A few months ago I was contacted through Facebook by a young filmmaker.
“Hi there Jonathan,” she wrote. “I have recently finished an LGBT short film and thought you would be a great person to ask about festivals. Do you know of any that I could enter my film in?”
I immediately replied and asked for her email address, then sent her all the information I had on national and international film festivals. I’d put the list together for promoting my film (The Doctor’s Wife, available now on DVD – see below) but hadn’t updated it in a while so I apologised that it might not be the most useful list around.
Almost as soon as I heard the ‘woosh’ of outgoing mail, the ‘boong’ of an incoming reply surprised me. This young filmmaker’s message was so filled with emotion that it was quite hard to read.
She told me that I was the fourteenth queer filmmaker she had contacted; only one of three to actually reply, and the only one who willingly gave her information without presenting hoops for her to jump through first.
What made this message hard to read though was not just that this polite storyteller had been ignored by people she respected, it was more that I knew the feeling all too well, because it had been happening to me almost on a daily basis.
Anyone who has worked in the media, arts or entertainment business has been in what I call “The Gatekeeper” situation.
The situation where one person is the missing link between you and an audition, you and a meeting that could change the course of your project, or you and a captive social media audience that is so big you can only just fathom the size. The one person that can really make a difference.
Once we enter the gatekeeper situation most of us assess the theoretical hoops on offer, stroke necessary egos, then go home feeling a little sticky and possibly fisted, have a shower, and know that ultimately our fate still lies in the hands of another. Most of the time the message of what you’re trying to achieve is secondary to what you can give someone, how much they like you, or simply whether they can be bothered to help.
Gatekeepers are not unique to the GLBTIQ community, they seem to be just part of the human experience, and in some instances are necessary. However, I believe that we could change some of the ways in which we operate as gatekeepers to do something I call ‘Gaying It Forward’.
So what is ‘Gaying It Forward’? It works much like it does in the film with that kid who used to see dead people and that woman who won an academy award for making it look like someone really could fall in love with Jack Nicholson.
All you need to do is notice when you are a “gatekeeper” and before you choose your course of action, ask yourself two questions; “What will this actually cost me?” and “Who am I ultimately helping?”
You will probably find that in a majority of situations the personal cost to you for passing on information or retweeting is nothing. The person you are helping is someone who needs it, and in many cases, is trying to a positively influence the rainbow-coloured cacophony of issues that all bundle together to create our equal rights.
This small electronic conversation with a hopeful film-maker, got me thinking about the motivations behind a perpetual “Gatekeeper”, and the often agonising struggle they put others through that is unfortunately little more than an assertion of power.
“But it was never easy for me!” is argued by many people who have been ‘around forever’, an attitude which completely baffles me, mainly because it mimics a cycle of abuse.
On the way to building a career, someone finds that things are’t that easy, and they struggle and sacrifice to get to where they are . Eventually this person might be asked, by someone following a similar path to the one they used to tread, for some advice or a bit of a hand.
Instead of assisting, they choose to exercise the same withholding that probably caused some of the pain and struggle they had to endure, simply because, “it wasn’t that easy for me, so why should it be easy for you?”
Thus, the cycle begins again and we end up another gatekeeper holding on to a position of power, much like the Kardashians have held on to their fifteen minutes. This isn’t a form of leather-clad BDSM that is mutually beneficial for both parties, it’s the kind of attitude that helps to keep us as second-class citizens.
I believe we can break this cycle to help build a stronger community.
This is not to say that every person that approaches you will be someone you want to help. You may disagree with their message, approach or already be supporting something similar. In my experience however, the more discussion and active advocacy we have around LGBTQI rights, the better. It’s that simple.
If you disagree with someone’s message or approach, have a conversation about why. If you know it’s doubling up on something that someone else is doing, put them in touch with the other person because chances are they don’t know about one another. Take the time.
If you ‘Gay It Forward’ you’re helping the community to get organised and create positive change.
Luckily I’ve been able to meet some great people on my Doctor’s Wife journey so far, but I’m sad to say they’re often few and far between.
So my gay agenda involves a shift in the culture of how we approach our rainbow ‘brothers and sisters’, and our heterosexual allies.
Your journey may have been tough, but instead of feeling that it is your responsibility to teach others that they too must walk on the struggle street to success ; why not break the cycle and ‘Gay it forward?’
The Doctor’s wife is available on Region 1 DVD (US, Canada & non-region specific DVD players) from