As we celebrate our sexuality, non-sexuality and all the other beautifully queer parts of our identity, we can sometimes feel pressured by gatekeeping in the queer community – internalized or otherwise. While we might love calling ourselves queer, other people might take unnecessary offensive — but that’s okay, because you need to prioritize yourself, your labels (or lack thereof) and how you personally express your approach to your identity. It’s nobody else’s place to decide whether or not you’re queer enough.
That being said, gatekeeping goes beyond what other people think of your identity, and how they think you should label it. Because many people use gatekeeping as a way to verify if others have the right to access a community, gatekeeping can often be wielded as a weapon to sway certain members of the LGBTQ+ community from attending Pride events — which can contribute to the erasure and suppression of certain identities.
Apparent straight people at Pride events might seem troubling to some people. However, what’s important to know is not everyone who seems straight or cisgender is actually straight and/or cis (after all, heterosexuality is basically a myth your mom told you about, according to science). Approaching someone at Pride because you think they might be straight and making them feel othered can breed an infestation of toxic issues for you, the person you subjected to your gatekeeping BS, and the whole LGBTQ+ community.
To help avoid accidentally singling someone else out, here are a few tips to help you avoid gatekeeping during Pride and beyond.
Leave LGBTQ+ People Alone
IMO, this should be obvious, but apparently certain people at Pride events didn’t get this memo.
Seriously, there’s always that one person who feels like they need white knight the entire LGBTQ+ community and make sure Pride events are completely free of hetero couples. However, just because the rainbow-wearing duo near the beer garden is in an opposite-sex relationship doesn’t mean one (or both) of those people aren’t a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
Omnisexual, bisexual, pansexual, queer, sexually fluid, polyamorous, asexual and aromantic people exist and flourish within the community; however, their sexuality might not be overtly visible all the time. As The Trevor Project points out, you can’t tell someone’s gender by looking at them – and the same goes for their sexuality. Just because someone is holding hands with someone of the opposite gender doesn’t mean that they’re a straight couple — just like it doesn’t mean both or either of the people in that relationship are actually opposite genders (even if you visibly think that they are).
1. So you’re at Pride and you have FEELINGS about SEEING A STRAIGHT COUPLE.
Have you considered:
– 1 or both are bi+
– 1 or both are pan
– 1 or both are ace/aro
– 1 or both are trans/enby (& do identify as het/straight & are still part of the lgbTqia2s+ community!!!)
— Mx. AC Dumlao (they/them) (@mxacdumlao) June 2, 2018
Genderfluid people, transgender people and non-binary people exist and they also need to feel welcomed and accepted in the community, especially at Pride events. Invasively asking a person or a couple about their sexuality, non-sexuality, gender or any other aspects of their identity makes them feel unnecessarily vulnerable and ostracized. You’re also not a gender or identity detective. Investigating another person’s right to attend Pride events can make them feel uncomfortable existing within the community, or make them feel like they need to hide their identity (or parts of it).
If a person is indirectly (or directly) forced to conceal a component of their existence, this can make that person harbor a form of internalized phobia and hatred toward that aspect of their sexuality and identity. Contributing to another person’s hatred toward themselves (or a part of themselves) is potentially one of the worse side effects of gatekeeping, but this can be prevented if you refrain from asking others intrusive questions about their identities.
Nevertheless, if you suspect another person is harassing an individual or a group of individuals at Pride events, there are some things you can do to dispel this negative gatekeeping:
- Speak up. Seriously, use your voice to tell the instigator to leave people alone and let them enjoy Pride.
- Reassure the person who was subjected to gatekeeping. Let them know that you support them and every inch of their identity.
- Show them you support them. Ask them to join your group of friends, complement their Pride-related outfit or simply buy them a drink (seriously, small gestures of kindness go a long way in the wake of gatekeeping).
Having an aspect of your identity questioned is an absurdly invalidating experience, and can persuade that member of the community to entirely dissociate from the community itself. If someone doesn’t feel comfortable at an event or in a community, it negates the natural found-family feeling that Pride and the LGBTQ+ community has evolved to establish.
Instead of invading another person’s identity, try talking to other people in a positive way. Ask other people to join your group and foster an inviting sense of celebration. Learn about each other’s experiences without asking inappropriate questions (unless everyone is okay with having a potentially emotionally-strenuous conversation).
Listen To Other LGBTQ+ Within The Community
Gatekeeping isn’t a problematic phenomenon that bisexual, pansexual, omnisexual, asexual and aromantic people exclusively face. Lesbians especially experience the brunt of the multiple lesbianphobic attacks on their identity, as well as blatant gatekeeping. Not only do these attacks threaten lesbians and their very existence, these attacks can ripple throughout the community and perpetuate a toxic environment and implement harmful stereotypes about other members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Depending on your identities within (and outside of) the LGBTQ+ communities, it can seem painfully easy to dismiss other peoples’ dilemmas, but it’s important to listen to them and actively educate yourself about the discrimination that they specifically face.
So listening to your lesbian friends in the community vent about the BS consistent and deliberate exclusion of lesbians and people of color at Pride events, in Pride-syndicated merchandise and in advertisement campaigns can act as a temporary remedy for all the anti-LGBTQ+ discourse and legislature. Making sure your trans and gender-nonconforming friends know that they can turn to you to talk about their experiences is another great way to support your siblings in the community.
Venting is healthy because it releases sequestered stress and can thus amplify your mental health, but it’s also important to do more than act as an active ear for your friends and acquaintances in the community. Beyond acting as a support system for everyone within the community, you should work to fight these injustices, stigmas and stereotypes. And, after you’ve listened to each other’s banter, start drafting your gay agenda to demolish these ever-prevalent and perpetually problematic tropes and stereotypes. It’s always better to redirect our energy from gatekeeping to productive protests, and these protests can help drive the community closer together.
Support LGBTQ+ Community Members, Don’t Judge
Communities represent a collection of people, and the LGBTQ+ community hosts a conglomeration of multifarious identities and individuals. Gatekeeping those who might not visibly present aspects of their identities for everyone to see can be harmful to the health of the community. After all, I’ve already worn my bisexual cape five times this week, but even bisexual b*tches need to take a day off from being superheroes. That being said, not looking queer or queer enough all the damn time – or ever – shouldn’t make anyone vulnerable to gatekeeping.
And if you do accidentally offend somebody – by gatekeeping or otherwise – make sure you do the right thing and own up to your mistake. The Trevor Project recommends keeping it simple: Listen, hold yourself accountable, and commit to doing better. That means hearing out the person you offended – even if you didn’t mean to – acknowledging that you were wrong, and using the experience to learn and be better in the future.
While we’re all often equally marginalized, stereotyped and fetishized by pop culture, members of the LGBTQ+ community are unequally discriminated against. Everyone within the LGBTQ+ community can actively (and passively) use their voices to combat these issues that all target us in a variety of different ways, and do better moving forward.