Help! Is this gatekeeping?
What is "gatekeeping"?
Gatekeeping is defined generally as "the activity of controlling, and usually limiting, general access to something" from Oxford's Lexico. More specifically, in the context of the alterhuman communities, Urban Dictionary does a good job of summing it up as: "when someone takes it upon themselves to decide who does or does not have access or rights to a community or identity."
As the alterhuman communities continue to grow and evolve online, terminology is evolving as well, and new terms are being coined constantly. Confusion over terminology is entirely understandable, and arguments about terminology and accusations of gatekeeping are far too frequent as a result.
Click on the expandable sections below if you want to learn more about what to do if someone tries to gatekeep you in the alterhuman communities, and what to do if you're accused of gatekeeping.
Help, I'm exploring my identity, but someone is trying to gatekeep a label from me!
That's not cool! It's extremely frustrating and demoralizing to spend time exploring a personal identity and to decide the label fits you, only to have someone come along and tell you, "You're wrong, and your experiences don't belong here!". Gatekeeping has absolutely no place in the alterhuman communities, and if someone is actively gatekeeping identities, you have every right to call them out on it.
However, before we go any further, a few things you need to ask yourself before proceeding:
Is the person you feel is gatekeeping actively trying to take a label away from you? Or are they attempting to introduce you to other communities and labels with the thought your experiences may align better with those communities?
This person may be trying their best to help you out with the intent of shepherding you toward people with similar experiences to yours. The alterhuman community is awash with confusing terms, some of which sound similar and mean completely different things, and some that sound completely different and mean similar things. It's entirely reasonable to get definitions mixed up or to experience things that may fit within multiple communities, and those community members who are well versed in alterhuman terms may just be doing their best to help you find other people with similar experiences. It's uncomfortable to be corrected! But this isn't gatekeeping.
Have you looked up definitions for this term from multiple sources? Are you 100% sure you're using the correct definition for your experiences?
Again, there are so many terms in the alterhuman community that it's incredibly easy to get confused. Also, misinformation is extremely rampant within the alterhuman communities, through a combination of trolls deliberately misusing terms and well-meaning community members trying to take on teaching roles without knowing their stuff. Anyone can make an alterhuman dictionary or provide advice, good or bad, so exploring vetted resources (especially if they provide sources for their information and definitions) is crucial. If someone tells you you should be using a different term, it's worth double checking you're using the right terminology to describe your experiences.
Are you uncomfortable with this person correcting you because they're incorrectly assuming you don't know what you're talking about, or because they're a member of the community that doesn't interact with your friend circle or doesn't express their alterhumanity in the way you do?
It's honestly totally understandable to be affronted when someone you've never met shows up out of the blue and tells you, unprompted, that you're wrong about something. Seems a little rude, eh? However, to be public about our identities means the public can see how we're using terms, whether that's correctly or incorrectly. Make sure you're not taking issue with someone correcting you because you're uncomfortable they've pointed out a mistake you made or because you don't agree with them as a person. There's a wide range of beliefs and lifestyles within the alterhuman communities, and it's not surprising everyone doesn't always get along. If the person correcting you seems stuffy and boring or doesn't express their alterhumanity the same way you do, nothing is stopping you from disliking them! However, that has no bearing on whether they're allowed to point out your mistakes in an effort to help you.
"I've answered your above questions, and I still think I'm experiencing gatekeeping! Now what?"
You may need to clarify why you're using X label to the person who you feel is gatekeeping you. Give them the benefit of the doubt and realize that they may have misunderstood what you were saying...it can be extremely hard to pick up on nuances in text, especially when reading comprehension or writing skills aren't in tip top shape. Especially if you're new to the community, it can be hard to know how to express yourself in ways that make sense or are the "norm" to older or more experienced members of the community. That is absolutely not your fault! Everything has a learning curve and alterhuman terminology has a particularly steep one. Be patient.
After an explanation, they still won't leave you alone? That's their problem. Block them if you're on a social media site that allows that, or ask for backup from someone who you know knows their stuff. They're in the wrong, and you're justified in telling them that.
Help, I'm trying to correct terminology, but someone said I'm being a gatekeeper!
Good on you for trying to take on a teaching role in the community! With so many new people entering the community at a given time, helping everyone understand terminology is crucial to maintaining coherent conversations.
However, before we go any further, a few things you need to ask yourself before proceeding:
Has this person indicated explicitly that they misunderstand the term they're using (perhaps stating an incorrect definition or explaining their identity in a way that doesn't match up with the label they're using), or does their general conduct lead you to believe they don't understand the term?
If it's the latter, stop and reassess whether your attempt to correct them is warranted, and whether you feel they need to be corrected because they're wrong about something crucial or whether you aren't fond of how they're expressing themselves. We're allowed to be silly with our identities, but still legitimately claim those identities. Remember, we're not an organization; we're just a loosely knit community and beyond actions that are actively harmful to others, we don't have a say in how people express their alterhumanity. Forcing someone out of the community or from using certain labels because they don't fit your idea of what a respectable community member is does enter into the realm of gatekeeping.
Did you carefully read what they wrote?
"Yes, of course, I'm capable of understanding a paragraph!" you say. Great. Go back and read it again anyway. It's amazing what details can be lost, and how a simple misunderstanding can alienate swaths of people from the community as they take sides in arguments that needn't have happened in the first place.
Have you double checked your terminology knowledge?
There are so many terms in the alterhuman community that it's incredibly easy to get confused, and many terms sound similar, even if they mean completely different things. Also, misinformation is extremely rampant within the alterhuman communities. Trolls have perpetuated incorrect definitions, and many well-meaning community members have tried to take on teaching roles without knowing their stuff. Don't be that well-meaning community member who has their definitions wrong! If you're providing definitions to someone, it's always worth double checking your sources, and making sure they're correct and reliable.
After these questions, if it's still a resounding "yes, they're misusing a label", correcting them is in everyone's best interest.
A few words of wisdom:
Everyone deserves respect.
As someone taking on a teaching role in the community, it's imperative that you're respectful, even if you disagree with how someone is engaging in their alterhumanity. Talking down to another member of the community, even if they're misusing a label or incorrect about a given topic, does more harm than good and creates an alienating and toxic environment. Give them the benefit of the doubt (there is a ton of misinformation out there, and it's likely they aren't misusing terms out of spite...they just got on the wrong track) and kindly correct them. A simple "Hey, I saw you mentioned X! I think Y term/community is more what you're looking for and you might feel more at home there. Here are some resources if you're interested in learning more." will do wonders over "You're using our terms wrong; it's actually X. You don't belong here and you're ruining our community for misapplying the label." A great post by @a-dragons-journal about addressing incorrect terminology use while avoiding conflict can be found [here].
If you want to take on a teaching role in the community, you absolutely need to be willing to elaborate on your statements.
Peppering social media with "Hey, you're using this term wrong, here's the correct definition!" and then completely extricating yourself from the conversation is not helpful for newcomers who are swamped with terminology as is. To be a teacher, you need to be a resource, not a term cop. If you don't have the time or energy to actively engage with people after you've tried pointing them in the right direction, consider writing up some canned responses, or, like what I've attempted to do with this website, compile resources and easy-to-understand FAQs (at least that's what I hope I've managed to do here *gulp*) and point them in that direction. However, you always, always, always need to be around to answer basic clarification questions if they still can't follow what you're telling them or the resources you're pointing them to.
Why do definitions matter?
This all probably seems a little pedantic, especially if you're new to the community. In some ways, it probably is. However, as dumb as the saying "words have meanings" is, it's true, and even more so in an online space where we typically communicate in text format and where a lot of our experiences are subjective.
Language changes over time. That's a given in a fluid society. However, without some set definitions, communication breaks down.
Take this hypothetical and rather silly example:
You love music and you've decided to take up playing an instrument. You know very little about instruments, but you choose one that feels right to you: a beautiful violin that your grandmother owned. It makes lovely sounds when you manage to play it right, and it seems to fit your personality and aesthetic quite well too. You learn to read sheet music and spend a good portion of your free time practicing. This new hobby means a lot to you, and you feel like you've gotten good enough that you want to start practicing with other people who play the violin.
You find an ad online for a beginner's violin group, so you sign up. The day comes, and you show up to the meeting, carting along your prized violin. Other people start to show up, but their violins look a lot different than yours. There's no place to blow into! They have strings?! Their instruments look all wrong! You say, "I'm here for the violin practice," and they ask where your violin is. You say, "What do you mean! It's right here!" as you point to your violin.
They all look at you quizzically, and someone pipes up, "This is a violin practice. What you've got there is a clarinet! You should look into beginner's clarinet practice." They even offer to write down the website of the local clarinet club for you.
Really embarrassing? Yeah, for sure! Are they overstepping their bounds by telling you you're wrong about what a violin is? Certainly not.
This situation probably just resulted in Mx. Clarinet-player going home, feeling embarrassed, and then calling up the clarinet practice group. Anyone can go to a dictionary and look up the definition of violin and of clarinet, and to argue that one is the other seems a bit ludicrous. Imagine though for a second if Mx. Clarinet-player went home, started a group online dedicated to explaining how clarinets were violins, and somehow, miraculously got a big following. Now, newcomers who want to start violin lessons have to figure out what the heck a violin actually is, who is giving violin lessons with their variety of violin, and how to explain what a violin is to other people who want to join. Everyone is salty because their definition is "right", old-timers are annoyed because they know what the original definition is, newcomers are annoyed because old-timers are crochety and sour about the fact that language changes, and people in general are getting discouraged because wading through the muck of what is and isn't a violin isn't worth it. People who relied on a set definition of violin and clarinet used those definitions to find the correct sheet music and organize world-renowned symphony orchestras, and now the music scene is a disaster! Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria! Obviously an exaggeration, but do you get the gist?
Essentially, repeatedly and aggressively misusing terms can cause a lot of headaches for 1) people who rely on set definitions to communicate their experiences or expertise, and 2) newcomers who don't know where they fit in. And unfortunately, when it comes to identities, misunderstandings and misinformation start to hurt at an extremely painful personal level when you begin to lose the ability to express yourself though once-solid definitions. Although the definitions within the alterhuman communities aren't something you can find in most published, mainstream dictionaries at this point, there are still compiled and accurate resources available online that the community looks to for definitions. As obnoxious as it can feel sometimes, we need to keep using the correct terminology to keep communication flowing, especially considering it's so hard to describe what we're feeling sometimes on the best of days.
It's also worth noting that new terms for niche or undescribed experiences are more than welcome in the community! Don't be afraid to suggest new terms if you feel like your experiences aren't covered by what's out there. However, changing definitions of solid terms to suit undescribed experiences, or experiences that already have definitions, will cause headaches for everyone.