does now. I was prepared to deal with a lot of things that would’ve been thrown my way when I came to terms with being trans, but so far I’ve received so much support from friends and my following I feel like I’m on cloud nine honestly."

When it comes to his fans, a typical live chat for Wen consists of hilarious memes and quite, extra types of people. "You know, they're sometimes a little out there but from them [the fans], it all comes from a good place." As we move into the East Mall, a fan in that moment approaches us and asks Wen for a picture. "I use to follow you on Instagram but I love your videos," she murmurs in a low tone of voice. Wen comes together with the fan to pose for a photo, striking a two peace signs, and quickly thanking the fan for approaching him. As she smiles and walks away, I frankly make the comment, "someone's awfully popular" followed by a laugh from Wen.

As we end our date, we relax at YakiniQ cafe with tea and hot chocolate speaking frankly on internet trends, other trans heroes, and the young fan base he has built. "When I went to Seoul this past winter, I noticed that people are incredibly frank about your appearance. It would be a mix of my skin, eyebrows, or my eye makeup." When I asked about the trends that would translate into the states, he gave me the rundown of what he's excited for, "for Korean skincare I’ve noticed an increase in using centella, which is a plant used for medicinal purposes. I’ve tried a few products that are centella-based and my absolute favorite is Cosrx’s Centella Blemish Cream, it’s amazing for if you have troubled skin! I always loved the light application with pastel shades, specifically light colored eyeshadow with hints of blush and a dewy finish." Wen's make-up during our shoot was a light touch of blush sprinkled across his nose bridge and cheeks with a very hinted winged liner pointing straight across.

As the rain came down in buckets while sipping warm tea, we begin to both reflect on things we love to do in San Francisco. On off-days when he isn't filming or doing something creative with his time, he jokes that he's a homebody. "My absolute favorite place to go to is KitTea, a cat cafe located in Hayes Valley. I always buy a mini treat for the cats and once I open it I get about 7 cats on my body and I feel like I’m on top of the world. Like have you ever had 7 cats on you at the same time? It’s exhilarating. For my daily trips, I like to head over to a Boba Guys location to get my fill on some good quality tea, then head on over to get little errands done such as grocery shopping, cleaning the apartment, things like that. I live a really simple life! As for food adventures I absolutely am in love with Nojo Ramen’s Chicken Nanban, never have I tasted such amazing fried chicken, in a ramen restaurant of all places. Another favorite is Tin Vietnamese Cuisine, not only is the pho great but I love to take some friends out there to have casual convos with, the ambience gives cozy vibes."

Photo via WENXWEN

Photo via WENXWEN

Our conversation moved all around while sitting in the quiet YakiniQ, talking of mutual friends, internet stars, and also his blooming apparel line — which I admit, is indicative of his personal style, "I do have my own little online store called WENXWEN which I’ve been using to sell my designs on clothes but also cute little accessories such as buttons and pins! I started up this store a few years ago as a little hobby, but it's grown to more than that since then. I have some designs in the works now for both shirts and lapel pins, I'm planning to do a little mini spring release! What those designs are is a secret though!"

When it came to trans heroes that have transitioned from female to male, Laith Ashley springs into our conversation. "The thing that I'm really impressed about him is that his transition looked seamless, minimal scarring, and a body that is of male quality," I said, to Wen's response, "I've done a lot of research about him. His story, where he got his procedure done, and his healing time. I've been bookmarking certain websites that have information that's relevant to me. But I am very fortunate to already have friends living in SF before moving, so I was given a lot of information on the best clinics to go to. I currently go to a trans/women-exclusive clinic and the employees there have not only helped with making sure I get the amount of hormones I need but also gave me resources into getting my name and gender legally changed. I can’t think of anything lacking of resources since living here, I frankly feel spoiled."

As our time came to a close, I was so curious on Wen's next steps. Of course, a full transition is in the works, releasing more content that's true to him, and even a spring line — "My goals this year are definitely to travel more, take bigger chances, and really live in the moments. I’ve been sticking to it pretty well too, the other month I got back from Asia and then a few weeks later I decided to spontaneously get a tattoo, it’s barely been the second month already haha. It’s only the beginning!"

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I never would’ve expected my life would turn out as positively as it does now.
— Wen Neale
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