With Gate Power Comes Gate Responsibility
What is gatekeeping?
Gatekeeping is the idea of reinforcing norms and policing individuals to conform to societal ideology. It’s when someone takes it upon themselves to decide who does or does not have access or rights to a community or identity; or questions the authenticity of an individual’s lived experiences.
Gatekeeping in the queer community, or “Gaytekeeping” is when someone tries to set limits and requirements on what it means to be part of the LGBT+ community.
Gatekeeping can be seen in the language people use about certain groups, unfair policies, or when people work to exclude others based on their own prejudices and stereotypes. It can be done for a variety of other reasons too, for example due to misconceptions and bias (unconscious or otherwise), lack of knowledge or understanding, societal expectations, or ignorance.
What does gatekeeping look like in the community?
Gatekeeping from within the LGBTQ+ community is nothing new. From the moment there was a queer community, there were people who thought they should be the ones to decide who is and isn’t a part of it.
We’re talking about masculine gay men shaming other gay men who do drag or wear pink or otherwise have feminine traits, calling them an embarrassment or a stereotype and blaming them for the way they are treated for not living up to society’s expectations of masculinity.
We’re talking about feminine gay men who shame “straight-passing” men, calling them self-hating traitors who don’t really belong here, who “don’t even need” a community of peers to fall back on.
We’re talking about lesbians who shame each other for being “too butch” or “too femme” or “basically straight”, for similar reasons.
We’re talking about the shunning and dismissal of the bi+ community from within, calling them “chameleons” and “only half gay”, and implying that they’re either gay people in the closet or straight people going through an “experimental phase” they’ll grow out of.
We’re talking about transgender people being constantly and systematically left out of discussions and activism, with people ranging from calling it a “similar but parallel struggle” to try and distance themselves from actually helping to actively rejecting any involvement with them as a whole. This despite the fact that the queer community as it currently stands wouldn’t exist without them.
We’re talking about the wholesale rejection of asexual and/or aromantic people.
We’re talking about rejecting the term queer, to the point of calling it a slur and thus erasing the history of its reclamation, in order to make things “less messy” and “harder for straight people to infiltrate”, at the cost of the visibility of people who don’t fit into that neat four-letter acronym.
Being LGBTQ+ simply means one thing: you as an individual are divergent in some way sexuality-wise or gender-wise. It means you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, asexual, aromantic, or a plethora of things that you can choose to define yourself with. But issues arise when people within the community believe that you must also possess certain religious values, personality traits, physical attributes and political views to attest to your own identity.
Why is gatekeeping so bad?
Gaytekeeping makes people feel unsafe in their own community. A space they used to occupy without question is suddenly ripped away, when the victim has done nothing that would justify being ousted. Or, in some cases, you’re allowed in, but only if you perform your identity in what they’ve deemed is the “correct” way.
It’s made many people give up on the queer community at large. You don’t have to look hard to find bi, trans, and ace people online saying, “Maybe they’re right. Maybe we should just form our own community.” And can you really blame them? What other choice seems available, when your so-called community is making you feel more alienated than you did before you came out?
It also reinforces heteronormative gender roles and expectations. Many of the criteria for being queer “the right way” involves how well you fit into these predetermined roles. Masculine gay men, feminine lesbians, trans people who clearly put lots of money and effort into “passing” as either a masculine man or a feminine woman — these are the voices that are deemed “good”, and anyone whose sexuality or gender is more complicated than that, and expresses it accordingly, is “bad”, or at best, “embarrassing” or “cringey”.
That being said, gatekeeping goes beyond what other people think of your identity, and how they think you should label it. It can also often be wielded as a weapon to sway certain members of the community from having access to LGBTQIA+ resources, such as mental health services, safe sex education/protection, space in LGBTQIA+ shelters, and many more. Often, these resources can be lifesaving, giving displaced queer youth a safe place to sleep, helping them cope with the toll harassment/discrimination can have on their mental health, and helping them prevent and be educated on STDs, just to name a few.
The concept of “gatekeeping” is obstructing vulnerable people from these tools that can help them, claiming they don’t qualify to use them because of what basically amounts to “you’re not the right kind of queer.” Certain identities are seen as “too complicated” or “made up” and they are dismissed as being “fakers” trying to “sneak in” to the LGBTQIA+ movement.
How can we help prevent Gaytekeeping?
By recognizing and respecting our differences
It should be acknowledged that just because we are part of a minority / marginalised community, doesn’t mean we’re all the same. We are not homogenous, amongst us there are differences of opinions and beliefs, much like any group of people.
Not everyone wants to or can conform, and no-one should be expected or made to so other people feel more comfortable being around them. Making acceptance conditional on “being a certain way”, is not acceptance, it is exclusionary.
By learning to listen
We must become aware of our own unconscious biases, learn more about marginalised groups, and call out gatekeeping behaviours – whether we are in the LGBTQ+ community or not. People should be able to be themselves. Not be marginalised or seen as ‘other’.
The best way to do this is to listen to LGBTQ+ people and actively educate yourself about the discrimination that they specifically face. Spend time supporting and understanding them.
By reinforcing our validity
There is no “right way” to be a human; to be a person; to be trans, non-binary, lesbian, gay, bi or however you identify. We are all different. We all have different lived experiences. We are all valid.
One of the most influential events in modern queer history, the Stonewall riots, were started by bisexual trans women, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. The “Mother of Pride,” Brenda Howard, was bisexual. These parts of our history are often washed over, their contributions ignored in order to provide a narrative that is more “palatable” to straight people in hopes that they’ll accept us if we don’t make it “too obvious” that we’re not part of the cis heteronormative system. Our history needs to be taught so that attempts at “gatekeeping” are shut down by the knowledge that the people they’re trying to keep out are also the people who helped make our movement and community what it is today.
Queer people are some of the most vulnerable out there, and they should not be kept from lifesaving resources due to their own community judging them as “not queer enough.” There is only one person who can decide if they are “queer enough,” and that is the person themselves. Don’t bar people from something that can provide them desperately needed help because you don’t think they deserve it.