TikTok has taken over the social media landscape by storm, as Gen Z-ers are rushing onto the platform to gratify their content-creating and watching needs. Often, the ‘For You’ page is littered with viral trends and videos that keep people entertained. However, there’s more to TikTok than just another viral social media platform. TikTok has been monumental in helping the LGBQ+ youth community find support and pride within themselves and their identity.
Much like Tumblr for the LGBTQ+ millennials, TikTok has become a source of comfort and community for the LGBTQ+ Gen Z-ers. These Gen Z-ers have used the platform to freely express themselves without the judgment of others as they know they can stay on the ‘gay side’ of TikTok. The ‘sides’ of TikTok refers to the algorithm’s different choice of content it provides for each individual user. TikTok’s algorithm highlights the different genres and sub-communities found within the app. The most prominent divide between the communities is straight TikTok and gay TikTok.
Straight TikTok includes the top creators, dance challenges, thirst traps, and mainstream trends, whereas gay TikTok tells a different story. Gay TikTok rejects the mainstream, allowing them to embrace what it truly means to be queer. Here, boys can wear skirts and put on make-up and no one will judge. The trust in the algorithm on sharing the videos to users who will accept them as they are allows individuals to upload content in which they can bend gender norms and express their sexuality. For certain teens that are struggling to embrace their identity, it normalizes and brings pride to their differences. For others, it’s a place to learn and educate themselves about the differences and diversity of people’s realities.
"In social media, users have made space to show that it’s okay to experiment and do things that are usually considered out of the norm. Not only that, social media is used to spread messages to educate and learn, helping people understand the nuances of being queer".
The community doesn’t constrain itself to TikTok. The LGBTQ+ youth community uses multiple social media platforms to their advantage. Twitter and Instagram are online spaces where individuals can post anything they want while staying anonymous. Platforms like Youtube have made it more accessible for ordinary people to upload their content and stories. Unlike movies and TV shows, creators present themselves in a more typical setting that makes it more relatable for LGBTQ+ youth. As a result, social media has been the pinnacle of representation of LGBTQ+ individuals, allowing the youth to feel comfortable and accept their identity.
In social media, users have made space to show that it’s okay to experiment and do things that are usually considered out of the norm. Not only that, social media is used to spread messages to educate and learn, helping people understand the nuances of being queer. For certain teens, social media is a source of comfort to know and reassure themselves that they’re not alone. Especially for some, being queer can be isolating and so the only people they can relate to are those online. It’s a great way for LGBTQ+ youth to feel empowered by the ones that are presenting themselves in the media. That is why media representation of the community apart from just social media is also crucial.
When films and TV shows include the LGBTQ+ community, it helps them feel like they exist even in these idealistic scenarios. Shows like “Love, Simon” that spotlight queer individuals as primary characters are essential as they highlight the problems and struggles of being an LGBTQ+ youth in society. It helps those that identify as queer relate to people and find comfort in knowing others struggle the same. Other shows feature queer individuals but focus on struggles that are unrelated to their identity. It demonstrates to the public that these people are more than just their sexuality. Even seeing the community as background characters is important in demonstrating that they are accepted and acknowledged in society.
"Allowing young people to explore their identities is important for society to progressively evolve and foster generations of holistically healthy and open-minded individuals".
As these media platforms advance, they have and continue to evolve into more than just a place of social networking and a source of entertainment. Teens that are struggling to figure out their identity have used it as a playground for experimentation and discovery. It has become a safe-haven for those that cannot find the same type of safe support in their real-life communities. Allowing young people to explore their identities is important for society to progressively evolve and foster generations of holistically healthy and open-minded individuals.