Hundreds of young revelers were partying under spinning purple lights earlier this month at a club in Los Angeles when one of the most popular songs of the summer began playing. As Doja Cat’s “Kiss Me More” filled the room, the teens danced along.
Two minutes in, SZA began singing in a guest verse, “Caught dippin' with your friend / You ain't even have man, lyin' on ya-.” As a small bell chimed in the song, the partygoers seemingly all at once raised their hands in the air and flopped their wrists limp.
Then, they collectively went wild.
The moment at the Club 90’s Sour Prom 18+ party on July 15 was captured in a TikTok video that’s since racked up more than 38 million views. “What happens when you put Gen Z in the same room together,” the video’s caption states.
One week later, the same thing happened at another Club 90’s party in Fort Lauderdale.
“It was crazy. The whole room knew to do it,” party promoter Jeffery Lyman told BuzzFeed News.
Lyman, 36, filmed the Florida moment — same song, same bell, same limp wrist, same screams — after he witnessed the synchronized move firsthand at the Los Angeles party. “I didn’t even know why they were screaming,” he said. “It kind of caught me by surprise.”
TikTok has inspired countless dance trends since its debut, but one of the most viral (and simple) of 2021 involves a simple flick of the wrist. The limp wrist gesture — long seen as a slur against effeminate gay men — has been reclaimed by LGBTQ TikTok users (and their dogs) in seemingly endless videos made during Pride Month as part of a meme celebrating their identities.
And the trend is now evidently so established it’s become a signature move on dance floors and elsewhere in pop culture.
Even Lil Nas X, himself a TikTok aficionado, made the gesture during his “Industry Baby” music video when he sang the line, “I don't fuck bitches, I'm queer.”
One of the biggest and earliest TikTok videos featuring the gesture was made by Lukas Deroy, a 22-year-old barista in Singapore. On May 24, he uploaded a video to the app with the caption, “POV [Point Of View]: a girl starts to flirt with you.”
As he stood behind the coffee machine and prepared the beans, Deroy swiftly and nonchalantly flicked his wrist and shrugged for the camera. “I try to be nice most of the time tho,” he wrote.
Deroy, who is gay, told BuzzFeed News the joke was based on real encounters he’s had with women.
“They think I’m straight,” he said. “But I don’t actually do that gesture in public.”
Deroy’s video has been viewed more than 27 million times since it was uploaded.
“That was so smooth. Geez,” reads one top comment.
“I was lost at first & watched a few times thinking you flashed a wedding ring,” reads another, “but I know whatchu mean now. 🌈 🥰”
Deroy said he was stunned by how viral his video went, but admitted he was not the creator of the meme. “I saw it from someone else,” he said, “but I didn’t expect for it to get viral.”
Twelve days before Deroy’s video, on May 12, Luke Hallows had uploaded a video from his home in Manchester, England, with a caption about his grandmother asking why he doesn’t have a girlfriend.
“I was like, well, I’ve just come out so it seems perfect to do a little video,” Hallows, who is bisexual, told BuzzFeed News of his video, which has been seen more than 390,000 times.
By this time, “Kiss Me More” had been a viral hit on TikTok for months, but that point of the song was mainly used for clips featuring sudden transitions. BuzzFeed News can’t 100% confirm if Hallows came up with the limp wrist meme, but he was the earliest we could find and recalled devising it as something different from what he had seen trending.
The 18-year-old said he thought the action would be instantly “relatable” to others in the LGBTQ community, even though he also recognized it had offensive roots. (According to a 2012 Slate piece, limp wrists have been deemed “unmanly” since ancient Rome).
The LGBTQ community has a long history of reclaiming things that were once used as derogatory slurs against them. Most recently, this has involved many people choosing to identify as “queer” or using that word as a shorthand to describe the broader community — although some still find this offensive.
“The limp wrist feels like a throwback in some ways; I remember it felt like a ubiquitous homophobic mocking gesture from my time as a closeted kid in the late 90s and early 00s,” said Philip Ellis, a journalist who wrote a piece for GQ magazine in 2019 about gay men adopting the word “faggot” as a term of pride.
Ellis pointed out that the LGBTQ community has for several years used images of limp wrists as memes. Many feature some derivation of the phrase, “Is he…you know…”
Some feature SpongeBob SquarePants, while others feature Beyoncé or Cate Blanchett, who once made the gesture during an interview to promote the movie Cinderella in which she was distinguishing between the words “gaze” and “gays.”
Ellis said he’s heartened to see TikTok users have fun with the meme in a new format.
“It doesn’t surprise me that the gesture is now enjoying a whole new life on TikTok, where a new generation of queer people are creating videos that speak to both the specificity and universality of their experience,” Ellis said. “In this new context, the limp wrist very much feels like an in-joke, and a way of robbing the gesture of its once-hurtful connotations.”
Hallows, the Manchester teen, said that fits with how he now views the gesture.
“I would take it as an insult when I was young,” he said. “I used to get bullied quite a lot, but now I’ve just embraced it. Now I’ve come to terms with my sexuality, so that’s a huge thing.”
As for his grandmother, Hallows said he’s since come out to her.
“She took it very well,” he said.