When Did Everyone Become Gay on TikTok?

As men push the boundaries with their male friends on social media apps like TikTok, people are accusing them of queerbaiting.

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Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

As the pandemic continues in the US and people are largely told to remain home, I have spent plenty of time on TikTok. The social media app has become remarkably good at showing me videos that it knows I will enjoy, so it was no surprise when it began to show me videos of men flirting with each other. As a gay man, I have liked plenty of these flirtatious videos and the more I like them the more that TikTok’s algorithms work overtime to ensure they keep coming.

Recently, I came across a TikTok video with beauty influencer James Charles and musical artist Jason Derulo. In the video, James is found asking Jason if they could do “the thing” just once, with Jason telling James that he knows he doesn’t like to do “the thing”. After James continues to beg, asking Jason to do it just once, they are found harmoniously singing “Jason Derulo”. The video is sexually suggestive and made the audience believe they were going to do far more than sing. One of the users commented, “Did anyone else think they were gonna kiss. Nope just me. Okay.” As innocent and harmless as the video ended up being, it is a part of a larger trend being seen within the app.

Queerbaiting is a marketing technique for entertainment, in which creators play around with, but then don’t perform, same-sex romance or other LGBTQ representation. It has been popular since the early 2010s with internet fandom discussions. With the rise of TikTok and its user base primarily being Gen Z, users are turning to salacious acts in order to gain notoriety. With this generation growing up in a time where same-sex marriage was never illegal, being called “gay” is not the insult it once was. And so they turn to queerbaiting as a way to gain a quick following amongst straight and gay people without enduring the real harm that still comes with being a part of the LGBTQ community.

The damage that comes with queerbaiting is the fact that it is meant to be for entertainment only. Being gay is not something that can be turned on and off for entertainment; it is just a way of life. Videos of straight men jumping into one another’s laps or admiring each other with a long stare for the sake of views is exploitative and manipulative. And for the gay men that take advantage of the quick fame that can come from pretending to be with a straight person, you do real harm to the community you belong to. Some have argued that the popularity of these videos is less to do with gayness and more to do with men breaking down the barriers of masculinity. However, why does pretending to be gay need to be the way in which we break down that barrier?

For all the ways in which it seems lighthearted and groundbreaking for men to toy with the idea of an intimate moment with another man, there are plenty of gay men around the world that want that too and cannot have it. You are making light of a situation that is impossible for some to experience. Being gay is still frowned upon in many areas of society, so just as you pretend to kiss in that 15-second TikTok video there are men who’ve only ever wanted that and never received it. Queerbaiting is harmful because it is purely for entertainment when that industry is still overwhelmingly catering to straight people.

TikTok is a part of the entertainment and social media industries that gets better and better at showing you videos it knows you will like. A member of the LGBTQ community continuing to see videos that tease queer realities does not propel the movement forward. It continues to refrain from embracing the minority while using queerness to entertain the majority. It’s great to see men breakdown their masculine barriers and see that being softer is ok, but does it have to be through exploiting queerness?

Those creators that engage in queerbaiting fill a void for just a moment in a gay person’s life, hypnotizing them for the 15-seconds in which they veil themselves in queerness for views. And just as that video ends, and the creator closes his camera to go back to his straight reality, that person is left there to remain in their gay one.

A writer who focuses on pieces about race, politics, culture, and technology — among other topics. Editor-in-chief of Perceive More!

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