Meeting new people is becoming increasingly difficult with ongoing restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic. So who knew that a TikTok houseshare would be the place for romance to flourish? For Sebastian Wood and Monty Keates, being part of the social media platform’s influencer collective Bytehouse saw the pair becoming a couple earlier this year. The duo now produces much-needed queer content for audiences stuck at home during lockdown, inspired by their own experiences of growing up.
Not enough visibility
Seb says that his relationship with Monty prompted him to think about making LGBTQ-specific content for their TikTok fans.
“I came out when I was in a relationship with Monty,” he explains. “Even Monty never used to do that much content about LGBTQ topics until we were in a relationship. It feels very natural to us now, and we want to show people that it is normal to be LGBTQ and happy and in a relationship.”
Monty echoes this, and recalls that a lack of positive LGBTQ visibility when he was growing up resulted in him worrying about finding a happy and healthy relationship in the future.
“For me, social media was very much a thing when I was growing up in my early teens. There were no healthy gay relationships being represented,” he says. “I thought that being in a gay relationship was just a random occurrence, and I didn’t think that healthy gay relationships were even a thing.”
He adds that the couple’s aim is to create a safe space for their LGBTQ audience.
“I think what we’re doing through our platforms is creating a safe space for LGBTQ youth to be able to see themselves being represented. We want young people to know that there’s nothing wrong with being part of the LGBTQ community.”
A mostly positive reaction
Their collectively large social media following allows the pair to make a real difference for their followers.
“We’ve made a big impact on our fans and new followers who have come to follow us,” shares Seb. “We’ve got messages from people across the world to say thank you for making them feel comfortable with who they are. It’s great to hear that we’re inspiring people. I know that’s why I joined social media, to entertain people and help them.”
But their presence on social media platforms also leaves the couple also open to homophobia.
“I think we’ve been at a stage in society when we choose to represent ourselves as a community, you get the homophobes saying that we’re throwing it down their throat,” explains Monty. “I think we have to say to ourselves, are we shoving it down their throat, or are we just existing? The only reason that people think it’s wrong is because of a lack of visibility. The more that people see gay relationships in the media and the more we educate them through our platforms, the more we can normalise being gay.”
They don’t engage with hurtful comments.
“Neither of us comment back to hateful comments, because there’s no point giving them the time of day,” rationalises Seb.
The couple do think, however, that there is a difference between comments that come from a place of hate rather than ignorance.
“When we do get comments that are clearly from a place of ignorance, then that’s an opportunity to educate these people and say, just letting you know that’s not ok to say.”
Monty thinks that being respectful of other people’s point of view whilst educating them about LGBTQ topics is important to him. This can be challenging when people say what they are doing is against their religious beliefs or cultural values.
“When it comes from that point of view, you can’t fight their fire with fire, you just need to educate them.”
It’s better to laugh
As some people’s creativity seems to have been starved by lockdown, the couple say they are thriving under the pandemic restrictions. They are currently looking at how to make their content funny, to win the hearts of their followers.
“Me and Monty are thinking of new things to do for LGBTQ people and how we can normalise it,” says Seb. “We want to take a funnier approach and put people at ease who might be watching our content but not comfortable with LGBTQ topics.”
Seb adds that the couple also realise how difficult lockdown is for LGBTQ young people living in homes where they might not feel accepted.
“We also go live because we know that not all of our followers are in the best place right now and might be having a hard time about being themselves. We try to help them and make them feel more comfortable.”
“The best way to get to someone’s heart it through a joke, and to raise their spirits,” chimes Monty. “I know what it’s like to grow up in a household where people don’t quite get it. I think especially with people being in lockdown, young LGBTQ people might not feel comfortable coming out in a house with people who aren’t accepting of them.”
He has been using Twitter as a way of letting his followers ‘practice’ coming out to him.
“I think people don’t owe it to anyone to come out. I think there’s this pressure that people have to label themselves and come out, but people should do that at their own pace and when they feel comfortable doing it.”
The couple will continue using their social media platforms to promote a positive image of what it means to be LGBTQ today. Seb and Monty hope their followers will find some joy and even advice in the content they produce.
Find Seb on TikTok: @sebbbyjon
Find Monty on TikTok: @montykeates