Is The Imposter Syndrome Experienced By Queer Femmes A Result Of Toxic Masculinity?

We need to talk.

Imposter syndrome is so real. I feel like at some point in all of our lives everyone who isn’t a privileged white guy has felt this feeling like you don’t belong or like you’re somehow a fraud. Imposter syndrome is something that impacts women at much higher rates than men. When we achieve success in our careers, we say it was by luck instead of hard work. Whereas men own up to their work promotions, making sure everyone in the office knows about it. They scream from the damn rooftops about every small success they have.

Women cover our successes up, chalking it up to someone else helping us or crediting something other than our own hard work! In a way, imposter syndrome is a form of internalized sexism.

It reminds me of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk: “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller / We say to girls, ‘You can have ambition / But not too much / You should aim to be successful / But not too successful / Otherwise you will threaten the man.'”

Disgruntled femme woman
Disgruntled femme woman Photo by Shutterstock

Your anxious brain takes over and you start to question yourself: “Who gave you the authority to call yourself an artist?” or “Who gave you permission to do that?” or “They must have asked me for an interview by mixing up my resume with someone else’s.” Though imposter syndrome is most often discussed in the realm of careers and job opportunities; I’ve definitely felt it sneak in elsewhere in my personal life.

As a queer femme, I’m often told that spaces are not for me. The very first friend I came out to as gay responded with “But you just went on a date with Mark last week, how are you going to say you’re gay now?” It was true. I had just gone on a date with a guy, my very last one for the record. I knew for years that I was gay but had hoped I could make it go away or not ever have to come out to anyone (silly, I know). That last date was pivotal for me because I realized I needed to come out. I was 100% gay and I needed people to know!

We mean “HELL YES, I’M GAY!” #happymonday #hereandqueer

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Hearing her response made me feel ashamed. Like, I somehow couldn’t be gay because I’m feminine and had dated guys since I was a teenager. Though most of those dates resulted in me not ever wanting to make out with them, or just vehemently avoiding their texts afterwards—I felt like I owed society straightness. Ugh. I cringe just thinking about that. I don’t owe anyone anything and neither do you, babes.

When I finally made my glittering debut to the queer world, I figured I’d be welcomed with open arms. I was already working at my local LGBTQ community center at the time so I thought it’d come as no surprise to anyone in my life. I was so wrong. Everyone from my coworkers to my mom was shocked about my coming out. They kept repeating similar statements, all somehow coming back to how feminine I was.

So I did what any baby gay does—I went to YouTube.

It was there that I found femme lesbians talking about femmephobia in the community. I found femmes dating other femmes. I saw examples of strong femme role models making waves in their communities. I was inspired and my little activist heart was pumping once again—vibrant with rainbow colors.

You see, queer femme women are at an interesting intersection in the world right now. We’re not seen as proper women in the world at large because our identities don’t revolve around men, as society would have you believe they’re supposed to. But we also aren’t seen as proper queers because we present in a way that is thought to be “normative” by masc-of-center people (though I would largely disagree).

This imposter syndrome is so real—I’ve been told I’m not “queer enough” so many times I’ve lost track. In community meetings, I’ve been told to take up less space because I don’t experience as much discrimination as masculine-presenting women. At gay bars, I’ve been told I must be lost and the regular bar is around the corner. This problem of toxic masculinity in the queer community is something we need to talk about. It’s something that leaves femmes feeling like we don’t have space in our own community.

Toxic masculinity comes in many forms and I’m in no way saying that masculine-presenting women don’t have it hard out there in the misogynistic world. I know we all experience this from cis-men. However, I’m talking about our community which is supposed to be a safe haven away from the world that already discriminates against us because we’re queer.

I’m talking about how “DapperQ” owner Anita Dolce Vita started a sister site “HiFemme” and has experienced so much backlash from the community of dapper bois she’s supported and advocated for, for years. I’m talking about how GO’s Executive Editor Zara Barrie has been told by a first date how surprised they were that she’s so smart because her photos were so… “You know, girly.” I’m talking about how a femme woman trying to make it at her law firm sees masc queer women surpass her because they were invited for cigars and whiskey with the partners.

All of these instances are upholding misogyny the same way a man catcalling you on the street does. It just comes in a different form. So often I hear lesbians say how we don’t have to deal with problems of intimate partner violence or sexual assault from our own community—how we’re safe because we date women. That’s just not true. And these instances—what some might call micro-aggressions—often lead to larger problems, lead to violence against femmes.

This is exactly why I’m so fired up about my experiences with imposter syndrome. I’m tired of feeling like I have to prove my queerness.

🎈🎈🎈 fly away 🎈🎈🎈

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When my community makes me feel like I can’t be taken seriously because I wear lipstick and heels, what you’re really saying is that there is a certain way to be gay. The same way society tells all women that there are certain ways to be a woman. And if you don’t subscribe to those, your womanhood isn’t valid.

I continually see femmes as the backbone of our community—historically and to this present day. We provide emotional labor, support, strength and nurturing to queers of all experiences. And we rarely get recognized for such work. The lesbian nurses who cared for gay men dying of AIDS in the ’80s and ’90s is a perfect example. Trans women leading liberation movements while they’re being discriminated against and murdered to this day, is another example of femmes putting in labor for our community-at-large.

My call for action here is to call in masc-of-center queers. I call you in to have these conversations in your communities of bois and dapper cuties. I call you in to say “Hey, that’s not OK and here’s why…” the next time you hear a fellow queer objectify a femme. I call you in to start to change this narrative of femmephobia and create discourse for how masculine presenting queers can do better for femmes.


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