Are stereotypes online doing damage to LGBTQI young people?
BY MICHELE THEIL
There are countless videos on TikTok exploring different aspects of the queer community. From activism on behalf of the LGBTQI+ community to videos about what your celebrity crush means for your sexuality, there is a strong presence of queer teens and young adults making videos to capture the LGBTQI+ experience.
TikTok is a wonderfully queer space, providing many queer people with an opportunity to feel like they’re a part of a community that understands the unique experiences of being LGBTQI+.
This is undoubtedly positive, but there are others who might feel like they’re “not gay enough” when faced with videos that give specific and traditional queer characteristics or stereotypes which they may not recognise.
The “characteristics” that are most popular on TikTok include listening to Phoebe Bridgers, or wearing flannel and Doc Martens, with video after video acting like a checklist for “how gay you are”.
Of course, many of these are just a joke, but I think there is the risk of alienating the many queer people who are still struggling with their sexuality.
Heteronormativity has meant that many queer people take time to figure out who they are as society is catered to straight people – watching TikToks that say “you’re not gay if…” can be very difficult for those that have been raised in an unaccepting household. This is particularly difficult for bisexual women, who are often made to feel inadequate in our sexuality from within the queer community.
Freyja, 22, agrees. “There’s a sentiment that bi people aren’t ‘gay enough’ and a push for bi women to reject men and their attraction to them. So to go on TikTok and see a very specific portrayal of queer identity that you don’t fit into, especially if the ways you don’t conform to that is that you’re too feminine or ‘straight passing’ is very isolating and does make you feel as though you don’t occupy a worthy place in the queer community.”
As someone who has often been told “you don’t look gay,” seeing TikToks that don’t align with my own experience of being queer is difficult, forcing me to question whether I am actually queer or am I just faking it, despite liking and dating women.
Having grown up in a homophobic environment that pushed straight relationships at all costs, I have a lot of internalised homophobia that I have to actively unlearn.
At times, I have loved seeing the abundance of queerness on TikTok, but on occasion the various challenges that state, “If you do X, Y and Z, you must be queer” when I don’t do those things has definitely made me feel unsupported and not “enough” for queer people.
Hannah, 23, thinks otherwise. “I’ve found that the queer side of TikTok has shown me such a wide variety of LGBTQ+ people, that there is no right way to be gay. I think that TikTok has a more supportive community than other areas of the internet.”
She also says that TikTok has allowed her to learn more about other aspects of the LGBTQI+ community that she may not be familiar with, such as the transgender community and the issues they face. “I learn a lot on TikTok,” Hannah says.
This is undeniably true. Queer TikToks do provide a wonderful way of expressing queerness and sharing that with other LGBTQI+ people. But, there is a dark side to it, and as neither the app nor the users themselves offer professional resources to those struggling with their sexuality, we must make sure to draw the line between a joke and a serious attempt at policing queerness, making sure that no one feels alienated from the LGBTQI+ community as this separation can cause serious problems and contribute to depression, anxiety, internalised homophobia, and loneliness.
The LGBTQI+ community is an accepting community, and we come in all shapes, sizes, creeds and colours – the queer side of TikTok needs to remember that.
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