Are you a dom-femme? A masc-dom? A stem? A hey mama? A disaster-bi? A femme who likes femmes? A masc-top-switch? Not sure? Lesbian TikTok will tell you.
TikTok is nothing less than a sanctuary for those who are queer or questioning; it is the place to go for lessons in LGBTQIA+ history, sex, culture, music and fashion. But most importantly, it has become a place in which queer people can authentically exist, communicate and support one another. TikTok has been particularly important for me as a queer woman in exposing me to the parts of lesbian life and culture that have previously had no place in popular media. This platform is a space in which queer women can share both their everyday life and more personal experiences such as queer awakenings, coming out stories, IVF journeys and chronicles of their lesbian love stories. Authentic content like this projects a realistic and relatable image of lesbian relationships, serving as a corrective to the heavily fetishised, sexualised and stigmatised images of lesbianism that have always dominated popular media. Some consider TikTok to be a remedy not only for lesbian erasure but also for Compulsory Heterosexuality (comphet). Comphet is the theory that heterosexuality is ultimately enforced upon women by patriarchal society and that homosexuality is therefore cast as something that is neither viable nor natural for women. Thousands of TikToks are designed to specifically target this issue.
In the summer of 2020, a google doc file titled “Am I a Lesbian? Masterdoc” was released on Tumblr and quickly found its way to TikTok, where it became viral. This document details signs of comphet and homosexuality and is intended to guide queer women, who have potentially succumbed to compulsory heterosexuality, in their journey of self-discovery. This guide has since become primarily manifest in TikToks titled “signs you might be a lesbian” or something to that effect, which utilise the guide to help women to understand their sexuality. The algorithm plays a significant part in this process; if you have a single gay bone in your body, the algorithm will find it – often before you do. There are currently over four million TikToks hash-tagged “#TikTokmademegay”, attesting to the power of the algorithm; people who have never even considered that they might be queer have found their ‘For You’ page full of Girl in Red, cottagecore and sapphic thirst traps…. The algorithm doesn’t lie.
It is an effective and positive tool for self-discovery, expression and community construction for queer-identifying people. It is also, however, an arena for arbitrary label-making. I have learnt more about the lesbian lexicon from TikTok than I have from anywhere else. The dualistic butch-femme typology that found its beginnings in the early 20th century has evolved into an incredibly extensive lesbian classification system. TikTok has taught me about high femmes, blue jean femmes (also known as “low femmes”), gold-star lesbians, chapsticks, U-Haul lesbians, wildfangs, 100-footers, saysbians and many, many more.
It should be mentioned that this extensive typology might make entering this network somewhat daunting for baby gays. I knew I was queer long before the algorithm got me and have been fortunate enough to have always felt confident, comfortable and assured in my queerness, without feeling as though I need to specifically label it. But since entering the depths of lesbian TikTok, I found myself questioning which of these lesbian categories I best fit into. This took me somewhat by surprise, considering I have never even particularly identified with the term ‘lesbian’. As much as I am one of those people who like to think that social media has no real influence over them, in reality it gets to us all in some way or other. Whilst the incredibly expansive lexicon shows a clear effort to be inclusive, it had a paradoxical effect of invalidating my queerness.
But I have since realised that not fitting into one of these categories does not detract from my queerness and this is an important realisation to have. These labels are unimportant in the grand scheme of queer identification – and perhaps this is precisely the point! Most of these labels have been constructed or reclaimed by the queer community and are not intended to be stigmatised or necessarily prescriptive; being a Hawaiian-shirt-wearing lesbian (wildfang) does not necessarily change the essence of one’s queer identity but is rather a (specific) matter of presentation, which is the case with many of these labels. In essence, there is absolutely nothing wrong with them – they are not made with harmful intent, this is really important for people to know. I find tiktok to be accepting of all versions of queerness because there is always someone who shares your feelings, and Tiktok – or more specifically the algorithm can lead you to them.
What these extensive labels show us is that there are a multitude of ways to express queer identity so why should we worry about choosing one of those versions to identify with? Identity is so incredibly multidimensional; don’t worry if you don’t relate to any of these TiktTok tropes, there is a place for you there regardless! Tiktok champions the existence of queer women and has been seminal in destigamatising them – for that we should be grateful. In LGBTQ+ history month 2022, we have appreciated TikTok as a means to document, celebrate and preserve the current queer experience that can be looked back on in many LGBTQ+ history months to come.