- TikTok has turned itself into Generation Z‘s de facto launchpad for viral memes and internet trends in a space that brings together teens outside of adult supervision.
- Because of this user make-up, TikTok has become a popular place among LGBTQ teens, many of whom are not out to friends and family but have found a community online where they can be out.
- Some have used TikTok to aid with the coming out process itself, repurposing and remixing songs to capture the reactions of their loved ones on camera and share the results on the platform.
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When Jenn Harding first understood she was catching more-than-platonic feelings for a girl, years had passed since it was instilled in her – for the first of many times in her small Michigan hometown – that homosexuality is a sin.
But Harding, 20, then discovered a community beyond her “super conservative Catholic family” on the video-sharing app TikTok. Harding told Business Insider that not only were teens like her out and proud on the platform, but they were fiercely supportive of each other in a way she had never seen before.
Suddenly, coming out didn’t seem as scary, and Harding decided to start the process with one of her closest friends. In a video later posted to TikTok, Harding and her friend are seen posing in front of the phone camera as a few notes from Lizzo’s “Boys” play. But instead of Lizzo singing that she likes “big boys and itty bitty boys,” the song jumps seamlessly to the first lines of Beastie Boys’ “Girls”.
While the friend is left dumbfounded as to why she’s not singing along to the Lizzo song as she expected, Harding knew the remix was coming all along, allowing her to simply lay out her message: “I like girls.”
Harding is not the only one to have used this TikTok-native music remix to come out in real-life to friends and family, and share the recordings of the reactions on TikTok. The LGBTQ community there has latched onto this Lizzo-Beastie Boys supercut, as well as songs like will.i.am’s “Boys & Girls”, and edited versions of “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now” from the musical “Hairspray.”
The audio tracks behind TikTok clips are sometimes just as important as the videos themselves, and the ability for fellow TikTok users to repurpose them have led soundtracks to launch internet memes and viral trends. The most popular example is the case of “Old Town Road,” whose rise to No. 1 on the music charts was aided by the millions who used the song for cowboy-related challenges on TikTok.
This Lizzo-Beastie Boys remix cut on TikTok can be traced back to Lanie Calcara, an 18-year-old TikTok user who mixed the two songs together on a whim to reflect her queer identity. She was delighted to discover later that her track, “something as simple as a lip syncing audio,” was being used to ease people’s coming out conversations.
Coming out 2.0
In these coming out videos on TikTok, queer teens are using the app to construct situations that make an often difficult and nerve-wracking experience a little bit easier, LGBTQ users told Business Insider. Instead of a serious sit-down conversation, LGBTQ teens said coming out in a TikTok video made it less formal and relieved some of the pressure and paralyzing fear.
“My friend is very Christian and I didn’t know how to tell her [I was LGBTQ],” a 17-year-old from Texas – who requested anonymity because she isn’t out to her family – told Business Insider. “I figured when I made the video if she didn’t accept it, I could tell her that it was a joke and she could ignore it.”
Others said that putting the video on TikTok meant that their loved one’s reaction would be recorded for posterity, because the internet is forever. An 18-year-old from South Carolina, who also chose to stay anonymous, said she hopes she can one day “look back on it and laugh about how nervous” she was.
TikTok has catapulted into the US teen mainstream in the short 15 months since it first became available here in August 2018. Its roots are found in Musical.ly, a video-sharing platform where content was simpler: Users created 15-second-max lip-syncing videos along to preset audio tracks. Considering one of Musical.ly’s founders, Alex Zhu, is now the head of TikTok, the correlation between the two apps is evident, as is TikTok’s continued emphasis on audio and sound.
TikTok didn’t necessarily bring anything especially new to social media, but it sticks out by integrating many of social media’s most addictive and adored features under one app: Vine‘s video snippets for copious amounts of content consumption; Instagram‘s user feeds for easily following influencers; Twitter‘s trending hashtags for keeping up with what’s going viral; and video game-inspired techniques for encouraging in-app spending.
But the online coming out video isn’t something that was invented on TikTok. There were an estimated 36,000 “coming out” videos on YouTube in 2015, ranging from relatively unknown teens whose uploads have gone viral, to those from celebrities and influencers like Ingrid Nielsen, Troye Sivan, and swimmer Tom Daley.
But while YouTube and TikTok are both public platforms, TikTok is newer and still somewhat unknown to boomers or less-accepting people outside of Gen Z. In a way, TikTok is similar to the early version of YouTube, where videos were largely confessional-style and often delightfully stupid.
All 10 of the LGBTQ teens who talked with Business Insider said that TikTok has become a place to find support and acceptance, when that may not be possible to find that in their real lives hundreds of miles away from each other at different high schools in Ohio, Texas, South Carolina, and Michigan. This feeling of community, despite its virtual presence, is why writer Rachel Charlene Lewis recently dubbed TikTok the “gay Tumblr for Gen Z” in Vice.
“If some people’s parents don’t support them, there are millions and millions of people on TikTok that will be there,” 17-year-old Florida resident Mia Espinales told Business Insider. “If it wasn’t for TikTok, I probably would still be in the closet right now.”