Hundreds of teenage partygoers were dancing under whirling purple lights at a Los Angeles club earlier this month when one of the summer’s most popular tunes started playing. The teenagers danced to Doja Cat’s “Kiss Me More” as it filled the room.
“Caught dippin’ with your friend / You ain’t even have man, lyin’ on ya-.” SZA sang in a guest verse two minutes in. The partygoers all seemed to lift their hands in the air and flop their wrists limp when a little bell rang in the tune.
They all went crazy after that.
On July 15, the incident at Club 90’s Sour Prom 18+ party was caught in a TikTok video that has now received over 38 million views. The video’s description reads, “What happens when you put Gen Z in the same room together.”
The same incident happened a week later at another Club 90’s party in Fort Lauderdale.
“It was crazy. Party promoter Jeffery Lyman told BuzzFeed News, “The whole room knew to do it.”
After witnessing the synchronized motion firsthand at the Los Angeles party, Lyman, 36, videotaped the Florida event – same music, same bell, same limp wrist, same shouts. “I had no idea why they were screaming,” he said. “It sort of threw me off guard.”
Since its launch, TikTok has spawned plenty of dancing trends, but one of the most popular (and easiest) of 2021 involves a simple wrist flip. Long considered a slur targeting effeminate gay men, the limp wrist gesture has been reclaimed by LGBTQ TikTok users (and their pups) in apparently endless videos created during Pride Month as part of a meme honoring their identities.
And the trend is now so well-established that it’s become a hallmark motion on dance floors and in pop culture in general.
Even Lil Nas X, a TikTok devotee, used the motion when singing the lyric “I don’t fuck bitches, I’m queer” in his “Industry Baby” music video.
Lukas Deroy, a 22-year-old barista from Singapore, created one of the first TikTok videos incorporating the gesture. “POV [Point Of View]: a girl starts to flirt with you,” he captioned a video he sent to the app on May 24.
Deroy casually flicked his wrist and shrugged for the camera as he stood behind the coffee machine, preparing the beans. He wrote, “I try to be polite most of the time tho.”
Deroy, who is gay, told BuzzFeed News that the joke was inspired by real-life interactions with females.
He explained, “They assume I’m straight.” “However, I never make such gesture in public.”
Since it was posted, Deroy’s video has been seen over 27 million times.
“Wow, it was so easy. One of the top comments says, “Geez.”
“I was perplexed at first and watched a few times thinking you flashed a wedding ring,” writes another, “but I get it now.”
Deroy stated that he was surprised by how popular his video became, but that he did not create the meme. He stated, “I saw it from someone else, but I didn’t anticipate it to go viral.”
Luke Hallows, who lives in Manchester, England, had posted a video from his house on May 12 with a message about his grandma questioning why he doesn’t have a partner, twelve days before Deroy’s video.
Hallows, who is bisexual, said of his video, which has been seen over 390,000 times, “I was like, well, I’ve just come out so it seems good to make a short video.”
“Kiss Me More” had been a TikTok sensation for months by this point, but that section of the song was mostly used for clips with abrupt transitions. We can’t say for sure if Hallows created the limp wrist meme, but he was the first we found and remembers creating it as something distinct from what was happening at the time.
Even though he acknowledged the action’s negative roots, the 18-year-old claimed he felt it would be instantly “relatable” to others in the LGBTQ community. (Limp wrists have been considered “unmanly” since ancient Rome, according to a 2012 Slate piece.)
The LGBTQ community has a long history of reclaiming terms that were formerly used against them as harsh insults. Many people have recently chosen to identify as “queer” or to use the term as a shorthand to define the larger group, while some still find this insulting.
“In some ways, the limp wrist feels like a throwback; I remember it feeling like a widely distributed homophobic mocking gesture from my time as a closeted kid in the late 90s and early 2000s,” said Philip Ellis, a journalist who wrote an article for GQ magazine in 2019 about gay men adopting the term “faggot” as a term of pride.
For years, the LGBTQ community has exploited photos of limp wrists as memes, according to Ellis. Many include a variation of the sentence “Is he…you know…”
Some include SpongeBob SquarePants, while others feature Beyoncé or Cate Blanchett, who famously used the gesture while differentiating between the terms “gaze” and “gays” during an interview to promote the film Cinderella.
Ellis is delighted to see TikTok users having a good time with the meme in a new format.
“It comes as no surprise to me that the gesture has found a new home on TikTok, where a new generation of gay people are making films that speak to both the particular and universality of their experience,” Ellis said. “The limp wrist feels like that of an in-joke in this new environment, a method of stripping the gesture of its once-hurtful connotations.”
The Manchester teen, Hallows, claimed that he now sees the gesture in the same light.
“When I was younger, I would consider that an insult,” he added. “I used to get bullied a lot, but I’ve simply accepted it now. Now that I’ve accepted my sexuality, it’s a major step.”
Hallows said that he had come out to his grandma since then.
He responded, “She took it quite nicely.”
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