‘Queer Imposter Syndrome’ is a term I recently came across in one of those fleeting social media posts and before I could read it whole, Instagram renewed my feed and decided that I should be watching a kitten video instead. Which I did, but the term stayed with me anyway. I thought about it a lot. It was one of those thoughts that always lingers at the back of your head when you are doing anything. From something as simple as brushing one’s teeth to something as complicated as queer flirting, this thought stayed with me.
So, I started thinking about my ‘coming out’ story. I had felt like an imposter in queer spaces all my life which is why it took me so long to come out, even to myself. There was shame, there was confusion, and a lot of “Am I queer enough?” that accompanied me every night. Deciphering my sexuality wasn’t an uphill battle for me because I’ve been writing poems for imaginary women in my head since I was a teenager, but accepting it took its time. I always rationalised those love poems by telling myself that I am “just taking a man’s perspective”. The lies we tell ourselves to help us sleep at night.
I always knew that I was into women on some level, but I knew I wasn’t gay because I was into men as well. So, I thought that I was just a broken version of both. I didn’t have the time, energy, and resources to figure it out in my teens since they were channeled only into survival. I was a depressed, suicidal kid who was dismissed as just another “angsty teenager”. The thing about depression is that it kills your libido, which made it extremely hard to understand attraction at the time.
I always knew on some level that I was bisexual. As funny and weird as it sounds, I just didn’t know if that was an option at the time. I just didn’t have the vocabulary, literature, scholarly articles, and research to back me up that I do now. I sat in the closet for so many years with feelings of loneliness and shame because I thought there was no other way. With disgust in my body and dilemma in my head, I didn’t know if it was the “phase” so many people warned me about.
Being a bisexual woman is utterly confusing. Before you come out, you are not sure if you are doing this because you want it or because your boyfriend wants to see you kiss a woman. I kept on questioning myself, “Is it just another residue of the internalized male gaze that I have been taught to cater to, or is it my own free will?”
Separating myself from the expectations of the people I once held on a pedestal – or even the society we live in – took me a while. I came out in my 20s because I was scared, confused, and above all, doubted myself and my memory a lot. My memory can be very foggy, especially while remembering traumatic experiences. I sat in the closet alone and convinced myself and the people around me that I am just not into labels.
I don’t speak for all queer people when I say this but, labels can be helpful especially in relationships. Some queers have found labels to be too restricting but that hasn’t been my experience. Though I believe and advocate sexual fluidity, putting a label on my sexuality helped me be more confident about it, reach out to the people that share the same experiences, and try to help other people understand our collective trauma better. Queer relationships can be intricately complex because they are not the “norm” and labels can help in setting the tone of the relationships from the very beginning. Labels have also helped my partners and friends understand me better.
Separating myself from my trauma was another process I had to go through while coming out. Even though it is an ongoing process, it was instrumental in my journey. I am a child sexual and physical abuse survivor. I had to sit with my trauma, have a dialogue with my triggers and identify their roots to be certain enough that my sexuality was not just a trauma response.
I have been out for some years now; I am just waiting for the “proud” part to come by and accompany me. Since I have been out, I have been excluded from some groups. Some of my old friends from school tried bullying me on social media, which I have grown immune to at this point. What hurts the most is being othered by my own family and friends. Being out meant finding new friends, building a new family, and parenting myself – which has been beautiful but extremely exhausting.
Most days, I still don’t feel queer enough. People call me a “boring bisexual” because I am not big on the performance of my sexuality. There was a lot of internalised homophobia and misogyny that I had to unlearn for me to be able to come out. It didn’t happen in a day, it still hasn’t. It’s a process I am still working through but the self-doubt, incessant questioning, and feelings of being an imposter haven’t stopped.
“Am I going to enough queer support groups?”
“Am I announcing my sexuality every day?”
“Am I doing enough for my community?”
“Am I going to enough pride parades?”
“Have I come out to everyone yet?”
“Am I bisexual enough?”
“Am I queer enough?”
“Am I enough?”
Some people say that imposter syndrome comes from within but, I don’t quite believe that. We have imposter syndrome because we have felt excluded from many places, and reclaiming our own space in the world is a real struggle when we’ve always been made to shrink ourselves to fit into a world that was not designed for us. It doesn’t help that so many queers are still biphobic. They actively exclude us, gatekeep queer spaces and accuse us of ‘straight-passing’. Calling us “only half gay” and dismissing our trauma because it looks different from their own. It is not a new thing but it hurts, so deeply nonetheless.
I don’t know when that voice in our head will stop if it ever does. It has to, right? Till then, I just want to tell all the queers, out or not – you are enough and I am proud of you. Coming out is a beautiful process that frees you, but you don’t owe it to anyone. You need to acknowledge the privilege required to come out safely. Queer communities need to be more empathetic because so many of us don’t have the resources, support, and security to be able to be ‘out and proud’. For the longest time, I didn’t as well. Remember that this is about you and your identity, let it only cater to yourself. You shouldn’t have to disclose your dating or sexual history for someone to believe your sexuality. You don’t owe anyone anything. Not the constant coming out, not the constant emotional labour of explaining your sexuality, not even the performance of your queer identity.