I wonder if people directing these comments to me know that I don’t have to be reminded of this. I am a survivor of these ongoing systems of oppression.
When H&M was called out for their “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” fiasco in January 2018, a boycott was immediately trending throughout social media. I fully supported this form of protest, posting several thoughts about how everyone should join the boycott and not give them their money. I was quick to shame others on social media who didn’t support the boycott. “You can’t shop there, they’re racist AF!” “Ugh you’re shopping there? How could you?” “No! Why would you do that knowing what they did!?” Soon after, a friend messaged me and shared that they work at H&M, and feel guilty after reading my posts. They mentioned that even though they were employed by the clothing store, they would still shop there because it’s affordable (especially with their discount) and meets their needs/wants holistically. It’s also a part of their self-care, since the clothing store carries clothes that affirm their gender expression. And here I am, another Queer Afro-Latinx, hearing all of this from my friend who asks me to sit with my discomfort and challenge my own perspective. They asked me, “When does the harm you experience justify the harm you cause?”
This becomes a challenge when my community members are the ones making me feel unsafe, often not welcomed, within our community. If I don’t co-sign someone’s call to action, if I don’t opt-in to someone’s movement, if I don’t submit to the opinions of a self-fulfilling individual within our movement, I’m “Cancelled”. I’m trash. I’m shamed, my identity minimized, my autonomy within social justice movements questioned. This is the problem that I have with the policing of my life. When my own community members begin to judge my decisions and choices, I feel like I’m experiencing violence from them the way a survivor does from their abusive partner. They are “Gaslighting” me; I am questioning my own proximity within my culture, within our community, forcing me to restrict my access to what I may or may not enjoy. This IS violence to me, because as a Queer Afro-Latinx, I am ALREADY limited in access to safe spaces where I can indulge and practice self-care however that may be. On top of that, I live with anxiety and depression, which also limits my access to resources I feel personally comfortable engaging with, because my mental health may be at stake.
Something as simple as a chick-fil-a sandwich, a live streaming of Beyoncé’s Coachella concert or a Starbucks Frappuccino shouldn’t be the difference between adhering to my emotional/mental wellness, and access to my own community and culture. Yes, I am fully aware that these entities have history of causing harm to People of Color, and LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities. I don’t have to be reminded of where my identities intersect within systems of oppression. There’s a lot of calling out and activism, and not enough calling in and mindfulness. Intent doesn’t always equal impact… and “Gatekeepers” are the ones who get to choose who has access to a healing or harmful response to our internalized trauma.
Through social justice movements, especially on social media, we will encounter many gatekeepers, people invested with a certain amount of power and/or privilege, who can grant or refuse you access to something you need or desire. These aren’t your typical Cisgender White folk with institutional power, no these are people from your own community. Folks who experience oppression, and acquire tools of oppression used against them, only to rebrand them as tools used against their own community members. For whatever reason the gatekeeper was not being reasonable nor rational; obstacles that one must confront, ignore, or submit to. In fact, you’ll often find these same gatekeepers dismiss practicing what they preach, fully aware (often emboldened) of/by the option to pick and choose their own actions and behaviors.
Social justice movements, in my case within the Queer/Trans People of Color (QTPOC) community, are full of all kinds of gatekeepers. Within our revolution against systems of oppression, one’s power can be measured by their access to the knowledge and tools they acquire, or their ability to grant or deny access to some one or some thing. We see this often in the policing of Gender Expression within our own collectives; how often many community members are shamed/invalidated due to their outwardly appearance, completely disassociated from their autonomy. We also see this in the “callout” culture of social media, where the moment someone within our community doesn’t opt-in to a movement, they are socially shamed/stigmatized by their own community members. A person’s impact is judged heavily without questioning their intent. One’s autonomy is minimized when a gatekeeper’s activism doesn’t include education.
I present to you my definition of Gatekeeping within our community: The policing of community members who choose to (or do not have the capacity to) co-sign someone’s personal agenda; The warping of facts, enactment of private agendas, and irrational judgments that occur when a person feels entitled/emboldened to place themselves in charge of who is/is not welcomed within the safe space we try to sustain within our community.
We hear this quote often in the media: “Who died and made you king?” I ask this instead: What gives you the right to repurpose the tools you use towards our oppressors, and use them on your own community members? How entitled must you feel to think that your path towards social justice is more valid than mine? Who are you to police the lives and experiences of your own community members? Does the harm you cause your own community members help you feel validated, when these tools don’t always work the way you want them to towards Cisgender YT People? How do we as a collective, hold these individuals accountable, without igniting the cycle of violence that we’ve all been forced into by these systems of oppression? The problem with gatekeepers is that they are in a position to complicate or derail your life, often minimizing your truth or invalidating your identity (or claim to the culture), including any personal goals or opportunities surrounding your self-care and sustainability.
I remind myself everyday: Living within my Truth. Living my Personal Legend. I live to inspire those around me to do the same, and remind them of their resilience and autonomy to do everything in their autonomy to find their trust happiness and freedom. Especially when engaging with my community members who are active within social justice movements, I remind these warriors and witches and healers to practice self-care and sustainability. The Revolution can pause the beat, put your oxygen mask on first.
“Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people–they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress.” - Paulo Freire
Raffy Regulus (Pronouns They/Them/Theirs) is Queer Afro-Latinx, and has served the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) and HIV-Affected communities for about 10 years. Raffy currently works as a Counselor/Advocate with the New York City Anti-Violence Project, where they focus on supporting survivors of violence with counseling and advocacy services. Raffy also Co-Facilitates a Trans/Gender Non-Conforming Youth Support Group with the Adolescent AIDS Program in the Bronx, referring LGBTQ youth to medical and counseling services. Raffy continues to engage with their community and focuses on building relationships that will bring visibility to LGBTQ youth in need of shelter, leadership development, and other supportive services. Follow them on Twitter @Raffy_Regulus