Imposter Syndrome, Bisexuality, Writing Romance, and Me

9 August   Heidi Belleau   In commentary, personal     No Comments

(The following post was originally written in 2015 for Queer Romance Month. That website is now down so I’m reposting it here.)

Many of you have probably heard about imposter syndrome: the idea that, whatever your trade, however successful or practiced you are, you’re secretly a fake, talentless, a hack, and just waiting for someone to figure you out. It’s pretty common among authors. No matter how many books we sell or good reviews we get or gushing readers we meet, it’s never enough to truly believe we are a real author. I’ve heard authors just starting out talking about feeling this way, and I’ve heard bestsellers with a fifty book backlist feeling this way.

I’m no exception.

What complicates matters for me is that these same feelings extend past my career and into my sexuality, too. I’m bi. I’ve known I was attracted to more than one gender since junior high, and upon hearing the word “bisexual” in high school, I started identifying as such. I’ve experienced attraction to women and non-binary people as well as men, fallen head over heels in love with other women, flirted (terribly) with people of all kinds of genders . . . and yet for a brief period in college, I started calling myself straight. Why? Because having never been in a long-term relationship with a woman the way I have been with a man, calling myself bi started to suddenly feel like a lie.

Except it wasn’t, and it isn’t. Bisexuality isn’t something you only get to claim having checked all the right boxes and met the right quotas. It’s a state of being and a community and a full-time unconditional identity. But sometimes it’s hard not to buckle under the pressure. Every LGBT person gets shit from cisgender straight people, gets “Are you sure?” or “Have you tried . . .?” or “You just want attention.”

With bisexuals, even within the queer community, there are gatekeepers: people question our sexual histories, tell us we’re not welcome at Pride, demand we change our orientations to match the gender of our current partner, express mistrust or doubt when we identify ourselves, or just flat-out ignore us when we self-identify as bi. (How many times have I seen articles calling Alan Cumming gay or Anna Paquin straight?) Other bisexuals and pansexuals self-police within our community and play respectability politics, calling us “fake bi” for a host of different reasons. Never dated a girl but had sex with one? Fake bi. Kissed a girl in front of a straight guy, once? Fake bi. Dated a girl but never had sex with her? Fake bi. Been attracted to women, flirted with women, but never gotten past that point? Fake bi. Been with nonbinary people and men but not cis women? Faaaake biiiiiiiiiiiii. Ask any bisexual, they probably have a story. We hear this shit so much, we start to internalize it. It gets to a point where you don’t need a distrustful outsider to interrogate you on your entire sexual history, you do it to yourself without any prompting.

It’s toxic; it eats away at both your sense of self and isolates you from the very communities and support you so desperately need. No wonder the mental health of bisexuals across the board is absolutely abysmal.

I’ve been grappling with these feelings for a decade, have somewhat soothed them by banding together with other bisexual women like me, people who can uplift and validate me when I need it. But I still have days when I wonder if I’m a total fake, pretending to be queer.

Combine the imposter syndrome I feel as an author and the imposter syndrome I feel as a bisexual woman, and you’ve got quite the mess, and for me, it’s about to get even messier.

Because I’m currently writing my first F/F novel, with a bisexual woman in the lead. Up until now, I’ve always written M/M: gay men, bisexual men, cis and trans men. And being a cis woman myself, of course people have doubted my ability to write an authentic story, whether it’s because of my life experiences or just on account of my interfering vagina. Either way, doubt from within or without is part and parcel with writing outside your own experience, and all you can do is research the hell out of a topic, seek the opinion of experts, and accept that sometimes you’re gonna get things wrong no matter how hard you try. And I’ve gotten things wrong. It’s not exactly the best thing for imposter syndrome, screwing up at what you’re doing, but it can be overcome: you accept that everyone (even “real writers”) messes up sometimes, you figure out what went wrong for you this time, then you buck up and fix it for next time. 

You’re still a writer, and what’s more, that process and growth is a part of being a writer.

But now that I’m writing my first F/F, it’s not that cut and dried. Because what if I get this wrong? Now it’s not just my skills/validity as an author being called into question, it’s the authenticity of my entire sense of self. It’s an inward insecurity and an outward battle that, as a bisexual woman facing biphobia and heteronormativity, I’ve been fighting all my life. If I can’t write a convincing queer woman character, am I still queer? Can I still claim my sexual attraction to women if I write a womp-womp sex scene between two women? If someone finds the central romance of my story between two women unmoving, what does that say about my own romantic feelings toward women? Will this book be the thing that finally reveals me for the faker I’ve been all along? All my insecurities about being “allowed” to consider myself bi are rearing their ugly heads, and I’m not exaggerating in the slightest when I say . . . it’s terrifying.

I’m pushing through it, though, because this story and these characters speak to me, and I think I’m ready to put myself out there. I think I need to put myself out there. But I’m scared to once again be questioned, and to in turn question myself. I’m writing this post in the hopes that:

1.     It helps people consider their biphobia (unintentional, internalized, or otherwise) and the effect it has on bisexuals.

2.     Expressing these deeply held feelings leads me to find others who feel the same way, giving me and them the comfort of knowing these feelings are common, another symptom of biphobia, and that no potential or theoretical failure in writing can take our bisexuality away from us.

I can’t understate the significance of hearing, “Your sexuality is valid, you are valid,” or, “I’m bi and I feel that way too.” After a life of feeling like a liar and an outsider, letting doubt and mistrust eat away at my sense of self because I didn’t know any other way, it means the world to now realize that these insecurities are just that, insecurities, and they don’t change who I am. That other bisexuals feel this too, think this too, have heard these same criticisms and cruelties. That in spite of it all, they are who they say they are, I am who I say I am, and that none of us are alone.

So if you’ve ever struggled with imposter syndrome, if writing has ever felt too personal, too close for comfort, like too much of you is exposed to scrutiny. . .

You’re not alone.

I’m here too, shaking in my boots at the thought of writing girls kissing wrong.


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