TikTok and Thoughts* on Belonging

Let me begin by saying how grateful I am that Instagram and Facebook did not exist when I was in middle or high school. (Frankly, college, too.) Which is going to be fairly counterintuitive to a lot of what follows. Life would be far too boring without contradiction!

I was never much of a Music.ly user, and only really lurked on Vine, so did not think that TikTok would offer much by way of an outlet or attenion-grab for me. Typically an early-adapter, I drug my feet (while being asked by literally no one to join) creating a TikTok account, waiting an unprecedented 8 months from its inception to join. (Anyone else remember Emoj.li? No? Exactly.)

A video compilation I came across while jumping around YouTube reminded me of TikTok’s existence, my curiosity piqued, and I joined about 4.5 months ago.

At first, the experience was predominately entertaining–embedding song fragments into deep recesses of my brain and encouraging me to create 15 second “aesthetic” videos of my world. (I’ll leave that to the “VSCO Girls” who have me beat hands down there.)

Then the broad patterns beyond the musical hooks, clever duet videos, and shadow-ban rants, began to emerge that make me appreciate the potential good an app like TikTok can provide: belonging.

What I would have done for a space that, with millions of users feels anonymous, to begin to have an outlet to the broader LGBT community and start to flex my coming-out muscles. To see other gay people (lesbians in particular) expressing themselves and living their lives out and proud through the good and not good moments of “the process”? Lifechanging.

Growing up I had Ellen’s coming-out TV episode.** And I had jokes about “she must be a gym teacher” or “they are life long roommates”… I had a church telling me gay people were backward, sinful, and hell-bound. All of these things were rattling around with my internal anguish over realizing that I did not feel the same way about boys as my friends did and feeling very alone and scared.

Now, in 2019, I scroll through TikTok to see and hear teenagers defining their sexuality–STEMS, STUDS, FEMS–and creating communities of acceptance from hashtags. I have even seen an (adult) lesbian couple meet via TikTok, fall in love over months, and start a life together.

And then there are other adults saying things like “if your family kicks you out, I’ll be your mom. Do you need a hug? I’ll give you a mom hug and tell you to clean your room.” And I weep for how being LGBTQ+ in our society is, truly, growing up. We aren’t “there” yet–but TikTok (of all things!) helps remind me that the “It Gets Better” movement/videos, Ellen’s boldness, Martha P. Johnson’s existence, Harvey Milk’s “recruitment” and even the audacity my wife and I have to have wed means that we are getting  to the there, there.



*but not “thots”, thx.
**which I was MAD about for years. It aired during my 15th birthday party and I thoroughly had my thunder stolen!

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