I couldn’t place the feeling, deep within my gut, but it was as though it had always been there. A fluttering sense, flighty at the touch, when I looked at her. She wasn’t just the girl who I played trapeze with on the middle school playground. There were so many versions of her: the beautiful cross country runner I competed with on the course and the girl with the oversized sweatshirt in my introductory Spanish class. Whoever she was, I always felt nervous around her. I would think about her all the time, as painful as it was. I would retrace every detail of her — the way she tilted her head back when she laughed or the way she rolled her eyes, hazel with indignation, at ignorant comments — in remembrance of something I could never have.
It took me a long time to place my feelings for her for what they truly were. The heteronormative Indian culture I grew up in, along with the wealthy, majority white hometown where I was raised, made it much harder for me to understand and accept myself. It wasn’t until the second year of college, emboldened by the liberality of the UC Berkeley community, that I began to come to terms with my bisexuality. It was also around that time when I stumbled upon something as wildly unexpected as it was undeniably relevant: gay TikToks.
I was first introduced to TikToks when I nostalgically searched for old Vine compilations on YouTube. The first suggestion I read was “Tiktoks that radiate vine energy.” Confused, I turned to Google to learn about this social platform.
I learned that TikToks were 15-second viral videos featuring creative content, such as lip-syncing, singing, dancing, stand-up routines and more. Users could customize their creations by adding sound bites, visual effects and voice-overs. I was especially surprised to discover the sphere of LGBTQ+ content within the TikTok platform as I scrolled through titles such as “LGBT tik toks because we burnin anyways” and “LGBT tik toks for my fellow gays.”
As I watched video after video, I came to understand the importance of these TikToks in leveraging creative humor to create a space of support and understanding for the LGBTQ+ community. I began to observe distinctive trends among the videos, slight motifs and themes that worked to create a sphere of LGBTQ+ cultural influence.
These video trends establish a sense of belonging in the sense that others can participate in the trends and, in doing so, weave their own experiences into the broader communal narrative.
For example, many videos feature a so-called sexuality check, where creators enthusiastically shout their sexual orientation and proceed to demonstrate a series of personal behaviors and characteristics that they associate with their sexuality. I watched as dozens of women used the voice-over for “lesbian check,” while proceeding to display social notions and expectations associated with their sexuality, such as owning several flannel shirts, wearing manly shoes and riding skateboards.
At first glance, many aspects of the sexuality check appear to be tightly correlated to stereotypical expectations of sexuality. I feel, however, that they actually allow queer individuals to reclaim their own perceptions of sexuality through listing aspects of their identities in an expressive audiovisual format. In addition, these video trends establish a sense of belonging in the sense that others can participate in the trends and, in doing so, weave their own experiences into the broader communal narrative.
Another socially relevant trend among LGBTQ+ TikToks is when creators list problems commonly faced by individuals within their orientation group. For example, a viral TikTok discussing the problems of being bisexual features a man dancing, while text blocks with statements like “I thought you were gay” appear on the screen behind him. I found such TikToks to be both dryly funny and sad, which I believe to be an essential part of the humor of LGBTQ+ culture. TikToks like “Problems with being bi” leverage self-deprecating humor and overly exaggerated effects to draw humor from, while also bringing attention to the daily discrimination that such individuals endure. Not only that, these videos work to make awareness of LGBTQ+ issues accessible by using comedy as a tool for social commentary.
And I feel that, to some extent, these seemingly inconsequential TikToks are actually pushing the envelope of societal discussion and awareness of the LGBTQ+ community. The most memorable of such TikToks, in my opinion, were ones that used the same dry, deadpan humor to point out the hypocrisy of homophobic rhetoric.
Several TikToks feature scenes such as an LGBTQ+ individual pretending to sleep, while the captions reads “Christians when the bible says hair dye, piercings & tattoos are a sin.” These TikToks are in reference to the complacency of Christians toward socially normalized acts that the Bible refers to as sins. This TikTok then shows the creator rising in anger, while the text above them reads “Christians when they see anyone whos apart of the LGBT.”
What stands out to me about these videos is not only the accuracy of their portrayal of homophobic hypocrisy. Moreover, these TikToks allow for LGBTQ+ individuals to reclaim the rhetoric of shame and discrimination surrounding queerness by both taking on the role of and combatting homophobia.
When I look back at all the gay TikToks I’ve watched over the semester, it seems crazy to think that such short, innoucously simple videos can yield such a strong cultural and societal impact. And on a personal level, it’s strange to think about how these 15-second videos have played such a strong role in my journey to accept and fully understand myself, as well as the community I belong to. When I wanted a quick break from grinding through late-night homework assignments, I watched short TikTok compilations. When I felt lost and confused about my sexuality and the way I felt I was supposed to present myself, I watched “Bisexual TikToks to feel valid outside of #pridemonth.”
I hope that, as TikTok comes to the forefront of the social media sphere, the LGBTQ+ subcommunity it has given rise to continues to flourish and strengthen. I hope that these short, viral videos continue to spark important conversations, while creating havens for people to creatively and authentically express themselves. But most importantly, I hope that LGBTQ+ TikToks revolutionize the awareness and understanding of queer issues. I hope that they become as recognized and understood as common Vines, memes and phenomena embedded into our cultural understanding of queerness. Because at the end of the day, it’s 2019. It’s time for queer acceptance to go viral.
Contact Riya Berry at [email protected].