#Cottagecore Tik Tok and Queer Ecology
Last year, I bit the bullet that my Vine-loving millennial heart had been resisting for so long and downloaded Tik Tok, an app where users can create short-form videos organized around shared hashtags called ‘communities’. Immediately, I was enamored by the #cottagecore community – its gentle pastural aesthetic full of users who seemingly spend their days in pastel-decorated cabins, take long walks through the woods to forage for flowers and other goods, and bake rustic yet gorgeous breads and pastries. I was drawn to not only the slow, soft aesthetics of these videos, but also to something I couldn’t quite put my finger on in my first viewings – that #cottagecore is overwhelmingly queer.
#cottagecore is one part aesthetic, one part lifestyle. First popularized on Tumblr in 2018, the community’s biggest home is now on Tik Tok, a movement defined by the desire for simplicity and a rejection of urban consumerism. “What Is Cottagecore and Why Do Young Queer People Love It,” describes the trends as “marked by flowy skirts, ceramic toad figurines and bucolic scenery. It’s knitting, baking and rolling in meadows. It’s Beatrix Potter and Taylor Swift’s Folklore. It’s a denial of hustle culture and a fetishization of coziness that became a hashtag, a lifestyle and, most notably, an escape” (White). While #cottagecore has a variety of subgenres, one of its most notable attributes is that a vast majority of the users are women who identify as queer in some capacity.
Queer women are drawn to the #cottagecore community because it represents a drive for escapism that has become a cultural marker of so many queer stories. However, rather than wanting to disappear into perceived urban utopias, the queer women dominating the #cottagecore community on Tik Tok are returning to rural, natural spaces, seemingly free to do whatever they want. White argues that the ultimate #cottagecore dream – running away to a bucolic wonderland – “hearkens back to the withering lesbian separatist movement of the 70s, which called on feminists to either claim lesbiansm or celibacy and move to “womyn’s” land” (White).
While I agree with White the #cottagecore is based on the principals of women-love-women (wlw) escapism, I think there’s more here. I think the #cottagecore community on TikTok is the new face of queer ecology. Queer ecology is a branch of environmental studies that first began in the late 1990s, and “refers to a loose, interdisciplinary constellation of practices that aim, in different ways, to disrupt prevailing heterosexist discursive and institutional articulations of sexuality and nature, and also to reimagine evolutionary processes, ecological interactions, and environmental politics in light of queer theory” (Sandilands). For so long, queer-identifying folks have been stigmatized as unnatural or against nature. Queer ecology reckons with the unnaturalness of queerness, arguing that society’s conception of natural is merely defined by attributes of those who have power, but that this is not what natural truly is. What natural is, queer ecology argues, is “enabling humans to imagine an infinite number of possible Natures” (Johnson).
The Nature of the #cottagcore community is thoughtfully prelapsarian – they want to go back to a time before industry ravaged the planet, but with added protections for queer people. As Paper Magazine asks, “what if we all lived like tradewives, minus the husbands?" (Gillespie). The #cottagecorelesbian hashtag on Tik Tok currently has more than 52 million views, full of videos of wlw users show off their shared #cottagecore-themed living spaces, reject modernity, or mutually agree the Ms. Honey, from the 1996 Matilda film, is the original #cottagecorelesbian. These videos represent a queer way of being that is delicate and aggressively feminine and surprisingly traditional, yet always filled with reminders about the explicitly queer love shared between wlw users. There is something incredible about two women living peacefully, committing domestic acts out of love and outside of any heteropatriarchal dynamic – a certain power in reclaiming the country within a fantasy built by or actually lived by #cottagecore users, in returning to the rural areas to openly live queer lives.
At the same time, the Nature of the #cottagecore community is one that thrives on sustainability, with many of the videos on the hashtag dedicated to sustainable practices of care and conservation, like the trips they take to local farmer’s market, or foraging to make blackberry mouse or violet syrup, or sewing clothes from thrifted materials. In “Eco-Queer Movement(s): Challenging Heternormative Space Through (Re)Imagining Nature and Food,” Joshua Sbicca argues that “space and identity are entangled, and while eco-queer activism often takes place in interstitial spaces, it also publicly challenges dominant modes and forms of thinking, behaving, and organization” (38). In occupying pastural spaces and performing sustainable activities within them, #cottagecore users are practicing an eco-queer activism mediated by both place and identity. #cottagecore Tik Tok invokes autonomous place where wlw users make environmental sustainability their chief concern, where they are remaking rural and ecological norms.
However, the Nature of the #cottagecore community is one that is so full of juxtaposition and irony and that even if its members didn’t heavily identify as queer, it would still be queer. #cottagecore Tik Tok is a place wherein wlw embody a Nature in which they partake in all sorts of conservative activities of the feminine ideal – sewing, baking, gardening, etc…while at the same time rejecting the conservative values of heteronormativity. #cottagecore Tik Tok embraces the natural world, yet their primary form of community exists through technological, capitalistic means. #cottagecore Tik Tok has been criticized for being too white, for being too feminine, and for making incentive claims about Indigenous lands, but at the same time, they are openly learning from these moments and having conversations about colonialism, climate justice, and gender justice. The #cottagecore community certainly isn’t the utopia that their aesthetics would have you believe, but it’s in embracing their juxtaposition, in loving their irony, that they represent a form of queer ecology.
In “How to Queer Ecology: One Goose At a Time,” Johnson write that:
“Instead of talking about nonconformity, I want to talk about possibility and unnameably complex reality. What queer can offer is the identity of I am also. I am also human. I am also natural. I am also alive and dynamic and full of contradiction, paradox, irony. Queer knocks down the house of cards and throws them into the warm wind."
#cottagecore Tik Tok embodies a dynamic full of contradiction and paradox. They are both non-conforming and conforming; both practitioners of sustainability and willing victims of capitalism; both filled by celebrations of slow life yet embracing content that is mediated through the high-speed viral trends and pitfalls of social media. Queer ecology insists that this paradox is natural. And in embracing this new, very queer way of being, #cottagecore Tik Tok users are our most contemporary practitioners of queer ecology.
And frankly, it looks like a lot of fun. So, if you need me, I’ll be wondering through the woods, dreaming of pastural times, and looking for my #cottagecore gf.
Gillespie, Katherine. “TikTok's Cottagecore Influencers Explain the Trend.” PAPER, PAPER, 15 June 2020, www.papermag.com/cottagecore-explained-tiktok-trend-2645826366.html?rebelltitem=34#rebelltitem34.
Johnson, Alex. “How to Queer Ecology: One Goose at a Time.” Orion Magazine, 29 June 2020, orionmagazine.org/article/how-to-queer-ecology-once-goose-at-a-time/.
Sbicca, Joshua. “Eco-queer movement(s) Challenging Heteronormative Space Through (Re)Imagining Nature and Food.” European Journal of Ecopsychology. Vol. 3, pgs. 33-52. 2012.
Sandilands, Catriona. “Queer Ecology.” Keywords, 2015, keywords.nyupress.org/environmental-studies/essay/queer-ecology/.
White, Malic. “What Is Cottagecore and Why Do Young Queer People Love It?” Autostraddle, 1 Oct. 2020, www.autostraddle.com/what-is-cottagecore-and-why-do-young-queer-people-love-it/.