Problematic? No problem! How gatekeeping taught me survival (and how to be mean online)

“Why are you such a fucking bitch, like, all the time and for no reason?” Is a question I’m often asked, one that I used to wear like a badge of honor, but which is now something I nervously dismiss because getting into the specifics of my answer requires me to reveal my age… until, today that is! Today, I present to you a small memoir about the magic of gatekeeping, and how it basically shaped me into a functional tranny, capable of, like, survival or whatever.

Despite looking much younger than I am and behaving as such (trans problems?), I actually began my transition in 2011. And as you can imagine, that was an incredibly different and difficult social climate than the one we have now. And yet, in some ways, it was a better, less annoying, less hypersensitive and less entitled era. An era that, in fact, made me much stronger than I care to admit, at the risk of sounding like an old white man missing the days he could freely use slurs in the Navy. I’ll extrapolate with a story, and as always, content warning: It was a different time, you see! 

I was sitting the other day with a trans girl several years younger than I, and to be honest, she was a fucking mess. I am often sought out by other “new” girls to help them with their transition, share tips, experience, etc — and I often refuse. The way I was “taught” to be trans and present and survive isn’t for people who were coddled or think being trans is a cute fun experience. It wasn’t on its way to normalization when I grew up. It was in the midst of extreme oppression and media attention, and was so overly centered around visual optics that in today’s anti-fatphobic climate, my advice of “just stop eating for days at a time to become prettier” is enough to make someone send me death threats: because now, we deny truths if they are problematic. While it is true that, in our current fatphobic society surrounded with shifting (yet perpetually thin bodied) beauty standards, that if you’re skinny, you’re more socially perceived as attractive. It’s just a fact: the closer you are to heteronormative cis societal standards, the easier your life becomes. But, you know — you can’t just fucking say things like that anymore. (This statement alone is going to get QueerKentucky another ANYA IS THE DEVIL email.)

While trans people have long existed, media representation was incredibly low and there wasn’t exactly text or positive portrayals of trans people — it was defined as deviancy and mental disorder. My only depiction of trans people were as jokes, prostitutes, or corpses. I realized the height of my dysphoria very quickly, and after a few psychiatric stints from attempting to off myself for unspecified reasons and bouts of dread and non-functioning behavior from feeling trapped in my male puberty skinsuit, I came across depictions through japanese media of effeminate men in music (Thanks, An Cafe!). I soon learned that just because I was stuck in a body that made me want to kill myself didn’t mean I couldn’t decorate myself how I wanted, even if it *was* socially unacceptable. 

I began crossdressing, disguising it as just having an interest in Japanese Visual-kei music, and upon entering college and falling in love with a mediocre stoner, I experienced a dramatic personality and appearance change which aided me in becoming the gorgeous little psychopath I am today — and this change was cultivated through the online trans community, an admittedly fun cesspool of bullying, pro-ana content, selfies, and competition to be the best image board trap you could be while using as many slurs as possible to prove you were a cool person and could deflect anyone who might attempt to hate crime you with ease. Fatphobia, colorism, racism, whatever ism you can think of was commonplace in casual conversation (as you’d expect from communities that were led by people only a few years or so removed from having the privilege of white men) and that was the culture.

If you weren’t skinny enough, if you weren’t pretty enough, if you weren’t vacant and mean enough, you didn’t excel in this society. And god, I fucking loved it until I realized exactly how warped and self-consuming it was. Because of my inexperience in all things feminine (I didn’t just suddenly learn to dress and do makeup and behave), I sought the assistance of a prettier trans girl who had the aesthetic I liked: she was blonde, she was into japanese subculture, and she had gorgeous friends with a gorgeous life. She was slender, her boyfriends were attractive, she modeled: she was a doll through and through, and this doll soon became my “big sister,” adopting me into what we called the “okiya” (in reference to Memoirs of a Geisha: being trans, for us, was like a performance. We had to be beautiful artists to be appreciated, but like geisha, we could never be truly loved.) and battering me into shape.

I developed an eating disorder quickly to shed around 80 lbs of fat from high school where I became extremely overweight from depression. I bleached my hair experimentally, learned how to contour. I learned what clothes were fashionable, what suited my body, how to spot fashion trends and stay ahead. I learned which music artists had the best style and who to imitate, developed icons and more problems than I can feasibly list. I learned how to speak, what things to say to defend myself when attacked for being trans. I became quicker witted. I learned posture, what made me look more or less manly. I learned what sections of my face to hide, which to display — and other things that became essential to my survival and flourishing. But I was also berated. I was told I was fat, I was told I was insufficient. I was told I was manly, and not enough: but when I was enough, I was praised. When I was slender, finally, I was congratulated on my “evolution,” but told to be mindful that I could always lose more weight. For every improvement, I had three flaws. And this became a pattern I kept through life.

On the upside, I sharpened my knives for survival. On the downside, I developed the hobby of recreationally bullying people for fun to deter them from harassing me. If I was more evil than they were, they couldn’t hurt me. One might think my bullying developed out of being bullied by my community, but I promise — what we did to each other wasn’t bullying, it was genuine concern for our survival in a society that still wants trans women dead. I was beaten hard, so that society could not beat me harder. It was a hard community, and you had to keep up to excel: the girls who didn’t pass, didn’t attempt to, and didn’t refine themselves and made excuses got dropped and teased. I made sure I wasn’t one of them, and even if I didn’t reach the upper echelon of girls at the time, I still knew many and being “middle tier” was safety enough. If I couldn’t tolerate being called fat and manly by what were functionally all the outcasts of society anyways, how could I tolerate it from people with actual power over me?

People have always told me I always look great, and fashionable, and other variations of hyperfixations about how pretty I am simply because I take extra time to get dressed and fix my makeup. People are attracted to me because of my visuals, because of how I carry myself. The lessons I received became essential in an era where there wasn’t a youtube tutorial for everything yet, just Michelle Phan (and even then, how would you know what to look up if it was not told to you?) and are to thank for my survival. I am presentable, which is one of the most essential tools a trans person can have at their disposal. But, again, I also developed a myriad of problematic traits and views I still have to work to deconstruct. 

To me, I thrived in a dog-eat-dog (fish-eat-dog?) community that supported you so long as you bent to its rules. It might’ve been better without the, you know, racism and fatphobia, but you take what you can get when there’s nothing else out there. But I find myself wondering now, in an era of a hypersensitive trans and lgbt community (I won’t get into that – yet) how do we practice survival? How do we navigate the hard, unchanging truths? You can make people use your pronouns, but you can’t make them see you as a woman. You can spew rhetoric all day, and people may agree, but it’s just insular social posturing. How is the newer community navigating the cruelty of the world? Do they respond with earnestness (which could be why they are so offended and whiny online all the time), or do they respond with denial and cancellation posts and meltdowns? 

In a climate where we can say nothing harsh, where observation becomes “phobia,” and where things are overblown and decontextualized for the purpose of beratement and confirmation bias, how are we surviving? Is it a coincidence that the people who come for me the most are ugly? The threats I receive are so shallow, my DMs from 2012 would likely make people shit blood if ever screenshotted, and as such, they are rightfully purged from the internet. I am detached from the younger community despite looking like I belong to it. My community is filled with people dead and gone, or tired transwomen who don’t have the time to participate outside of the bonds they’ve already formed. 

Being a bitch was survival. Being a bitch taught me how to survive. It made me strong, impervious. It strengthened my mind and my perception of life, and instilled in me a deep value I’d like to share with you all: if someone says something you do not like to you online, or you read content that hurts your feelings, makes you upset, or you feel is “problematic,” you can simply log out. Close the tab. Touch grass. Not everything requires complaint, and not everyone is going to do what people want of them, because your reality and their reality do not overlap.

I grew up in a much harsher social climate. I will always present my stories authentically, even if the statements made may be perceived as cruel by some. I, always, am inclusive and loving to people despite critiques. Because critique is not hatred when it comes from inside the house: it is survival. In a few years, people did not become nicer just because they have pronouns in their bio. If your queer community is filled with people who retain a questionable amount of cis privileges and navigate society with minimal oppression or worry or hardship… You may want to look closer at who is influencing your opinions: because mine came from girls in the trenches with me, not above me attempting to offer sympathy and running off to drop the they/them from their pronouns to get money from their parents. Consider bringing BACK gatekeeping, because gatekeeping is why I have survived thus far. Be a bitch today, but ethically.