How To Be an Inclusive Geek: Part 1 Gatekeeping

By Amy Claxton

Gatekeeping in Geek Culture Artilce 1 Featured Image

Geeks of all sorts exist in the world we live in separated by the married interests that make them geeks yet a part of society as a whole. A geek, according to dictionary (dot) com’s second listed definition, is “a person who has excessive enthusiasm for and some expertise about a specialized subject or activity.” So it is possible to be considered as a horror geek, anime geek, RPG geek, Dr. Who geek, and anything and everything between.

According to the definition you can even be a medical geek or a web design geek. There are no limits to what interests are included in geekdom.  What is however a common thread is that, just like in the rest of society, there are many pitfalls and issues that can arise when dealing with other geeks. In this series we will discuss ways to make sure that whatever interest someone is involved in that they are both inclusive and welcoming to everyone regardless of personal identity, cultural identity, or status.

First we will talk about gatekeeping in geek society. We will go over what gatekeeping is and how someone avoids gatekeeping other people.

What is Gatekeeping

Gatekeeping is when a person decides for themselves if someone does or does not have a right to belong to a community or identity. Here’s an example. Tim is gushing about their love of Star Trek. They say they’re a fan. Alan then asks how much they’ve watched the shows, and once Tim comments that they’ve only watched a few episodes of Next Generation, Alan claims that Tim is not a real Star Trek geek. Alan then boasts about having watched all the episodes for all the Star Trek shows. This leaves Tim feeling sad and dejected. Maybe Tim decides that they don’t want to watch Star Trek anymore and they leave the community.

This example of gatekeeping happens a lot, in person and online. It can stretch across many interests and hobbies, but the result is the same…people feel like they don’t belong. Sometimes they may feel that they have to defend or prove what they do know about something.

It is possible to gate keep and not mean to make someone else feel bad. But the other person does feel hurt, ostracized and not welcome. So how do we go about sharing with newcomers that we are also fans of what they have fallen in love with? It could go something like this.

A: Hey, I love D&D. I’m proud of being a gamer geek.

B: Cool, I love D&D too.  What edition do you like to play?

A: Well, I play 5th edition.

B: That’s awesome! Would you like to hear about some of the other editions? I have been playing since 2nd edition myself.

A: I have always been curious about what D&D was like in the past.

B: Well let me tell you the story of THACO.

A: Okay.  So what’s THACO?

See how nobody went out of their way to make the other person feel bad? They didn’t press or push or use words that had a negative feel to them. Instead, the other person offered to teach something and left it up to the newcomer.  In no way did the person with more experience challenge the newcomer’s knowledge. Instead they celebrated talking with someone who had a shared interest and offered to be inclusive by teaching a not previously known subject.

It is important that we never look down on someone who has less knowledge than us in our geek interests. We should never quiz someone on their knowledge or make them feel like they need to prove that they are really into something.  We should never make someone justify their interests.  We should always thrive to be inclusive whether someone just enjoys cosplaying Red Sonja but knows nothing about the comics, or someone owns every single comic book and can recite them word for word.  They enjoy the same fandom just in different facets.  I often wonder how many friendships we miss out on because of gatekeeping.

I used Red Sonja as an example because I have seen it happen at a convention. The person who enjoyed the comics quizzed the cosplayer on Red Sonja and when she could not answer a single question that was not about the movie, I could see how uncomfortable she was. The comic fan carried on about how big of a fan they were and boasted about their deep well of knowledge.  She was enjoying cosplaying a character she thought looked bad ass but was made to feel she shouldn’t because she didn’t know the character.  When he finally walked away she took a deep breath and went back to smiling.  I often wonder if the comic fan had asked her instead if she had ever read the comics and brought her one as a gift to get her started, if they could have become friends.

There’s another facet to gatekeeping. This has to do with whether someone’s interests are valid, determined of course by someone else. If you say that you’re a fan of punk rock and that you love Green Day, and someone comes along and scoffs, saying that Green Day isn’t punk, the Ramones are real punk.  By saying this we are invalidating someone’s interests. We are injecting our own opinion and lording our knowledge over someone else. This type of gatekeeping is just as destructive to someone’s feelings as the other examples I have given.

One last point on the subject of gatekeeping I would like to make is about the words noob, newb, newbie etc. When someone is just starting out they are new. Instead of pointing it out by calling them a newbie we should get rid of the label and make them feel welcome and included. Everyone starts somewhere and these labels can cause others to decide the bar is too high to be involved.  Nobody should have to display what they know, just because someone else thinks they have to prove their knowledge. We should go out of our way to welcome newcomers into our community; they belong here too.

Gatekeeping is something that does not belong in geekdom. We all have interests that we take seriously and put a lot of money and time into. I hope this article has made you think back on your own interactions with people and will help you to be a more inclusive geek.