The toxic nature of gatekeeping
I came across the notion of gatekeeping early in my teen years. I recall the term posers floating around my high school campus even though I never once engaged in any dialogue with my peers about what they meant when they labeled someone as a poser. For me, it meant that the person was adopting an identity that was inauthentic to be cool. I also felt that calling people posers automatically labeled them as uncool and excluded them from the authentic group.
I have since encountered similar incidents in adulthood. For example, I can call myself a goth but unless I wear black makeup every day, I’m not goth enough. I can call myself punk but unless I listen to this particular band, I’m not punk enough. Consequently, I often question myself even in professional realms. For instance, can I call myself a person-centered counselor if I haven’t read every book that Carl Rogers wrote? Sometimes I find myself sitting at meetings with other person-centered counselors as they spat off various books and articles read, and my insecurity grows. I don’t belong here. Other times, I just marvel at how everyone else seems to have more time to read than I do, which is a tragedy by itself.
Nevertheless, I can usually dismiss such feelings. It doesn’t matter if I meet other people’s expectations for defining various social groups; if I identify with these communities, then they are a part of me. No one owns what they have to offer and damn anyone who tries to keep it all to themselves. We have the right to identify ourselves with labels if we feel that these labels help us describe who we are.
There is one area of gatekeeping that hits me personally: the gatekeeping that sometimes occurs in the transgender community. I transitioned later in life at the age of 38. When I came out, I was desperate for support, especially since I live in a rural town. I didn’t have a local LGBTQIA+ center nor another transgender person that I knew locally at the time. Hence, I turned to social media support groups, and my expectations were high. I naively thought for sure that there was no way for transgender people to attack other transgender people. Afterall, we experience enough dissent.
I was wrong.
I have not personally experienced gatekeeping in these online groups, but I have witnessed enough to fear it. I have read arguments that people cannot be transgender unless they have completed all medical surgeries. I have read that people cannot be transgender if they choose not to undergo any medical procedures. I have witnessed people disregarding people as being transgender because these people did not experience extreme dysphoria. Worst, someone accused a person of pretending to be transgender because this person chose to openly identify as transgender and apparently, this gatekeeper felt that all transgender people are too depressed to be open and proud of this identity.
I want to emphasize that from experience, this gatekeeping behavior is not the view of the majority of transgender people in these groups. It is merely the behavior of a few; however, it occurs enough to cause some significant conflicts, and worse, possibly leave some people feeling more rejected from a community that is meant to embrace them.
So, how does this affect me?
I started this blog because I have a book that is getting published this year, and my book is a fictional tale about a transgender character that also exemplifies my personal experience with transitioning and my own personal body image issues. I wrote that novel to share my story in the hopes that it may help others in addition to promoting literature that conveys transgender experiences. However, I am not worried about potential comments from cisgender people about my book; instead, my anxieties revolve around some people in the transgender community’s reaction to my work. Yes, the number one critic I fear is my own community. I would love to hear from others who share a similar fear.
Some of this fear is needed. Foremost, my experience does not reflect the experience of all transgender people. More importantly, I still want to take great care in the representation of transgender people in my novel. Thus, other transgender people’s opinions matter to me, especially since I plan to continue to write novels with transgender characters. Therefore, constructive feedback is highly welcomed. My main concern is having some transgender people attack my work because they feel that my personal experience must align perfectly with theirs. Since my novel shares so many personal details from my own life, I feel like such attacks would question the authenticity of my transgender identity. Therefore, I would struggle not to take these attacks personally.
Nevertheless, I am not writing this post because of my personal anxieties. Instead, I want to ask why this happens? There are already so many battles for the transgender community in our society, so why are some people battling their own community? Sadly, this behavior occurs in other communities, as well.
I understand that when we have different views, there can be disagreement. However, disagreement is healthy. Even if we all share an identity, we are not the same people. Also, we should respect that other people have reasons for making different choices, especially about medical procedures that are costly and invasive.
I feel strongly that we can navigate through our differences. We need both individual voices and a larger, community voice; they can both exist.
This blog post is also about general gatekeeping, too. I identify with groups to help me understand myself and to feel a sense of belonging to others. For me, these groups are a way to connect. I want all people to be able to embrace identities that are meaningful to them. As people, we all have the right to define ourselves and make the right choices for us. Instead of focusing on exclusion, the focus needs to be on supporting each other as people. Sometimes these identities have the potential to serve as bridges for fostering more human connection.