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Tyris Winter, TikTok’s queer teenager, empowers them to be authentic

A L.A. apartment has two bedrooms and is bustling with the chaotic yet choreographed action of music video sets. Purple light combines with the translucent clouds from a fog machine to create streams of light. A handmade outfit hundreds of sparkling gems, is finishing up a last touch-up at the sewing table. All while Beyoncé’s recent ode to celestial excellence, “Alien Superstar,” is booming on a pair of speakers.

Tyris Winter is the only person behind the production. “I felt that song so fully, so I wanted to get crystals and really adorn myself with how I was feeling inside.” As a self-proclaimed “vibe check analyst” on TikTokWinter, 22, has racked up around 415,000 followers and 12,000,000 likes. His jaw-dropping visuals, and signature, do it yourself aesthetic, have garnered approximately 12 million likes.

Tyris Winter inspires others to shine by wearing handmade fashion and accessorizing creatively.

(Emily Monforte/For The Times)

“It’s seven seconds of reimagining who I am and what my life can be,” Winter says of TikTok. This manifests most often in handmade, postgender outfits made from terracotta, fern, fuchsia, and terracotta.

For Winter’s followers, many of whom are also queer or nonbinary young people, the videos offer a chance to imagine more expansive possibilities for their own lives. In a time when legislation against queer and trans teens’ bodily autonomyVideos are a cure for a high-stress state. Each one cracks open the bedroom door and guides the audience toward a more liberated — and glitter-filled — future.

Winter, who grew up in a high-desert suburb of Los Angeles, learned confidence and self-love through hard work. Their parents were strict Christian and would not allow them to express their queerness or femininity.

“I was making treasures for myself to find later on,” Winter says — seeds of creativity and freedom that began to sprout. Poetry, fashion design, painting, and drawing were all ways to escape the loneliness that plagued them every day. Many of their designs look like outfits they shared on TikTok. But they were making art to live.

An arm lies across a bedspread and a notebook with a pride sticker on it.

A notebook in Tyris Winter’s home.

(Emily Monforte/For The Times)

A portrait of Tyris Winter in a shimmering, one-shouldered top.

Tyris Winter

(Emily Monforte/For The Times)

Winter didn’t speak much in school until high school, when the art teacher noticed their talent during a Halloween painting contest. She began to coax Winter from their shells, encouraging them to enter art contests. Although they started to win, this only increased the pain of hiding their identity. Switching from custom, colorful clothes at school to “masculine” outfits at home began to feel untenable. Winter was bursting at seams to be the person she was creating on paper.

In an attempt to feel whole one day, they pulled open a pair jeans at the knees and began sewing in fabric. At home, they bunched up their pants to make sure their parents couldn’t see the strips of color inside. They walked confidently down the halls of school with glowing legs, their legs glowing with effervescent color. It was a simple, but powerful gesture that showed the liberated person ready to emerge in quick flashes.

For their followers, Winter’s videos offer a beam of hope from what can feel like a faraway land. One, Winter walksIn a bright, handmade two-piece in bright green. Text floats above: “I grew up in a homophobic household and had to leave at 18 due to safety, but I want the queer babies in the same situation right now to know that it may be really difficult, and as corny as it sounds, there is love waiting for you, you are so much more than the hatred of others, you are beautiful, you are powerful, you are love. I love you.”

Tyris Winter wears a gold sequin dress with split-seam skirt and bare midriff.

Tyris Winter sparkles.

(Emily Monforte/For The Times)

This “it gets better” narrative can sometimes feel like a frustrating and stale command. It often comes from adults who are decades away from their own emerging queer experiences — and can even seem like an abdication of adults’ responsibility to make queer, trans and nonbinary youths’ lives better now. How can young people know “it gets better” if the current world doesn’t protect them?

However, Winter brings a new energy to the message. “I love your TikTok. It’s inspiring to me seeing younger Black queer folk not only surviving, but thriving. Rooting for you,” says one commenter. “I attend a conservative Christian boarding school and spend most of my year there. I can’t wait to get out and express my gender fluidity openly!” writes another. Winter’s journey offers a map to their own survival, healing and self-love.

“As much as I am upset about the upbringing that I had, I have to acknowledge that it did make me a creative person and it did give me the desire to create a world that I could see myself in,” Winter says. This ability to stand as a mediator between the two worlds of young, queer becoming — where you are and where you dream of — is what draws so many people to their page. “I can tell people that there’s another, better world waiting for them because I literally came from that world too.”

Two photos side by side, one of a painting of Tyris Winter on a windowsill and one of a dress form in front of a mirror.

Details in Tyris Winter’s home.

(Emily Monforte/For The Times)

Winter, who is also a social media manager, artist, and social media manager, believes that their videos are ultimately a form personal liberation and self preservation. “For so many years, I’ve had to be the person that picks myself up. I refuse to let the world or people around me make me into someone I’m not.”

Winter believes in sharing their joy and not their hardships. This philosophy applies to everything, from experimental to everyday. filmsTo thrift a perfectly fittingBirthday dress. Instead of spending thousands of dollars on an outfit, which most teens can’t do, Winter believes you can grab a pair of scissors, decorate your bedroom and start creating your own path to a new world.

“Another day of romanticizing myself,” says the captionA video with nearly 30,000 views. This is the most extreme thing Winter can do, even though everyone tells them differently.

Full body photo of Tyris Winter wearing a black feather raven outfit.

Tyris Winter, ready for flight

(Emily Monforte/For The Times)

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