“I’m a drag queen who went viral teaching math on TikTok. Now, I have a book deal”

“I’m a drag queen who went viral teaching math on TikTok. Now, I have a book deal”

Online Kyne, a.k.a. Kyne Santos, was surprised to learn that millions of people want to watch a drag queen explain algebra

Kyne Santos, a.k.a. Online Kyne, explains math in drag on TikTok
Courtesy of Online Kyne

Channel: Online Kyne
Real Name: Kyne Santos
Followers: 1.5 million on TikTok
Most popular video: Magic with Mobius Strips!, 3.3 million likes
Year started: 2020
Life before TikTok: YouTuber and math student


Math has been my best subject in school ever since grade three. I remember playing a game in class where we’d throw a ball to another student while asking them times tables questions. If you could yell out the correct answer before catching the ball, you stayed in. I was terrible at sports, but at that game, I was king—or maybe queen.

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I didn’t really learn how beautiful or elegant math could be until high school, though, when I attended a math camp at the University of Waterloo. For most people, math is about crunching algorithms and solving for x, but I saw that high-level math is less about getting the right answer and more about how you get there. It requires a lot of creativity.

High school was also when I came out as gay. It wasn’t a huge shock given that I was pretty flamboyant. At the time, I started watching all these beauty gurus on YouTube. I loved the way winged eyeliner looked on girls. One Halloween—I think my costume was “dark angel”—I was playing with a friend’s makeup and, on a whim, put on a full face. Covering myself in layers of foundation and eyeshadow gave me a sense of power and confidence I’d never had before.

@onlinekyne

New shape just dropped! Behold, the einstein tile (einstein = “one stone” in German), AKA, the hat tile! 🎩 #math #aperiodicmonotile #dragqueen

♬ original sound – Kyne

When I was 15, in 2013, I started my own makeup channel on YouTube as a hobby. I knew nothing, but I’m a really shy person, and talking into a camera gave me an excuse to practise being self-assured. Shortly after that, I discovered RuPaul’s Drag Race and became fascinated by the towering drag queens who lip sync and compete while wearing not only makeup but also wigs and costumes.

I went to the University of Waterloo to study math—I thought I would go on to do something in finance—and started developing my own drag persona, Kyne. She’s essentially a more outgoing, bubbly version of myself. I started performing in drag shows at Bombshelter, the campus bar, and travelling to do shows in Toronto and London.

It felt like I was Hannah Montana, living a double life. All of my drag queen friends couldn’t believe I was becoming a mathematician, and my math friends couldn’t believe I was doing the splits on stage after class. I felt like the odd one out in every world I belonged to.

@onlinekyne

Reposting some of our top vids of 2022! You guys loved this series on the KleinBottle!

♬ original sound – Kyne

 

After the pandemic hit, I finished my last year of university from home. I was stuck inside, so I started playing around with TikTok. I’d found myself getting a little burnt out making YouTube videos and wanted to try something fresh and new. What better way to do that than on a new app where I had zero followers?

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For my first math TikTok, I got dressed up in full drag and talked about adding up every number between 1 and 100, one plus two plus three and so on. I didn’t think anyone would be interested, but it really took off. I started getting comments like “I want all of my math explained this way” or “I wish my math teacher were a drag queen.”

@onlinekyne

“It is not knowledge, but the act of learning which grants the greatest enjoyment” – Carl Friedrich Gauss #math #mathriddle #riddlechallenge #drag

♬ original sound – Kyne

Between math and drag, I’d always thought I was alone at the intersection of a very niche Venn diagram, but there were so many queer people in STEM who felt really seen by my videos. I guess it was refreshing to see someone dolled up in glitter and neon outfits while talking about a serious subject like calculus.

I started posting videos once or twice a day, compiling little math riddles and tidbits I’d read in books or learned at school, like Fermat’s Last Theorem or the Four-Colour Theorem. A few weeks after starting the account, I made my first viral video on TikTok. In it, I talked about how, if you took a standard piece of paper and folded it in half 42 times, the thickness of the paper would reach the moon.

It wasn’t an original thought, but I guess it blew people’s minds. Every time I refreshed the video, the views would jump—from 10,000 to 20,000 to 30,000. Within a couple of hours, it had a million views, and when I woke up the next day, it was at 2 million. I suddenly went from having a couple hundred followers to tens of thousands, and it just kept growing.

@onlinekyne

How thick can a sheet of paper get if I fold it in half 42 times? 🤔 #math #mathriddle #education #edutok #drag #dragqueen

♬ original sound – Kyne

After that, things started moving really fast. Within months of creating the account, I received a message from Johns Hopkins Press offering me a book deal. Brand deals and sponsorships started rolling in. To date, I’ve worked with Taco Bell, Sephora and Maplesoft, a Canadian software company. Within a year, being a social media influencer was earning me a full-time income.

Appearing on Canada’s Drag Race helped boost my follower count too. I was a contestant on season one, which premiered in July 2020. More people started following me because I was “that queen from TV.”

My most popular video is one where I explain a Möbius strip. It has 14 million views. People seem to love a visual mind bender or brain teaser. It just goes to show that math is more interesting than we give it credit for. When you present it in a fun way, by talking about infinity and multidimensions, people get excited about it.

@onlinekyne

Magic with Möbius Strips! 🔁 #math #mathtiktok #dragqueen

♬ original sound – Kyne

Of course, I also deal with negative comments, but I got used to that sort of thing during my time on YouTube. I remind myself that the negativity is confined to a screen, which I can put down whenever I want. I don’t have to read the comments, and I can mute the notifications. Being a drag queen has also helped because I know people are attacking an online persona. They don’t really know me. That separation helps protect my privacy and my sanity.

I just finished writing my book, Math in Drag. It’s about math, of course, but explained through a series of anecdotes from my life, exploring all the intersections math has with drag and queerness. In both math and life, setting aside rigid notions of how things should be helps us expand our minds. It comes out in March 2024.

I never imagined a life where I’d get to combine my two passions to create a whole new career path. Reading messages that say I’ve reignited people’s interest in math has been an amazing gift. I’d love to go back to academia one day, maybe even to get my PhD. I like the idea of experiencing a lot of career pivots. I also love teaching, so maybe I’ll start a tutoring studio. If people stop watching my videos someday, I’ll find something else to do. Thank God I have that math degree, just in case.