Imposter Syndrome is a fear of being found out as phony or exposed as a fraud. It is a silent struggle that plagues high achieving people. Maybe they believe they aren’t intelligent enough or creative enough or qualified enough, or just enough. It’s a persistent sensibility that you are not enough.
As I was going through my bisexual identity journey, I constantly struggled with feeling like I wasn’t enough. I wasn’t “queer enough.” I didn’t like women enough. I didn’t have enough romantic experience with diverse genders to claim a non-heterosexual identity. I had a general sense that I was lacking in some way and I was looking outward for the larger LGBTQ community to validate me and to reassure me that I was a member of their club and that I belonged among their ranks.
Before I donned a bisexual identity label for myself, I spent a lot of time thinking seriously about its implications. As a woman in ministry who identified as straight and saw herself as an ally to the LGBTQ community, it was of the utmost importance to me to do right by people. I had some questions.
I grappled with whether it was appropriate for me to claim a minority identity label for myself when I had never experienced tangible oppression. This wasn’t a dumb question on my part. It was sincere and heartfelt. I stake my integrity and my reputation on the way that I treat people, and one of the things you learn when you work with marginalized populations is that it’s very important to center the population of people and give voice and expression to their stories rather than centering yourself as a privileged person in power. I didn’t believe I had the right to assert myself as a member of the LGBTQ club.
I grappled and questioned whether people would take me seriously as a queer woman if I had never had a same-sex relationship. Would they see me as a peer. Would they trust my articulation of my heart knowledge even if my lived experience hadn’t caught up with me yet? This wasn’t a dumb question either. It was a thoughtful question. And to some degree my concerns were legitimate. In LGBT spaces, I often did have people follow up my disclosure of a bisexual identity by asking me how many people of this gender or that had I dated? What was my sexual experience with diverse genders? How long had I been “out”? Was I sure I wasn’t really gay? All manner of “gate keeping” questions designed to establish Or delegitimize my qualifications.
As someone who had identified as a straight ally to the LGBTQ community for several years, there was ten years of public history: news clippings, and some tv interviews, and audio recordings of me identifying as a straight woman in the public record and talking about that. As I approached my own coming out process, I worried a lot about how individuals and ministries and LGBTQ organizations would be impacted by my coming out. What would happen if I started saying something totally different about myself in public than I had said in the past. I worried that it might cause confusion or reflect poorly on any of these individuals or organizations that I had previously served. Would they lose business? Would they have to explain my involvement? Would my public change in how I identify reflect poorly on anyone or any ministry or any lgbtq group that I cared about? And would they be able to go the distance and make the mental leap from seeing me as a straight ally pastor/leader to now seeing me as a queer pastor/colleague/peer/leader who has a brand new voice and a totally different role in the LGBT-faith conversation. I used to create space for queer people to come in and share content. Now I am the queer person with content hoping upon hope that someone will invite me in to share my humble offering. I strive in all places and at all times to be an authentic and transparent person. I lost a lot of sleep over these deliberations.
I felt locked in a push-pull between these difficult questions I was privately asking of myself, while at the same time, I was feeling less and less comfortable with straight as a label category. I was outgrowing that label. It simply was not an adequate container for who I am and who I can love. Transparency is a strong personal value of mine. And I had not met another woman and I was in a long term relationship with a man when I initiated my coming out process. But I had moved to a place where a straight label felt unsustainable. It did not align with my own self understanding anymore.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
― Anaïs Nin
But as I was coming out, I didn’t hear anyone else around me really engaging questions like the ones I was really asking. I didn’t know how other people worked through them. So here’s how I worked through some of these questions in my own life.
The first question: Is it appropriate to claim an identity label if you’ve never had a tangible experience of “oppression?” Yes. We should hope for a world where no one loses a job, loses a family, loses a friend or has their life or dignity threatened for being different. Oppression is not a pre-requisite for sharing your truth. However, often when you claim solidarity with or take on a minority identity label, you begin to experience the same types of oppression as that minority group. That’s what happened to me. The instant I started using the word bisexual as a self identifier, I began to experience some of the types of harm and oppression that bisexual identified people experience.
The second question: Is it appropriate to claim an identity label when you don’t have “experience” with a particular gender. Yes. People claim a heterosexual identity without having any “experience” of romance, dating, love, or sex. They claim it because they trust their heart knowledge, their bodily response, and their own wisdom and knowing. You can trust your own internal compass that is telling you who you are. This gets tricky when you get mixed messaging from society or even sometimes from the LGBT community itself as other people don’t always trust your wisdom, or play gatekeeper. You don’t need any outside source to validate the truth of who you are. I know that encouragement feels good. It did to me too. The more other LGBT people treated me like a peer, the more I felt confident in my own label. There’s no shame in this. There’s also no shame in admitting when you feel vulnerable and you need friends and peers to come alongside and affirm your identity. But ultimately your identity comes from you. It’s an inside job. You discover who you are and then you get to tell the world about you.
The final question: what do you do if you’re afraid that your “coming out” or your identity label might impact your friends or family or some organization that you’ve worked for in a negative way. There are real risks with coming out and there are real risks in supporting and standing in solidarity with someone who is coming out. Some of those risks may be financial. People might lose business for publicly supporting you. But ultimately people who love you do support you, journey with you, and cheer for you. The best gift you can give the world is you. Your unique and authentic perspective/experience/identity way of traveling through the world. You can bear witness to other people’s lives and bless them along the way. And you can let people bear witness to your authentic life as you change and grow and offer your vulnerability. You can give them an opportunity to bless you along your way.
To all the B+ folks out there, you’re not imposters. You’re enough. You’re beautiful. You’re valid. Trust your own wisdom and knowing about who you are. I believe you know who you are. You’re not confused. You know you. May you be “Bi-certain.” And may you be certain that if you tell me your story, I’ll believe you. I believe in you.
Add your own voice to this blog? As a B+ person have you ever struggled with imposter syndrome? What makes you feel safe? What makes you feel validated?