How TikTok helped me come to terms with my sexuality

TikTok called me gay and I listened

Illustration courtesy of Washington Post.

By Dev Petrovic, Staff Writer

Growing up, sexuality was not a popular topic of discussion — I was rarely exposed to queer history, events, or content unless I personally sought it now. For this reason, from a young age, I’ve always felt cornered into traditional, cultural, and marital expectations. 

It wasn’t until I occasionally stumbled upon LGBTQ+ representations in television and film that I even started to question the possibility of not being straight. Even then, however, there’s only so much that can be conveyed through shows where a straight person is playing the role of a woman-loving-woman. 

Yet, most of my life has consisted of frustrations over men. I would ask myself, “Why am I so picky about who I want to date?” and “Why is it so hard for me to like a boy?” I should have known when I got Tinder and never swiped on anyone, that there was something a little gay going on with me. The onset of a Phoebe Bridgers obsession also should have been a sign. 

I digress. 

When the height of the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada, I found myself succumbing to hours of mindless scrolling through social media just to keep myself occupied. I found that TikTok seemed to be a good distraction, especially for the relatability of some of the more niche videos. Eventually, TikToks created by other folks questioning their sexuality began to show up on my “for you” page. One thing led to another and soon, I was reading the lesbian master document at 2 a.m. 

For those unfamiliar with the lesbian master document, it is basically a gay sorting hat that goes into depth on common lesbian issues. It includes an explanation of compulsory heterosexuality (how heterosexuality is reinforced by a patriarchal and heteronormative society), and how it creates barriers for queer women and non-binary folk. Essentially, this document is an identity crisis support file for gay people. 

The lack of real-life advice and information from other queer folks was primarily what had left me confused and deeply unsure of my identity. I had always thought that I liked men, but at the same time, it had felt incredibly forced my entire life. Was I actually attracted to men, or was it just compulsory heterosexuality blinding me from the truth? 

For a long time, it felt like a struggle to identify any form of attraction. So when I came across TikToks where folks shared their own stories on discovering their sexuality, I started to realize that I was relating to a lot of the stories of women-loving-women — particularly those who talked about the role of compulsory heterosexuality. 

Since TikTok filters algorithms based on the content users engage with, I was basically being spoon-fed answers regarding my sexuality all at once. It was overwhelming. TikTok was the last source I expected to help me discover my sexuality. It was highly unconventional, to say the least.

I also saw TikToks where creators shared helpful resources — like the lesbian master document — that I otherwise would not have found, as well as shows and films with accurate representations of LGBTQ+ folks. Enthralled with so much new knowledge, I was seeing rainbows, new windows of self-discovery, and also some really bad shows. Couldn’t someone have told me that The L Word is kind of boring? 

I recall several points throughout my teenage years where I knew I was attracted to girls but was always too scared to put a label on it or even fully admit it to myself. There would be instances where I would think, “I definitely like girls,” but would quickly shut myself down because “well, I can’t be gay.” Now looking back, and having heard similar confessions from other queer people on TikTok, I am able to understand that this came from a place of internalized homophobia.

I can reframe for myself many of the aspects of my life that had always felt out of place, such as why I was always such a passionate ally. With this newfound realization, I feel that I can work on actively dismantling the internalized views and external expectations that once tied me down. 

Hearing other people express the same confusion I had battled with my entire life was comforting, finally allowing me to be honest with myself and confront the big questions I had always avoided. Being uncomfortable with my sexuality had always felt isolating and now, suddenly, it wasn’t anymore. An entire internet community began to unravel before my eyes, and although this community consists of other confused strangers hiding behind their phone screens, it was enough to validate how I was feeling. 

While my experience with TikTok and my sexuality has been positive, it is also important to mention that the app can be a platform for bigotry and hate. Since the regulation of the app is significantly poor, there have been instances where I have come across biphobic and lesbophobic content. 

That being said, while I don’t think TikTok is always a good go-to platform for education on queer issues, I do see the value in how it can be a validating place for folks seeking out advice (if it is respectful and taken with a grain of salt). It was helpful for me because I was mostly looking for indirect validation rather than education. Nonetheless, bite-sized videos that normalize aspects of an experience are powerful, regardless of the app that they are found on.

More than anything, it’s really comforting to know that there are internet communities out there that can bring a sense of security to people during these isolating times. This is so important for folks just discovering their queer identities, who cannot rely on in-person connections right now. 

I am much more comfortable with my sexuality now and (surprisingly) I have TikTok to thank for that. While there are always going to be factors that make it difficult to be queer, I know that these aren’t things only I am experiencing — there are support systems out there. Whether it’s on TikTok, Twitter, or a book club, I now know who I am and where to seek out reassurance from folks in similar situations.