The twenty-one-time nominated and three-time winner of the Academy award, Meryl Streep said, in regards to her own career and process, “[I] think, ‘Why would anyone want to see me in a movie? I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?’” Streep’s quote articulates what has been commonly referred to as imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome can be defined as the ‘psychological pattern in which one doubts their accomplishments and fears being exposed as a "fraud.”’
I’ve been suffering from imposter syndrome for my entire life. However, most recently I have embarked on the incredibly terrifying venture of creating my own work instead of acting in someone else’s. I’m a relatively recent college-grad with a BFA in drama from a prestigious arts program, from which I am greatly in debt. Seeing my classmates’ careers start to bud and bloom can feel discouraging and caused outright jealous resentment. It’s difficult to believe that what I have to offer simply cannot compare to anything anyone else has to say. It’s like screaming along with a cacophony of crows that won’t stop shouting “FUCK YOU, I’M A BIRD!” There is so much content being produced at rapid-fire pace that I can’t help but wonder, what’s the point? Does what I have to say even matter? I wonder if my work actually adds anything new or interesting to the already well-established conversation. I constantly hear a voice telling me I’m a fraud. This demeaning inner dialogue wears away at the excitement and passion that I feel for my project. The attack of the voice has even convinced me that I don’t care about my project or my work at all.
When I began thinking about how I would write this piece, I did what anyone who calls themselves a writer would do: look up words written or said by someone else. In my google searches for “Imposter Syndrome,” one of the first autofill options was “Imposter Syndrome Women.” This search engine phrase got me thinking: is imposter syndrome is an inherently feminine experience? To touch that emotional part of ourselves in order to be vulnerable is inherently a feminine act in our society. Acknowledging the fear that we might not be enough is feminine. To push all those feelings away, to put them in box and punch something instead,a wall,a person,yourself is the masculine. Blindly believe that what you have to say is the most important at all times is masculine.
To approach the world with vulnerability, we must become acquainted with the part of ourselves that does not feel we deserve to have the space to say what we think and go after what we want. It is after we acknowledge this fear, that we can begin to recognize that the only way to coexist with this anxiety (without it taking over our lives as fact) is to go through it rather than lock that anxiety inside a box.
I am the writer and creator of a new queer web-series entitled sadfemme. It centers around Madison, a femme genderqueer person, and his self-destructive misadventures as he attempts to gain control of his life after ending a relationship with the man he believed to be his soulmate. It’s a dark comedy that explores millennial life in New York City through the eyes of someone who feels like he’s constantly being kicked when he’s down, and whose bad luck and bad decisions spiral to such low places that you can’t help but laugh.
Like Madison, I identify as queer and more specifically femme genderqueer. From the moment sadfemme was born I asked myself, “Do I have the right to tell these stories?” The easy answer is, “Yes! Of course, I do…they are my stories and, in some sense, come from a place of my own lived experiences.” Sadly, that wasn’t the answer I gave myself. I told myself that I wasn’t queer enough or non-binary enough or that I don’t dress “femme” enough in my daily life…even if it is primarily out of fear.
Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston who has studied shame, empathy, courage, and vulnerability for over fifteen years, writes, “The truth is, belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect.” Only when by believing that I am enough can I feel like I can continue producing my work and believe that it is important. Through every single moment of self-doubt, I must remind myself of this truth or else I am crippled by my fear, my anxieties, and my insecurities. I compare my work to others and often judge them. Instead of trusting that my own work will be able to speak for itself, I mentally dismiss the work of others with a desire to punish and hurt myself by tearing down others. In these moments, I don’t think my work, my thoughts, and my creativity are enough.
We don’t feel like we’re enough and that is why we feel like frauds. Although, this is a universal feeling that is felt across all genders, races, and sexualities, in my experience, it is most often felt and felt most strongly by people who identify with feminine characteristics. Being feminine means feeling like we don’t have seat at the table. Being feminine feels like we have something to prove. Being feminine feels like being successful requires denying our femininity. Why can’t someone be great because of their femininity? Why can’t we as a world, regardless of gender expression, be able to express ourselves in a way that we’d call feminine without ridicule, contempt, and even violence?
Every day I want to quit what I’m doing. Thankfully, I’ve involved far too many people at this point to ghost my own project. The narrative of imposter syndrome has become so common and pervasive in my mind that it’s nearly impossible for me to discredit it as false. I feel like I’m continuing to work out of obligation. However, if I sit with myself and try to find the quiet voice that is just barely audible among all the negative, I realize that the obligation I feel is not only to other people but to myself. I owe it to myself to honor the hard work that I have already done to continue to the finish line (whether anything noteworthy comes from this experience or not). I owe it to myself to show up and do.
In a letter from Martha Graham to Agnes de Mille, she writes:
It is not your business to determine
how good it is
nor how valuable it is
nor how it compares with other expressions.
It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly
to keep the channel open.
You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work.
You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate YOU.
In my own words, even if you feel uninspired and feel like you’re work is mediocre in comparison to everything else out there, it doesn’t matter. It isn’t your job to compare…it is ONLY your job to do.
It is vital in our world as femmes to openly share our experiences with one another and realize that we are not alone in our insecurities. No one knows what they are doing and that is okay. By showing this openness to our peers that are dominated by toxic masculinity and modeling this honesty for future generations, we can begin to accept our experiences as valid and feel empowered to fight for inclusion…to take the seat at the table.
If you would like to support the lifting the voices of femme queers and other often unheard voices please support my most recent project by donating to my Indiegogo campaign and follow @sadfemmeseries on all social media. I thank you in advance for your support.