A Sapphire in The Rough: Youtube’s Next Video Vixen

Muir College senior Daniel McDonald ended his 21st birthday party in a wedding dress, crumpled below a Residential Security Officer’s feet in tears — but not because he was abandoned at the altar.

He’d begun the evening of Sept. 23 innocently, offering drinks to his guests in a corset and red tutu. But when his International House bash spilled out onto I-Walk, a couple uniformed men told everyone it was time to take it inside. McDonald was upset, so his roommate — Muir College junior Lee Montgomery — told him to make a statement.

“I love that kind of thing,” McDonald said. “Whenever I hear that, I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, let’s do that.’”

So McDonald ran inside and threw on the $100 wedding dress he and Montgomery had purchased together at a Pacific Beach thrift store. (Never mind that he didn’t have time to tie pillows on his legs to poof the dress out, as was the plan.) He grabbed a giant suitcase and rushed to the shutdown in hysterics, throwing his slender body to the ground and threatening to move out, between sobs.

The RSOs stared on, as bystanders on balconies snapped photos.

“Everyone get off I-Walk!” one RSO shouted. “Except for the bride. Mind the bride.”

All this from a pale, 6-foot, 128-pound blonde kid who calls himself an introvert.

“I never thought I [stood out] until like a year ago or so,” McDonald said. “I’ve always kind of dressed like how I feel like dressing. And then people were like, ‘Gosh, Dan, you stand out so much.’ And I was like, ‘Do I, really?’”

McDonald is hard to miss. You may have seen him walking to Earl’s Place covered in an amalgamation of rainbows. Or glimmering on Library Walk in a silver sequined wrap. His bright platinum hair matches his bright yellow sandals, which match his yellow Volkswagon Beetle, which matches a yellow loofah he carries around as a fashion accessory.

“People always come up to me and say, ‘Oh, I love your costume, where are you going?’” McDonald said. “And I’m like, ‘Oh, these are my clothes.’ I always like to try new things. I’ve worn mismatched shoes before on purpose. So I’ll wear a loofah as an accessory and maybe eventually it will catch on, and soon you’ll see a bunch of girls on campus matching their outfits to loofahs. And I’ll be the trendsetter. Maybe. We’ll see.”

But how does one become a mastermind trendsetter like McDonald in the first place?

It’s a long story.

McDonald’s parents divorced three months after he was born. His mother Linda — who, according to McDonald, looks like a Swedish supermodel — then swept him away to San Diego. She tried her luck at love again, remarrying when McDonald was six, and then divorcing again when he was 12. At one point, they shared an apartment with McDonald’s grandmother in a shabby El Cajon neighborhood. Eventually, with the help of some child support from her two ex-husbands, they got their own place.

But by his senior year at Grossmont High School in La Mesa, Linda couldn’t pay rent. One evening, the cops came to their apartment, threw their belongings on the street and changed the locks. McDonald and his mother slept on the street next to a mound of their stuff.

The next morning, McDonald took charge. He called a taxi and directed the driver to his grandma’s house.

“I was like, ‘Mom, we can’t be like living on the street,’” he said. “She’s not the most grounded person, so she kind of, like, didn’t realize what was happening. She’s a little eccentric.”

Around the same time, McDonald’s friend Courtney invited him to Monster Massive — a colossal dance party that draws thousands of costume-clad ravers to the Los Angeles Sports Arena every Halloween. He accepted the invitation, since he already had a wardrobe for the occasion, and road-tripped up to LA for some fun.

“I fit into it,” McDonald said. “I super fit into it. When I was there, I was like, ‘Wow, these are my people.’ Like, everyone was crazy dressed. Everyone was having a really good time. And everyone was happy. There was no arguing, you know?”

Monster Massive was a night of many firsts for McDonald — including, but not limited to, trying ecstasy and meeting his rave parents: two lesbians named Cupcake and Stardust. They dubbed him Fluid, to describe both his sexuality and his dance style.

Accordingly, McDonald identifies as pansexual — a sexual orientation he describes as “fluid sexuality.”

“It’s kind of like bisexual but bisexual has this binary I don’t like: It limits you to two options,” he said. “But not animals. I don’t like to fuck cabbages or cats or anything.”

When he first arrived at UCSD, McDonald didn’t feel as comfortable showing his true colors. He said he dressed more conservatively and was still dating his high-school girlfriend, who wasn’t too happy about his pansexuality. After their midyear breakup, he joined several Muir College organizations and became more flamboyant.

But McDonald’s pinnacle of fame came when he spent a year abroad, from June 2007 to January 2008, in Sweden. With a new webcam and some free time on his hands, Swedish Sapphire (a stage character named after his national heritage and birthstone) was born. McDonald filmed steamy remakes of whatever song he dug at the time — mostly of the Britney and Gaga nature — with a tiny camera, some careful angling and lots of costumes changes.

“I always thought Chris Crocker was cool,” McDonald said. “He makes these crazy videos and then he posts them on YouTube. I figured I could too. And so I did. And I definitely advertised it.”

One day, he joined the Swedish YouTube network, and suddenly became a mini-celebrity. His view count shot to 1,800, and at one point he held the No. 10 ranking on the country’s network. People even began to recognize him in public.

Since then, McDonald has made about 34 videos — some of which all his family and friends have viewed (grandma got a peak at Thanksgiving dinner). Though he hasn’t reached Crocker’s celebrity status, he’s still recognized locally.

“Last week, I was coming back form Earl’s Place, and this group of frat guys way behind me was like, ‘Swedish Sapphire, turn around,’” he said. “I waved and they were like, ‘K, cool, thanks.’”

Although McDonald hopes to continue filming projects on the side after he becomes an opthamologist (he interned with an eye doctor this summer and plans to apply to medical school in 2011), he understands his side job might be difficult for his patients to swallow.

“I’m worried because once I get up to a professional level its going to be hard,” McDonald said. “It might not be as accepting as it is now. And if the old lady whose eyes I’m fixing sees me on the Internet half-naked and is like, ‘Wait, that’s my eye doctor,’ that might be a bit of a shock.”

In the meantime, though, McDonald is waiting to hear back from Rich’s and Numbers — two gay clubs at which he auditioned for a go-go dancing position earlier this year. You never know when the next wedding dress tantrum will precipitate — rumor has it McDonald is planning on a fishnet-clad weight-lifting session at RIMAC sometime this year.

“I really like to have people question reality and the norm,” he said. “People live their mundane, everyday life, and all of a sudden they see some crazy drag queen running out of a tree, and its like, ‘Whoa.’”

Readers can contact Alyssa Bereznak at [email protected].

Joshua Meador/Guardian
Joshua Meador/Guardian
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