As a published author, I have had to engage in most social media platforms to establish and grow my platform. It became even more critical over that last few years as I lost much of my platform (in evangelical Christian circles) for coming out as LGBTQ+ affirming, not to mention as a proud bisexual/pansexual man. Despite the challenges, I’ve managed to maintain a decent following.
Of course, we all know that social media changes like the weather. And as a middle-aged man, the growing influence of TikTok could not be ignored. Conventional wisdom was this was the medium of young people, like my kids, not to invaded by such oldies as Millennials, let alone an ancient Gem Xer like myself. Yet, undeterred I recently took the dive into the platform, and while it is still early days, I wanted to share why I think it is important for middle-aged queer folks like myself to be on TikTok.
The vibrancy of queer TikTok is astonishing. While by no means free from all the toxic dynamics we see on other social media platforms (or in life in general), you will find a remarkably diverse mix LGBTQ+ folks, including ages. This latter piece is critical, given that queer identity is not hereditary, thus making passing on important lived experience and wisdom less of a given.
To that end, TikTik provides a way for multiple generations of queer folks to connect, learn from each other’s experience (with us older folks having much to learn from our younger queer siblings). While we have come a long way with LGBTQ+ acceptance, the world is still a toxic and dangerous place for vulnerable youth, so being (appropriately) present and supportive as older queers is critical.
Within the first few days of people on TikTok, I came across a half dozen young kids coming out and facing significant rejection from families and friends. I was able to connect them with resources, offer them encouragement, and help them feel seen. Not only were they always deeply grateful but other kids in similar places saw the comments and reached out for support too. And older LGBTQ+ folks who hadn’t had that kind of support also connected with me as a result.
We shouldn’t underestimate TikTok’s capacity for genuine community-building.
Queer Parents of TikTok
When the topics of parenting and LGBTQ+ identity come together, most people assume that the focus will be on how parents can lovingly accept and support their queer kids. And while that is still critically important, there is a whole new focus emerging: Queer parents. As a queer dad myself, I have been thrilled by the connection, understanding, and laughter that has come through connecting to other queer parents on the app.
Obviously queer parents are as flawed as any parent, so I don’t want to idealize our experience, but we often do bring some powerful experiences the role of parenting. Freed from expectations and limitations of heteronormative mores, queer parents often bring a deeply healthy and complex understanding of gender, sexuality, identity, and justice that can produce exceptional kids.
Connecting with other queer parents not only deepens that well of wisdom, but it also extends it to straight/cisgender parents too.
One unexpected dynamic of TikTok is how the creative and intentional use of hashtags can bridge gaps between justice movements. A common false assumption is that LGBTQ+ folks, having experienced discrimination, are fully “woke” to other causes such as the fights against racism and ableism. Yet, the sad truth is that the LGBTQ+ communities struggle deeply with both of these dynamics.
So when a disabled queer person of colour posts about their experience (utilizing hashtags to cite each intersecting aspect of their identity), and as those hashtags crossover with ones others use, your feed suddenly begins to fill up with the stories and experiences of people who, while very much like you in one or two ways, are very different in others.
This unique dynamic has the exciting capacity to beautifully "complexify" our understanding of the world around us and invite us into a movement of intersectional justice.
Good But Not Perfect
Above all, I have found TikTok to be incredibly life-giving. I have laughed and cried. I’ve learned new things and accepted gentle but uncompromising rebuke. And I am daily challenged to step out in confidence as my truest self. I may have been “out” for nearly 30 years but I still carry a lot of the shame and fear that so many queer kids grew up with, especially those of us who were in non-affirming religious contexts. I’m singing in public (something I have always feared), am beginning to overcome my body-shame (slowly), and I am discovering areas of interest and gifting I repressed or denied myself.
However, TikTok is also home to just as many internet trolls as any other platform. Fall into the wrong “niche” and you can be subjected to all kinds of discrimination, bullying, and hatred. The app is only as good as the people who wield it, so go in with your eyes open and your heart guarded.
Further, it can be a time-consuming pit of escapism beyond what is healthy. It can prey on our insecurities and feed on our egos, making false promises of fame (aka love) and wealth (aka security). While a small few might achieve these kinds of levels of “success”, most of us won’t and so pursuing it is likely exact a cost. Enjoy it for what it is, use self-control, and build the community you want be a part of.
In the end, I believe that more “older” LGBTQ+ folks need to be on TikTok, for their sakes and the sake of others. Again, the quality of the app will be shaped the people involved, so let’s flood the platform with queer goodness.
And do me a favour: Follow me too!