LGBT TikTok, the pandemic and how the experience encouraged self-discovery
The pandemic gave people way too much time to think. And, as highlighted by Psychologist Dr. Glen Hosking, ‘When you have the opportunity to sit and reflect, it’s very common for people to experience psychological growth.’ Worldwide, the hustle and bustle of contemporary society had paused in a way today’s generations had never seen before. So, with the possibility of outside opinion and speculation minimised and a sudden abundance of free time, it was inevitable that today’s youth and Young Adult [YA] population would turn to social media. Cue many youths discovering themselves thanks to LGBT TikTok.
Craving social interaction in any form paired with the desire for entertainment in unchartered and less exciting days, it’s no wonder TikTok rose in popularity. It was a fairly new and innovative social media centred around short videos tailored to the individual; it was bound to become the main culprit of a high screen time in the context of the pandemic. What, perhaps, no one initially expected, was the rise in teens and YA who identified as LGBTQ+. This is no coincidence, free from outside opinion, people could practice self-expression and self-identification in a safer environment: the comfort of their bedroom.
TikTok user Renee expresses the positive impact that the mandatory COVID quarantine had on her understanding of herself, “When you’re alone for extended periods of time, you no longer have the weight of social expectations on you and you’re forced to confront who you are without the lens.” This, paired with an increase in LGBTQ+ education, content and trends, TikTok acted as a somewhat ‘big sibling’ figure. It offered advice and highlighted feelings that were relatable to those who may have already been questioning their identity while simultaneously creating a safe space that offered people perspectives on themselves that they may not have considered before. To put it simply, TikTok facilitated the ‘coming out’ of a huge number of its users.
TikTok user Chloe takes the notion one step further, reflecting on the idea that the intricate TikTok algorithm was so perfectly tailored to her that it helped her make the final steps towards understanding her sexuality, “Lesbian TikTok was literally my entire feed and I thought, ‘hey, what’s going on? Do they know something I don’t?’ So, I kind of took the jump and joined Tinder as a woman looking for another woman.”
Amongst those who are familiar with the app, this is not a surprising notion. The TikTok algorithm involves something called the ‘For You Page’ [FYP], which provides the user with catered videos based on their level of interaction with previous content. However, how it seems is that TikTok knows what you want (and need!) to see even before you do. There are many ‘sides’ to TikTok and one is ‘Gay’ TikTok where you can find queer-centred and mostly Sapphic media. Whereas, most heterosexual people will never see Gay TikTok. This is a great example of the TikTok algorithm catering its content to you as an individual.
But, the strength of the algorithm did not stop there, variation in popular audios and trends based on sexual identity were also evident. For example, the popular song ‘Kiss Me More’ released in 2021 by Doja Cat and SZA was used in two opposing ways. The recognisable ‘Ding’ featured in the song was accompanied by a hand gesture related to queerness for those who found themselves on LGBTQ+ TikTok. And, for those who weren’t, a quick snap of the fingers was sufficient.
But how does this link to coming out? As one user puts it, “it took the TikTok overlord’s interference to look myself in the eye and say, ‘Wait What?”. Put plainly, the overload of LGBTQ+ content forced people to consider variation in sexuality and gender identity more so than ever before. It was a notion that was now brought to the forefront after having previously been shunned for so many years.
For Sapphic individuals, being presented with Lesbian media provided knowledge about sexuality that didn’t involve men. This, paired with educational content, led to many individuals who were now able to come to terms with the fact that they may have been experiencing compulsory heterosexuality (the idea that heterosexuality is assumed and enforced upon women by a patriarchal and heteronormative society.).
With the additional time and safety that quarantine provided a greater, universal understanding of one self’s sexuality was reached. One that may have not been reached so quickly if it were not for both TikTok and the pandemic. Clearly, this is a sentiment shared by thousands of users who experienced a similar journey of self-realisation.