No One’s Clutching Their Pink Tinted Lip Balm on Gay TikTok

No One’s Clutching Their Pink Tinted Lip Balm on Gay TikTok

Neel Desai headshot
Neel Desai
The Beyond Bullying Project Team

Years before coming out as queer, I was really interested in skin care and makeup. As a baby closeted queer in high school, I spent countless lunch hours washing my face with tea tree oil face wash, applying baby powder to keep my acne-prone skin matte and oil free, and, of course, finishing off the look with a pink tinted lip balm.

My heart would race everytime I started my routine. My presence in the boys’ bathroom at school put me at risk of homophobic slurs, insults or degrading questions by those who entered. “Bro, that is so gay, why are you putting on makeup?”, “Is that lipstick, dude?”, “Do you have to do that shit in here?” – are just a few examples. 

My proclivity for keeping my face nice and clean during every lunch break made them question my masculinity. They’d look at my tinted lip balm and simply assume I liked men or wanted to be a girl. When the boys’ bathroom at school got too risky, I’d walk ten minutes from school to the nearby rec centre during lunch, just to wash my face. I feared being myself. I’d lie to people and say that I didn’t wear any makeup, and my lips were just “naturally” pink; clutching the secret in my pocket to ensure no one found out my truth. I was doing what was needed to survive. 

Years later, I became more confident and sure of myself, to the point where now I proudly share my skincare routine with friends and loved ones. Although I still struggle opening up to strangers regarding my skincare, all this was still a sign of tremendous growth for me, and it was a process to get there. I lost friends. I lost partners. I lost family. I felt violated. I felt alone and ashamed of who I was.

Today, queer folks are able to share their queer lives, experiences, love stories and struggles on platforms like TikTok, connecting with other queers and creating an entire subculture of what we know today as “gay TikTok”. Although this space created a huge sense of visibility and helped me understand my queerness, I’ve noticed something on this platform.

No one is clutching their pink tinted lip balm on gay TikTok.

Many queer folk who post on gay TikTok seem so confident seem so sure of themselves– even those who are still in high school. And those around them seem so accepting. They full heartedly and publicly express their queerness – even in the halls of their high school – without an ounce of hesitation (or so it seems). This is definitely not what my journey of queer acceptance has been like. My journey was rough. Being public meant putting myself in danger. The disconnect I felt and still feel between my own experience and the stories of queer folks flooding gay TikTok make it seem as if being queer is easy, safe, and resistence-free within our contemporary world when in fact it isn’t. 

In reality, many of us have to remove our makeup before entering our homes to avoid being called horrible names or being physically assaulted. In reality, queer folks have to choose whether or not to come out to our parents or be affectionate towards our significant other in crowded places, or have to switch up the route home to avoid harassment or violence. These realities aren’t what I see on gay TikTok. 

This is not to say queerness isn’t joyful, because it absolutely is. But it gives young, baby queers, and particularly young queers of colour a false sense of what reality is going to be like within a homophobic, cis-assuming, patriarchal world that is out to harm and erase them. This is not meant to scare any closeted queers out there, but maybe to help them feel less alone and make their experiences more visible.

What might it be like to publicize this reality of what being queer is like on gay TikTok? This means making content that reflects the joyful and euphoric happiness that is experienced when you finally realize what your pronouns are, but also it means showing the awkward, discomforting, disheartening moments of the journey, like clutching your make-up in your pocket in public. It’s important to do so, so we celebrate both arriving at queer acceptance and the arduous journey to get there. No one should be left feeling alone along this journey, clutching their pink tinted lip balm in silence. 

David Pereira to the rescue!

David Pereira to the rescue!

A huge thanks to Dr. David Pereira— postdoctoral fellow, researcher, teacher, mentor, collaborator. Thanks David for all the ways you pushed Beyond Bullying 2.0 forward, collaborated with schools and teachers, reached out to students, mentored research assistants, and managed this big, sometimes chaotic, project.

The spectacle of coming out

The spectacle of coming out

vijay saravanamuthu headshot Mikaela Clarke Beyond Bullying Project  Research Assistant

You don’t owe the world a coming out story, because you certainly don’t owe the world a coming out.

This is the sentiment I always feel myself desperate to express in the face of queer teenagers riddled with questions about how to come out, who to come out to, and whether or not to do it at all. Yet something about this answer seems fraudulent, considering I myself did exactly that: hatching an elaborate coming out scheme in high school to broadcast my sexuality to a mass population. Sometimes I look back at my own coming out sequence and wonder why I did it at all. It was a student question addressed to the Beyond Bullying Project about how to come out to classmates in the midst of the pandemic that prompted me to revisit my own coming out sequence.

When I came out, it certainly didn’t feel like a brave, admirable act. It didn’t feel like a sign of strength, courage, or honesty. I came out to my peers through an Instagram post on my public page, one that could be shared with anybody aside from the family members I had intentionally blocked. This online spectacle felt somewhat selfish. I did it out of a need for control. I knew that I didn’t owe anybody an explanation. I knew that many of the kids I went to school with didn’t necessarily need to know me like that. In fact, I questioned whether or not they even cared.

My coming out didn’t happen out of any commitment to honesty or pride in my identity. Quite frankly, I was thinking of a girl, one I met on a dating app and really liked, despite ghosting her in response to her attempts to meet in person. I continued checking her social media long enough to see her get an actual girlfriend, one that responded to her messages and was free to go out in public. I lamented over what I felt was a missed opportunity, and my coming out post was really saying: “hey, if you see me on a date with a girl, mind your business.” I came out on a public page to students I had never even talked to, solely to ensure that nobody could ever come out for me. I wanted it all out in the open so that nobody could speculate about my story. So, I chose an identifier, typed up an “explanation” and conveyed a confidence I didn’t even truly possess.

At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong way to come out. There is no right or wrong time, place, audience or motivation. In fact, nothing about the act of having to come out has ever felt right to me at all. And still, it is a thing I partake in time and time again over the course of my queer life, as trivial as it may sometimes seem. No matter what your reasons are for coming out, the method should prioritize your comfort over that of others. As a queer individual who will likely come out time and time again, there will likely be no such thing as one, single, truly authentic coming out moment. It is okay to tailor your coming out story to be what you need it to be, when you need it to be that.

Photo by Takashi Miyazaki on Unsplash

That’s a wrap.

That’s a wrap.

THANK YOU! BBP Toronto wraps-up for now. 

Jen Gilbert
The Beyond Bullying Project Team

Our Beyond Bullying Team has finished 3 weeks of online story collection in two Toronto high schools! In all, we conducted over 30 interviews with students, teachers, and administrators, organized student and teacher events, participated in school activities related to sexuality and gender, and collected over 50 stories.
When we began this version of Beyond Bullying—all online, with students and teachers mostly working from home—we didn’t know how it would go. Would students feel comfortable sharing their reflections on LGBTQ2S+ sexuality and gender? Would teachers help us get the word out to the school community? What role would social media play in our recruitment?
We are still sorting through these questions, but one thing we know already —none of this would be possible without the support and enthusiasm of our student ambassadors. They advised us on our recruitment strategies, offered feedback for story prompts, endorsed the project in their classes and on their social media, and showed up for us in so many big and small ways. You know who you are—thank you!
A huge thanks as well to the key teachers and administrators who gave us a home in each school—you invited us to council meetings, put us in touch with student leaders, gave us feedback, let us interview you, and made us feel welcome in your community. We can’t wait to share back our findings and help support your efforts to make your school a model for the inclusion of gender and sexuality diversity.
I need to extend one more thanks. For the past two years, the Beyond Bullying Project has been supported by a collaborative, evolving, multi- generational group of faculty, researchers, web designers, and graduate and undergraduate students. One of the real pleasures of research is the opportunity to work with and learn from emerging scholars. Thanks to all those who have given their time, labour, and creativity to this project. Congratulations team on this huge milestone!
A particular thanks goes out to Dr. David Pereira, the inaugural York University Faculty of Education Postdoctoral Fellow in Gender, Sexuality, and Education. David has been the glue of Beyond Bullying 2.0. We could not have brought this iteration of the project to fruition without his leadership. Thank you David.
As we begin to work with the wealth of stories shared with us, we are pleased to feature blog posts from the University of Toronto Jackman Scholars-in-Residence that worked with us throughout May. Drawing on their own experiences and the lives of young people in high school, these blog posts offer provocative and funny and touching takes on the ever changing landscape of gender and sexuality for racialized youth. Follow us here and on social media to learn about the white washing of gay TikTok, the challenges of coming out in high school, and the importance of embracing ambiguity. We’ll also learn how to spot a bisexual and ways of claiming, and loving, your cotton candy softness.

Photo by Ayana Wyse on Unsplash.

A place for ambiguity

A place for ambiguity

KCE headshot
Beyond Bullying Project 
Research Assistant

Labels. Or, what I like to refer to them as: the bane of my existence.

Queer labels are supposed to be empowering. They are supposed to invoke feelings of belonging. Feelings of inclusivity. However, these labels also create a problematic binary: a social pressure to either identify with the LGBTQ+ community or to completely deny queerness. Neither makes space for expressions of sexual ambiguity.

These labels then create expectations of presentation. Whether it’s being asked why I don’t look like ‘a they/them’ when I’m in a sundress on a picnic or it’s being told I look “too masculine” for a woman with my short hair hidden under a beanie while dressed in all black baggy clothing at a 7/11, these expectations fuel people’s binary judgements of what it means to be authentic in such diverse community.  

While identifiers like gay, lesbian, and bisexual allow people to create communities rooted in shared experiences of queerness, they also unfortunately tend to exclude those who do not adhere to narrow definitions and understandings of these labels within the LGBTQ+ community.

Ever since coming out as bisexual, I’ve often found that bisexuals (regardless of gender) are expected to find men repulsive and undesirable while also being attracted to them. And in the event that a bisexual person does end up with a man, then they have settled for a man; thus, disappointing the bi community. Not to mention that if a bisexual has never had a same sex partner or they end up in a relationship with the opposite sex, they are too often not considered as ‘real’ bisexuals and instead viewed as practically ‘straight.’

This obsession with authenticity confuses me.

Who is a true bisexual?

What is ‘gay enough?’

Because we seek validation in our queer communities, we may be quick to play our expected roles. Whether it’s a bisexual wearing heavy eyeliner, or a masc lesbian adopting stereotypically male mannerisms, this desire to be validated by others who identify with the same labels forces individuals to fit themselves into categories rather than allowing them to explore their own expressions.

I have always felt this pressure to label myself. Whether it was when it took me years to come out as bisexual or whether it was me having a gender identity crisis two months ago while watching Tik Toks of pretty boys, I could never escape this pressure to categorize myself.

What am I? What do I perceive myself to be? What do I want others to perceive me as?

These are the questions I always find myself pondering. I could be getting dressed and suddenly feel repulsed by every feminine article of clothing I try on, only finding comfort in that one shirt I stole from my brother and the baggiest pair of sweatpants that hide all my curves. Or, I could be putting on a face full of makeup at 3am and trying on dresses to feel pretty. Regardless, the number of times I have switched between hating and loving my style, my body, my hair, my aesthetic, my labels, or even my entire existence, far exceeds the time and energy I’ve spent worrying about anything else in relation to my queerness.

When I identify as a woman people expect me to present as such, so when I dress/present as more masculine in my all black baggy clothing, short hair and beanie, people question why I identify as she/her. But if Im spending the hot summer weather in a sundress while identifying as they/them, people wonder why I physically present more as a female rather than looking androgynous. In either situation people question the validity of my identity. They look to determine whether I’m accurately acting according to my label based on their expectations of the label rather than adapting their expectations to accept me.

My sexuality, my gender, and my authentic self remain as questions that I struggle to answer. However, what I’ve come to realize is that I don’t need to know the answer. That it’s okay to live in the ambiguity of identity because labels are only a small part of who I am. My experiences are more than singular words like ‘bisexual’ or ‘woman,’ because I am more than what society expects me to be.

Resisting categories or embracing ambiguity does not make my queerness any less valid. It simply means that I chose not to adhere to the confines of a category. My expression is limitless and does not need to be defined for the convenience of others.

Because, at the end of the day, my ambiguity is my truth. In a world where everyone’s journey to self discovery is their own, who’s to say mine is any less authentic.


Photo by Guillaume Bolduc on Unsplash

How to spot a bisexual

How to spot a bisexual

viash pulipunan headshot

Vaishnavy Pulipunan
Beyond Bullying Project 
Research Assistant

No, I’m asking, how?

Every year, come September, the queer discussion groups I take part in make it a point to devote a meeting to Bi+ Visibility Day. I’ve found that across these various meetings, the discussion is almost always dominated by the topic of bisexual erasure, that despite comprising the majority of queer-identified individuals, there is a tendency to marginalize bisexuality by spreading misinformation or outright ignoring its existence even in LGBTQ+ circles. We come back, again and again to kvetching about being stereotyped as promiscuous or confused. Someone might occasionally interject, “Did you know that such-and-such celebrity isn’t gay/straight? It’s a common misconception, but they’re actually bi…” I can’t help but feel a little disappointed and misled by this discourse. I’m told that Bi+ Visibility Day is also known as Celebrate Bisexuality Day, but there seems to be little celebration to be had. It’s as if the conversation begins and ends with combatting negative perceptions from straight people and queer people alike, as if we can only be understood as neither homosexual nor heterosexual, with no distinct identity of our own. I would much rather spend the time discussing our culture, if such a thing could exist, benign stereotypes and fashion. Where is our answer to “The Dinah” or Drag Race? Do we need one at all? It bothered me that I couldn’t conceive of an archetypical bisexual the way I could for gays and lesbians. I recognize that that is an odd thing to desire in the first place. The last thing any of us should want are rigid norms to conform to, flying in the face of queerness itself. Still, it cannot be denied that there are certain comforts that come from wearing a uniform, a feeling of affirmation and community. I wanted a sign that I could look for in others, a sign I could sport myself. While I found no such thing attending discussion groups, I found that spaces on the internet tackled this very subject frequently. Communities on Reddit and Tumblr were plastered with “starter packs” declaring all manner of things bisexual culture. Supposedly, we are known for baring our ankles in some form by wearing cuffed or cropped jeans and owning an inordinate number of jackets and canvas sneakers. Fashion aside, bisexuals can’t sit straight in a chair nor communicate without using hand gestures (peace signs, finger guns, thumbs up, etc.). There was an initial pleasant surprise to find that most of these resonate, followed ultimately by the understanding that that likely has more to do with my being an awkward teenager than anything else. And these internet communities are not without some general acknowledgement that these observations are silly in-jokes that point to nothing more. But beneath that there seems to be a real need to be seen –to be seen as something other than an uncomfortable, dirty secret. Because save for announcing it outright or being seen dating men and women at once, how else would we signal our sexuality. How else do we become, literally, visible? So I cuff my jeans and pin a tricolour to canvas sneakers because, for now, we are what we wear.

Photo by Devin Avery on Unsplash