Imposter syndrome is when a person internalizes feelings of doubts about their talents or accomplishments. It's far from a trans-specific thing, but it tends to affect many trans people in two main ways - "Am I trans enough" and "Everyone knows I'm trans". This week, we explore these (spoiler alert: imposter syndrome is a liar)
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Noted author, Neil Gaiman, once related a story about how he was sitting backstage with Neil Armstrong, the first, man on the moon. Armstrong says to him, "look at all these people out there. They've all made things and done things. All I ever did was go where I was sent.". That's right. Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon: he had imposter syndrome. So do I. so do a lot of trans people. You're listening to transgressive a podcast about gender identity, LGBTQ and social justice issues . If you look up the definition of imposter syndrome on Wikipedia, you will see that they say imposter syndrome is "...a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments, and has a persistent, internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud". It goes on to note that "...despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon often remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve all they have achieved". Imposter syndrome itself is far more widespread than just the trans community, but many trans people report very specific common experiences. I'm going to be using the word passing throughout this episode. And just as a little recap, what I'm talking about is the ability of a person to move through the world without others perceiving their trans status. If you haven't listened to my previous episode 0007 on the topic, it might be worth giving that a quick listen first. So of the two types I'm going to talk about today, the first is a type where a trans person is either early on in their transition or still questioning, and they will often ask themselves, "am I trans enough?" In this instance, a trans person might be asking themselves, "oh, well, I've seen other people who are so much more dysphoric than I am, or I don't have this, or I don't experience that. Therefore, am I really trans? Am I trans enough?" I'm going to cut to the chase here and say that being trans; it's a spectrum. It is a very wide spectrum ranging from people who have some discomfort with their original gender assignment or question it all the way through people who completely t ransition. So it is perfectly valid to wonder, "well, w here's my journey going to take me? Where do I want to go with this? Do I want to transition socially? And do I want to make any medical changes?" Those are valid questions. Those are questions that a trans person may need to answer for themselves, or may need to spend time with a therapist who is qualified to help with gender issues, but the real issue here is not, "am I trans enough?", It's really a false question, and this is where it becomes imposter syndrome because people will get so tied up with worrying about "am I trans enough?" That they lose sight of the big picture... That that's the wrong question. You are exactly trans enough for what your journey is. Okay. I suppose I should explain that. If for instance, someone wants to change their name to a name that's more gender neutral or better represents their internal gender identity. Well, they're trans enough to do that because that's what they want to do, and there doesn't need to be some huge barrier that you've got to jump through. I mean, to be fair, I am talking about an adult here who is old enough to legally make that decision for themselves and not a minor who may have to convince their parents or others that they should be allowed to do so. Unfortunately, it's also true that there are courts and judges who might be more inclined to deny a name change petition if they feel somehow that person is being insincere, and t here h ave been cases where judges who have been very unsympathetic to trans people have made the process extremely difficult. But you'll notice that that is an external influence. That is somebody else trying to gatekeep. Simply put, if you want to change your name, you're trans enough to change your name. Similarly, there are other steps within a transition such as acquiring hormone replacement therapy or getting letters for surgery, where you do have to deal with gatekeepers: professionals who are there to help you, but at the same time, need to make sure that you are a good candidate for the procedure or treatment in question. And in those cases, maybe there's a little bit of an aspect of, "are you trans enough?", but that is again, jumping through hoops to explain to someone else or prove to someone else. At the end of the day, t ry a nd figure out who you are and what you want, and that's all good, but don't let other, people's external gate- keeping be internalized by you. The other type of imposter syndrome that trans people often suffer from is one where they're passing well or passing perfectly in their day-to-day life, and others are seeing them as the gender they're presenting as, but they have this nagging sort of persistent feeling that at any moment, people are going to clock them; they're going to read them as being trans and not accept them for the gender they're presenting as. I know, I talk a lot in this podcast about bathrooms, but bathrooms and locker rooms and other places that are gender segregated a re kind of hot button issues for an awful lot of people today. I discussed various legislation and other efforts to keep trans people out of spaces, such as bathrooms and locker rooms in episode 0006 - We Can't Pee in Tennessee. And also in episode 0003 - The Elephant in the Room. These external forces trying to tell trans people where they belong or don't belong are completely hateful and invalid. But equally insidious is when a trans person tells themselves maybe they don't belong in these places. In fact, many anti-trans people work quite diligently to engender a sense of fear and self-doubt in trans people who are especially early in transition to say, "Oh, you don't fit in. You'll never be accepted as a man or accepted as a woman. You will always be a freak." Generally speaking, when an external person applies this kind of hateful language to y ou, you should be able to let it roll off of y ou. But very often those hurtful words are particularly painful because they ca lled t o that internal sense of imposter syndrome that many of us have. Those gender segregated places are particularly difficult for some trans people, partly because there is a real risk if discovered by a transphobe or a bigot that a trans person could face real harassment or even physical danger if they were to be found out. So when you mix that very real potential, serious consequence with a hyper alert self-critical nature, it can really combine to undermine one's self-confidence and to make one always feel on the outside, looking in, waiting to be discovered or unmasked. Here's the really important takeaway though, that imposter syndrome is really kind of lying to you. I mentioned way back in my first episode about how I had basically spent years being "stealth". I got my hormones, I did my transition, I got my surgeries and I just did my best to fade away into the background. Just be any other woman. For years and years, I did this just fine, and every now and then I really would have this sort of nagging sense of imposter syndrome. I would very often feel as if any moment I was going to be uncovered and outed for being trans, that people would tell me I did not belong. Yet they never did.... and that's the thing. I had many friends who were in the LGBTQ community, who I very much just assumed that they knew I was trans and they were just too polite to say anything. This was driven home to me, particularly in an interesting way. A year or so. Back when I did what I called my "second coming out" where I specifically said, "Hey, I'm trans", on trans day of visibility to stand up with my brothers and sisters and others to say, "Hey, we exist. We're valid. W e're real." I had more than a few of my friends who I've known for 20 plus years, who outright told me they had absolutely no idea and how brave I was for coming out, and I was just sitting there shocked because I assumed they knew and that they were just too polite to say anything. It turns out that imposter syndrome had been lying to me for well over 30 years. And that imposter syndrome may also be lying to you. So if I could presume to give you a piece of advice, it would be really make sure that you're not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Remember that you are going to be your own harshest critic, that you are going to be seeing your flaws or your perceived flaws, much more strongly than other people see them. I'm not by any means advocating, wearing rose colored glasses, but I am saying: take a look at how other people actually react to you. Don't be presuming to know what's in their minds. If someone treats you as the gender you present as then take it at face value. I don't want to sound like one of those cheesy self-help books, but I'm just going to go ahead and put it this way. The way my wife always says it with apologies to trans guys and non binary folks: "Tits out, back straight, walk in there , like you own the place," Our website, www.transgressive.net. You can reach out to us at [email protected] We can also be reached at Twitter @transgressive21. Please consider leaving a five-star review on your favorite podcast platform. If you enjoy Transgressive, please consider visiting our sister podcast: Transposed Pod. Hostesses, Robin Alura and Stephanie Bri have a really great chemistry. If you think of Transgressive as a sort of NPR style news show, then Transposed Pod is more of a morning drive time radio. They are really awesome. They can be found at transposed.podbean.com and on regular streaming services. Also a big shout out to Tabi. I'm Tananda, and this was Transgressive.