For a very long time, I was insistent on leaving TikTok to the kids. I’m only 21, but as somebody who had to conduct a few Google searches to make sense of Instagram stories, I simply felt too old for TikTok. I finally caved when the jobs I was browsing on Handshake (you know the struggle) were asking about TikTok experience and fluency: I thought to myself, “TikTok CANNOT be the reason I don’t get a job.”
I reluctantly made an account, belaboring to create a funny and clever username for far too long (and I finally made one, albeit not one that I will flaunt in an interview for a grown-up job), and began exploring the app. It was relatively easy to use, with the homepage including two streams of content, one from TikTokers (rolling my eyes as I type this word) you follow and another, the For You page, containing recommended content based on your follows, views and searches. The Discover, Create, Inbox and Profile pages were also relatively self-explanatory. I was quickly immersed in a flurry of “We Don’t Talk about Bruno” videos that got old fast, and TikToks using “Misery” as background audio to make fun of life’s rougher moments that felt a little more my speed. Still, over the first few days, the app failed to hold my attention, and I abandoned my project as quickly as I had taken it up.
Then the winter semester came to an end, and I found myself in that post-finals-pre-summer-job limbo. I considered another possibility: Maybe TikTok didn’t objectively suck, and I simply hadn’t properly invested the care, time and energy to cultivate a stream of content that I enjoyed. This possibility was an exciting one; I’ve held the rest of my social media accounts for five or more years each. Maybe I had inundated their algorithms with too much information — or at least too much information representative of a person I no longer see when I look in the mirror.
With a new mission in mind, I took to TikTok once again. I searched for “New Girl” TikToks and threw a “like” every time I saw Nick Miller; I searched for baby animals and did the same for every duckling and frog I saw. I hoped that my For You page would reflect the hours that I spent in search mode watching and liking this kind of content, but my efforts bore few productive results. Still, what I saw on TikTok, if not captivating, was light and freeing in comparison to the heavier content I found on my Twitter, so I didn’t abandon all hope just yet. See, I didn’t want to communicate to Twitter that I didn’t care about topics like human rights violations and union busting or didn’t want to see them on my timeline so much as I wanted to create an entirely new stream of content on TikTok.
It turns out that I just needed a little nudge in the right direction. I confided in a friend that I was considering hairstyles for a summer chop but hadn’t found one that felt just right. She directed me to a TikToker whose hairstyle she thought might suit me: @makingemi. I watched more and more of her content, less sure with each video whether I wanted her, wanted to be her or both. It was through her videos that I found #wlw TikTok: TikTok creators who are self-identified women who love women, posting content depicting women loving women. In short, I had stumbled upon a joyous fountain of sapphic love and content.
I found myself spending more and more time on TikTok, my For You page dominated by the sapphic and queer content of the WLW hashtag, interspersed with the occasional baby animal video. Through these creators, I saw different ways I could dress, style my hair and do makeup as a queer individual, sure, but most of all I saw SO MANY different and (at least seemingly) happy sapphic and queer relationships. The media content I’ve seen all my life, be it movies, TV or on social media, has contained plenty of examples of straight relationships, while sapphics were notably absent. Even the occasional positive queer content lucky enough to make it to the screen and become popular, such as “Our Flag Means Death” and “Heartstopper,” tends to center men.
Because of TikTok, however, I was finally able to see that being happy with a woman wasn’t a hypothetical future but a probable and possible one, if I wanted it. It was a somewhat inconvenient truth to stumble upon as queer rights are increasingly threatened, but a truth nonetheless, at least for now. In fact, it’s now that I need to see evidence of queer joy the most. I can remain apprised of threats to our rights and lives on other platforms, but in our joy and love on TikTok, there is resistance.
Daily Arts Writer Emmy Snyder can be reached at email@example.com.