Even if you haven’t waded past the shallow end of the streaming pool, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Sweet Anita.
The Youtuber and Twitch star – who’s readying to host VY Esports’ buzzed-about digital online gaming festival LuudoFest! on Dec. 18th — has amassed an impressive following on both platforms. Millions of people tune in to her streams – she enjoys games like Among Us and Overwatch but her most-returned-to format is her “Just Chatting” channel – expecting a singular, unpredictable, often wildly funny watch.
That’s partly because Sweet Anita has Tourette’s, a nervous system disorder that causes people to make sudden movements or sounds, called tics, that they can’t control. Tourette’s can manifest in all kinds of ways – throat clearing, shrugging the shoulders, humming. Anita’s are almost musical – a whistle here, a plucky pop of her lips there.
She also occasionally shouts expletives and interjects with random phrases too, enough that her fans have started choosing favorites – “b*tch lasagna” and “f*ck a biscuit” are the more popular ones – and some of her critics have publicly wished for her to be banned. But Twitch, both the company and the community of streamers who flock to Anita’s feed, don’t take issue with these unintentionally comical outbursts … and really, why would they?
Though Sweet Anita has only been streaming for about two years, she’s managed to raise thousands for charity through her online platform, and, perhaps more importantly, create a safe space for other non-neurotypical people. It can sometimes come at a cost, especially during a year that’s seen pandemic-induced global lockdowns attract bigger crowds to the gaming verse.
“It’s the kind of platform that really rewards burnout,” Anita tells UPROXX. “But when there’s nothing else in your life to distract you, it just completely facilitates overworking. My biggest challenge this year has been to not overdo it.”
That’s a tough goal when you’ve got a million people monitoring your channel, hoping to catch you playing a round of Crash Bandicoot or initiating a Just Chatting Q&A. Anita has tried to equip her stream with enough resources so that newcomers who might be curious about her condition can learn the basics … and stop quizzing her in the chat.
“It drives me mad,” she says about the constant questioning. “You could play, I don’t know, “Anita Bingo” and get wasted just taking shots every time I get asked if I tic during sex, or, ‘Do I tic during my sleep,’ or am ‘I fully conscious whilst I’m having a tic?’ Out of sheer annoyance, I made this playlist on YouTube of all the different questions answered so I wouldn’t have to repeat myself, and we link it in chat and nobody watches it.”
Still, despite having to often set boundaries with fans, Anita knows any momentary ire is worth it in service of the close-knit community she’s creating. It’s odd – that a group of strangers online brought together by their love of gaming might come to feel like a kind of formed family – but Anita thinks a lot of that has to do with the year everyone’s had, and how streaming has offered safer ways of connecting to more diverse groups of people.
“I have always been someone who has tended to draw in people who either are struggling with mental health or who are lonely, and I think that’s a lot of Twitch, to be honest, is a lot of lonely people,” she says. “I think Twitch has absolutely boomed, and I think it’s probably because with more and more people becoming isolated, more and more people are at home watching, but as well it’s more and more people are lonely and more and more people are turning to streamers to distract them and keep them company.”
That’s partly what drew Anita herself to the platform years ago. Her home life was fluctuating. She’d finally gotten a diagnosis for a condition that plagued her teenage years. She thought finally having the label of Tourette’s might mean people would understand her tics, or at the very least, not judge her for them.
“It became almost like a gimmick to people. People would be, ‘Oh, my God. My friends would love you!’” she recalls. “They thought it was funny and ridiculous. I kind of had the opposite problem where now people liked me and were nice to me, but people were seeing the condition instead of me, and it was not great. But when I started online gaming – I found Overwatch and I could go on push-to-talk. Push-to-talk meant that people saw me and not my condition. Many of the people that I made friends with online on Overwatch didn’t know I had Tourette’s for a good year or two. And that was amazing. I felt valued as a human again and I got to find out that I was friendship material even without the romanticism of my Tourette’s syndrome.”
Of course, that’s since changed. Anita blames her lack of tech-savvy for the start of her streaming career.
“It actually turned out to be a happy accident. I wanted to maintain that I was just a normal person without the condition. I didn’t want to show everyone on my friends list that I had Tourette’s. I had intended to go on push-to-talk, couldn’t figure it out, was like, ‘F*ck it. Let’s go anyway.’”
She was met with surprise by some, weird fascination from others, and the occasional accusation that she was faking her condition for bigger streaming numbers.
“The thing is, I grew up with being punished for it,” Anita explains. “I didn’t have an explanation for what was going on. I got in a lot of trouble for it. I got kicked off public transport. My life was tremendously difficult. I’m quite used to way worse consequences than some mean words on the internet so I wasn’t really afraid of how people would respond to me.”
That’s one of the elements of Anita’s platform that resonates with the people who follow her. Her unabashed self-acceptance, her quick-witted, occasionally dark humor, and her willingness to laugh at herself have invited others to do the same. She doesn’t view herself as a role model – in fact, she outwardly cringes at the idea – but she does acknowledge that the streaming platform has given her a chance to make a difference. That’s why she continues to raise money for various charities – those working with people who have Tourette’s yes, but also ones associated with animal rescue and rehabilitation. (When she’s not outing herself as an imposter in a game of Among Us you might find her neck-deep in a badger sett somewhere in the UK countryside, trying to rescue all kinds of woodland creatures.)
But it’s also why she’s happily inhabited the role of streaming ambassador to the crowds of people who probably haven’t encountered her disorder in real life.
“I don’t think that any person with Tourette’s owes education to anyone,” Anita says. “Would we task someone with cancer, for example, with spending hours upon hours exhaustively explaining to everyone about cancer all the time? Or would we just let them live their lives? I don’t try to pressure myself too much to be an educator. It’s a passive part of what I do anyway because it’s one thing to go and Google Tourette’s and get a definition of the word. It’s another to actually interact with someone, and the humanizing of it is very educational, in and of itself, even without me trying. And so, I will answer the odd question every now and again, if I’m in the mood, but mainly I just try to show people what it looks like to accept yourself and your situation and make it work for you and be happy in that; to use your experience as a tool rather than a reason to weigh yourself down. It’s a reason to step up and build something beautiful.”
Anita’s managed to do that despite a year that proved difficult, terrifying, and even dangerous. On top of the threat of a global pandemic, she was confronted with a truly horrifying stalking incident that put her physical safety in jeopardy.
In July, an obsessed fan began doxxing her – a term familiar to many female gamers that describes how trolls often publish their private information like a home address or contact info in order to invite harassment. Anita went to Twitch and the police, but both failed to fully address the situation, which is what prompted her to share the harrowing experience on social media.
An update! I reported this yesterday morning, they told me they would call me about it today, they didn't. They said they might get back to me tomorrow.
— Sweet Anita (@Tweet4nita) July 15, 2020
Thanks everyone. They have replied now thankfully. Here's hoping something can be done.
— Sweet Anita (@Tweet4nita) July 21, 2020
But from this traumatic event, Anita has found another use for her online fame. She’s streamed chats with other Twitch personalities, some men, some women – people like XChocoBars, Kaceytron, and Destiny – who detailed their own stalking incidents and how authorities seemed to disregard their concerns.
“I don’t think that stalking is specifically a female problem on Twitch,” Anita says. “I do feel like if you are a public figure on Twitch, people are going to use you to fill a gap of loneliness in their lives. It tends to be resentful people and mentally ill people, but that fixation will happen regardless of what genitalia you have. I feel like people think it’s a female problem on Twitch. It’s not.”
“I really want to hit home that this is worth challenging and changing on the platform because all of us could have something awful happen to us,” she continues. “It’s something that’s relevant to literally every single one of us, and I think the more we make that clear, the more likely that something is going to be done about it because if it becomes an all-girl problem, nobody will really care. Over 70% of the people who watch Twitch are male and will think it just does not apply to them and that they don’t have to worry about it at all.”
It’s a larger issue the gaming community faces. While streaming propels ordinary gamers like Anita to unexpected heights of fame, that public visibility also invites doxxers and trolls to hop on her chat and terrorize her fans at will. Luckily, Twitch streamers can control that – to an extent – and maintaining that safe space for her audience, especially the other women with Tourette’s who tune in for her streams, is a point of pride for her.
“We have lots of women with Tourette’s syndrome in our Discord, but obviously because most of Twitch’s viewer base is male, a lot of men tend to not be able to relate to women,” Anita acknowledges. “If they admire them, they tend to sexualize it. They never aspire to be like a woman. They tend to aspire to be with a woman. So we end up banning a lot of people, but at least we have the space where people with Tourette’s syndrome are unanimously understood and welcome, which is rare. And then on top of that, a place where we don’t encourage that kind of behavior.”
Anita says she’s seen a “huge change” on the internet when it comes to female gamers, and non-neurotypical gamers, something she credits to platforms like Twitch.
“There are loads of socially isolated people of a very specific demographic on Twitch; people who wouldn’t normally be exposed to this sort of thing and would normally throw a tantrum if they were exposed to this sort of thing,” she explains. “So, people who start throwing tantrums, throwing their toys out the pram because they had to play a game with a girl, are now being exposed to loads of different kinds of people, loads of different kinds of beliefs, in an area that used to be considered a boys-only area. I think that’s wonderful. Everyone has to join a stream voluntarily. It’s not like we’re shoving diversity down people’s throats. It’s there on offer. And I feel like that’s the best way to go about it.”
And as long as more people continue to flock to Twitch and other streaming platforms, the work gamers like Sweet Anita are doing to promote diversity, inclusion, and acceptance will continue to be vital to the growth of the industry at large.
“I get paid to make the world a safer place for people like me because the more people who understand what’s going on with me, the less volatile things are for people like me in public,” Anita says. “So, it’s an honor to be mildly annoyed by chat every day and get paid for the privilege because everyone wins. They learn more about Tourette’s and I get to feed my family.”
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