Gatekeeping, according to Urban Dictionary, is the instance in which someone takes it upon themselves to decide who does or does not have access or rights to a community or identity.
This can be as simple as recommending a certain TV show or urging against watching it to friends and family. But when fandom members go beyond a harmless recommendation or suggestion, they can cross the line and cause unnecessary tension.
A common sign of gatekeeping that is thrown around online is when people weaponize the phrase “you’re not a true ____”. That might be followed by an explanation like “you’re not a true anime fan if you haven’t seen or liked these shows. You’re not a true gamer if you haven’t spent this many hours playing.”
These poor excuses to judge and categorize others teach new fans to hide their emerging interests until they’re experienced enough to brag about it.
A prime example of gatekeeping that occurred in the anime community was when celebrities publicly expressed their interest in the culture. After Megan Thee Stallion won three Grammys at this year’s 63rd annual Grammy Awards, anime streaming company Crunchyroll showcased their support on social media.
Megan Thee Stallion has openly displayed her love for anime and has even collaborated with Crunchyroll in the past for a clothing collection. However, after Crunchyroll’s tweet in support of Megan Thee Stallion, many gatekeepers expressed their distaste. This included complaining that anime is becoming more liberal, that the character she previously cosplayed isn’t Black and that she doesn’t deserve to be called a genuine anime fan.
However, Megan is not the only famous anime fan that’s received backlash. Kim Kardashian has previously shown her love for anime when she dyed her hair pink after being inspired by Zero Two in the anime “Darling in the Franxx.” She was also met with her fair share of gatekeeping anime fans who believed she didn’t fit their criteria and would ruin the anime community.
In these incidences, gatekeeping goes beyond people having certain preferences for the fandoms they engage with. Not only were these comments judgemental, unnecessary and rude, but also racist for assigning a certain skin tone for cosplayers in the anime community.
However, gatekeeping does not only apply to nasty tweets within the anime community.
Dustin Abnet, Cal State Fullerton’s associate professor of American Studies, said that the history of gatekeeping in pop culture has always been around, as cultural activities have been consistently limited by social categories placed on them by others or themselves.
“Because of the kind of much larger history of misogyny and white supremacy, access to different genres of fandom has been limited to women and people of color,” Abnet said. “And it's not that they weren't interested in science fiction, or fantasy, or things like that, because they definitely were, it's just they weren't acknowledged as existing as fans, by the institutions, or by other fans themselves, and that limited their power within the pop culture world itself.”
While gatekeeping in fandoms may not seem like a huge deal in the grander scheme of things, it does have damaging effects when people feel they are excluded from a community that was supposed to be open to all.
“And that kind of lack of acknowledgement, that kind of lack of being seen is deeply harmful to people and definitely kind of has one effect on how they see themselves as individuals, but also on their kind of larger social role in the United States,” Abnet said.
Everyone starts somewhere. Even the oldest fans in certain genres were at one point new in their interest, so those diving into new fandoms or communities for the first time should not be shamed or frowned upon. It is unfair for these communities at large to judge someone for their courage to try something new and be open about it.
As Abnet said, “If we can't create inclusive societies in fandoms, how are we going to create a more inclusive United States?”