Gatekeeping in the LGBTQ+ community

Nothing says acceptance quite like exclusivity

Alex Light | Photo Courtesy

The LGBTQ+ community has endured a lot to gain access to basic rights, and has endured even more in gaining validity through identity. You would think that this community would be the most welcoming, the most accepting.

While this is often the case, many LGBTQ+ individuals could probably recall a time when they were shamed, cast out or delegitimized by someone who also claims to be apart of the community, and that this gatekeeping — this limiting of who does and does not belong — can often be far more hurtful than when it comes from the expected sources.

Whether it’s prioritizing a white queer agenda or shaming people for their sexual preferences, the LGBTQ+ community has a storied history of infighting. The exclusion of transgender women from the lesbian community, the emergence of TERFs (transgender-exclusionary radical feminists) or people of color having their concerns ignored are just a few examples of how the LGBTQ+ cause at-large has neglected some of its own members. 

In my own life I’ve witnessed gatekeeping, sometimes, in ridiculous circumstances. I was present when a close friend was asked if they liked musicals by an individual who was openly queer. When my friend responded that they did not, they were accused of being homophobic. 

Unbeknownst to the accuser, my friend was struggling to come to terms with their sexuality and stayed closeted for an additional year because of this interaction.

Sometimes it’s not just accusations about nonexistent correlations, like enjoying musicals and being queer. For me, I have found the need to constantly validate my own sexuality while in a heterosexual relationship. I’ve felt pressured to talk about my body count and I’ve been told by other queer folks that I can’t possibly be attracted to my own partner — the person I choose to date — because of my sexuality. 

When a queer individual left my friend group, I witnessed every one of my friends finally coming out in their absence. What does it say when certain members of this community have the same effect of invalidating identity that homophobic people do?

Who is the ‘most’ queer?

It can feel like there’s a hierarchical system of those who belong the most, and subsequently those who belong the least. Your ‘out’ status, the number of people you’ve slept with, hell, even your Lady Gaga knowledge are all used as ways to test whether or not you’re ‘really’ a part of the community.

Questions to validate queerness are typically catered toward white, middle-class, male homosexuals. They then polarize those individuals without the same freedoms to feel comfortably out, who have yet to explore their sexuality or who don’t connect their sexuality to history or pop culture.

Talking about your past experience is necessary for many queer folks, and worthy of the time and energy it takes to listen and acknowledge that task. Sometimes the insistence on talking through trauma can be cathartic — like when individuals who recall how their families didn’t accept them, how they lost friends and membership to other communities as a result of coming out.

What becomes problematic is when trauma is weaponized as a way to prove who really belongs. For example, instead of celebrating when an LGBTQ+ individual has a supportive family, they may be censured for not understanding what so many other queer folks have gone through.

There often seems to be an unspoken competition, that those who have hurt the most or endured the most are the only ones who truly know what it means to be queer. While recognizing this hurt is important, admonishing people for not hurting enough is in and of itself incredibly hurtful.

The effect of gatekeeping

Gatekeeping from LGBTQ+ individuals causes an incredible amount of insecurity to a group of people that have historically been made to feel marginalized by mainstream society. When that insecurity’s source comes from the very people meant to accept you, it can make individuals feel like imposters in their own sexuality or sexual preference. 

As already mentioned, gatekeeping can be hurtful too. The constant need to verify who you are to people can be a painful process. Not to mention that it can sometimes lead to unhealthy or hasty relationships.

For example, I’ve been with partners who announced our relationship very quickly, simply to show the people in their lives that doubted their sexuality that they were who they said they were. The way that identity depends on relationship status or sexual history completely distorts what sexuality is, how personal it can be and completely misplaces the burden of proof from simply taking a person at their word. 

On top of this, people often conform to stereotypes about specific identities; giving up a piece of their identity in order to validate another. Queer folks might change their clothing, the media they enjoy or the way they behave as a way of proving their identity to others, often other LGBTQ+ people.

Being part of the LGBTQ+ community is often associated with, for example, the idea that you’re sexually promiscuous. This certainly isn’t true for everyone, and is fantastic for those that are, but the real problem stems from within when people feel discredited unless they can show they’ve had sex or been in a relationship with the people they say they’re attracted to.

Yet, who someone is attracted to and who they have sex and begin relationships with are not one in the same. If they were, then my teenage dreams of dating Kristen Stewart would have been realized. Alas, this is not the way the world works. 

Being LGBTQ+ shouldn’t be exclusive

Sexuality and sexual preference aren’t some secret clubs that you need to be granted access to; they’re your identity, they’re already a part of you. By treating them as exclusive rights to a select few, individuals don’t legitimize their own identity, they instill the same doubt that they would criticize homophobes for.

There’s no right way to be queer, but it most certainly is wrong to make people work to prove who they are. The LGBTQ+ community should be the last group of people to do this, but just because you’re oppressed doesn’t mean you’re incapable of oppression. A little self awareness, a little empathy and a little minding-your-own-business could go a long way.

For anyone who has been hurt by gatekeeping: you’re valid simply by being you, and this community is full of people who already love and accept you. 

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