It’s not perfect, but TikTok has become a place for LGBT+ people to thrive
‘That’s the best thing about TikTok, you can be yourself’
Sitting in his car, Beau garbs his phone and begins filming a TikTok. Ruffling his hair nervously, he tells the camera: “Anyways, uh, I am gay now – not now, always was – but I’ve accepted that and I’m cool with that. And people should know, ‘cause that’s me. So, like, hi… hi boys.” Five years ago, young people came out with big Facebook statuses or YouTube videos, but in 2020 coming out on TikTok is becoming the new norm.
Speaking about it now, Beau says he feels great. “It was a big step for me to kinda just put out who I was into the world with no filter of who could or couldn’t see it.” Since the video, Beau’s had a lot of male attention, but he says that wasn’t why he made it. “It was important to me because I wanted to be able to be myself on an app that I create on. The purpose was to put who I was out into the world.”
@skrtbobainWhy am I so f****ing awkward anyways ya hi what’s up happy pride month ##fyp ##foryou ##foryoupage♬ original sound – skrtbobain
Beau is one of many LGBT+ creators on TikTok, an exponentially growing community which accounts for over 36 billion views on the app across various hashtags. Breaking away from the ever changing algorithms of YouTube and Facebook, the celeb-dominated fields of Instagram and Twitter, and the feeble representation offered by Netflix, TikTok offers LGBT+ creators a level playing field to make themselves the stars of the show, pushing conversations about sex, relationships and identity not being had elsewhere. But why is that? Beau, for one, thinks it’s a “mesh” of a younger user base and better “freedom of expression,” but do other TikTokers feel the same?
One creator who made waves early on in TikTok history is Paddy, a 16-year-old who makes being the effeminate gay in a group of straight mates look easy, enviable even. Paddy is one of many creators opening a dialogue about the ins and outs of gay relationships. (One of his videos has him showing off DMs which reads: “I’m not gay in any way shape or form at all, but if you were with me at 3am and no one knew then… who knows. I’d be so embarrassed though so don’t tell anyone.”)
Looking at Paddy’s content leads you to believe some serious progress has been made, but Paddy makes it clear it’s been a hard road.”For my first few years it was tough with boys from the year above,” he says. “But when I was in my last year and I grew a bigger audience on TikTok, a lot of the year 7s and 8s would vie for my attention and shout me in the corridors. I even filmed TikToks with ones that asked me to.”
Even now he puts up with torrents of homophobic comments from anonymous accounts, “the usual slurs f*ggot, qu**r, b*nder,” and even death threats. “It was difficult to process, but in a way I’m glad I went through it because it gave me a thicker skin and taught me how to deal with people’s opinions that you don’t always agree with.”
@paddyx57##fyp ##foryoupage @tristenzeidman creds to him x♬ stuck with U – favsoundds
Why do it then? Well, for one, Paddy has found himself fielding questions from young gay people asking for advice. “Others can see me and know they can unapologetically be themselves no matter what people throw at them.”
Paper, as Beyoncé once said, is the best revenge, and TikTokers like Paddy are having the last laugh with the commercial opportunities having a large TikTok following bring. Paddy says he’s “not quite there yet,” but he’s already worked with several eyelash brands and has his sights set even higher.
But no one knows the value of TikTok fame like the ByteSquad, the UK’s TikTok house, who once told me they were “the most diverse group in the world.” Within the house exist two same-sex couples: Lily and Katy, and Seb and Monty. The squad isn’t shy about posting the kind of couply content which is standard for TikTok, but even that in itself is refreshing when you consider just how heteronormative other social medias are. I get the four of them on Zoom and ask them whether they see it like that.
Monty gets it. He recalls seeing young people coming out on Facebook to mild disapproval. “Facebook was the first social media my mum let me have to talk to my aunts and uncles. When I saw people coming out on it you’d get the occasional Karen comment, like ‘not the place to say this.’ I thought: ‘Oh that could never be me. I would never be brave enough to do that’.”
@bytesquadhqKt’s has forever been the third member in mebby ##foryou ##viral ##fyp♬ original sound – parker_james
What makes TikTok different, then? “I feel like TikTok’s more woke,” says Monty. Like Paddy, he acknowledges the presence of homophobic comments, but the ByteSquad’s fans don’t have any time for homophobia. “If you’re gonna put your opinion out there on TikTok and it’s anti-LGBT,” Monty says. “Be prepared to be told why you’re wrong.”
Lily chimes in: “Even when we do get the odd hate comment, which is very rare, our supporters shut them down so quickly – it’s actually quite funny. If anyone ever comes for us it just ends with our supporters just taking over.”
Seb laughs: “You end up wishing they hadn’t commented it, because now it’s like, ‘I feel bad for you’.”
@bytesquadhqHappily stuck with you🥰 ##fyp ##viral♬ stuck with U – favsoundds
There are advantages of being a united front. “We’ve just got such a stronger presence,” says Katy. “Especially online – it’s like a group of LGBT creators together and our voices can be more powerful. We’re only gonna grow from here.”
The LGBT-wing of ByteSquad says they see themselves as activists, even by giving this interview. “That’s us doing our part, using our voice and amplifying it even more,” explains Monty. Reflecting on the cancellation of Pride events, he adds: “As long as LGBT people are proud of who they are it doesn’t matter there aren’t any physical gatherings along the streets because of coronavirus – we’re still proud. We’re not proud because of Pride, we’re proud because of who we are.”
Activism aside, the gang hope by just being themselves they can make a difference. A couple of them point out they don’t identify a particular way and didn’t “come out” on TikTok. One day Seb was dating Monty and another day Lily was dating Katy. No messing about, no labels.
@bytesquadhqwhen you move your bed and it feels like a new room 🙈🤭♬ Vibe (aesthetic) – evintage
Seb hopes there will come a time when creators like Beau won’t have to formally come out. “We’re now in 2020. We don’t need to do that. Like I am with Monty, we can just be in a relationship and not have it be this huge thing, like – you’re gay?”
The ByteSquad also find themselves giving advice and chatting through problems with their young fanbase. “We actually engage with our followers when they are feeling confused or down about anything to do with their identity or sexuality and I think that’s more than other influencers do.”
@bytesquadhqInstant karma at the end tho ##fyp ##uk ##rockpaperscissors♬ original sound – bytesquadhq
The starkest difference between TikTok and other forms of social media is evident in how its trans creators are treated. Far from the toxic debate raging on Twitter, Aiden gave TikTok a go in quarantine and was pleasantly surprised at how open people have been on the app.
“I wasn’t sure how the TikTok viewers were going to respond to a trans video, so at first I didn’t post anything about being transgender,” he says. “But I didn’t want to hide myself and I wanted to show on every social media platform that I’m not afraid to be seen, so I then started making videos about being transgender.”
Inevitably, he admits, there were hate comments, but they were “overwhelmed” by love. “I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me telling me that they’ve learned so much about the transgender community from my profile, or their outlook on the transgender community has completely changed since following me.”
@aiden_m365Thank you @kaylah.keys for being my running hype man! 👏🏼❤️♬ I Leave Again – Petit Biscuit & Shallou
All the creators I spoke to agree more needs to be done to police the queerphobic abuse in the comments, but for the most part, TikTok has become a platform where queer people can present themselves on their own terms.
“I suppose that’s the best thing about TikTok,” says Seb. “You can be who you want on there.”