Roots: Gatekeeping

An exploration of gatekeeping practices in the trans community.

Every group of people has its gatekeepers.

In some groups, gatekeeping is necessary. For instance, we would never trust our political leaders if they were people who simply stepped up and walked into their positions. We accept them (or at least deal with them) because we gatekeep them through our political processes. Voting, or political gatekeeping, enables us to choose candidates at least somewhat democratically.

Gatekeeping in the trans community is also necessary, but for very different reasons. But what are the gates being kept, and whose place is it to keep them?

Often, members of the trans community choose to take this responsibility on themselves and position themselves as the gatekeeper. Such people are often labeled “TruScum”, “bigot”, or “TERF” given the exclusionary nature of such practices, and it is commonly correct to apply these terms to them, but I’ve been called all of the above and worse myself for maintaining that gates should be kept at all.

In my view, it isn’t our place as members of the trans community to keep the gates of our community policed. That right belongs to the medical and psychological practitioners who take us on as patients and work with us toward diagnosis and treatment. Our engagement with them is deeply important to ensure our mental and physical health as we move toward transition and undergo treatment. These individuals are the only ones who should be granted the power to police our gates. As members of the trans community, our role should be at most to constructively criticize those who avoid the gates and help them access proper care.

I’ve mentioned diagnosis above, only in that it is commonly part of our trajectory through the process. Personally, I don’t believe diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria / Gender Incongruence should be required to access treatment, though I would support a mental health evaluation as part of the requirement, provided we could be granted guaranteed access to it, no matter our social or financial circumstances.

Processes and care channels for transition vary by location. When I first transitioned, 3 months of therapy was required leading up to diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria. Once diagnosed, I was recommended on to a doctor who physically examined me and informed me on the medication for my treatment. At any point in this process, anyone can legally change their name, as I did at the very beginning. However, when it came to my gender marker, a surgical requirement barred me from legal recognition as female. For many years, this was detrimental to my well being. I’m a pre-operative transwoman, meaning that I’ve not yet had sex reassignment / gender affirmation surgery. It’s a procedure I desperately need, but have been unable to have due to health and financial complications preventing me from it. It’s something I can get one day, but there’s a long road toward it ahead of me still.

Thankfully, my state changed the law to accommodate people like myself. Now, the way it works is that the onus for gatekeeping is removed from surgical procedure and instead is placed on the medical professionals monitoring our hormone treatments. I approve of this system because it encourages us toward proper care channels without being too much of a burden; also because medical professionals are in the best position to make the judgement call as to whether or not we should be legally recognized and being that they must stick their necks out on our behalf keeps them accountable and serious in the endeavor.

Engagement with a system like this is good for both us and for society. My state has not once to my knowledge seen an incident of abuse of our systems. And given the availability and affordability of care here, even the most underprivileged are rarely unduly burdened by the ways our gates are kept. It is fair, balanced, and promotes safety and security for everyone.

Self-ID has become a big topic around the world, recently, with the UK debating implementation of the policy and other countries, such as parts of the US, Canada, Ireland, Denmark, Portugal, and a few others have already done so. For the uninitiated, self-ID effectively overrides systems like the legitimizing pathway to legal recognition in my state, in favor of legal recognition on the basis of self-declaration alone. Meaning, one could change their gender marker on their birth certificates/government ID at will.

It’s argued that self-ID will benefit poor/underprivileged trans people by removing the burdens of requiring engagement with established care channels like the ones I’ve been through. I have so many issues with this, it’s hard to decide where to begin. There is great potential for abuse of these laws and rights conflicts over sex-based rights that radical feminists have been rallying against. I won’t touch deeply on these concerns and will let those feminists speak for themselves. My main concerns are self-ID’s trans-centric effects.

First of all, it would remove the layer of accountability I described that currently exists between doctors and patients in my state. With this layer of accountability removed, doctors will have less incentive to provide us with the highest possible quality of care. This could allow professionals to let other conditions presenting as dysphoria (i.e. schizophrenia, psychosis, PTSD) or comorbid conditions to slip through the gates unaddressed. It would also detract from the process of legitimization earned via our caregivers’ gatekeeping, making society at large less stable and secure. Stability and security are ensured in our current systems via this gatekeeping by the accountability of medical professionals, who ascertain that we ourselves are stable, secure, and dedicated to transition.

Self-ID would also enable transfolk to self-medicate indefinitely. Many are not aware, but it is possible to purchase hormones via black markets and medically transition without the involvement of medical professionals at all. I find this concept of indefinite self-medication highly dangerous for trans people. Hormone replacement therapy is not idiot-proof, and without proper monitoring of hormone levels and dosages, one can develop liver disease, cardiovascular diseases such as DVT, etc., it is excessively easy to destroy your body if you don’t know what you’re doing. Self-ID seems to encourage this behavior. Another worry I have that springs forth from this line of thinking is that self-ID might lead to lowering in the demand for proper care, as indefinite self-medication becomes more feasible.

If demand for proper care channels decreases, incentive to improve those care channels will also decline. This should be the opposite of our goals. Poor/underprivileged trans people’s main issue comes from inaffordability and inaccessibility of proper care. If we are to solve that problem and meet their unanswered demand, we need incentives to increase the breadth of availability of care and design systems to help individuals in need with accessing and affording them. This is the true solution to this problem that our governments are ignoring. Self-ID is just a bone they are throwing to us in hopes we will be satisfied and ignore the actual problem.

The actual problem is far bigger than just poor/underprivileged trans people and no one seems to want to talk about that in this debate. Poor/underprivileged people die every day due to inability to access and/or afford proper care. The trans community is just a tiny fraction of the population who suffers from this social injustice.

Many trans people like myself who have been through these processes and find value in our current systems have begun to speak out against self-ID. This conflict is at the peak of trends in certain spheres of trans activism that have culminated with the splitting of our community.

On one side, we have the new wave of activists pushing a very identity-based narrative that effectively calls for rejection of the idea there is a biological underpinning to what trans people are and that instead, gender is entirely about one’s internal sense of identity. This side would tell you that anyone who wants to be trans is, and that transition is a choice.

On the other side, we have those who understand being trans is a condition with a biological underpinning that one is born with that brings with it undeniable biological imperatives. This side would tell you that only those who are diagnosed with the condition are actually trans and that we are born this way.

The truth is likely somewhere between the two.

It’s difficult to say exactly where, but unless we address this growing divide in discourse with one another, I feel as though this is going to rip the trans community apart.

Personally, my views align more with the thinking we are born with a condition. However, I think that it’s a condition that exists on a wide spectrum, as all human conditions do. It manifests in different ways in different bodies. Biological imperatives may vary from trans person to trans person. Most of us suffer from a full body dysphoria, that drives us to binary transitions. Others suffer from partial body dysphoria, and may only need to transition to certain degrees such as in the case of some non-binary trans people and some non-op binary trans people. Others still experience social dysphoria, which is born primarily of the distress of existing as a man/woman in society. And let’s not forget the group that claims to have no dysphoria at all.

I think that when transfolk say they don’t have dysphoria, they mean many different things, but very few of those is actually, “I am perfectly comfortable living with my birth sex.” More often than not, such people actually do have the same condition but maybe have lived life in such a way that they’ve avoided suffering from dysphoria or perhaps they *do* experience it but genuinely don’t experience it the same way as others, or simply don’t understand it in the same way others do.

You’ll find in this internal debate that there are a great many opinions within the trans community on what constitutes a trans person. Some will say that we should blindly accept everyone. Others would say we should maintain restrictive criteria to use in judging who to accept and who to reject. Both sides make good points.

On one hand, if we accept everyone on blind faith, we open the door to those who will use that to manipulate us. There are MANY bad people out there who appropriate either trans identities or trans activism for personal/political/financial gain. With no barriers protecting ourselves from them, we are susceptible to subversion by such people. We are forced to accept them as fellow trans people/allies without questioning their motives.

On the other hand, the need for gatekeeping in our community is obvious, given the pitfalls of the aforementioned view.

Earlier in this article, I already gave my opinions on who the gatekeepers are and where/how the gates should be kept, by accountable psychological and medical professional evaluation. The remainder of this article is going to examine why community-driven gatekeeping attempts fail spectacularly.

In order to become a gatekeeper of the trans community, one first needs criteria by which to judge other trans people.

Typical criteria involves things such as sexuality, age of transition, ability to pass, operation status/desire, personal history, etc.

The criteria for a TrueTranswoman™ will commonly look something like this:

  • Androphillic, exclusively attracted to males
  • Medically transitioned before the age of 25
  • Passes as a woman organically
  • Has had sex reassignment surgery or a clear need for SRS
  • Gender non-conforming/feminine prior to transition
  • Gender conforming and highly feminine post-transition
  • Dysphoria began in childhood and persisted through adulthood
  • Never had children

If one doesn’t meet this criteria, they are labeled as “pseudo-transsexual” or “transtrender” and shunned by some who follow this criteria.

The key word here is “some” because not every trans person who follows this TrueTrans™  ideology follows this same criteria.

If you ask anyone following this ideology what their criteria is, they might give the above set, or offer something similar with slight variance. Where might you think the difference between their criteria comes from?

If you guessed “themselves” you are correct.

TrueTrans™ people design the criteria used for their own merit-based gatekeeping systems just right to include themselves. If someone transitioned at 28, they might say 30, instead of 25 is the age limit. If they are gynephillic, meaning exclusively attracted to females, they might nix the sexuality requirement entirely. If they were not gender non-conforming pre-transition or are still non-conforming post-transition, they might abstain from that criteria. And so on, with ever-moving goalposts.

Underlying TrueTrans™ ideology, there seems to also invariably exist another layer intended to police trans people based entirely on behavioral mechanisms and like-mindedness. Any time a trans person might advocate something a TrueTrans™ person disagrees with, or behaves in such a way that doesn’t conform to “proper” trans behavior, these will also be used as demerits.

Earn enough demerits based on any given criteria, and you are not TrueTrans™. You are a psuedo-transsexual. A transtrender. Part of some #transcult incursion against true transsexuals.

As I hope is already apparent, TrueTrans™ ideology is flawed.

The inevitable end to this way of thinking, is that the beholder of TrueTrans™ ideology is the only true transsexual. If you dig deeply enough into each and every one of us, you will invariably find criteria by which to exclude us all.

I believe that the majority of those who adopt TrueTrans™ ideology have a pathological need for validation that is satisfied by the ideology. This need can come from many sources, but most commonly it seems to be adopted by individuals who live isolated lives and struggle against oppressive forces that degrade their sense of agency, or control over themselves as they exist in their reality.

By posturing themselves as a true transsexual and disparaging others who don’t fit their criteria, they receive a dose of self-validation. After disparaging another trans person, they might experience a sense of euphoria, or garner some sense of control over agency. But, these feelings are only temporary, and they always need another fix.

To be fair to those who do follow TrueTrans™ ideology, not all of them are this deranged. Many do follow this way of thinking with purity of intent. They intend their actions as a gatekeeper to have a positive effect over the trans community and society at large, but so often their methods and/or motives are terribly flawed.

So, what do you think? Which way of thinking is better? TrueTrans™ ideology, or blindly accepting all people claiming to be trans legitimately are?

There isn’t a good answer to this question as far as I can tell other than recognizing that gatekeeping, while important to the trans community and society at large, is not our place. That onus is, and should remain, on the professionals who work with us in transitionary care channels. If an individual has not engaged with those care channels, they should be criticized, but constructively, in ways that might help direct them toward or assist them with accessing proper care. If an individual has engaged with those care channels but you still believe they aren’t TrueTrans™, then recognize that they are not your enemy. They are victims. Victims of a professional who should be held accountable for not providing them with proper care.

Roving around through trans communities in TrueTrans™ attack packs to assault and harass trans people who don’t fit one set of TrueTrans™ criteria or another does no one any good. For every actual fake such groups might successfully exclude from the community, they hurt two more who are genuine.

This is obviously a deeply complex and nuanced issue. I am aware that my views have flaws too, but as far as I can tell, they are the best way forward. As always though, I am open-minded and eager to hear my readers’ opinions.

If you have any thoughts, especially with regard to how we should handle this issue moving forward, I would appreciate if you shared them in the comments below.

Thank you! ❤

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