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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Make your own bubble more colorful

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Some days, Dimi shoots ten videos at once. “To make it worthwhile too.” She always puts on new makeup, changes her clothes, and adjusts her nails accordingly. She also tries to keep the background varied. The only thing she can’t do is re-dye her hair for every video.

Whether it’s funny sketches about the straight best friend, serious videos about the situation of LGBT people in Hungary, definitions of terms, or simply dancing to the songs of the queer community in classic TikTok style: Dimi, 24, provides information in his channel. “dimxoo” strange realities of life. Like on TikTok, her last name is not mentioned in a conversation in a Berlin cafe. He uploaded the first video “just for fun” in February 2021. Dimi now has more than 155 videos on the network, almost 60,000 followers and more than two million likes.

The power of the TikTok algorithm

“I’m 90 percent sure that my videos will be shown to gay people or allies. So the atmosphere is very supportive. And that makes TikTok a platform where we can show our queerness without having to fear rejection from the get-go.” says Dimi An ally of the queer community is a person who supports LGBT people and groups, defends their rights and opposes their discrimination.

TikTok’s algorithm decides who can see which video. Based on, among other things, the categories specified during registration, length of stay, and interactions, the algorithm quickly recognizes the specific interests of its users and displays the appropriate content. Be it HairTok, BookTok, ArtTok, HealthTok or LGBTTok, videos on each topic can be found on the personalized homepage.

The duality of public space and private bubble makes TikTok a great place for early queer explorations. “A person gets caught up in a random video, for example, a short definition of intersex, because she feels like it’s going straight. The algorithm checks that and follows the next queer video. And suddenly you’re drawn to this new queer world of TikTok,” says Dimi.

The questions TikTok users ask Dimi often revolve around coming out, the correct pronouns, and how to say it…Photo: dimixoo Instagram account; Vince Ecker

These are also the users who leave comments like “I never knew how to describe myself and I’ve been looking for a label until now,” says Dimi. But nobody can do justice to queer issues in three minutes at most.

“This is why it is so important that organizations like the CSD with DIVE IN and the LGBT club SchwuZ are on TikTok. For many queers, they form the bridge between online educational content and real offerings,” says Dimi. He can be seen as a moderator on both channels and is “super proud to be involved in this task.”

Caro acknowledged long before TikTok that she was queer, she has been to several LGBT bars and a few Christopher Street Days. But his friends at his house are mostly cis straight. And there was also no representative or contact person in rural Bavaria, says the 22-year-old by phone. Then came TikTok. Through mutual likes and comments, he has now built his own queer community there, which he definitely sees as a safe space. “For me, TikTok is a place of queer representation that I would have wanted for my 16-year-old self,” says Caro, whose channel is called now.livelife.

Like many TikTokers, Caro has given her Instagram account on TikTok so that users can contact her. On…Photo: Carol

She also met some queer TikTok moderators offline and they became immediate friends. “People have already addressed personal issues like their own sexuality, coming out and things like that on TikTok. That creates a direct link in real meetings,” says Caro. Unlike Instagram, TikTok content is “more of life.” She also has an Instagram channel of the same name where she is actively involved as a photographer. But she only talks about the weirdness of her on TikTok. Because LGBTI issues seem so present and valued there.

The illusion of a safe space

But the “have a voice” TikTok account example made it clear that your own TikTok bubble is not a queer safe space. The account was created as part of the TikTok campaign #LernenMitTikTok, with which the company wants to promote creators of educational clips. Mitreden talked about issues of feminism, LGBT and discrimination through skits and in a relaxed and fun way. The channel is now down. Initially, the feedback was consistently positive.

But then more and more insulting messages appeared under the videos, moderators received threats, and there were accounts that specifically tried to discredit “having a voice.”

Two moderators came out, including Maria Popov, who introduced LGBT issues. Freelance journalist Marlon took over her work. He didn’t experience as much hate as his predecessor and his co-moderators, but this experience still shaped him, he says in a Zoom conversation.

Romantic portrait of what is queer

“TikTok gives you the illusion of a safe space. It’s fine as long as you stay in your own bubble and don’t open the comment column,” says the 29-year-old. “Now I’m adjusting to the hostile comments and I’ve learned that I don’t have to change all these people’s minds.” He’s glad that during his time in “mitreden” he was already very well established in his queerness and already experienced in social media, otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to put it all together so well.

The main age group represented on TikTok is 13-24 years old. And many are just beginning to confront their sexuality and gender identity. Marlon and Dimi believe that it can be extremely disturbing for them to experience such waves of hate.

Especially if the algorithm had previously shown them a predominantly jovial and light-hearted image of queerness. For example, shots of a man surprising his significant other on Valentine’s Day, vacation snaps of a same-sex couple, or funny stories about dating experiences.

By joining the TikTok channel, Marlon introduced LGBT themes. He would also like to have more queer stuff on his own channel in the future…Photo: Ina Bohnsack

However, something that is also part of the queer realities of life and that is hardly found on TikTok: the merry-go-round of thoughts before coming out, the first insecure approaches or doubts about whether one is queer enough. “The problem is that we don’t even know if there are only a few videos on these topics or if the algorithm is holding them back,” explains Dimi.

“We are ready to show ourselves”

TikTok was already criticized in 2020 for slowing down political content and certain hashtags, including from the LGBT scene. Queer TikTokers often use variations of LGBT terms, such as “[email protected]”, “homo6uell” or “homoseggsuell”.

TikTok denied these accusations to various outlets, emphasizing that the app is an inclusive space and that they would also advertise with a lesbian couple. However, the company did not want to reveal how the TikTok algorithm works.

But Dimi already sees the possibility of showing the range of queer life on TikTok. “At least we are willing to introduce ourselves, enlighten ourselves and let users be part of our lives.”

A new understanding of gender, or is it queerbaiting?

Even if only the positive aspects of queer life are “trending” on TikTok, it still has one big advantage: more representation. “People see that we have a great life, they want to be part of the community or be inspired,” says Marlon. He believes that TikTok, as a trendsetter for Gen Z, “at least loosens” heteronormative structures and represents a new understanding of gender fluidity, masculinity, and femininity.

“Men who are open about their bisexuality get confirmation from women in the comments column that they wouldn’t mind if their boyfriend was bisexual. None of my girlfriends would have said that when they were 17,” Marlon says. traits in some straight TikTokers that were devalued as supposedly homoerotic just a few years ago.”Every time I see a straight cis man on TikTok putting on eyeliner, it feels like a victory and a little more acceptance.”

[Neuigkeiten aus der queeren Welt gibt es im Queerspiegel-Newsletter des Tagesspiegel, der zweimal im Monat erscheint – hier geht es zur Anmeldung.]

At the same time, queer content, ideally erotically charged, seems like a surefire way to succeed. A particularly popular motif: two teens of the same sex grab each other’s throats or rub, a deep look, their mouths slowly approaching – the video stops. TikTok star Elijha Elliot posted several such videos with her so-called “boyfriends” and received thousands of views and comments with fire and heart emojis. He and his friends identify as heterosexual, according to The New York Times.

“To me, those videos count as queerbaiting. It’s about making the most profit,” Dimi says. In his experience, some users have five or six accounts. Two of them are allegedly gay, the other straight. “They get into our TikTok bubble, they take the most trade possible with them. If there are anti-queer comments under their videos, that’s fine because they can say they’re straight.”

However, he sees little opportunity for the LGBTI community to avoid such videos. It is probably up to those who are shown such videos to set an example by actively clicking and not reacting.

Because what each user can control in the eyes of Marlon and Dimi is their own page for you. “Depending on the videos you engage with, you can make your queer bubble more diverse, educational, and positive,” explains Marlon. That is why TikTok will not be a safe space, but a place “where you can see many queer people who inspire you and take you one step further.”

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