There’s A New Generation Of Queer Storytelling & It’s Found A Home On TikTok

Photo via The Formal/Instagram.
Unfortunately, if you were an Australian teenage girl in the 2010s, you might have been subjected to the torturous regime of being added to a year level Facebook group (with only girls, god forbid a boy would stumble across it) to systematically document what dress everyone would be wearing to formal. Of course, this archaic and manic process was to ensure that no one would commit the cardinal sin of wearing the same dress as another student. 
It’s a memory I had forgotten, until I stumbled across The Formal on TikTok. “So obviously first things first, we need to make sure that no one’s going to be rocking up in the same thing, so what I need you to do is launch the Facebook group,” begins the first episode of the mini web series. 

Queertok is home to joyful, honest and diverse stories — and in our own backyard, the stories are uniquely Australian too.

Underneath the TikTok series’ hyper-Australian humour and nostalgic experiences, is its wholesome ‘will they won’t they’ queer coming-of-age story. It’s a huge shift from the trauma-soaked stories commonly told about queer people. Created by duo Hannah-Rae Meegan and Monique Terry, it’s one of many queer Australian narratives that are entering the largely democratic sphere of TikTok.
The new age of queer storytelling is biting back at the one-note, depressing headlines that treat LGBTQIA+ folk as a monolith. Queertok is home to joyful, honest and diverse stories — and in our own backyard, the stories are uniquely Australian too. 
The pair behind The Formal have recently created Self Care, another queer-focused web series that stars non-binary multi-hyphenate Kathleen Ebbs. It’s a show that Ebbs is personally close to; it follows a breakup that their character, an influencer and podcaster, goes through. 
“I feel like the Australian film and television landscape is very straight-washed, cis-washed and also whitewashed. I wanted to bypass probably not get[ting] my story created, and instead [I] created it myself [with Meegan and Terry], and put it on a platform where there is an audience that is eager for content,” they tell Refinery29 Australia.
On another side of Australian QueerTok is Rainbow History Class. With almost half a million followers and 10 million likes, the team is setting out to teach the queer education that’s missing from schools.
The idea for Rainbow History Class came from creative director and writer Hannah McElhinney's own abysmal public high school experience as a queer person in the early ‘00s. “I believe that if I had learned about LGBTQIA+ history in high school, I would have come out much sooner, and that experience would have been easier,” she tells Refinery29 Australia.
Rudy Rigg, Rainbow History Class’s host, also attended a Melbourne public school a good six years after McElhinney, but had a similarly unsupportive experience. Being a vocal member of the LGBTQIA+ community in a space that was unwelcoming stunted Rigg’s decision to come out as trans. 
The bite-sized educational videos that they create are quirky, surprising and full of fun facts. From the meaning behind the term ‘fruity’ (Rudy’s favourite video) to deep dives into secret queer languages and codes around the world (Hannah’s favourites), their accessible videos have opened up this education to many baby queers and elders alike.
The catalyst for both Self Care and Rainbow History Class was the lack of true representation afforded to queer communities. But TikTok is changing that. With creators like Peach PRC and AJ Clementine forging their own unique paths ahead, audiences are able to access first-hand accounts of the queer experience.
Rigg points to TikTok’s accessibility features of closed captions and how they formulate scripts as ways they utilise TikTok’s algorithm for mass reach. With the hashtag #QueerTikTok gaining over one billion views, there’s no surprise that a new generation of eager LGBTQIA+ folk are hankering for inclusive content. 
McElhinney explains the positive flow-on effect of taking dense, theoretical academic information and condensing it for TikTok-appropriate consumption. “I think what we've managed to do is take all of these big, messy bits of history and hopefully retain the nuance of them so we're not memeifying them. But [we’re] turning them into something that's accessible, about a minute long, [that] anyone can access.”
Self Care’s plot is a bit sad and a bit optimistic; a breakup happens, friends’ support ensues. The mundanity of it is what makes it so important. 
“[There’s a] lack of representation of queer people in their joyous state, in their mundane state, in them doing things that everyone else does, like having friends, going out, getting [their] heart broken, falling in love… Queer people do those things, too,” Ebbs says.
“A lot of the time I see a lot more about our collective trauma — and I never, ever want to take away from the fact that those stories are so important,” they continue. “But it's also important to have joy as well, like queer people experience a lot of joy, a lot of community [and] a lot of deep, deep friendship because we're a minority group,”, adding that they would’ve loved to have seen this show when they were younger.

"[There’s a] lack of representation of queer people in their joyous state, in their mundane state, in them doing things that everyone else does, like having friends, going out, getting [their] heart broken, falling in love."

kath ebbs
“[Rainbow History Class] just brings me such joy,” Rigg echoes. “I love being able to share stories, I love being able to share experiences, I love being feeling so connected. It’s what my 12 and 13-year-old self wish that they had.”
When it comes to creating queer joy onscreen, queer joy offscreen is of equal importance. Ebbs gushes about the magic felt on set by working with an entirely queer cast and creative team (bar one cameo actor).
“It was insane… It was a very euphoric feeling to be in a space where everyone spoke the same language. It was very magical, it felt very safe and warm and fuzzy inside.”
Here’s to more joy.
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