I recently experienced a bit of gatekeeping from someone in the gay community, via Twitter. I had never heard of this term "gatekeeping" before, or rather, I think I'd heard of the term before, but I never knew the meaning of the word until recently.
Gatekeeping is the activity of controlling, and usually limiting, general access to something. In the social justice world it means usually intersectional discrimination (when people, concepts, etc. overlap into categories other than the main category identified, but that concept is not recognized, and then derided, by people in that overlapping category) and in my case a large bit of tag eclipsing (when a personal sexuality label is not recognized by another party and one is mislabeled, usually with a sexual identity tag, more recognizable to the general public, used instead).
In the regular world, it means someone doesn't like what you're doing and saying, and they're going to control you and your words for what they think is the betterment of society. In this incident, the gatekeeper was trying to control and limit my own identity and the identity of my partner.
I make it well known that I am a bi male. I post about bi male things. I call myself a bifella. I post about bi things in general, on social media. I talk about my bisexuality openly in public and private spaces. I've run three organizations that specifically include bi people and currently manage all three social media pages for those organizations. I network with bi organizations around the world on a constant basis. I write articles for bi.org about bi issues and the bi community. Bi.org defines bisexuality as having both homosexual and heterosexual attractions; being both homosexual and heterosexual at the same time. Bi.org defines anyone who exhibits this behavior as being bi.
I don't just identify as bi. I also identify as fluid. I use the word fluid as a more slang term for my bisexuality. I define fluid as being anyone who identifies with a non-monosexual sexuality such as bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, omnisexual, open, curious, homoflexible, heteroflexible, and even those who are more comfortable not labeling their sexuality. So, by that logic pan people are fluid. Straight-identified folk who dip in the same-sex world are fluid. Lesbians who sometimes sleep with men are fluid.
On a more general level, most in the bi world would call all those labels "bi", because they fit under the bi umbrella. Some people and organizations say it's a polysexual community. Still, others would say we're the non-monosexual queer community.
Fluid is just a slang term for all of them and is not replacing bi, or polysexual, or non-monosexual. It's just a slang term like gay and lesbian is slang for the now-archaic word homosexual. Same for straight and heterosexual. Both are often still used today to mean the same thing.
I run a nonprofit organization in Arizona called Fluid Array Foundation. The initial point of the organization was to help anyone who uses or doesn't use a label, but fits within our non-monosexual (or as I would say: fluid) community, to feel welcome and helped and validated and, if it's at all possible, safe, and to get the help they needed whether it be emotionally, physically, monetarily, etc.
Pan people don't like being called bi. Queer people don't either. I accept both labels as valid labels. I identify also as queer, myself. I have a gay boyfriend. We are a same-sex couple. We are a queer couple. But I use queer to mean any sexuality within the spectrum of sexualities that are not straight. This includes the non-sexualities, as well.
The point I'm trying to make is that we have many, many labels in our community. I respect the "B" in LGBTI and, as a bi person, I have a vested interest in it and its historical place in American society, specifically (as I know our history here does not mirror histories in other nations). Politically and socially, I feel it's necessary to identify as bi and I love it and love the word.
I'm bi, I'm sexually fluid, and I'm queer as fuck, even if I don't fit your idea of what queer is, if you'd ever met me in person. So, I have three labels for myself (I even originally identified as ambisexual when I first researched labels back in 2000). They all almost mean the same thing and there is a great deal of overlap and intersectionality going on with those three words. I know people don't like my opinion on this. I know because it's been discussed in the past. They don't have to like it and I don't have to agree with them, but I do have to take part in the community, whatever you wish to call it. And I feel you have that right to call it whatever you wish, but please learn our history before you make a conclusion on what to call it.
Now, all these labels, as widely used personal labels for people's sexuality, didn't gain traction until the '00s. Many of these labels sprouted out in the mid to late '90s and few even earlier than that, but none of them got widely popular until the 2000s. I know this because I grew up in the '80s and '90s with the general public and this was what we knew. (Within the burgeoning bi world back then, it was a whole different story, but for the general public, this was common knowledge.) You'd hear the word omnisexual every once in a while. Pansexual, too. But it was mostly "bi" (and more often than not "gay" and "lesbian" or "unlabeled", which has always been a big thing). I researched sexual labels online in 1999-2000 when I was 25 and had first come out to a small group of friends. Pansexual was rising. But it wasn't as well known, or used, to the kids then as it is today.
Then came the word homoflexible. It had been used as a joke among gay and lesbian folk to mean that they sometimes partook in under-the-covers shenanigans with people other than those of their same gender, but that it was rare. It wasn't until the '10s that articles began being written about homoflexible people as a real sexual identity. And now today we have gay and lesbian folk who also use this word along with the words "gay" and "lesbian" to describe their sexuality. And it's valid. There's a small bit of crossing over from the gay and lesbian communities into our more fluid realm. Yet they remain gay and lesbian. And that's okay. But they also exhibit bi behavior. And these people contact me often and have done so over the years. And I help them. And I acknowledge their label: homoflexible.
The gatekeeper I mentioned at the beginning of this piece came onto my personal page after I posted an image of me, with my bifella shirt on and my bi pride flag next to me on the grass, watching the parade for our Pride Festival in Phoenix in April. I tagged all the fluid sexualities I could think of in that post. I was proud to be bi and I wanted my fluid friends to know I'm proud of them too.
The gatekeeper said I was homophobic for using the term homoflexible. And that I was erasing bi identities by using that term, so it was also biphobic. They said that homoflexible was created by gay conversion therapy advocates to convince gay and lesbian people that they can be straight, or homoflexible, in the least. The gatekeeper said that they read on Tumblr all the time about these "homophobes" who wish to spread the word homoflexible around as a means to abuse gay and lesbians, sexually. They said that they would never be attracted to women and that they will not be called homoflexible. (I don't know why they felt these people were saying that to them.) They said that one time they had read about someone who was glad their friend came up with that word, just to mess up the gays and lesbians of the world.
That's where I knew something was up. People had been using the word homoflexible for years. In jest, sure, but it truly represented them. Most likely, a single person did not make it up and certainly not someone intent on destroying gay and lesbian people. Besides, "heteroflexible" was also a word, and by their same logic, heteroflexible shouldn't even be a term, unless it was created by "heterophobes". Seems both terms would have naturally sprung up together. (NOTE: We were using the word "flexi" to group homoflexible and heteroflexible people together, although different, they were united by their flexibility for love, despite their mainly stagnant sexual orientation.) So, by asking me to not use that word, the gatekeepers were also unknowingly asking for the erasure of another valid identity.
But, still, I was horrified. This feeling came over me like my brain was getting plowed into by a train and it became mush. I couldn't think. I offended this person deeply somehow and technically I wasn't even the one doing it. I didn't come up with that word. I've never used that word for myself, for my sexuality. This was a genuine word for people's identity. Are they in the wrong for using that word? Was I in the wrong for hashtagging it? I knew I wasn't a homophobe or a biphobe, so why was this person saying this to me? Why were they accusing me of this? Didn't they see that these people exist who identify as homoflexible? My gay boyfriend is one of those very people who is homoflexible. Still, why did I feel so awful?
Then I began doing some research. I looked up homoflexible. This person's name came up along with another and these people were going around on Twitter telling everyone who uses the word homoflexible that they can't use it. I wanted to know if this was a localized issue somewhere in the world where it was a problem with gay conversion therapy advocates spouting this term, so I asked where they lived. Maybe this issue hadn't reached the States and we could do more research into it... but nothing. I don't know and I may never know, but this person was hurt by this term. Much like the word queer, we need to be sensitive to how people have been abused by words. I love the word homoflexible and the word queer.
But, then they started attacking the word fluid. I have loved the word fluid for my sexuality since I was a teenager. I've always felt that my sexuality was flowing, like water in a conduit, flowing towards whomever attracted me. So, I'm not about to back down on my own descriptive word for my very being; the thing I'm fairly certain that I love the most; this amazing gift from the universe to me, and these knuckleheads are telling me I can't use that word AT ALL. Stop.
Someone among the many people the gatekeepers were tweeting called them out on their gatekeeping. I felt a rush of relief. I looked up the definition. That's exactly what they were doing. I felt I had the strength, with this newfound knowledge, to push back against this kind of cyberbullying. Nothing got resolved. It may never get resolved, but now you know: this is a thing, apparently. Don't let anyone step on you or your own words that define you.
For the flexi and fluid people in the world: You are valid. Your labels for yourself are valid. It stinks that people had to go through shit, but they can't pin that on you. That is never your fault and it's not mine that people choose to label themselves how they wish. And that's never going away. So we need to adjust to that. You don't get to define other people, just as you wouldn't want them to define you. Keeps the gates open, so the love keeps flowing.